Saturday 14 September 2013

Christianity as literary criticism

In a Facebook thread about the Sunday Assembly I mentioned (in the most vague and general terms) my concerns about its pseudo-religious components. A link was posted to the transcript of Dave Tomlinson's contribution to one of the Sunday Assembly's events, which expressed the kind of indeterminate non-theology that I find pretty vacuous. I responded on Facebook as follows:
Tomlinson is equivocating. He's using "truth" in the sense of truth that doesn't have to be factually true. This is all very nice and fine — I value "story" greatly myself — but it's no more than literary criticism. How do prayers and miracles relate to the kind of "truth" Tomlinson talks about? What about the bodily resurrection of Christ? Is the Easter story no more than "story", containing the kind of "truth" that doesn't have to be actually true? It's all very wishy-washy, and can be made to mean anything anyone fancies it means.

Harry Potter is true, in the sense Tomlinson means. But it's not factually true. If there's a manual explaining how to perform the spells related in JK Rowling's series, I'm not going to believe the spells actually work unless someone can demonstrate that they do.

In the face of a claim that "the meat of Christianity is the teaching of Jesus and his following through on it to the cross"  — and the implication that miracles and prayer are side-issues — I followed up with this:
I have no problem with learning life-lessons from literature or myth or anything else we might categorise as "story" — and as far as I'm concerned there's nothing in literary criticism that I need to be skeptical about. I am skeptical about miracles and prayer as portrayed by those who say miracles are more than mere interpreted legend — that actual supernatural events took place — and those who say prayer is actual two-way communication between human and supernatural entities, rather than some kind of objectified meditation. I appreciate that there are many gradations of "Christian" — from the inerrantist literalist fundamentalist to the "sea-of-faith" virtual atheist who thinks Christianity is a-nice-idea-shame-it-isn't-true. Each to their own, I say. The kind of Christian I find annoying, however, is one who espouses the metaphorical view when challenged about miracles and prayer, only to claim intimate knowledge of the mind of God when challenged about scriptural morality in the public square.
As usual this is an ongoing thread. Check it out for any further developments.

Tuesday 10 September 2013

Chris French bites his tongue

Chris French
It's not the first time that Professor Chris French has appeared on Beyond BeliefErnie Rae's religious discussion programme on BBC Radio 4. I remember the Prof's contribution to a previous Beyond Belief discussion about guardian angels, and I remember my amazement that he made said contribution in a calm, level tone, eschewing the mockery such a subject clearly deserved.

This time the subject was near-death experiences, and though I consider it deserving of equal mockery, many of a religious bent (and even some who are not so cognitively misshapen) give the idea that NDEs are evidence of an afterlife disproportionate credence. To me, however, the issue couldn't be more clear-cut: near-death experiences are evidence of being near death, nothing more. Anything that you perceive when you are near death — when your brain is shutting down (aka dying) — cannot be relied upon as accurate representations of reