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Morality without Religion?

I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in a single session of a class held at our congregation (The Free Congregation of Sauk County) where this question was asked by Nick Schweitzer, cheapest the class’ facilitator:

18. When someone asks you how an atheist can be moral, prescription what do you think the underlying question is? (E.g., is he/she asking how you can know what morality is if you don’t believe in God’s rules, or how people can be trusted to behave decently if they’re not afraid of damnation, or how people can be motivated to behave decently if they don’t believe in an eternal reward, etc.?)

What is your answer to the question?

Below is my answer as far as I can articulate in a short time (a partial day’s worth of work). It is bit disjointed and not as well research or worded as my other writings, but this is all I could manage for now:

The Real Question

So, they ask you “How can an Atheist be moral?”. What do you think the underlying question is?  Well, the underlying question they are asking from their limited context really is:

“How can a person who does not believe in:

  • the authority of the Christian God as the sole source of good, and ethics, and morality
  • their interpretation of their version of their sacred text
  • heaven and hell (and, by extension, damnation and salvation)

..still  have a moral system, especially when, in their world view, where the source of morality and good emanates from a reward and punishment system that is a visceral part of their world-view and  moral system, and this “atheist” has the temerity to reject it?”

Unfortunately, it is natural for someone with this limited world-view to ask such a question, and it is seriously asked by those of  conservative denominations, for obvious reasons. Hopefully, some will find my thoughts and considerations below interesting or enlightening.

Evaluating Conservative Psychology and Religion

Now, there are a lot of problems with this question especially when a lot of the impetus for the question is founded in the limited conservative religious world view, and there is a lot to consider and the take into account when trying to understand it. Keep in mind, that all of this below is just my opinion, and it is based on only that which I know, which is not everything, unfortunately. =(

Conservative Psychology

First we will want to take a look at the psychology that underlies conservatives that will help us understand the impetus and phrasing of the question from their mindset. For that we will travel to Moral Psychology land as well as visit Negativity Bias and Other Psychological Factor‘s land:

Moral Psychology

To understand where this question comes from and what they are really asking we really need to delve, at least a little bit, into moral psychology, which can be quite enlightening in subjects such as this. Jonathan Haidt, a famous moral psychologist, and those in his field have distilled the basic moral components that we all have as the basis for morality, and this is even shown in other animals to some extent, as the following:

  • Harm/Care
  • Fairness/Reciprocity
  • In group Loyalty (Tribalism)
  • Authority/Respect
  • Purity/Sanctity

Liberals score high on:

  • Harm/Care
  • Fairness and Reciprocity

Conservatives score high on the other three:

  • In group Loyalty (Tribalism)
  • Authority/Respect
  • Purity/Sanctity

Now, this can already show why and how conservatives see things and approach morality differently than liberals, at least according to moral psychology. Essentially, conservatives respond to authority (religion and authority figures), tribalism (groups like themselves), Purity/Sanctity (religion) regardless of how it affects others, whereas liberals respond to fairness and taking care of others regardless of the affect on the established institutions. This alone is pretty telling especially when you compare this to liberal and conservative religious and political rhetoric and ideologies.

If we apply the above moral psychology principles to our “question” it may look like this:

“You are not apart of our group, and you do not respect the authority of our group and its institutions and beliefs, then how can you be a good person, since we obviously are good?”

Negativity Bias and Other Conservative Psychological Factors

A recent study has come out that shows that conservatives have a “negativity bias,” meaning that they are physiologically more attuned to negative (threatening, disgusting) stimuli in their environments, even to the point of seeking it out or “seeing” threats in places and people, especially when differ from themselves.

Other studies suggest that conservatives are characterized by traits such as a need for certainty and an intolerance of ambiguity, of which conservative organizations are more than happy to help with. They provide a clear and clean “this is right and this is wrong, and these are our enemies”.

With this being said, this research sort of shows a conservative person as being prone to seeing threats from that which is different than themselves and their beliefs, and even likes to hear those that espouse that there are threats even if there aren’t any, and is bound to see that which is different as a potential “threat”, especially since they do not believe the same, which in some ways feeds into conservative talk radio, and racism, and other forms of rallying against those who are not like themselves regardless of the consequences to those who are different than them.

Conservative Religion as it Caters to Conservative Psychology

So if we combine the psychological factors discussed above into one thing we get a person who:

  • Prefers their group (tribalism)
  • Respects authority, especially within their group
  • Seeks out and prefers to hear those say what the threats are against them, especially when it includes those who are different than them (not a part of their tribal group)
  • Requires certainty and has an intolerance toward ambiguity

Once we have this picture and we add in the influence of, or as a byproduct, resulting in the creation of conservative religion things come into focus very clearly. Conservative religion provides a clear membership identification and is more than happy to tell you who is good and who is bad which caters to adding certainty and removing intolerance to ambiguity, as well as providing authority, a tribal group, and an authority that they can respect. A massive confluence of all of the things that conservative psychology enjoys and thrives under.

Another benefit of conservative religion is that they will have no one to hold them accountable for their interpretation of their sacred texts and their resultant actions when they can say that their interpretation of their religious scripture says they are correct. When they all get together and say ‘yes’ we believe this (even though they may be wrong), their divine entity will not come down and  slap them silly for being stoopid in the head. They get the benefit of defining their version of their religion and their version of their divine entity that caters to their psychological needs and no one can say, in any certainty, that they are right or wrong, even thought they are obviously from a moral and ethical standpoint. It becomes an battle of “our interpretation” vs “your interpretation” which would never sway a conservative since they have a strong respect for their tribal authority (their own) no matter what the consequence to others is. They feel a they have the righteous belief and will not brook any question of the truth of their interpretation or actions since it will bring about dissonance and ambiguity, and jeopardize their belief in their authority figure.

A part of the conservative religious world view is inherently laden with fear, temptation, damnation and sin, original sin, and demons all of which cater to their negativity bias, and, of course, which can also have adverse psychological affects on those who partake of this way of thinking for a long period of time resulting in a life filled with fear, anxiety, and feelings of less-worth. The resultant negative and fearful view towards the world, humanity, and, unfortunately, themselves too inherent in the conservative religious world view is a natural part of their view when around all corners is temptation and demons, fear and anxiety are a natural thing to have.  Now, the convenient part of this is that they invest their trust in the authority of ‘their church’ which propagates these negative emotions and beliefs and it, therefore, becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. When the church says people are bad and inherently sinful and then they seek the church for guidance due to their bias towards their own tribal authority, and their negativity bias which results their own self-inflicted reduction in self-worth, then all good becomes because of their tribe membership and all bad comes from outside of the tribe, since that is what is bad because it is different. To believe otherwise is to invite dissonance and ambiguity which is not allowed in their minds, or by their authoritarian structures. Conservative psychology, by extension, has a self-vested interest in maintaining tribal exceptionalism and the convenience of inerrant scriptural interpretation of their sacred text, since it all feeds into creating certainty (even thought it may not be correct) which provides the benefit of removing ambiguity and promoting their belief in their tribe and its authority, without which will come uncertainty and dissonance.

Revisiting the “Real Question”

From above we said the following:

“How can a person who does not believe in:

  •  the authority of the Christian God as the sole source of good, and ethics, and morality
  • their interpretation of their version of their sacred text
  • heaven and hell (and, by extension, damnation and salvation)

..still  have a moral system, especially when, in their world view, where the source of morality and good emanates from a reward and punishment system that is a visceral part of their world-view and  moral system, and this “atheist” has the temerity to reject it?”

… and that a summary of conservative psychology is:

  • Prefers their group (tribalism)
  • Respects authority, especially within their group
  • Seeks out and prefers to hear those say what the threats are against them, especially when it includes those who are different than them (not a part of their tribal group)
  • do not like certainty and an intolerance of ambiguity

Let us apply the conservative psychological factors to the question so we can understand where they are coming from. This questions calls into question the non-believer’s nontribal membership, caters to their negativity bias and their bias towards authority. Their authority structure has already branded this person as bad and therefore uncertainty has been removed as well, and therefore the unbeliever is bad, so this question really is formed and is reinforced by their psychological world view as described above.

The Liberal Answer

In some ways I have covered a lot of my answer in my previous blog posts from a few years ago, but I will reform my ideas briefly here within context of this question. Of course, most of what I have to say will not convince a conservative since it does not key on their conservative psychological factors and keys on factors outside of their world view, a lot of which challenges their belief structures which is much of why they deny science since it is a considerable threat to what their authoritarian structure teaches, and also imposes external authority structures which invites dissonance and ambiguity, which they do not like.

Limiting one’s perception of the world and decision making to that which their religious tribe says is OK results in a severely limited world view, especially if they are willing to eschew other other authority structures which conflict with their primary and self-assured source of eternal authority. This view lacks an open and informed context of the world (eschewing science, history, empathy and sympathy), especially when their religious world view is limited to a 2000 year old text (at least as far as the New testament is concerned, if we are being generous, or over 5000 years old text if we take into account the Old Testament) that was founded in a culture, history, and context of which we do not share, especially when homosapien is at least 100,000 thousand years old, therefore the most powerful religious denomination in the west has only been around for 5% of human history. An incredible amount has changed in our society due to science and social sciences in the last 100 years, let alone the last 1000 years, and unfortunately conservative religion does not move at the speed of social or scientific progress. The thought of a changing conservative religion is abhorrent to conservatives for many reasons as you could see from up above, although they eventually do change when they are not able to fight against it anymore, or to do so would threaten their existence. This lack of change is due to a threat to the perceived stable and eternal authorith of their belifs which they do not like so they fight it tooth and nail to maintain their beliefs and authority regardless of who is hurt in the process. Sure there is wisdom to be had in their sacred texts, but it must be measured with contemporary social and scientific advances and not be anchored in an ancient world that no longer exists, especially when the beliefs result in harms to other people, the environement, or other creatures.

Singular Mythological or Religious Authority or Something Else?

Let us take a look at the fact that there are over 5000 religions that humanity has utilized over the its short lifespan, and most have many things in common – their laws and ideals at their base teach us good from bad, which is a powerful underpinning found in every religion and society through the history of humanity’s short existence . This alone is a powerful concept which points to something even larger going on that is not limited to one any one religion. A keen example of this is the Golden Rule. The following of the existence of the Golden Rule in many religions is overkill, but it will really help to strongly reinforce this idea that no one religion has corners the market of moral truths:

Bahá’í Faith:

  • “Ascribe not to any soul that which thou wouldst not have ascribed to thee, and say not that which thou doest not.” “Blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself.” Baha’u’llah
  • “And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbour that which thou choosest for thyself.” Epistle to the Son of the Wolf. 1

Brahmanism:

  • “This is the sum of Dharma [duty]: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you”. Mahabharata, 5:1517 “

Buddhism:

  • “…a state that is not pleasing or delightful to me, how could I inflict that upon another?” Samyutta NIkaya v. 353
  • “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” Udana-Varga 5:18

Christianity:

  • “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7:12, King James Version.
  • “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” Luke 6:31, King James Version.
  • “…and don’t do what you hate…”, Gospel of Thomas 6. The Gospel of Thomas is one of about 40 gospels that circulated among the early Christian movement, but which never made it into the Christian Scriptures (New Testament).

Confucianism:

  • “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you” Analects 15:23
  • “Tse-kung asked, ‘Is there one word that can serve as a principle of conduct for life?’ Confucius replied, ‘It is the word ‘shu’ — reciprocity. Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire.'” Doctrine of the Mean 13.3
  • “Try your best to treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself, and you will find that this is the shortest way to benevolence.” Mencius VII.A.4

Ancient Egyptian:

  • “Do for one who may do for you, that you may cause him thus to do.” The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant, 109 – 110 Translated by R.B. Parkinson. The original dates to circa 1800 BCE and may be the earliest version of the Epic of Reciprocity ever written. 2

Hinduism:

  • This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you. Mahabharata 5:1517

Islam:

  • “None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.” Number 13 of Imam “Al-Nawawi’s Forty Hadiths.” 3

Jainism:

  • “Therefore, neither does he [a sage] cause violence to others nor does he make others do so.” Acarangasutra 5.101-2.
  • “In happiness and suffering, in joy and grief, we should regard all creatures as we regard our own self.” Lord Mahavira, 24th Tirthankara
  • “A man should wander about treating all creatures as he himself would be treated. “Sutrakritanga 1.11.33

Judaism:

  • “…thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”, Leviticus 19:18
  • “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary.” Talmud, Shabbat 31a.
  • “And what you hate, do not do to any one.” Tobit 4:15 4

Taoism:

  • ““Regard your neighbor’s gain as your gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.” Tai Shang Kan Yin P’ien
  • “To those who are good to me, I am good; to those who are not good to me, I am also good. Thus all get to be good.”

Zoroastrianism:

  • “That nature alone is good which refrains from doing to another        whatsoever is not good for itself.” Dadisten-I-dinik, 94,5
  • “Whatever is disagreeable to yourself do not do unto others.” Shayast-na-Shayast 13:29 5

Perhaps you may might state “Well, God has existed before all time and that is where humans get good and evil and motality, so what you are saying is not true. How ’bout them apples, Mr Smartypants? “.

Well, that could easily be claimed by every single religion ever created, therefore such answers are NOT valid. This becomes especially poignant since almost all religions have a creation mythology, and Christianity is no different. You will also find that the mythological stories in the Christian narrative have parallels in the other religions that have come before it and from which its stories draw. The Christian narrative is merely the byproduct of the religions that have come before it as pulled together by the cultural, religious, and political needs and context of the people who created it, as all religion that have ever existed have. Christianity is, in no way, more special than any other religion that has ever existed. It is merely just one of the many religious views that humanity will have throughout its existence, hopefully long existence, assuming our planet does not destroy us first for our hubris.  =)

Evolutionary and Moral Pscychology as Human’s Source For Morality

Naturally evolutionary psychology and moral psychology tends to show us that morality is an integral part of who we are as humans, independent of any particular religion, since we evolved as social creatures as an evolutionary survival adaptation. Those who work together tend to survive longer, but not only that, those who treat others well, tend to survive longer since it breeds greater tribal loyalty, cooperation, and cohesion. Morality is not a thing powered by the gods, it is powered by our evolutionary instincts for survival, without which humans would never have survived long enough to have a need to create its mulitifarious religions, especially in its contemporary forms . I have written that the fundamental essence of all religions is humanism draped in cultural, social, political, and theological trappings of their time. It is a means of passing on moral and human values in a form that is more acceptable to their specific historical and cultural audience. I also venture to say that religions will only survive in the far future if they embrace a humanism as its core, especially as humanity becomes more and more advanced and liberal by extension. Erasmus of Rotterdam was a Catholic priest from the 1500’s who saw a great need within the church and promoted Christian Humanism, and is the contemporary father of this movement.

I may even venture to say that it is easier for liberals to live moral lives without religion since the things that trigger them as identified by moral psychology:

  • Harm/Care
  • Fairness and Reciprocity

… inherently bring about higher chances of devloping a morally good person or society, whereas it may be more difficult for conservatives to do so since they have a strong negativity bias, dislike for ambiguity, and repond to authoritarian structures regardless of how it affects others.

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My Related Personal Blog Posts

Why are Athiests so Angry?

Background and Preface

I am NOT a nutritionist, medical psychologist, rx therapist or anything cool or authoritative like that. I am merely speaking from my experience and research. I have worked towards weight maintenance and have had great luck with it. I have found a great combination of skills and techniques that have helped me to “easily” lose/maintain my weight to where I want it. This writing will cover as much at this as possible so you too can work your way to a healthier and happier you. What I have written is not all inclusive here, but it should give you a great start towards managing your weight. My BLog postings on this topic are found under the diet category.

I will recommend that you talk to a weight loss counselor, nutritionist, dietitian, therapist, and/or your personal physician before embarking on any weight loss process, especially if your are significantly over-weight or have health problems. Many may not necessarily support my recommendations or may not even have heard of or be knowledgeable about some of the things I recommend, so be prepared for that. Do some research and make an informed decision about how you feel about things.

Weight loss depends on a variety of factors ranging from stomach size, the nutritional density of the foods you consume, to appetite control, and exercise. One of the most important factors and probably the hardest to control is your appetite, which, in my opinion, is the big bugbear of weight loss or maintenance. Listening to your body and adjusting how you hear its messages can make a huge difference in your ability to maintain a healthy weight.

With our lives bent around convenience and eating cheaply and quickly we are perhaps unknowingly putting our bodies under assault with so very many unhealthy and potentially harmful foods. With America being so powerful and with Health Care Reform being so prominent in our current political climate, I would hope that what I am writing about will seem quite pertinent to our lives today.

Weight Loss Basics

The basics of weight less are pretty simple – eat less calories than you need. That’s it. Sounds simple, huh! The multi-million dollar diet industry and the flood of diet plans and solutions definitely speaks to this not being true. With America being, perhaps, the most obese country in the world, I think, makes this very obvious that it is not easy.

Not only is eating less calories important to losing weight, but if you are still eating McDonalds, diet soda, and a gallon of ice cream a week while eating less, this can possibly cause damage to your body, since your body has a smaller selection of foods with which to draw its required nutrients from, and it therefore may resort to pulling nutrients from you body, which is a really bad state to be in. Crap into the body = crap into the body. If you are eating a smaller amount of foods, then the crap you are eating becomes even more crappy since it is more difficult for your body to find the nutrients it needs, and this can result in a sad and unhealthy body and mind. =(

We need to reduce the amount of calories you are eating while increasing the nutritional density of the foods you are eating so that you have all of the vitamins and nutrients to make and keep your body vibrant and  healthy while loosing unhealthy weight. When I say Nutritional Density I am referring to the ratio of calories to the quantity of nutrients in a food.

Let us take a look at 1/2 cup of  Breyers Ice French Vanilla Ice Cream and Portabella Mushrooms to get a feel for what I am meaning. The following stats are pulled from NutritionData.com and are based on 1000 calories:

Nutritional Information for Breyers French Vanilla Ice Cream as pulled from NutrionData.com

Nutritional Information for Breyers French Vanilla Ice Cream as pulled from NutrionData.com (based on 1000 calories)

Nutritional Information for Portabella Mushrooms as pulled from NutrionData.com

Nutritional Information for Breyers Ice Cream French Vanilla Ice Cream as pulled from NutrionData.com (based on 1000 calories)

A half a cup of ice cream yields 118 calories, 34 of which are from fat, with a little of 7 nutrients, whereas a half cup of portabella mushrooms is 11 calories, 1 of which is from fat, with a butt-load of nutrients. =O

Hunger Modes

Our bodies are working against us. We are hardwired to enjoy food and to enjoy eating for obvious reasons – survival. If we, as a species, did not like eating we would have died out a long time ago.  More food means a better chance of survival. Makes senses, right, but in our modern societies with food in abundance this is an instinct that has us eating too much of the foods that will make us fat. We start with an uphill battle against our very evolutionary instincts. It is not easy, but once we get them under control you will be happier for it.  This instinct brings about the eating-to-eat instinct and the Shangri-la portion of my plan should help you to get a hold on that until your will and commitment is stronger.

Mode 1 – Eating to Live

I have written a post about my thoughts and conclusions about how our appetite operates. It has 2 modes one is the eating to live, which is our normal hunger pains. Based on our bodies current set points it makes us hungry. Part of how this is regulated is based on stomach size. If you eat a lot of  of food consistently then you will have a large stomach. The more you normally eat the more your hunger is going to be set to call you to eat so as to maintain a constant supply of food. If you eat a lot then your stomach will always expect you to eat a lot and will make you hungry until you do. Controlling and monitoring this feeling is one of the most important parts of weight loss.  If you eat a small amount of food your stomach will be smaller it will take food less to make you feel comfortable or full.

Mode 2 – Eating to Eat

The other mode is the eating to eat mode – fat storage mode. This is the one that destroys our weight loss progress and control. It is the mode that says that I am really not hungry, but I know there is food around and I want to eat something, and I do not know what. It is the urge to eat something that has us eating extra food in case, from an evolutionary psychological view, our tribe may not be able to hunt down that mammoth this week, so we may go hungry for a few days. This is the survival based fat storage mode our bodies utilize to ensure our survival and it hungers for things that are easily converted to fat – high carb foods laden with sugars like candy, cake, and soda, as well as others that may not be so healthy for us. The body is thinking we need extra energy stored as fat in case we are not successful on a hunt.

My Basic Plan

  1. Phase In/Out
    • start reading labels on the foods you are eating and see what is going into your body
    • start by slowly getting rid of the bad foods and replace them with good foods
    • phase in some good foods or habits/phase out some bad foods or habits
  2. Appetite control
    • eat smaller meals and snacks more often this will get your stomach to reduce in size
    • you can use the Shangri-la process to get your urges under control which should help to stop the eating-to-eat mode
  3. Nutritional Analysis
    • take a  look at diet/nutrion planning sites to help you get a better hold on what and how you are eating
    • read some nutrition books  and websites
    • talk to a nutritionist or dietitian
  4. Exercise
    • this is not necessary for weight loss, but damn it people, it is truly necessary for a healthy mind and body. You will be healthier and happier if you do.
    • start Yoga and/or other exercises

Resources

stomach size and appetite control, exercise and metabolic rate, metabolic set point, nutritional density, phase in/phase out good/bad food, whole food supplements,listening to your body – eating until comfortable and not full, smaller portions more often, or larger and more nutritionally dense portions less often, weigh each week and not each day, feeling full means producing fat

Yoga , Tai Chi, Chi Kung with some other more physical exercise, getting your family or friends involved, healthier support systems can be autocatalytic, eating modes survival and fat storage, colon and heavy metal cleanses + others, cost – eating healthier is more expensive but less expensive towards your lifestyle and well being than getting fat,sick, and depressed, tea, water, Emergen-C
I am not an atheist. I label myself as an agnostic deistic humanist (see my posts under the Ministry tag for more info), physiotherapist
but there are a lot of things about this that I agree with. I love the comment about Galileo, phlebologist
but I think the most important point she makes at the end is that atheism, tadalafil
as a movement, is not angry because of harm that is done to them, they are angry because of the harm done to others due to religion.

The following  video is of the presentation given by  Skepticon 4 titled “Why are Athiests so Angry?”.

Atheists Banned From Public Office in 7 State Constitutions

I originally published this on Google’s Knol quite a while ago. Some have liked what is written here, story some have not. I did have a little help with this, so it is not solely my work.Since my original article this has undergone quite a few changes, reorganizations, and additions so it is a little bit different than the original.

This is by no means complete or the end-all-be-all of polyamory tutorials or introductions, since it is such a diverse lifestyle that you could not really hope to encompass it all in one readable page, but this should give you a good starting point from which you can do your own research and form your own opinions. Good luck and enjoy.

Sections

Infinite Heart

Infinite Heart

Dr. Ludwig Lazarus Zamenhof

About Polyamory

This is a broad overview of polyamory from compersion, jealousy, and relationship agreements with a helpful list of references and definitions.

Polyamory: definition

Polyamory (or the more British spelling ‘polyamoury’) is also referred to as ‘responsible non-monogamy’ or just ‘poly’. It is the state of having, or being oriented to having, multiple concurrent intimate relationships with the full knowledge and consent of all concerned.

Polyamory does not necessarily imply that the relationships are sexual, but many times they are. Some poly relationships may be non-sexual (platonic) romances, with an intimate emotional, psychological, and/or intellectual connection beyond what would merely be called “friendship.”

Successful polyamorous relationships generally require a high level of self-awareness, honesty (especially with oneself), introspection, self-security, and communication among all concerned. Polyamory is not for the faint of heart or wussies.

Origin of the Word

The word ‘polyamory‘ is derived from the Greek poly-, ‘many’, and the Latin amor, ‘love’. The word was invented independently in 1990 by Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart (in the adjectival form ‘poly-amorous’) and in 1992 by Jennifer L. Wesp. (Reference: Polyamory Enters Oxford English Dictionary)

Forms of Polyamory

Poly relationships can take a wide variety of forms. A person may have two lovers who having only passing knowledge of each other, or lovers who are close friends, or lovers who are also romantically and sexually involved with each other (an “equilateral triad”). A married or otherwise life-bonded couple (‘primaries’) may have less-involved relationships with other lovers (‘secondaries’). The commonest poly formation is probably the ‘vee’ (three people with two of them not romantically involved); a vee may be called a “triad” if their lives are deeply intertwined, sex or no. A ‘full’ or ‘equilateral’ triad involves romantic relationships between all three — but the three relationships need not be ‘equal’. In fact, it is a piece of poly wisdom that no two relationships are exactly the same, and trying to force them to be equal is asking for trouble. Larger groups may be ‘quads’ of four with various degrees of interconnectedness, ‘quints’ of five, or ‘intimate networks’ of more people with more complicated geometry.

“The Poly Mantra”

Since the 1980s, and especially since the 1990s, the poly community has grown enormously and shared many hard-won, trial-and-error lessons within the community, both in person and, especially, online. The most often-cited lesson is the so-called poly mantra: “Communicate, communicate, communicate.

A habit of open and honest communication, experience has shown, is almost always required to enable everyone to understand what is going on with each other’s emotions and thoughts — and in the absence of such openness, problems in a poly group are almost guaranteed. Communicating your thoughts and emotions (positive and negative) sooner rather than later helps avert hard feelings and difficult situations, or forces them onto the table. Your partners cannot ‘read your mind‘ and will not ‘just understand or know‘; such romanticized ideals are quickly put aside by successful polyfolks. When a problem arises, be open, honest, calm, and understanding, and all may eventually work itself out. Some poly people and groups hold regular ‘family meetings’ to promote the early airing of nascent problems. If serious problems do not resolve, you might seek the help of a poly-friendly counselor. The books Radical Honesty, Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, and Nonviolent Communication may help give you perspective and effective communication tools.

Compersion or Frubble

‘Compersion’ (or the British ‘frubble’) is the state of feeling joy at the joy of another loved one, specifically, when applied in the poly context, is when a loved one is relating to another person intimately; such as a husband feeling joy at seeing or knowing that his wife is enjoying time with her new boyfriend.

Compersion is the complete opposite of jealousy. Compersion is a goal to which polyfolk often aspire in order to break negative cultural (and/or evolutionary) programming and increase their satisfaction and happiness in their poly relationships.

See Wikipedia’s Compersion article and A Crazy Little thing Called…

Relationship Agreements

Poly relationships are wide and varied in their form, assumptions, and ideologies. What one person takes for granted and assumes may not be true for the others in the relationship, so many find it useful to form a relationship agreement. These agreements, when done, are generally written, but can be completely oral; many are setup as a relationship contact that is agreed and signed by all so there are no misunderstandings. Relationship Agreements can be a very useful tool, especially to those that are new to poly, to help verbalize and work through their thoughts, assumptions, and ramifications of the agreement, as well as to solidify a joint definition of their relationship and acceptable practices.

It is important to remember that relationships are not static, especially poly relationships where people can come and go as time goes on, and you will need revisit this agreement, and bargain and change the agreement to reflect the change in the relationship and your needs. The document should be a living breathing extension of your relationship changing as much as you change.

The book Pagan Polyamory: Becoming a Tribe of Hearts has some good info on this.

Adultery or Cheating

Polys define cheating as the breaking of an viceral agreement or understanding within the relationship. Most married or bonded couples have an agreement, either explicit or culturally implied, and most times includes not having sex with other people (i.e. sexual exclusivity). Polys have a wide variety of agreements and understandings (which, some believe, are best put in writing in order to prevent later confusion, evasion, or wishful thinking).

In sexual terms, cheating can be defined as engaging in an intimate relationship with an outside person without the consent and/or knowledge of your existing partner(s). This usually involves lying, deceiving, or omission of important facts. Cheating is antithetical to polyamory and is usually is as fatal to it as it would be to any relationship. Polyamory requires informed consent and knowledge from all parties involved — and, experience shows, consistently high integrity overall.

Adultery is a legal term referring to sex with an outside partner while married, and the word normally implies cheating. A more extensive treatise on adultery from the Christian perspective is handled in the book ‘Divine Sex‘ (see below).

Jealousy

Jealousy is the big ‘monster-in-the-closet‘ for many relationships regardless of their form. It is a special issue for polyamory, since participants have to face personal fears and insecurities (the roots of jealousy) that monogamous couple may mostly avoid. The righteousness of feeling jealous is supported by our culture in movies, cultural values, religion, and laws, but jealousy something that is learned and therefore can be unlearned. Many couples battle with it (in and outside of poly), and is a common reason for emotional turmoil and breakups in poly relationships, especially near the beginning. Defeating jealousy in your life may require a tremendous amount of soul searching, introspection, honesty, communication, as well as trust and faith in your relationships and partners.

See below for some sites that deal with this issue.

Marriage

Polyamory, in-and-of-itself, does not assume marriage is the goal or a desired outcome. Polyamory and Marriage, however, are not mutually exclusive either, since they both deal with relationships at various levels.

Polygamy is explicitly a type of marital state involving plural partners, whereas monogamy is explicitly a type of marital state involving single partners and that is it.

Polyamory is referring to an open and honest relationship model involving plural partners.

Polygamy is specific to marriage, whereas Polyamory is not. However, since marriage is a type of relationship and so is polyamory, they can and do meet.

Polyfidelity within polyamory could mirror a ‘traditional’ polygynous (MFFF) or polyandrous (FMMM) marriage exactly. You could have a polyamorous quad (MFMF) that is married polygamously via Group Marriage (polygamy). You could also have a Polygynous Quad (MFFF) that was polyamorous. You could even have a monogamous marriage that was polyamorous or more commonly – just an Open Marriage.

New Relationship Energy (NRE) or Limerence

NRE (resulting from limerence) is the honeymoon phase of the relationship when everything is new and exciting and brain chemicals keep you in a potentially blind emotional high. It typically lasts 6 months to 2 or 3 years. This ‘high‘ can have you doing things that you would not do while in a normal and objective frame of mind. When you are engaging in a new relationship you will want to guard yourself and your relationships from this as best you can. Enjoy the ride, but be careful.

Once the ‘love-struck‘ or ‘blinded-by-love‘ condition wears off some find themselves, in retrospect, having made bad decisions, hurting and neglecting those that they love and have committed themselves to. NRE can be seen as a sort of a not-so-short sickness that one has to deal with and monitor for fear of negatively impacting your other relationships with emotional and love-struck decisions.

See Wikipedia’s articles on New Relationship Energy (NRE) and Limerance.

Swinging

Swinging is not polyamory, and the difference is often a sore spot when poly people are speaking with non-polys about what polyamory is. Swinging is generally recreational sex with little emotional involvement. Swinging is typically done by couples attending special swing venues or parties together. Swinging communities often have rules, explicit or implied, against falling in love with others in your swing group.

Sometimes people who swing tire of sex for its own sake and wish for more personal and intimate connections. Two or more couples who swing together frequently may simply grow to become close life friends and/or desire more. In either case, people may find themselves drifting away from swinging and into the wonderful and challenging world of polyamory.

Conversely, polyamorists can be swingers too, happy to enjoy an occasional no-strings fling at a party or sex club. But the two circles tend to be different in terms of sociology, class, philosophy, and intellectual background. Many polys shun swinging because of negative connotation associated with it. The mainstream attitude is that swinging is wrong and immoral; the mainstream attitude toward polyamory is similar, but polys usually resist being stigmatized as caring only about sex.

A group could be an open triad with a relationship agreement stating that swinging is OK, and one or more of the participants engages in swinging. The triad relationship would still be polyamorous, but the relationship with the outside swinging partners would not necessaily be.

adultery or cheating
see the Adultery or Cheating section
closed
not open to new relationships; see polyfidelity
compersion
see the Compersion section
duogamy
a newer term I encountered that refers to a bisexual person maintaining relationships with 1 person of each gender with the belief that if the 2 relationships are with people of different genders and are mongamous with respect to the specific genders, then it is still ‘monogamy’. This might be kind of a transitional label or used to specifically deny or avoid the polyamorous label while still respecting their choice for a plural partner arrangement.
dyad
an intimate committed relationship with two people
golden unicorn
slang term for the bisexual female that is generally desired as a intimate and/or sexual partner for both members of a Dyad, most likely with the intent to form a Triad. In most cases this is for an established MF Dyad whose female is also bisexual.
group marriage
a subset of polygamy
a general term which refers to a marriage which includes more than one person of each gender. While polygamy, in current contexts. tends to have connotations that assume a main spouse of one gender and then multiple spouses of the other gender as in polyandry and polygygy (see below); group marriage generally connotates a marriage which includes more than one person of each gender which may be further defined as open or cloaed, etc…
HBB
and acronym meaning ‘Hot Bi(sexual) Babe’; see Golden Unicorn
Intentional Community
a community of people with shared values that live together and share various resources
see Wikipedia’s article on Intentional Communities
limerance
see the New Relationship Energy (NRE) section
monamorous
loving only one other person
monogamy
marrying only one other person
new relationship energy (NRE)
see the New Relationship Energy (NRE) section
open
an relationship formation that is open to intimacy from outside their primaries, such as an Open Dyad
open marriage
a marriage in which the spouses have agreed to have intimate partners outside their marriage
pod
within polyamory a pod has been described as ‘a committed network of lifelong intimate friends’. More generally a pod is a collection of people who are intimate at varying levels. Some may be permanent parts of each others lives like the primary/secondary arrangements or may be only part of the pod for small parts of times.
polyandry
a subset of polygamy
the state of a woman having more than one husband
polyandry, fraternal
a subset of polygamy
the state of a woman having more than one husband that are brothers related by blood
statistically, this is commonly the most successful form of polyandry
polyfidelity
polyfi‘ for short
a relationship with multiple committed partners that is closed to new intimate relationships
polygamy
the state of having more than one spouse
polygyny
a subset of polygamy
the state of a man having more than one wife
polygyny, sororal
a subset of polygamy
the state of a man having more than one wife that are sisters related by blood
statistically, this is commonly the most successful form of polygyny
primary
Refers to the most committed relationships, which are also most likely the most important relationships such as a husband, wife, life partner, or others whom a person has committed relationship with. The most time and energy is spent with a person’s primaries. Some do not like this terminology, but others find it fitting and precise.
quad
an intimate committed relationship with four people
romantic myths
Romantic socio-cultural beliefs that when stoically held onto may potentially hinder a person’s ability to find happiness in relationships. Their belief in these myths, may have them holding out for an impossible romantic ideal for a future partner or have unrealistic expectation for their current partners. Western Romantic Myths tend to reinforce the starvation model of love as well.
see starvation model of love and ‘the one’ for more information; there are links below on this topic
secondary
Refers to relationships that are secondary in importance, time, and/or resources, etc to their primary relationships, such as new girlfriend or long term casual long distance love. Some do not like this terminology, but others find it fitting and precise.
see: Successful Secondaries, Taking Care of Secondaries from Xero Mag
scarcity model of love
starvation model of love
starvation economy of love
Believing that love is limited and that if I love this one person romantically then I cannot love another romantically without loving less or not loving the first person. Love is limited and therefore I can only romantically love one person at a time. This seems to be at odds with our ability to love more than one parent, child, friend, etc. This phenomenon is greatly fed by the romantic myth of the ‘the one’ or ‘your one true love’, as well as by movies, literature, and our conservative laws and social views.
sex negative
The pervailing attitude of Western culture finds sexuality and all things sexual negative, sinful, guilt ridden, and distasteful. Sexuality is not something to open about or to enjoy, since it is only for species perpetuation – reproduction. It is something to be repressed and ignored unless necessary.
see Wikipedia’s article on Sex Negativity
sex positive
Sex positive people see their sexuality as a natural part of who we are and not afraid of or ashamed of enjoying it, or taking responsibility for their own satisfaction.
see Wikipedia’s article on the Sex Positive Movement or The Language of Sex Positivity (The Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality)
sexual dimorphism
Sexual Dimorphism is term from biology that refers to the size difference in the genders of a species. Studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between the level of sexual dimorphism in a species to the level of monogamousness of a species. The greater the size difference the less monogamous a species is.
sexual monogamy
This comes from the world of biology and refers to the state of a creature that maintains a sexually monogamous relationship with one another mate, but this does not assume social monogamy. Generally a creature that is sexually monogamous will also be socially monogamous other wise there will not be much reproductive benefit.
social monogamy
This comes from the world of biology and refers to the state of a creature that concentrates on acquiring food, shelter, defense, etc for only one other mate. A socially monogamous creature can can be does not also have to be sexual monogamous. Socially monogamous creatures are often sexually polygamous (seeking sexual partners outside their primary partner). There is only a small percentage of creatures that are mostly socially and sexually monogamous.
squick
a psychological source of discomfort (see wickionary’s definition)
swinging
see the Swinging section
‘the one’
‘the one true love’
‘you complete me’
This view assumes that as soon as you have met ‘the one’ that you cannot and will not love another, and that you will need no one or anything else because this one person will fulfill you in all ways. You will also find no other people physically, sexually, intellectually, or emotionally attractive or desireable. This is one of the most destructive romantic myths in Western culture by putting the responsibility for your happiness in someone else, and not yourself.
triad
an intimate committed relationship with three people
tribe
intimate network
pod
a set of words to describe the collection of poly and/or potentially non-poly people having relationships with poly people. Each word has its own set of connotations and nuances depending on the group.
trouple
A trouple is 3 people involved in a romantic relationship; whereas two people in a romantic relationship are referred to as a ‘couple’. a dyad that is dating a third would be referred to as a trouple.
v
a relationship form where there is a single person (at the V’s hinge) to which both other members are sexually intimate with and are not intimate with each other, which is a typical formation for a FMF or MFM triad

More Terms and Definitions

References and Resources

Articles (Individual)

Audio and Video

Books

Discussion Groups, Meetings, Mailing Lists

Many of the sites mentioned through out this article have forums as well. You will most likely want to search for a group that is local to you as well. Many major cities have poly lists, meetings, and support groups.

Sites, Organizations, and Professionals

Meeting Poly Partners or Social Networking

I was not surprised to see this still an issue. In the pre-revolution days many of the colonies had religious tests as a requirement to hold office. They did out-law it at some point prior to the the uniting of the colonies, cialis if I remember correctly, but still there remains these last remaining vestiges of Christian religious oppression. Fortunately, the Constitution is really clear on this and tells the state to suck it.

New Examiner Article: “Science as a method of faith affirmation or spirituality.”

I have just posted a new article for the Milwaukee Examiner titled “Science as a method of faith affirmation or spirituality.

Article

Consider science as a method of pursuing spirituality or affirming your faith no matter what your path – Christian, read atheist, store or something else. I alluded to this idea in my previous article titled “Do we have options in the religion vs science debate?” by saying that:

Scientists of all sorts have the job of trying to understand the very things that the hand of the creator has created – geologists, illness biologists, and psychologists to geneticists and quantum physicists. For some, their scientific study and exploration can be an awe inspiring and faith affirming exercise.

Science and religion are both pursuing truth – science in the physical world and religion in the metaphysical world. What more glorious and spiritual a journey can there be than to explore and understand the mechanics behind the wide variety of our seemingly miraculous existence? In exploring and understanding how living creatures and matter work you can find an awe and reverence for all of existence due to the inherent complexity and the delicate balance that is required to make life  possible: atoms, molecules, elements, proteins, DNA, RNA, synapses, electrical impulses, muscles, and nerves, to temperature, gravity, atmosphere, crystal lattice structures, strong and weak nuclear forces, chemical reactions, inverse square law, quantum entanglement, fusion and fission, and and the list goes on an on.

As science understands more and more about how everything works, it makes our existence even more implausible and so very small as the known universe gets larger and larger – in the billions of billions of universes and trillions of trillions of planets. New galaxies and cosmological discoveries are found each week as our technology allows us to peer farther and farther into deepest reaches of the cosmos putting the possibility that life existing on any single plant as being statistically improbable due to inappropriate conditions to support life as we know it. Perhaps all of this is helpful in reaffirming the belief in humanity’s favor with the creator, or perhaps reaffirming the glory of evolutionary happenstance and serendipity as the conditions happen to be just right for life as we know it to form on this insignificant little planet called Earth.

A very knowledgeable man, Dr. Hugh Ross, talks in a Youtube video series about Creation as a Science. I do not happen to agree with almost  everything he says (at least within the first 3 parts), but the evidence that he points out is exactly what I am talking about – how our knowledge of science and our existence is such an seemingly miraculous thing that it can be affirming of our faith. Many of these numerous reasons are pointed out in the his videos and on their his organization’s website: Reasons.org – a trinitarian faith-science organization.

Andrew Kerr, a speaker at my church, takes a more philosophical approach in two of his speeches to my congregation in 2007: Atheism as a Religious Affirmation and Cosmos: Suggestions for an Atheistic Religion. I have found his words an inspirational and thought provoking approach to possibility of spiritual atheism through science and the physical world.

Both point to, albeit from widely different angles, a similar idea – that the reverence brought on by the wonder and understanding of our what things all had to fall into place to make humanity’s existence possible can be a faith affirming or spiritual experience no matter what you spiritual or a-spiritual beliefs are.

Debate: Is Religion a Force for Good or Evil in the World?

A little about me: I am a 35 year old white married male of the Unitarian Unversalist and Centrist persuasions. I have never been a prostitute, for sale used the services of a prostitute, nor known or known anyone who knew a prostitute.

I am writing this post in a response to a debate I am participating in just a little bit at Change.org titled “Prostitution and Trafficking: A Policy Debate. In putting this together I am hoping to distill, formulate, and solidfy my opinion and position on this controversial topic. Most of my discussion will revolve around the topic of Prostitution itself, and a some about the Human Trafficking issue.

It is important to understand that it is not only males that are frequenting prostitutes. There are females as well, but males are, by far, in the majority. Some of it has to do with males, in general, having a higher sex drive and being far less selective in their sexual partners than women. Keep in mind also that they are not all heteroesexual, some are homosexual as well.

For most of my discussion I will assume that “prostitutes’ or “sex workers” are adults who choose their profession. I will cover those who do not qualify as such, but are involved with prostitution, in the ‘Legalization and Regulation’ portion of my discussion.

There are a lot of things to take into consideration when discussing the issues of prostitution and human trafficking and I will try to cover a lot of it here so we can put it all into perspective and discuss it as objectively as possible. Not everyone is going to agree with everything I have to say here. Some of it is definitely solely my opinion, some of it is not. I still have to gain quotes, fact, and examples for this to support my work, but any how, here we go:

Prostitution and Human Trafficking Are Separate Issues

Prostitution and Human Trafficking while seeming, and in some cases, definitely related are not visceral to each other. You can (and do) have prostitution that does not involve Human Trafficking, and vice verse, Human Trafficking that does not involve Prostitution. They are distinct and seperate issues and need to be treated as such. The existence of one does not intrinsically invoke the existence of the other.

Consensual Prostitution

Topical Background

Choosing the Profession

Many who discuss this topic speak of prostitution as a necessarily slave based profession, as if there are not people that choose to be prostitutes, and that all are brought to this occupation by human trafficking.

Many do choose to be prostitutes because it is a lucrative profession that generates a lot of money. Some choose it because of the extremely low barrier of entry. Some choose it because they really, really, really enjoy sex. Some for power and influence over the opposite sex. There are other reasons I am sure. Some strippers in Florida make in excess of $100,000 a year. Imagine what someone who was actually a sex worker would make there.

Something which is also related to prostitution is those in the porn industry. They do similar work, but the method of pay and client base is considerably different. Porn is one of the largest and most profitable businesses to be in. Again, most choose this profession and it involves having sex with others while getting paid for it.

Prostitution is a Consensual Crime

Prostitution is a Consensual Crime, and this is also key to many of todays civil rights movements such as gay and poly rights, drugs, and so on. Work towards the abolishment of the criminalization of consensual crimes may see a sort of a rennaisance in the coming decades or so as gay rights and polyamory/polygamy soldier on.

The book “Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do: The Absurdity Of Consensual Crimes In Free Society” covers this topic in great detail. While I do not agree with everything the book says about consensual crimes it is a great read and very applicable to this discussion.

Prostitutes choose to engage in a sexual act with someone in exchange for money. It is their choice to have sex with a person on their terms, be it dating, for cash, or as a one night stand, or serial monogamy.

In any case consent and terms are given and, hopefully, adhered to. Why does having a direct money transaction soil the consensual act of sexual interecourse with another human being?

Consent, as is applicable to this discussion, does not involve coercion or duress. Either they really do have a choice and are legally able to give consent, or they cannot. People that are forced into prostitution by slave trade are not there by their choice and therefore do not give consent. People who are raped do not, by definition, give consent. Anyone who is not legally able to give consent by virtue of being underaged or mentally unfit to do so, cannot give consent. People who are in fear for their personal safety and acquiesce are not giving consent for there is duress and/or coercion present.

Because Something is Illegal Does Not Mean It Is Wrong

There are so many laws that have been passed in our country’s (and others) history that have propagated gross civil rights violations and have been repealed because their unconstitutional nature has been recognized. Part of this is due to evolving cultural values, and an increase in understanding in civil rights and the very nature of our humanity.

Just because something is currently illegal, does not mean that it should be. African Americans and women not having rights, interracial marriages and so on are all things that have been limited or illegal in America’s history, and, in the face of cultural evolution and greater understanding of civil rights these gross violations, have been corrected, but the historical damage done to those is these demographics still remain, as horrible vesitges of the past.

Separation of Church and State

When discussing the topic of prostitution it is faulty to assume or imply in your arguments, no matter how emotional or vehement they may be, that all sex workers are slaves, emotionally scarred, abused, crime ridden, would never choose the profession, or that it should patently be illegal purely for morality’s sake.

In much of the discussion there are many who espouse conservative Christian views about sin and morality, or saying that no woman would do this, or no woman would want that. I do not necessarily want to tell them to stuff it, because that would not be appropriate. I appreciate their zeal and passion for their spiritual path and morality, but not everyone belives as they do. Believe it or not, there are other religions out there that do not have similar beliefs. My favorite phrase when talking about this topic is, and it is very important to remember:

Keep your religion out of our government.

James E. O’Neill, IV

Religion, spirituality, or aspirituality is a personal choice and our government is not. The government governs over all of us regardless of what our personal beliefs are. Unless you want to start a Conservative Christian Theocracy (and maybe you do) I would suggest keeping in mind that there are other religions out there and your religion is not the only choice, and to impose it on others is wrong and a violation of our Consitutional rights. To want to do so is a step back to the heretical days where the church burned people at the stake for asking questions or thinking.

If you base all laws off of conservative Christian morality you are automatically descrimintating against other religions. Due to the nature of the topic. If you do not like it, you do not have to do it. You do not have to support it and you can teach your children likewise, but others have the option to do the exact opposite. Legalizing is does not mean that we are going to force you to participate or support it. It is wise and better for society in general if you are able to separate your personal views from your politcal views, and to be able to know when one should be different from the other.

There are some religion or spiritual paths that revere sexuality such as Tantra or Paganism or other similar paths. In all cases, as long as the prostitution is consensual and does not harm anyone then what business does the government or you have in telling them what they can and cannot do with their sexuality. It is their personal choice what to do with their sexuality, not yours. Because your deity tells you that this is wrong does not mean that their deity (or deities) says it is also.

Evolution

You are probably going to ask “What the hell does any of this section have to do with prostitution?”. Well, I am really working to establish humanity’s proclivities towards extra-pair coupling, or more simply, their desire to seek sexual release outside of their primary relationship (if they have one) or to seek variety in sexual partners to establish that prostitution, perhaps, provides valuable service that caters to our evolutionary and baser instincts.

Birth Rates

The average birthrate for humans is 55% males to 45% females, of course it differs from person to person, depending on evolutionary advantages the couple bears, but this is the average, so there is always going to be a surplus of males who do not have an acceptable mate and may choose a prostitute to vent their sexual energies. Prostitution is a natural and safer vent for these sexual energies than kidnapping and rape.

Sexual Dimorphism

If you also take into account scienctific studies which have shown that the level of sexual dimorphism (size difference between the genders) is directly proportional to the level of non-monogamousness of the species. The larger the difference iin size between the genders the less monogamous the species is.

Take, for example, Silverback Gorilla’s whose males are much larger than the females (~50%); they practice harem gaurding. The alpha male takes and protects the females that he wants and the other males get the left-overs.

Puffins, a species of flightless bird, whose genders are the same size, and they mate monogamously for life.

Humans, where males are larger than females, but not by a large amount, are definitely not completely monogamous. Our infidelity stats and the existence of prostitution as one of the oldest occupations tend to speak to this as well.

Morality

Evolutionary psychologists bascially are out to define exacly what humanity is at its most base level. They look for the traits and characteristics that are similar to all humans regardless of culture, and some of this encompasses moral values.

Some would say that morality is given to us by our religion. I will say that religion will offer a cultural/religious specific implementation for our base evolutionary morality that oft times is colored or stained by current cultural values and biases. There are too many moral commonalities between dissimilar religions and cultures for religion to be the sole peddler of morality to humanity.

Sociocultural Values

This little section will not be quite in the same genre as the others in this section, but it is similar.

The sociocultural values of the United States have been continuously evolving as we gain a better understanding of morality, ethics, and our humanity. Our values are strongly rooted in the conservative European Christian tradition which tends to be quite closed minded and opposes change in sociocultural values especially when it undermines current church teachings.

Most every civil rights movement is championed by a vocal minority and definitively opposed by the conservative religious majority. People have fled from the oppressive and stagnant yoke of theocratic rule to the United States all throughout history. Conservative religions promote maintenance of the status quo resulting in stagnancy and punishing the thinking man who questions the unquestionable religious majority, often to their detriment.

The United States has worked through such civil rights movements such as slavery, womens suffrage, and interracial marriage. All of which have been opposed by conservative religions in one form or another, and decried as the downfall of civilization as we know it, but it has come to pass to the betterment of society as a whole, and our world has not fallen into chaos and brimstone as they have portend.

Our morality and sociocultural values continue to evolve and change with our understanding and exploration of our humanity and our (a)spirituality, and will continue to do so. Some will champion these causes and some will oppose them. This is the way that it is, but still civil rights keep moving imminently forward, advancing our knowledge of our values and our humanity. Hell, even the Bible had changing and evolving laws and standards.

Sex Is Not Just For Procreation

Contrary to what some may say or think, the act of sexual intercourse for most humans is not done solely and specifically for the intent of species perpetuation. Humans, as well as some primates and dolphins, if I remember correctly, are the primary species that engage in sexual play or intercourse for recreational purposes as well. Sex is not just for generating progeny. It is also for pleasure, bonding, and social interaction.

What To Do About Prostitution? Make Prostitution Legal.

As you may have already guessed that I belive that we should legalize prostitution. It is the oldest profession in the world, and arguably provides a valuable service. I do not have all of the answers or sides of the story, and I will never claim to, but I will put forth my ideas and suggestion here so you can see what I am proposing.

You will find that a lot of what I propose here is also viable when talking about polygamy as well. The licensing/Taxation parts, of course, does not really apply, but you get the picture.  Currently you will see some of it being implemented in Utah for polygamy refugees.

Decriminalization

Decriminalizing prostitution will allow those who wish help to come forward and get it. Many do not go to the police, psychologist, or hospital due to being afraid that they will get in trouble, or lose their children. A very similar case exists for those involved in non-consensual polygamy. If they want out or if they have been raped, robbed, abused, or whatever else, much of it goes unreported and damage to them continues to mount as the current law treats them as a criminal even when they are victimized. Decriminalizing it will also work towards changing the public’s opinion towards this occupation. Majority public opinion will always have a negative opinion towards anything that is currently illegal.

Another aspect of the criminalization, and most assuredly, the stigma associated with, prostitution makes it really hard for those who are in prostitution to get out of this job or enslavement. If they have a criminal record with prostitution then they are probably not going to get hired for many jobs and therefore have to resort to prostitution again as the only other option, and in seeing no way out, depression sets in and then eventually drug use and crime. Decriminalization will help those who want to get out to get out, and stop this vicious cycle.

Social Support and Preparation

Name Change

Perhaps one of the more basic things we can do is change the name of the profession: words such as prostitute, hooker, and whore have severe negative connotations and thousands of years of religious baggage associated with them. Perhaps changing the base name to sex worker and then sepecific implementations or common usage to companion, liaison, escourt, consort or others shall also give the profession a new image and feel, as well as to help to alleviate the negative baggage that comes with the current labels.

Create A Sex Positive Culture Through Training and Public Education

America has a negative opinion of sex and all things sexual. The attitude towards sex and engaging in it is distinctly negative and not something to talk about. Because people are positively having sex does not mean that society’s attitude is positive towards it.

Currently, cheating on your partner is significanly more socially acceptable than an open and honest polyamorous relationship. Sex negativity is a pervasive American attitude and our laws most assuredly support that.

We are not teaching our children responsiblity in sexual matters or even relationships skills, and part of that is because of the negative attitude we have towards sex and fear of intimacy or inadequacy, or perhaps even inadequate positive role models.

It is a difficult topic to talk to our children about, and many parents have no idea or are ashamed to broach to subject with them. Our schools still teach abstinence or nothing at all, and we do not have good curriculum in place to help children to cope with their raging hormones and all of their questions, rumors, and insecurities about their changing bodies and feelings, and their desire to explore their new feelings and urges.

Teaching sexual education in a positive and healthy light will help to change people’s attitudes towards it. Our sexuality is a beautiful thing and not something to be ashamed of. Many Unitarian Univeraslist congregations have great sex education curriculum. Perhaps their work is a good starting point for this.

A change in the public attitude towards sex and prositution will also help to prevent violent crimes towards sex workers. Sex workers are strongly stigmatized and many aggressors feel vindicated in their violent behavior just because they are ‘just a filthy prostitute’, as if the sex worker, or any person, is not deserving of dignity. Conservative views, strong stimatization, and sexual repression in our society all lend itself towards the acceptance of violence towards sex workers.

Training of Professionals and Public Service Workers

Currently, the pervading attitude culturally, and for many healthcare, social work, and legal professionals, is very negative towards sexually liberated people, and specficically to prostitution. Public service people such as doctors, police, psychologists and so on need to be taught or need to study the needs and situations that prostitutes face so that they may be better prepared to be able to be objective and to truly help prostitutes in their times of need, and to be able to prevent themselves from potentially victimizing a victim.

Prostitutes need to be assumed to be innocent and/or a victim as should anyone who would be seeking help. An environment of protection needs to be established and not an antogonistic one, otherwise they will not be able to find, or feel that they can find, appropriate help if they have been harmed by someone. Police brutality is partially fostered due to the negative attitude towards them due to prostitution being illegal and having a sex negative culture.

Support Groups

In our current sex negative culture, and with the possibility of human trafficking, rape, and negative socioeconomic conditions – support groups, rehabilitation, sanctuary, relocation, or retraining needs to be offered to them to allow them to get a fresh start and start over in a more positive way if they are victims and are able to get out. Similar programs are currently being setup for those fleeing from fundementalist polygamous marriages as well. These sorts of things can benefit both groups.

Legalization and Regulation

Part of the legalization process will change the parameters for entry into this profession so as to increase the barrier to entry, increase the health, safety, and tracking of the profession as a whole, as well as raise tax money for increased law enforcement and social support. Social support will be very important until as such time as the profession becomes acceptable, as well as having the active and positive support from the law enforcement community.

Minimum Age

Setting a minimum age to 18 will be an important, regardless of the age of consent within the state, since some states go from 16 – 18. This will protect children before they are ready to perform work of a mature nature such as this. The ability to serve alcohol serves a similar function.

Licensing

First, we institute a licensing model. I first mentioned the real estate model – broker/licensee simply because it models the current method of prostitution well. However, perhaps it is also important to have it so that individuals can work alone too, and not have to deal with others if they do not wish to. Either way, I do not care which model is implemented, or something different, but I recommend them as a starting point.

One benefit of licensing is increasing the barrier to entry, as well as associated costs which will generate revenue for the government which can also go towards support for prostitution support programs and increased police work to protect them, and working towards clamping down on human trafficking violations and so on.

Prostitutes will need to get a license to practice and this will allow us to track who is a legally practicing as well as institute taxation on their practice. Having licenses will also allow us to determine who is potentially working legally, illegally, consensually, or non consensually as well.

This will make it harder for those involved with human trafficking in prostituion to do as such.

Training Requirements

The next part of this program shall be training and testing. Training in a licensing program shall include topics such as:

  • health risks and concerns, and methods of protection, safe sex practices
  • psychological effects of the job for the sex worker, and for their clients
  • rights, support programs, legal protections and obligations
  • health testing requirements for worker and clientele
  • sex worker code of ethics
  • taxation and licensing requirements
  • disclosure requirements for human trafficking, disease, abuse, etc..

All of these will be important to not only change the public opinion of the profession, but also to educate and protect the sex workers and their clientele.

It will be a requirement that all professionals report any suspected human trafficking or abuse in a similar manner that doctors or lawyers would have to do or face loss of license, fines, and prison time due to ethics violations.

Required Medical Testing for Sex Workers

Mandatory medical testing should be required for licensing to ensure that they are drug and STD free. They should also require periodic drug and health testing to maintain their license. Perhaps weekly, monthly, or every quarter or so.

Their code of ethics should also include in which cases you should have to get a additional medical tests done like if you find out that a client was recently diagnosed with something and so on.

Clientele Medical Testing

I know with the current attitude towards prostitution that there will be quite the stigma associated with this possibility, but those who partake of their services should give similar protections to their service provider as they would give to them. A standard suite of tests run on clients as well as a survey of their sexual history so that the sex worker can decide whether or not to accept the client for services. This will also serve as gounds for lawsuits and prosectution in case they rape or abuse the sex worker. This will be harder to pass and to put into effect, but of much value to enforce protection for client and sex worker, as well as instilling the importance of personal responbility for our sexuality.

Other Legal Measures and Other Issues

For much of these issues there will need to be changes made to existing laws, or enforcement of the laws will need to be increased. The options I listed above will also combat some of these issues as well.

Rape: When a person does not consent to a sexual act then then is called rape and there are laws for that. People can be convicted of raping their spouse, as well. Just because there is an assumed relationship, it does not assume consent. A prostitute can most definitely not consent to a sexual act, just a much as general contractor can not agree to a contract for work.

Children: Again, there are laws regarding this. A child cannot give consent. A person who believes otherwise is committing, at least, statutory rape. If a person gives this child money and then engages in a sexual act that is still rape, since consent cannot be given. The presence of money is not relevant.

Human Trafficking: Human trafficking laws need to be reevaluated and perhaps made more severe. Police will want to make this a priority to combat and engage in mystery shopper/quality assurance type work to ensure that all the rules and regulations are working as well as to look for abuse, human trafficking, and other violations. The more this is done, the more dangerous it will be for these criminals, and will decrease the cost/benefit for the crime.

International Socio-Economic Issues: Another part of the Prostitution/Human Trafficking issue is socio-economic in nature. Many are out-right abducted into sexual-slavery and taken to other countries. Some are told stories of a better life and the possibility to be independent and free from their current squalorous and oppressive life and country. Many that are tricked into it are there because they hope that this opportunity that they are being sold will help them and their familiies. If their socio-economic situation or politcal climate was conducive to freedom and safety these situations would be far less likely to happen.

Immigration: Immigration will really need to be looked. If immigration controls are stronger and more thorough then it becomes harder to traffic humans. We do, however, have issues with that since we have a massive about of coastal lands as well as weak border security with Mexico and Canada where human trafficking could be conducted from. This needs to be very much looked at and improved.

Infidelity: Infidelity is not the problem of the sex worker. It is not the job of a sex worker to be a relationship counselor, therapist, or fidelity checker. If someone comes to a sex worker (without their partner’s knowledge and consent)  then that is a symbol that either there are unresolved issues with themselves, their relationship, or that they have an open relationship. In either case it is not an issue with sex work as a profession. It is an issue with the and very strongly –  our sex negative culture with which there is a heavy stigma placed upon sexually liberated people, and those who take care of their sexual desires in a non-violent and mutually beneficial arrangement.

International Support for Human Trafficking Laws
Since a lot of the human trafficking involves taking people across national borders, we will need to work with those countries to help garner support for existing Human Trafficking laws and have them put this issue as a priority, and start to combat it, not only in law enforcement, but on a cultural level as well. PSA’s about how human trafficking is wrong as well as having known human trafficking organization crushed, will be a good start.

References

Michael Shermer and Dinesh D’Souza go toe-to-toe on some of the greatest issues related to science and religion: is there evidence for God’s existence, order
what is the proper relationship between science and religion, mind
and has religion been a force for good or evil in the world?: Is Religion a Force for Good or Evil in the World?

I have not had a chance to watch it all yet, but I am really looking forward to listen to their debate.

Atheism II – Cosmos: Suggestions for an Atheistic Religion

I have published my first article for the Milwaukee Examiner titled “Do we have options in the religion verses science debate?“.

Article

If a single entity created the stars, gynecologist planets, doctor time, space, and life itself then science is the very study of that wonderful and potentially divine creation. Scientists of all sorts have the job of trying to understand the very things that the hand of the creator has created – from geologists, biologists, and psychologists to geneticists and quantum physicists. For some their scientific  study and exploration can be an awe inspiring and faith affirming exercise. For others it can be a source and angst and internal conflict.

If science is the study of all that has been divinely created then why is it all too often at odds with religion? Throughout history scientists and visionaries such a s Copernicus and Galileo were afraid to speak their ‘heretical’ idea of (heliocentrism vs the predominant and church accepted geocentrism) or were even demanded to recant their views under threat of being burned at the stake. Even today’s modern evolutionary and geological scientist are under a similar, though less harmful, assault by a religious front.

Take evolution vs creation as a specific example of a modern science vs religion battleground. Evolutionary sciences has modern humanity (homo sapiens) as being approximately 40 thousand  years old and the earth at several billion years old, while the counter religious movements have both at less than 10 thousand years. This is quite the significant disparity in age between the two views, and, in this enlightened age there is still much bitterness and vehemence in arguments against each other.

I wonder why this has to be. Why are some religions so afraid of scientific advancement and the furthering our understanding of this wonderful and potentially divine creation that has given us the miracle of life and free will?

For me, such bridge theories such as evolutionary creationism and biblical to geological correlations via Day-Age Creationism help to make sense of things and to bring science and religion together in a non-aggressive and logical manner.

Why could not the creator have created all of life with evolution as its impetus for change and existence? What exactly is a biblical day to a potentially omniscient and omnipotent creator who created time and matter itself? Does the creator live by our Earth centric view of time at 24 hours per day, which may be horribly arrogant of and presumptuous of us, or does this entity who created time itself have a more fluid day in the billions or hundreds of millions of years as geological evidence would have us believe? This is for you to decide with evolutionary creationism and Age-Day Creationism as a good middle ground.

  • Topical Wikipedia Links

  • Other Links

Sauk City Part 1 talk by Andrew Kerr on May 20, info
2007 at Park Hall

First I would like to thank all of you for the opportunity to speak to you about such a fascinating topic. The topic is timely as well, order
and when fascinating topics become timely, information pills
the effect is quite exciting. My thanks, too, to Michael Whaley for extending the invitation to speak and for giving to me the chance to learn something about your congregation. I respect your commitment to reason and to conversation as sources of insight. It will be these resources that I hope to bring to bear on today’s topic.

I do not come here as an academic, not intentionally. Philosophy belongs to all of us. It is a human activity.

The philosophical point that I would like to offer to you today is the thesis that atheism can be religious. I am not saying that it must be. But I am saying that it is reasonable to entertain a religious atheism. It is reasonable, it seems to me, for two reasons. First, religion I warrant is best understood as a question rather than an answer. If so, then atheism can be defined as the family of non-theistic answers to the question of religion. Atheism can be a body of religious thought. Second, some atheistic answers to the question of religion have attributes resembling those of the sometimes more popular answer to the religious question, God. ‘God’ is often a troubled choice of answer to the religious question, when people think about it. But the qualities bound up in the idea of God which make God such a popular answer – qualities such as inclusiveness, persistence in experience, cosmic scope – I believe can also be part of an atheistic answer to the question of religion.

A commitment to reason demands that I tell to you the assumptions informing my conclusions about atheism. My assumption is that philosophy can adequately understand the topic of atheism, the topic of God, the topic of religion. What do I mean by philosophy? Philosophy is the work of understanding ideas completely using logic and the facts. Whitehead once wrote that philosophy is the one avocation denied omniscience. Ignoring for the moment the intelligibility of ‘omniscience,’ I agree with Whitehead that humans pursue philosophy because we are fragmentary. We cannot grasp reality all at once, so must learn through inference and exploration. Philosophy is adventure.

Because the philosophic effort at conceptual clarity requires consistent thinking and fact-checking, it is a rational enterprise. To say ‘rational’ is to say that we must give reasons for our claims, we must appeal to principles rather than personal experience or authority. Philosophy is a rational adventure. Let me say as well that is it impossible for this talk to possess more insight than its assumptions possess. It may, of course, possess less.

If philosophy is the work of understanding ideas completely using logic and the facts, then it becomes an approach used in all the arts and sciences. Philosophy is not simply a topic of its own, but a way of pursuing many topics. It is certainly used in physics and biology; examine writings reflecting upon quantum physics or upon the meaning of the term ‘species.’ Philosophy, I warrant, is found in abundance in literature and in the visual arts.

Because philosophy means the application of reason to the study of ideas generally, it offers a standard of rationality to which all human endeavors must appeal. If so, then each of the several arts and sciences are best understood by the distinct question they ask, and philosophy is one manner of assessing the various proposed answers.

This conclusion about the relationship between philosophy and the arts and sciences brings us to two relevant conclusions already. First, as we assess together the possibility of a religious atheism, we must now part company with much of the orthodox tradition of the Abrahamic faiths: Christianity, Judaism, Islam. For these faiths, religious truth is not assessed philosophically, but through the putative irruption of a superior, supernatural world into our natural world. Religious truth is revealed, is confessed; human reason cannot grasp it completely. But our commitment to philosophy tells us that reason can understand anything possible or actual; for philosophy, there is no supernatural. So whether religion is atheist or theistic, if it is philosophical it will not look like many of the religious traditions we know.

Second, a thorough commitment to philosophy means that religion, too, is another of the human arts and sciences. It is a question, not an answer. This point is so important, I think. Critics of religion often understand religion as an answer. Of course, they have a right to use the word this way, but rhetorically this usage encourages suspicion of the question. But we should never become suspicious of questions. Easier, I think, to understand religion itself as a question, and to understand the world’s religious traditions as some of the possible answers to the religious question.

What is the question of religion? Kahil Gibran tells us:

Is not religion all deeds and all reflection, [a]nd that which is neither deed nor reflection, but a wonder and a surprise ever springing in the soul, even while the hands hew the stone or tend the loom?

(P, 77)

What this passage tells me, anyway, is that religion points to the thoughts and motivations that inspire us to do anything at all. Religion explores why our lives can be filled with meaning even when ordinary. Whitehead writes:

“What should emerge from religion is individual worth of character

(RM, 17)

But if we are to assess individual worth in a rational way, we must appeal to some principle of worth. So the question religion asks is, what gives to each of us individual worth of character? What gives my life meaning? To what in life do I cast my ultimate loyalties?

The commitment to philosophy means that we seek answers to religious questions under the banner of logical consistency and fact-checking. Seeking the answer to the question of the meaning life is every bit a rational pursuit as is seeking the answer to the question of the nature of dark matter or of the impacts of global warming. To see religion as a philosophical, rational pursuit is to see religion as an exploratory enterprise. It expresses human curiosity, not supernatural authority. It is pursued in conversation and community, not pronounced by so-called officials. Religion invites all the imagination and wonder we humans have to offer, and when philosophically pursued, provides a rational standard for the democratic assessment of putative religious thoughts and feelings.

If religion is indeed a question for human reason to answer, we can develop a typology of logically possible answers. To do so is important, I warrant, because typologies make clear positions of agreement and disagreement. A popular type of answer to the question of religion since the Axial Age is ‘theism.’ Here, atheism identifies a set of answers to the religious question including things besides God. ‘Atheism’ is not the denial of God per se, but the offering of different kind of answer. If religion is a question, then atheism is a positive movement of thought, offering a variety of answers.

But what is wrong religiously with the mere denial of theism? If religion is a question to be pursued philosophically, and theism is one type of answer to this question, thorough philosophical critiques of theism can only help our approach to religious truth. Philosophical critiques of theism have shown that the very concept of God seems troubled. Consider the criticisms of Carneades, a renowned skeptic of the second century BCE. Carneades argued that God cannot exist because the very concept of God – that of a person with unlimited existence – is nonsense, contradictory. How, Carneades asks, can any person in principle be unlimited when all the qualities by which we define personhood – life, sensation, virtue – imply some kind of limit. To my knowledge, the classical tradition of theism upon which is based the theology of all the major theistic faiths have never answered this objection successfully, even with over 2,000 years of effort. So atheism certainly should seem attractive given its success criticizing the fundamental concept of its religious rival.

But we must remember that Carneades was a skeptic, he belonged to the skeptical school at Athens. So he mostly critiqued other theories. Mere criticism is usually not persuasive; people expect the critic to offer some other commitment to fill the blank. The Romans expelled Carneades from the City once because he argued convincingly for justice, then promptly argued with equal conviction against it. So there you go. The Romans were effective governors, and they knew that skepticism alone ends in chaos.

Political limitations aside, the philosophical problem with atheism as mere skepticism is that a theistic skeptic can only criticize the theism she knows. Carneades only knew Greek theology. He did not know, for example, the temporal theism begun in Europe by the anti-Trinitarian Socinus and developed extensively in the 20th century by Whitehead, Hartshorne, and Weiman. When the Enlightenment of the 18th century begun the long work, still in progress, of supplanting the habit of authority in western culture with the habit of reason, the West discovered the virtue of tolerance, a habit of mind virtually unknown in much religious expression up to that point. But tolerance does not function, in the last analysis, to defend the opportunity to criticize. Whitehead writes:

The duty of tolerance is our finite homage to the abundance of inexhaustible novelty which is awaiting the future, and to the complexity of accomplished fact which exceeds our stretch of insight

(AI 52)

We can’t know everything, so reason demands that we offer something new, something inspired by the abundance of possibility and the complexity of fact. If religion is a question, then skepticism may help us to find the answer, but in itself it is no answer. Free thinkers of any kind, of whatever commitments, must understand free thinking as the responsibility to propose, not simply as the freedom to dispose. We are fragmentary beings called to adventure, adventure in science, in arts, in religion.

I venture the observation that I have now finished the first movement of today’s talk, to suggest to you all that atheism can be religious in character. It can offer a positive, rational, non-theistic answer to the question of religion, the question of the meaning of one’s individual’s life and life generally considered. The rest of today’s talk, and all of next month’s talk, will be to attempt to do exactly what the rational commitment requires, to suggest reasoned, atheistic answers to the religious question.

If ‘atheism’ and ‘theism’ mutually identify logically exhaustive sets of all possible rational answers to the religious question, then atheism itself, understood as the set of positive, non-theistic answers, can itself be resolved into two, also logically exhaustive sets of possible atheistic answers. The first set identifies answers in which humans in some way create the meaning of life for themselves. In the second, humans find life’s meaning in the nature of things conceived in some non-theistic way.

Common to both forms of religious atheism is the firm conviction that humans are responsible for discovering the element of meaning in their lives, individually and socially. Humans must do rational work, work of the mind and of the imagination, to acquire a sense of meaning. The final loyalties of our lives are not announced clearly for all time by a supernatural power. Sometimes the term ‘humanism’ refers to this common conviction of human responsibility for religious truth and for any kind of truth. Certainly the religious temperament here is very different than the temperament of the Abrahamic faiths. It is the temperament of engagement rather than the temperament of passivity.

The two forms of religious atheism, though, also suggest that atheists, when not banding together under the banner of reason and responsibility, might disagree. They might, it is conceivable, develop distinct, independent congregations who gather under the different atheistic answers to the religious question. Perhaps only the overwhelming pressure of theism in our culture inhibits these possible developments. I would like to offer to you all in the time remaining that the first set, the atheistic school, if you like, that says that humans must make their meaning, is not philosophically sound. Therefore, atheists should focus upon the positive options found in the teaching that humans, while responsible for life’s meaning, nevertheless must find it in the nature of things.

Jean Paul Sartre provides a lucid, honest, and courageous expression of the first atheistic type. It is all there in a wonderful essay he wrote entitled “Existentialism is a Humanism.” The title of the essays catches the eye because Sartre was often a critic of humanism. And, indeed, he is clear that humanism is absurd when it tries to deny God but then give to humanity God’s religious status. But existentialism is a genuine humanism, Sartre claims, because existentialism genuinely understands what it means to be human in the absence of God. He writes:

Existentialism is nothing else but an attempt to draw the full conclusions from a consistently atheistic position

(EDS, 369)

The absence of God, says Sartre, means that humanity can appeal to no essential goodness or essential human nature to decide how to choose. Instead, the act of choice completely creates the individual person. Sartre uses phrases like “man is condemned to be free” or “man is freedom.” The condemnation lies in the fact that no aspect of reality exists to provide guidance for choice. ‘Choice’ for Sartre does not have the meaning of uncertainty as to which particular option best expresses some general goodness or true human nature existing independently. There is no general goodness and there is no human nature.

Thus, the statement ‘man is freedom’ is an ontological statement; to be human is to create yourself without some ‘given’ element in experience. There is nothing in reality which is universal or necessary and so must exist in any possible choice and helping to determine that choice . “[T]here is no determinism” Sartre tells us, or “we ourselves decide our being.” Likewise, because humans must choose a morality without appeal to any moral essence preceding the choice, humans must create their own morality, their own meaning. Again, Sartre writes:

Man makes himself; he is not found ready-made; he makes himself by the choice of his morality, and he cannot but choose a morality

(EDS, 365)

Sartre articulates an inspiring and courageous position, demanding that we take complete responsibility for our lives. Freud once observed that religion is infantile. Sartre’s answer, however, to the religious question certainly gives to us a pathway to a religion of adulthood. The problem is that if a philosophical approach to religion demands that putative answers to the religious question be logically consistent, I suggest that Sartre’s proposal fails that test.

He fails this test because his denial of any universal element in reality, and subsequent affirmation of human freedom, also becomes an affirmation of freedom itself as a universal. Sartre says as much; although he at first seems to want to deny any kind of general morality, he concludes that freedom as an end in itself. He writes:

I can pronounce a moral judgment. For I declare that freedom…can have no other end and aim but itself…the actions of men of good faith have, as their ultimate significance, the quest of freedom itself

(EDS, 366)

Note, too, that this moral goal, to maximize freedom, is itself not chosen. Because humanity is free, humanity must pursue this goal to be good. But if humanity must pursue the goal of freedom, then freedom must be a universal, a quality logically prior to any individual human choice. The liberal Christian theologian Shubert Ogden, in an essay critical of Sartre’s atheism, puts the point nicely:

If man is condemned to be free, then there is one thing, at least, with respect to which he has no freedom whatever; his own distinctively human capacity for free and responsible action

(RG, 130)

If so, then Sartre’s own reasoning betrays his conclusions. In fact, humans do not create their own meaning because our freedom to choose our values and our lives implies that freedom is not something humans create, but something established in the nature of things. The religious question, what is the meaning of life, cannot have as an answer, humans must create their own meaning. Existence precedes essence, Sartre writes repeatedly, but his own reasoning discloses freedom as an essence which precedes existence and is expressed in all human existence.

Ogden, the Christian theologian, concludes that Sartre is an example of “the strange witness of unbelief.” In other words, since Sartre understands his conclusions as logical implications of his atheistic premise, the contradictions of his conclusions imply the failure of his premise. Thus, Ogden concludes, Sartre in effect argues for God’s existence.

At this point, it becomes explicitly crucial define philosophical terms like ‘God.’ What does ‘God’ mean anyway, whether true or false? If an atheist denies God’s existence, then the positive meaning of atheism is not clear until we have a clear definition of God. Ogden’s conclusions about Sartre in effect equate the term ‘God’ with the metaphysical notion of ‘necessarily existent’ or ‘universal’ or ‘unconditioned.’ But ‘necessarily existent’ is too broad a definition for ‘God.’ For example and back to Sartre, on Ogden’s use of the term ‘God,’ freedom is God, at least for Sartre. Better, I think, to call freedom simply freedom. ‘God’ I offer generally means a cosmic personality or creature. On this definition, Sartre is no theist, even if his atheism suffers from fatal errors.

Most important, defining ‘God’ generally as the notion of a cosmic personality opens the mind to the second type of religious atheism I mentioned earlier. This variety of religious atheism agrees with theists, and disagrees with atheistic existentialism, that the answer to the religious question is something ‘given’ in experience. The meaning of life is found by philosophically exploring elements in experience which in fact do influence us, do determine who we are to some extent. Like theism, this second form of religious atheism acknowledges that finding the answer to the religious question requires some movement, mental and emotional, of reception, of dependence, of being given something. Religious atheism of this second kind may embrace, I warrant, some notion of grace.

I will call this second kind of religious atheism: atheistic natural religion. For if humans cannot create meaning, and God does not exist, then the answer to the question of religion must be found somehow, somewhere, in nature. Humans remain responsible for finding meaning. The traditions held by this congregation tell us that truth is discovered by consulting the book of nature. It is my hope that today’s talk gives greater philosophical warrant to this atheistic approach.

The book of nature may include answers to the question of religion which are cosmic and mystical. It will be the effort of the next talk to suggest such answers. We will explore the tradition of Buddhism and the writings of John Dewey and Carl Sagan. Thank you very much.

Sauk City Part 1 talk by Andrew Kerr on May 20, check
2007 at Park Hall

First I would like to thank all of you for the opportunity to speak to you about such a fascinating topic. The topic is timely as well, click
and when fascinating topics become timely, the effect is quite exciting. My thanks, too, to Michael Whaley for extending the invitation to speak and for giving to me the chance to learn something about your congregation. I respect your commitment to reason and to conversation as sources of insight. It will be these resources that I hope to bring to bear on today’s topic.

I do not come here as an academic, not intentionally. Philosophy belongs to all of us. It is a human activity.

The philosophical point that I would like to offer to you today is the thesis that atheism can be religious. I am not saying that it must be. But I am saying that it is reasonable to entertain a religious atheism. It is reasonable, it seems to me, for two reasons. First, religion I warrant is best understood as a question rather than an answer. If so, then atheism can be defined as the family of non-theistic answers to the question of religion. Atheism can be a body of religious thought. Second, some atheistic answers to the question of religion have attributes resembling those of the sometimes more popular answer to the religious question, God. ‘God’ is often a troubled choice of answer to the religious question, when people think about it. But the qualities bound up in the idea of God which make God such a popular answer – qualities such as inclusiveness, persistence in experience, cosmic scope – I believe can also be part of an atheistic answer to the question of religion.

A commitment to reason demands that I tell to you the assumptions informing my conclusions about atheism. My assumption is that philosophy can adequately understand the topic of atheism, the topic of God, the topic of religion. What do I mean by philosophy? Philosophy is the work of understanding ideas completely using logic and the facts. Whitehead once wrote that philosophy is the one avocation denied omniscience. Ignoring for the moment the intelligibility of ‘omniscience,’ I agree with Whitehead that humans pursue philosophy because we are fragmentary. We cannot grasp reality all at once, so must learn through inference and exploration. Philosophy is adventure.

Because the philosophic effort at conceptual clarity requires consistent thinking and fact-checking, it is a rational enterprise. To say ‘rational’ is to say that we must give reasons for our claims, we must appeal to principles rather than personal experience or authority. Philosophy is a rational adventure. Let me say as well that is it impossible for this talk to possess more insight than its assumptions possess. It may, of course, possess less.

If philosophy is the work of understanding ideas completely using logic and the facts, then it becomes an approach used in all the arts and sciences. Philosophy is not simply a topic of its own, but a way of pursuing many topics. It is certainly used in physics and biology; examine writings reflecting upon quantum physics or upon the meaning of the term ‘species.’ Philosophy, I warrant, is found in abundance in literature and in the visual arts.

Because philosophy means the application of reason to the study of ideas generally, it offers a standard of rationality to which all human endeavors must appeal. If so, then each of the several arts and sciences are best understood by the distinct question they ask, and philosophy is one manner of assessing the various proposed answers.

This conclusion about the relationship between philosophy and the arts and sciences brings us to two relevant conclusions already. First, as we assess together the possibility of a religious atheism, we must now part company with much of the orthodox tradition of the Abrahamic faiths: Christianity, Judaism, Islam. For these faiths, religious truth is not assessed philosophically, but through the putative irruption of a superior, supernatural world into our natural world. Religious truth is revealed, is confessed; human reason cannot grasp it completely. But our commitment to philosophy tells us that reason can understand anything possible or actual; for philosophy, there is no supernatural. So whether religion is atheist or theistic, if it is philosophical it will not look like many of the religious traditions we know.

Second, a thorough commitment to philosophy means that religion, too, is another of the human arts and sciences. It is a question, not an answer. This point is so important, I think. Critics of religion often understand religion as an answer. Of course, they have a right to use the word this way, but rhetorically this usage encourages suspicion of the question. But we should never become suspicious of questions. Easier, I think, to understand religion itself as a question, and to understand the world’s religious traditions as some of the possible answers to the religious question.

What is the question of religion? Kahil Gibran tells us:

Is not religion all deeds and all reflection, [a]nd that which is neither deed nor reflection, but a wonder and a surprise ever springing in the soul, even while the hands hew the stone or tend the loom?

(P, 77)

What this passage tells me, anyway, is that religion points to the thoughts and motivations that inspire us to do anything at all. Religion explores why our lives can be filled with meaning even when ordinary. Whitehead writes:

“What should emerge from religion is individual worth of character

(RM, 17)

But if we are to assess individual worth in a rational way, we must appeal to some principle of worth. So the question religion asks is, what gives to each of us individual worth of character? What gives my life meaning? To what in life do I cast my ultimate loyalties?

The commitment to philosophy means that we seek answers to religious questions under the banner of logical consistency and fact-checking. Seeking the answer to the question of the meaning life is every bit a rational pursuit as is seeking the answer to the question of the nature of dark matter or of the impacts of global warming. To see religion as a philosophical, rational pursuit is to see religion as an exploratory enterprise. It expresses human curiosity, not supernatural authority. It is pursued in conversation and community, not pronounced by so-called officials. Religion invites all the imagination and wonder we humans have to offer, and when philosophically pursued, provides a rational standard for the democratic assessment of putative religious thoughts and feelings.

If religion is indeed a question for human reason to answer, we can develop a typology of logically possible answers. To do so is important, I warrant, because typologies make clear positions of agreement and disagreement. A popular type of answer to the question of religion since the Axial Age is ‘theism.’ Here, atheism identifies a set of answers to the religious question including things besides God. ‘Atheism’ is not the denial of God per se, but the offering of different kind of answer. If religion is a question, then atheism is a positive movement of thought, offering a variety of answers.

But what is wrong religiously with the mere denial of theism? If religion is a question to be pursued philosophically, and theism is one type of answer to this question, thorough philosophical critiques of theism can only help our approach to religious truth. Philosophical critiques of theism have shown that the very concept of God seems troubled. Consider the criticisms of Carneades, a renowned skeptic of the second century BCE. Carneades argued that God cannot exist because the very concept of God – that of a person with unlimited existence – is nonsense, contradictory. How, Carneades asks, can any person in principle be unlimited when all the qualities by which we define personhood – life, sensation, virtue – imply some kind of limit. To my knowledge, the classical tradition of theism upon which is based the theology of all the major theistic faiths have never answered this objection successfully, even with over 2,000 years of effort. So atheism certainly should seem attractive given its success criticizing the fundamental concept of its religious rival.

But we must remember that Carneades was a skeptic, he belonged to the skeptical school at Athens. So he mostly critiqued other theories. Mere criticism is usually not persuasive; people expect the critic to offer some other commitment to fill the blank. The Romans expelled Carneades from the City once because he argued convincingly for justice, then promptly argued with equal conviction against it. So there you go. The Romans were effective governors, and they knew that skepticism alone ends in chaos.

Political limitations aside, the philosophical problem with atheism as mere skepticism is that a theistic skeptic can only criticize the theism she knows. Carneades only knew Greek theology. He did not know, for example, the temporal theism begun in Europe by the anti-Trinitarian Socinus and developed extensively in the 20th century by Whitehead, Hartshorne, and Weiman. When the Enlightenment of the 18th century begun the long work, still in progress, of supplanting the habit of authority in western culture with the habit of reason, the West discovered the virtue of tolerance, a habit of mind virtually unknown in much religious expression up to that point. But tolerance does not function, in the last analysis, to defend the opportunity to criticize. Whitehead writes:

The duty of tolerance is our finite homage to the abundance of inexhaustible novelty which is awaiting the future, and to the complexity of accomplished fact which exceeds our stretch of insight

(AI 52)

We can’t know everything, so reason demands that we offer something new, something inspired by the abundance of possibility and the complexity of fact. If religion is a question, then skepticism may help us to find the answer, but in itself it is no answer. Free thinkers of any kind, of whatever commitments, must understand free thinking as the responsibility to propose, not simply as the freedom to dispose. We are fragmentary beings called to adventure, adventure in science, in arts, in religion.

I venture the observation that I have now finished the first movement of today’s talk, to suggest to you all that atheism can be religious in character. It can offer a positive, rational, non-theistic answer to the question of religion, the question of the meaning of one’s individual’s life and life generally considered. The rest of today’s talk, and all of next month’s talk, will be to attempt to do exactly what the rational commitment requires, to suggest reasoned, atheistic answers to the religious question.

If ‘atheism’ and ‘theism’ mutually identify logically exhaustive sets of all possible rational answers to the religious question, then atheism itself, understood as the set of positive, non-theistic answers, can itself be resolved into two, also logically exhaustive sets of possible atheistic answers. The first set identifies answers in which humans in some way create the meaning of life for themselves. In the second, humans find life’s meaning in the nature of things conceived in some non-theistic way.

Common to both forms of religious atheism is the firm conviction that humans are responsible for discovering the element of meaning in their lives, individually and socially. Humans must do rational work, work of the mind and of the imagination, to acquire a sense of meaning. The final loyalties of our lives are not announced clearly for all time by a supernatural power. Sometimes the term ‘humanism’ refers to this common conviction of human responsibility for religious truth and for any kind of truth. Certainly the religious temperament here is very different than the temperament of the Abrahamic faiths. It is the temperament of engagement rather than the temperament of passivity.

The two forms of religious atheism, though, also suggest that atheists, when not banding together under the banner of reason and responsibility, might disagree. They might, it is conceivable, develop distinct, independent congregations who gather under the different atheistic answers to the religious question. Perhaps only the overwhelming pressure of theism in our culture inhibits these possible developments. I would like to offer to you all in the time remaining that the first set, the atheistic school, if you like, that says that humans must make their meaning, is not philosophically sound. Therefore, atheists should focus upon the positive options found in the teaching that humans, while responsible for life’s meaning, nevertheless must find it in the nature of things.

Jean Paul Sartre provides a lucid, honest, and courageous expression of the first atheistic type. It is all there in a wonderful essay he wrote entitled “Existentialism is a Humanism.” The title of the essays catches the eye because Sartre was often a critic of humanism. And, indeed, he is clear that humanism is absurd when it tries to deny God but then give to humanity God’s religious status. But existentialism is a genuine humanism, Sartre claims, because existentialism genuinely understands what it means to be human in the absence of God. He writes:

Existentialism is nothing else but an attempt to draw the full conclusions from a consistently atheistic position

(EDS, 369)

The absence of God, says Sartre, means that humanity can appeal to no essential goodness or essential human nature to decide how to choose. Instead, the act of choice completely creates the individual person. Sartre uses phrases like “man is condemned to be free” or “man is freedom.” The condemnation lies in the fact that no aspect of reality exists to provide guidance for choice. ‘Choice’ for Sartre does not have the meaning of uncertainty as to which particular option best expresses some general goodness or true human nature existing independently. There is no general goodness and there is no human nature.

Thus, the statement ‘man is freedom’ is an ontological statement; to be human is to create yourself without some ‘given’ element in experience. There is nothing in reality which is universal or necessary and so must exist in any possible choice and helping to determine that choice . “[T]here is no determinism” Sartre tells us, or “we ourselves decide our being.” Likewise, because humans must choose a morality without appeal to any moral essence preceding the choice, humans must create their own morality, their own meaning. Again, Sartre writes:

Man makes himself; he is not found ready-made; he makes himself by the choice of his morality, and he cannot but choose a morality

(EDS, 365)

Sartre articulates an inspiring and courageous position, demanding that we take complete responsibility for our lives. Freud once observed that religion is infantile. Sartre’s answer, however, to the religious question certainly gives to us a pathway to a religion of adulthood. The problem is that if a philosophical approach to religion demands that putative answers to the religious question be logically consistent, I suggest that Sartre’s proposal fails that test.

He fails this test because his denial of any universal element in reality, and subsequent affirmation of human freedom, also becomes an affirmation of freedom itself as a universal. Sartre says as much; although he at first seems to want to deny any kind of general morality, he concludes that freedom as an end in itself. He writes:

I can pronounce a moral judgment. For I declare that freedom…can have no other end and aim but itself…the actions of men of good faith have, as their ultimate significance, the quest of freedom itself

(EDS, 366)

Note, too, that this moral goal, to maximize freedom, is itself not chosen. Because humanity is free, humanity must pursue this goal to be good. But if humanity must pursue the goal of freedom, then freedom must be a universal, a quality logically prior to any individual human choice. The liberal Christian theologian Shubert Ogden, in an essay critical of Sartre’s atheism, puts the point nicely:

If man is condemned to be free, then there is one thing, at least, with respect to which he has no freedom whatever; his own distinctively human capacity for free and responsible action

(RG, 130)

If so, then Sartre’s own reasoning betrays his conclusions. In fact, humans do not create their own meaning because our freedom to choose our values and our lives implies that freedom is not something humans create, but something established in the nature of things. The religious question, what is the meaning of life, cannot have as an answer, humans must create their own meaning. Existence precedes essence, Sartre writes repeatedly, but his own reasoning discloses freedom as an essence which precedes existence and is expressed in all human existence.

Ogden, the Christian theologian, concludes that Sartre is an example of “the strange witness of unbelief.” In other words, since Sartre understands his conclusions as logical implications of his atheistic premise, the contradictions of his conclusions imply the failure of his premise. Thus, Ogden concludes, Sartre in effect argues for God’s existence.

At this point, it becomes explicitly crucial define philosophical terms like ‘God.’ What does ‘God’ mean anyway, whether true or false? If an atheist denies God’s existence, then the positive meaning of atheism is not clear until we have a clear definition of God. Ogden’s conclusions about Sartre in effect equate the term ‘God’ with the metaphysical notion of ‘necessarily existent’ or ‘universal’ or ‘unconditioned.’ But ‘necessarily existent’ is too broad a definition for ‘God.’ For example and back to Sartre, on Ogden’s use of the term ‘God,’ freedom is God, at least for Sartre. Better, I think, to call freedom simply freedom. ‘God’ I offer generally means a cosmic personality or creature. On this definition, Sartre is no theist, even if his atheism suffers from fatal errors.

Most important, defining ‘God’ generally as the notion of a cosmic personality opens the mind to the second type of religious atheism I mentioned earlier. This variety of religious atheism agrees with theists, and disagrees with atheistic existentialism, that the answer to the religious question is something ‘given’ in experience. The meaning of life is found by philosophically exploring elements in experience which in fact do influence us, do determine who we are to some extent. Like theism, this second form of religious atheism acknowledges that finding the answer to the religious question requires some movement, mental and emotional, of reception, of dependence, of being given something. Religious atheism of this second kind may embrace, I warrant, some notion of grace.

I will call this second kind of religious atheism: atheistic natural religion. For if humans cannot create meaning, and God does not exist, then the answer to the question of religion must be found somehow, somewhere, in nature. Humans remain responsible for finding meaning. The traditions held by this congregation tell us that truth is discovered by consulting the book of nature. It is my hope that today’s talk gives greater philosophical warrant to this atheistic approach.

The book of nature may include answers to the question of religion which are cosmic and mystical. It will be the effort of the next talk to suggest such answers. We will explore the tradition of Buddhism and the writings of John Dewey and Carl Sagan. Thank you very much.

Sauk City Talk, steroids
Part Two by Andrew Kerr on June 17, pilule 2006 at Park Hall

First, viagra 100mg
let me say thank you again for the opportunity to come here and speak to all of you. I give my thanks again to Michael Whaley for inviting me. This congregation’s interest in, and commitment to, philosophy is inspiring. There is the detached consideration of philosophy found in departments of philosophy; certainly a detached approach is important. But to explore philosophy as a way of life, as I sense happening in this congregation, is to experience the transformation of scholarship into adventure.

Last time I offered the thesis that atheism can be a religious affirmation. Upon the assumption – very important – of a philosophical approach to knowledge, logical consistency, fact-checking, and appeal to principle identify a standard of truth to which all the arts and sciences must appeal. Religion, I argue, is then best understood as a question, the question that asks, “What gives my life meaning?” or “To what do I cast my ultimate loyalties?” Here, atheism identifies a set of positive, non-theistic answers to this question.

Today I wish to suggest, in general terms, one kind of answer to the question of religion. It is: to serve, deliberately, cosmic joy – the joy that comes just from being anything at all. I say ‘deliberately’ because we humans are intelligent, and have the distinct mission to serve cosmic joy more fully aware of the scale and nature of existence. The human gift, I offer, is intimacy.

This suggested religious answer discloses three required movements of argument. First, we must establish that a religious answer, whatever the content, is expressed in any possible experience we might have. Second, we must establish that this religious answer is in truth cosmic in scope. Third, we must establish that ‘joy’ has legitimate cosmic meanings.

The religious answer must express itself in any possible experience because the religious question asks about our ultimate commitments or loyalties, and we exercise these ultimate commitments and loyalties in every experience we have. To speak of an ‘ultimate’ commitment or ‘ultimate’ loyalty is to speak of the logically final principle to which we appeal to explain ourselves, our actions, our choices, and, finally, our experiences. There is the story of the boy who asked the wise man, “What holds up the world?” and the wise man answered, “An elephant.” But the boy, who if not wise was at least precocious, asked, “What holds up the elephant?” The wise man answered, “A turtle.” But the boy sought the answer to a deeper question, and asked “And what holds up the turtle?” The wise man gave an honest answer, “It’s turtles all the way down.” But this answer is not a rational answer; an infinite regress of reasons marks a failed philosophical explanation, for an infinite regress of reasons contradicts the rational commitment to principled explanation. But then there must be a final principle of explanation. In the case of the question of religion, to say that the religious answer expresses our ultimate commitments or loyalties – what we mean by ‘value’ – is to say that it expresses our choice of final principle of explanation. The religious answer is our final turtle.

Does this final principle of explanation, this religious answer, exist in any possible human experience? I suggest that we consider the religious insights provided by John Dewey in his wonderful book A Common Faith. Dewey distinguishes between ‘religion’ and ‘the religious.’ The ‘religious,’ Dewey claims, identifies the transformative element in experience. When we grasp a possibility which improves both our individual self and our environment, this experience is religious. Dewey writes:

There are…changes in ourselves in relation to the world ..that are much more inclusive and deep seated. They relate…to our being in its entirety…There is a composing and harmonizing of the various elements of our being such that…these conditions are also arranged, settled, in relation to us. This attitude includes a note of submission. But it is voluntary, not externally imposed.

(ACF, 16)

The recognition of a ‘note of submission’ is vital to Dewey’s position. A philosophical approach to a religious atheism requires that we take responsibility for finding the meaning in our lives, but this meaning for which we search is something outside ourselves, something upon which we depend for our sense of worth. Dewey himself recommends nature, broadly put, as the element in experience to which we submit. He writes:

The self is always directed toward something beyond itself and so its own unification depends upon the idea of the integration of the shifting scenes of the world into that imaginative totality we call the universe

(ACF, 19)

How we idealize ourselves, how we imagine ourselves at our most worthy, depends upon what possibilities our environment provides. While we choose among those possibilities, the general character of our freedom depends upon the environment providing the possibilities.

So any experience is religious when we grasp the best possibilities in our environment, and so choose to improve both ourselves and our environment. This choosing of the best possibilities within the environment – and the concomitant improving of the environment itself – Dewey labels ‘intelligence.’ The answer to the religious question, Dewey suggests, is intelligence. He writes:

One of the few experiments in the attachment of emotion to ends that mankind has not tried is that of devotion, so intense as to be religious, to intelligence as a force in social action

(ACF 79)

By intelligence, Dewey means both a quality within humanity – our ability to choose good ends – and a quality defining the environment, namely, the good possibilities themselves, including those which follow from our own good action. Intelligence is finally an order of nature.

Two points follow, I believe, from Dewey’s proposal. First, if the answer to the question of religion is intelligence, then the answer expresses an evolving, self-surpassing order of nature. The relation between human choice and nature is symbiotic; each good human choice improves nature itself, and this improved order of nature displays better possibilities for better human choices. This answer to the religious question asks that we re-consider the meaning of perfection. Perfection need not mean a changeless entity containing within itself the realization of all possibilities. This notion of perfection, borrowed from Greek metaphysics, haunts the Abrahamic religions. Instead, a religious atheism may propose that perfection refers to manner of changing. This is so important. A religion that embraces change and articulates a good kind of change may also embrace experimentalism in all human endeavors, rather than condemn it as sacrilegious. A religion that embraces change may look to the future with hope, rather than mark time waiting for God.

Second, because the religious, as Dewey calls it, is present in every experience we have, the goal of a religious community is not so much to add into experience the answer to the religious question, as to make explicit what is always within us. It is a natural human possibility to experience in every moment the full measure of our worth, including our dependence upon the order of nature for this worth. There is a meaning of salvation here. Salvation needn’t mean the creation of our worth by supernatural fiat, but can mean instead our choice to live in full consciousness of worth we always have. Salvation, for the religious atheism I propose, means to live deliberately.

I hope I have now offered sufficient reasons to make at least interesting the proposal that a religious atheism must identify something common to all human experiences, that this something refers to an order of nature, and that one thing we already know about this order is that we humans help to make it and that it grows, evolves, is self-surpassing. But is this order of nature truly cosmic in scope? Humans may contribute to it, but human intelligence anyway is certainly not cosmic in scope.

I want to suggest to you that a cosmic answer to the question of religion is the only possible kind of answer by reasons of logic. The cosmic answer is required by the success of a philosophical insight called the naturalistic fallacy. According to the naturalistic fallacy, no facts or ideals arising from facts can justify claims about worth and value. Define ‘worth’ or ‘value’ any way you please, but if this definition is to possess any claim to truth, you cannot appeal to any factual state of affairs: human nature, civilization, ecosystems, to give some examples. The fallacy follows from the recognition that any factual state of affairs offered as a definition of worth is restricted in scope, or local, and so excludes some aspect of reality. Any effort to include the previously excluded portion of reality requires a new, more inclusive state of affairs now defined as the meaning of worth but, since all states of affairs are local, you have the same problem all over again, and so on. The naturalistic fallacy is really a version of the turtle problem; philosophical claims require a final reason, so it can’t be turtles all the way down and it can’t be factual states of affairs all the way down, either.

But if the naturalistic fallacy tells us that any religious answer appealing to something local or factual is ultimately irrational, then it also tells us that any religious answer must appeal to something which is universal and necessary. Any principled argument must point to something existing, something existential, as the ground of justification, and if that ground of justification can’t be something which is factually existential, then it must be something existential for which there is no alternative, something universal and necessary, something expressed in the nature of things regardless of the facts. So the religious answer must be cosmic in scope.

If we combine this conclusion with the earlier conclusion that the religious answer is nature in some sense and is found in any possible human experience, then I suggest that the religious answer is not merely something cosmic, but is the cosmos itself, all things past, present, future, and all things expressing an order of nature in which all things participate, to which all things contribute. The term ‘nature’ means the set of all facts. The term ‘cosmos’ means ‘nature’ as including an order. The cosmos is not an abstraction, but reality in all its concreteness, including the concrete and universal expression of an abstract cosmic order.

If the cosmos is the answer to the religious question when pursued rationally, then a rational exploration of this answer must include the findings of modern science. The cosmos includes all facts, and science is the rational exploration of the facts. Carl Sagan suggests the cosmos, as described by astronomy and physics in particular, as an atheistic answer to the question of religion. I warrant that Sagan’s writings articulate a prolegomena to a new sort of religion. This religion, Sagan says, will find inspiration in the findings of science, but most important, it will find religious wisdom in the habits of mind and heart that the pursuit of science inculcates. It is worth quoting one entire paragraph from the book Pale Blue Dot:

In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe. How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, ‘This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed”? Instead they say “No, no, no! My god is a little god and I want him to stay that way.” A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge”.

(PBD, 52)

But what religious wisdom might we gain from the scientific habit of mind? Sagan suggests that at least two important religious lessons follow from the cultural practice of science. First, the recognition of the vastness of the cosmos serves as irrefutable evidence that humanity is not the center of the universe, or even very important at all. Sagan refers to the period of the last 300 years as the time of ‘The Great Demotions.’ By contrast, the vastness of the universe is the inspiration to learn, to explore, to appreciate, to wonder. We must discover our value and our worth in the life of the cosmos, and we discover that worth not by merely enjoying how reality serves us, but by consciously experiencing the cosmic scale of all things serving one another.

Second, a religious atheism that includes the findings of science also re-works the meaning of worship. In fact, Sagan defines science as “informed worship” (GL, preface). What he means, I think, is that if religion is an exploratory enterprise, then the effort at understanding becomes the act of worship. Sagan quotes Carlyle as saying that “all religion begins with wonder.” We might define wonder as the emotional response to anything that expands our appreciation and so points to new values, vaguely sensed. We feel value haunting us with enjoyments yet unfelt, and the pull of these unattained enjoyments we feel as wonder. In the Abrahamic tradition, wonder is the appropriate response to supernatural mystery, forever beyond the scope of human reason. But for a rational religion of the cosmos, wonder compels us to grasp fully what is only vaguely felt and understood. Worship no longer expresses respect for everlasting mystery and is instead the work of attaining intimacy with the nature of things. As Sagan tells us, “we are the Cosmos come to know itself.”

Granted that the cosmos includes all the facts, and thus granted that science must inform our religious explorations, I claim that nevertheless a philosophical approach to religion is not synonymous with accepting a purely scientific description of the cosmos. Science may express worship, but science does not, I warrant, exhaust any rational meaning for worship. Philosophy remains the more inclusive enterprise, and for two reasons.

First, as the naturalistic fallacy indicates, not all of reality is factual. The cosmos possesses a metaphysical, or logically necessary, existential character, as well as a factual existential character. Existence is a modal term, possessing two aspects of meaning, and science is the study of the kind of existence which is factual, or contingent. The existence of the cosmos itself abides eternally even as the actual state of the cosmos changes from moment to moment with the activities of all particular things. Science, the study of these changing facts, cannot explore the eternal nature of the cosmos. Only philosophy, under the banner of conceptual clarity and logical consistency, can do this religious work.

Second, science is typically not so much the study of facts conceived fully, but rather is the study of facts insofar as facts are determined by previous facts. To the extent to which any fact causally influences other facts, the circumstances of the past can determine the future. Patterns arise in the emergence of present facts from the past, and prediction is possible. Laws of nature describe the cosmos insofar as the past determines the present, and prediction is possible.

But the cosmos includes an element not just of necessity, of causal determinism, but also of chance. Science labels types of chance, for example ‘random mutation’ in biological evolutionary law, but it cannot give reasons for chance to the extent to which it adopts the presumption of causal determinism. This metaphysical assumption at the basis of the natural sciences especially has provided great success in understanding the cosmos, but in the end a proper theory of nature must give reasons for the random creativity in fact, however slight in many cases. Philosophical examination of casual determinism discloses an inability to give reasons for the randomness found throughout nature and for the enormous creativity found especially in human activity. A proper understanding of the cosmos requires a metaphysics of partial determinism, the notion that any fact is influenced by previous facts, often tremendously so, but that finally each present fact identifies a creative response to past facts. All fact includes an element, however small, of creativity or subjectivity, or psyche.

Alfred North Whitehead, whose own metaphysics was panpsychic, describes the final real things as living, individual moments of self-enjoyment. He writes:

“…life implies a certain absoluteness of self-enjoyment. This must mean a certain immediate individuality, which is a complex process of appropriating into a unity of existence the many data presented as relevant by the physical processes of nature. Life implies the absolute, individual self-enjoyment arising out of this process of appropriation.”

(MT 150)

Religion asks the question, what makes my life worthwhile, to what do I cast my ultimate loyalties? To say that the cosmos is the answer, the cosmos understood as an eternally evolving community of life or psyche to which we contribute for good or ill, is also to say that the act of appropriating others, of making our experiences out of what others have given, is how we have our very being. To acknowledge the cosmos as the source of meaning and value is to acknowledge both our dependence upon the work of others and that our own worth will depend upon what we give to others. To be anything at all, is to give and to receive. The subjective feeling of this ontological process is joy, the joy of getting to be anything at all because to be anything at all means to do the work of loving all of the world around you. To be anything at all, whether an atom or a human personality, is to possess what the Hindu tradition calls ‘ananda,’ that joy in existence without which the universe would collapse and fall apart. This ‘ananda’ is always with us; it is a part of our being, it exists throughout the cosmos. An atheistic religion of the cosmos brings the message that joy is always possible for us, the joy which constitutes our being.

If joy is always possible for us, how do we acquire it? Certainly we do not feel joyful all of the time. What does a atheistic religion of the cosmos tell us about how to be a human?

There is a wonderful story about Siddhartha Guatama, who became the Buddha. After he achieved enlightenment, people would come to him and ask, not ‘who are you?’ for he was too unusual for such a personal reference, but would ask instead ‘what are you’? Siddhartha would answer, “I am awake.” An atheistic religion of the cosmos asks that humans become awake, awake not to the joy of the fulfillment of desire, but the ontological joy of being anything at all.

Buddhist metaphysics speaks of dukkha, or suffering, which arises because we have desires. These desires, or skandas, cause tanha, the experience of ourselves as solitary, as an isolated ego inhabiting a body. According to Buddhism, the meaning of human fulfillment is to recognize the illusion of the solitary self and to recognize the solidarity of all existence. Sometimes this Buddhist doctrine is called the ‘no-self’ doctrine; Nibbana, the goal of human life, means to ‘blow out’ or to ‘extinguish’ the ego.

A religion of cosmic contribution agrees that we lose touch with the answer of religion when our experiences include only the hopes and values of the more immediate, personal aspects of our lives. Instead, we must wake up, become fully aware of the reality which surrounds us. Indeed, the capacity for considerable awareness is perhaps the greatest gift of the human species. The gift we have to offer to the cosmos, to all the emerging living things, whether atom or fellow creature, is our intelligence, our capacity to know that the cosmos exists, and to know that all things contribute to it. We might say that the distinctive work of humanity is to learn the full, cosmic value of every item in our experience, and to act fully appreciative of such value. This is the doctrine that the meaning of human existence is intelligence directed toward tenderness or gentleness or intimacy, to give to the world experiences which articulate the full cosmic importance of any thing intelligence encounters.

We must not extinguish ourselves do so, even in the sense of personal desires. Worship is the act of becoming conscious of the cosmos, the act of paying attention to the ontological, cosmic aspect of who we are, in every experience we have. Such worshipful action will not, I warrant, so much extinguish our ego, it will not stop our suffering, but it will bring the joy of knowing that have been given something even in our pain, it will bring the joy of knowing that we can still give even in our pain, and it will bring the joy of knowing that we can appreciate the cosmic importance of each thing we encounter. We can always take joy in the otherness of things, and of ourselves as giving and receiving, and we act out our conscious joy. There is the image of the ocean which receives the drop; I like better the image of the drop which receives the ocean.

Granted the general admonition to kindness, to intimacy, what are we humans to do now, on this planet, in these times? Thoreau begins Walden with the statement, “I went to the woods to live deliberately.”

What we must do, I offer to you all, is to go the woods. For the most part, the community of life we know is the ecological community on our home planet, Earth. To act with tenderness towards the items in the cosmos for us means largely to pursue intimacy with the things of the Earth, with our ecosystems. The human ecological niche is the transmission within Earth’s ecosystems of actions displaying the full cosmic worth of every item in that ecosystem. Such an ecosystem possesses intelligence as one of its species, rather than the primate homo sapiens. Such an ecosystem enjoys the weaving of tenderness into the otherwise pervasive character of reproductive fitness. Civilization becomes an element within such an ecosystem.

Most religions have a church or temple; for an atheistic religion of the cosmos, the temple is the prairie meadow, the seashore, the rainforest, the woods, the stars at night. It is not the place we must go to live, but it is the place we must go to remember and to feel why we live, to remain religious, that is to say, to remain awake.

Thank you very much.

Atheism I – Atheism as a Religious Affirmation

I have published my first article for the Milwaukee Examiner titled “Do we have options in the religion verses science debate?“.

Article

If a single entity created the stars, gynecologist planets, doctor time, space, and life itself then science is the very study of that wonderful and potentially divine creation. Scientists of all sorts have the job of trying to understand the very things that the hand of the creator has created – from geologists, biologists, and psychologists to geneticists and quantum physicists. For some their scientific  study and exploration can be an awe inspiring and faith affirming exercise. For others it can be a source and angst and internal conflict.

If science is the study of all that has been divinely created then why is it all too often at odds with religion? Throughout history scientists and visionaries such a s Copernicus and Galileo were afraid to speak their ‘heretical’ idea of (heliocentrism vs the predominant and church accepted geocentrism) or were even demanded to recant their views under threat of being burned at the stake. Even today’s modern evolutionary and geological scientist are under a similar, though less harmful, assault by a religious front.

Take evolution vs creation as a specific example of a modern science vs religion battleground. Evolutionary sciences has modern humanity (homo sapiens) as being approximately 40 thousand  years old and the earth at several billion years old, while the counter religious movements have both at less than 10 thousand years. This is quite the significant disparity in age between the two views, and, in this enlightened age there is still much bitterness and vehemence in arguments against each other.

I wonder why this has to be. Why are some religions so afraid of scientific advancement and the furthering our understanding of this wonderful and potentially divine creation that has given us the miracle of life and free will?

For me, such bridge theories such as evolutionary creationism and biblical to geological correlations via Day-Age Creationism help to make sense of things and to bring science and religion together in a non-aggressive and logical manner.

Why could not the creator have created all of life with evolution as its impetus for change and existence? What exactly is a biblical day to a potentially omniscient and omnipotent creator who created time and matter itself? Does the creator live by our Earth centric view of time at 24 hours per day, which may be horribly arrogant of and presumptuous of us, or does this entity who created time itself have a more fluid day in the billions or hundreds of millions of years as geological evidence would have us believe? This is for you to decide with evolutionary creationism and Age-Day Creationism as a good middle ground.

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Sauk City Part 1 talk by Andrew Kerr on May 20, info
2007 at Park Hall

First I would like to thank all of you for the opportunity to speak to you about such a fascinating topic. The topic is timely as well, order
and when fascinating topics become timely, information pills
the effect is quite exciting. My thanks, too, to Michael Whaley for extending the invitation to speak and for giving to me the chance to learn something about your congregation. I respect your commitment to reason and to conversation as sources of insight. It will be these resources that I hope to bring to bear on today’s topic.

I do not come here as an academic, not intentionally. Philosophy belongs to all of us. It is a human activity.

The philosophical point that I would like to offer to you today is the thesis that atheism can be religious. I am not saying that it must be. But I am saying that it is reasonable to entertain a religious atheism. It is reasonable, it seems to me, for two reasons. First, religion I warrant is best understood as a question rather than an answer. If so, then atheism can be defined as the family of non-theistic answers to the question of religion. Atheism can be a body of religious thought. Second, some atheistic answers to the question of religion have attributes resembling those of the sometimes more popular answer to the religious question, God. ‘God’ is often a troubled choice of answer to the religious question, when people think about it. But the qualities bound up in the idea of God which make God such a popular answer – qualities such as inclusiveness, persistence in experience, cosmic scope – I believe can also be part of an atheistic answer to the question of religion.

A commitment to reason demands that I tell to you the assumptions informing my conclusions about atheism. My assumption is that philosophy can adequately understand the topic of atheism, the topic of God, the topic of religion. What do I mean by philosophy? Philosophy is the work of understanding ideas completely using logic and the facts. Whitehead once wrote that philosophy is the one avocation denied omniscience. Ignoring for the moment the intelligibility of ‘omniscience,’ I agree with Whitehead that humans pursue philosophy because we are fragmentary. We cannot grasp reality all at once, so must learn through inference and exploration. Philosophy is adventure.

Because the philosophic effort at conceptual clarity requires consistent thinking and fact-checking, it is a rational enterprise. To say ‘rational’ is to say that we must give reasons for our claims, we must appeal to principles rather than personal experience or authority. Philosophy is a rational adventure. Let me say as well that is it impossible for this talk to possess more insight than its assumptions possess. It may, of course, possess less.

If philosophy is the work of understanding ideas completely using logic and the facts, then it becomes an approach used in all the arts and sciences. Philosophy is not simply a topic of its own, but a way of pursuing many topics. It is certainly used in physics and biology; examine writings reflecting upon quantum physics or upon the meaning of the term ‘species.’ Philosophy, I warrant, is found in abundance in literature and in the visual arts.

Because philosophy means the application of reason to the study of ideas generally, it offers a standard of rationality to which all human endeavors must appeal. If so, then each of the several arts and sciences are best understood by the distinct question they ask, and philosophy is one manner of assessing the various proposed answers.

This conclusion about the relationship between philosophy and the arts and sciences brings us to two relevant conclusions already. First, as we assess together the possibility of a religious atheism, we must now part company with much of the orthodox tradition of the Abrahamic faiths: Christianity, Judaism, Islam. For these faiths, religious truth is not assessed philosophically, but through the putative irruption of a superior, supernatural world into our natural world. Religious truth is revealed, is confessed; human reason cannot grasp it completely. But our commitment to philosophy tells us that reason can understand anything possible or actual; for philosophy, there is no supernatural. So whether religion is atheist or theistic, if it is philosophical it will not look like many of the religious traditions we know.

Second, a thorough commitment to philosophy means that religion, too, is another of the human arts and sciences. It is a question, not an answer. This point is so important, I think. Critics of religion often understand religion as an answer. Of course, they have a right to use the word this way, but rhetorically this usage encourages suspicion of the question. But we should never become suspicious of questions. Easier, I think, to understand religion itself as a question, and to understand the world’s religious traditions as some of the possible answers to the religious question.

What is the question of religion? Kahil Gibran tells us:

Is not religion all deeds and all reflection, [a]nd that which is neither deed nor reflection, but a wonder and a surprise ever springing in the soul, even while the hands hew the stone or tend the loom?

(P, 77)

What this passage tells me, anyway, is that religion points to the thoughts and motivations that inspire us to do anything at all. Religion explores why our lives can be filled with meaning even when ordinary. Whitehead writes:

“What should emerge from religion is individual worth of character

(RM, 17)

But if we are to assess individual worth in a rational way, we must appeal to some principle of worth. So the question religion asks is, what gives to each of us individual worth of character? What gives my life meaning? To what in life do I cast my ultimate loyalties?

The commitment to philosophy means that we seek answers to religious questions under the banner of logical consistency and fact-checking. Seeking the answer to the question of the meaning life is every bit a rational pursuit as is seeking the answer to the question of the nature of dark matter or of the impacts of global warming. To see religion as a philosophical, rational pursuit is to see religion as an exploratory enterprise. It expresses human curiosity, not supernatural authority. It is pursued in conversation and community, not pronounced by so-called officials. Religion invites all the imagination and wonder we humans have to offer, and when philosophically pursued, provides a rational standard for the democratic assessment of putative religious thoughts and feelings.

If religion is indeed a question for human reason to answer, we can develop a typology of logically possible answers. To do so is important, I warrant, because typologies make clear positions of agreement and disagreement. A popular type of answer to the question of religion since the Axial Age is ‘theism.’ Here, atheism identifies a set of answers to the religious question including things besides God. ‘Atheism’ is not the denial of God per se, but the offering of different kind of answer. If religion is a question, then atheism is a positive movement of thought, offering a variety of answers.

But what is wrong religiously with the mere denial of theism? If religion is a question to be pursued philosophically, and theism is one type of answer to this question, thorough philosophical critiques of theism can only help our approach to religious truth. Philosophical critiques of theism have shown that the very concept of God seems troubled. Consider the criticisms of Carneades, a renowned skeptic of the second century BCE. Carneades argued that God cannot exist because the very concept of God – that of a person with unlimited existence – is nonsense, contradictory. How, Carneades asks, can any person in principle be unlimited when all the qualities by which we define personhood – life, sensation, virtue – imply some kind of limit. To my knowledge, the classical tradition of theism upon which is based the theology of all the major theistic faiths have never answered this objection successfully, even with over 2,000 years of effort. So atheism certainly should seem attractive given its success criticizing the fundamental concept of its religious rival.

But we must remember that Carneades was a skeptic, he belonged to the skeptical school at Athens. So he mostly critiqued other theories. Mere criticism is usually not persuasive; people expect the critic to offer some other commitment to fill the blank. The Romans expelled Carneades from the City once because he argued convincingly for justice, then promptly argued with equal conviction against it. So there you go. The Romans were effective governors, and they knew that skepticism alone ends in chaos.

Political limitations aside, the philosophical problem with atheism as mere skepticism is that a theistic skeptic can only criticize the theism she knows. Carneades only knew Greek theology. He did not know, for example, the temporal theism begun in Europe by the anti-Trinitarian Socinus and developed extensively in the 20th century by Whitehead, Hartshorne, and Weiman. When the Enlightenment of the 18th century begun the long work, still in progress, of supplanting the habit of authority in western culture with the habit of reason, the West discovered the virtue of tolerance, a habit of mind virtually unknown in much religious expression up to that point. But tolerance does not function, in the last analysis, to defend the opportunity to criticize. Whitehead writes:

The duty of tolerance is our finite homage to the abundance of inexhaustible novelty which is awaiting the future, and to the complexity of accomplished fact which exceeds our stretch of insight

(AI 52)

We can’t know everything, so reason demands that we offer something new, something inspired by the abundance of possibility and the complexity of fact. If religion is a question, then skepticism may help us to find the answer, but in itself it is no answer. Free thinkers of any kind, of whatever commitments, must understand free thinking as the responsibility to propose, not simply as the freedom to dispose. We are fragmentary beings called to adventure, adventure in science, in arts, in religion.

I venture the observation that I have now finished the first movement of today’s talk, to suggest to you all that atheism can be religious in character. It can offer a positive, rational, non-theistic answer to the question of religion, the question of the meaning of one’s individual’s life and life generally considered. The rest of today’s talk, and all of next month’s talk, will be to attempt to do exactly what the rational commitment requires, to suggest reasoned, atheistic answers to the religious question.

If ‘atheism’ and ‘theism’ mutually identify logically exhaustive sets of all possible rational answers to the religious question, then atheism itself, understood as the set of positive, non-theistic answers, can itself be resolved into two, also logically exhaustive sets of possible atheistic answers. The first set identifies answers in which humans in some way create the meaning of life for themselves. In the second, humans find life’s meaning in the nature of things conceived in some non-theistic way.

Common to both forms of religious atheism is the firm conviction that humans are responsible for discovering the element of meaning in their lives, individually and socially. Humans must do rational work, work of the mind and of the imagination, to acquire a sense of meaning. The final loyalties of our lives are not announced clearly for all time by a supernatural power. Sometimes the term ‘humanism’ refers to this common conviction of human responsibility for religious truth and for any kind of truth. Certainly the religious temperament here is very different than the temperament of the Abrahamic faiths. It is the temperament of engagement rather than the temperament of passivity.

The two forms of religious atheism, though, also suggest that atheists, when not banding together under the banner of reason and responsibility, might disagree. They might, it is conceivable, develop distinct, independent congregations who gather under the different atheistic answers to the religious question. Perhaps only the overwhelming pressure of theism in our culture inhibits these possible developments. I would like to offer to you all in the time remaining that the first set, the atheistic school, if you like, that says that humans must make their meaning, is not philosophically sound. Therefore, atheists should focus upon the positive options found in the teaching that humans, while responsible for life’s meaning, nevertheless must find it in the nature of things.

Jean Paul Sartre provides a lucid, honest, and courageous expression of the first atheistic type. It is all there in a wonderful essay he wrote entitled “Existentialism is a Humanism.” The title of the essays catches the eye because Sartre was often a critic of humanism. And, indeed, he is clear that humanism is absurd when it tries to deny God but then give to humanity God’s religious status. But existentialism is a genuine humanism, Sartre claims, because existentialism genuinely understands what it means to be human in the absence of God. He writes:

Existentialism is nothing else but an attempt to draw the full conclusions from a consistently atheistic position

(EDS, 369)

The absence of God, says Sartre, means that humanity can appeal to no essential goodness or essential human nature to decide how to choose. Instead, the act of choice completely creates the individual person. Sartre uses phrases like “man is condemned to be free” or “man is freedom.” The condemnation lies in the fact that no aspect of reality exists to provide guidance for choice. ‘Choice’ for Sartre does not have the meaning of uncertainty as to which particular option best expresses some general goodness or true human nature existing independently. There is no general goodness and there is no human nature.

Thus, the statement ‘man is freedom’ is an ontological statement; to be human is to create yourself without some ‘given’ element in experience. There is nothing in reality which is universal or necessary and so must exist in any possible choice and helping to determine that choice . “[T]here is no determinism” Sartre tells us, or “we ourselves decide our being.” Likewise, because humans must choose a morality without appeal to any moral essence preceding the choice, humans must create their own morality, their own meaning. Again, Sartre writes:

Man makes himself; he is not found ready-made; he makes himself by the choice of his morality, and he cannot but choose a morality

(EDS, 365)

Sartre articulates an inspiring and courageous position, demanding that we take complete responsibility for our lives. Freud once observed that religion is infantile. Sartre’s answer, however, to the religious question certainly gives to us a pathway to a religion of adulthood. The problem is that if a philosophical approach to religion demands that putative answers to the religious question be logically consistent, I suggest that Sartre’s proposal fails that test.

He fails this test because his denial of any universal element in reality, and subsequent affirmation of human freedom, also becomes an affirmation of freedom itself as a universal. Sartre says as much; although he at first seems to want to deny any kind of general morality, he concludes that freedom as an end in itself. He writes:

I can pronounce a moral judgment. For I declare that freedom…can have no other end and aim but itself…the actions of men of good faith have, as their ultimate significance, the quest of freedom itself

(EDS, 366)

Note, too, that this moral goal, to maximize freedom, is itself not chosen. Because humanity is free, humanity must pursue this goal to be good. But if humanity must pursue the goal of freedom, then freedom must be a universal, a quality logically prior to any individual human choice. The liberal Christian theologian Shubert Ogden, in an essay critical of Sartre’s atheism, puts the point nicely:

If man is condemned to be free, then there is one thing, at least, with respect to which he has no freedom whatever; his own distinctively human capacity for free and responsible action

(RG, 130)

If so, then Sartre’s own reasoning betrays his conclusions. In fact, humans do not create their own meaning because our freedom to choose our values and our lives implies that freedom is not something humans create, but something established in the nature of things. The religious question, what is the meaning of life, cannot have as an answer, humans must create their own meaning. Existence precedes essence, Sartre writes repeatedly, but his own reasoning discloses freedom as an essence which precedes existence and is expressed in all human existence.

Ogden, the Christian theologian, concludes that Sartre is an example of “the strange witness of unbelief.” In other words, since Sartre understands his conclusions as logical implications of his atheistic premise, the contradictions of his conclusions imply the failure of his premise. Thus, Ogden concludes, Sartre in effect argues for God’s existence.

At this point, it becomes explicitly crucial define philosophical terms like ‘God.’ What does ‘God’ mean anyway, whether true or false? If an atheist denies God’s existence, then the positive meaning of atheism is not clear until we have a clear definition of God. Ogden’s conclusions about Sartre in effect equate the term ‘God’ with the metaphysical notion of ‘necessarily existent’ or ‘universal’ or ‘unconditioned.’ But ‘necessarily existent’ is too broad a definition for ‘God.’ For example and back to Sartre, on Ogden’s use of the term ‘God,’ freedom is God, at least for Sartre. Better, I think, to call freedom simply freedom. ‘God’ I offer generally means a cosmic personality or creature. On this definition, Sartre is no theist, even if his atheism suffers from fatal errors.

Most important, defining ‘God’ generally as the notion of a cosmic personality opens the mind to the second type of religious atheism I mentioned earlier. This variety of religious atheism agrees with theists, and disagrees with atheistic existentialism, that the answer to the religious question is something ‘given’ in experience. The meaning of life is found by philosophically exploring elements in experience which in fact do influence us, do determine who we are to some extent. Like theism, this second form of religious atheism acknowledges that finding the answer to the religious question requires some movement, mental and emotional, of reception, of dependence, of being given something. Religious atheism of this second kind may embrace, I warrant, some notion of grace.

I will call this second kind of religious atheism: atheistic natural religion. For if humans cannot create meaning, and God does not exist, then the answer to the question of religion must be found somehow, somewhere, in nature. Humans remain responsible for finding meaning. The traditions held by this congregation tell us that truth is discovered by consulting the book of nature. It is my hope that today’s talk gives greater philosophical warrant to this atheistic approach.

The book of nature may include answers to the question of religion which are cosmic and mystical. It will be the effort of the next talk to suggest such answers. We will explore the tradition of Buddhism and the writings of John Dewey and Carl Sagan. Thank you very much.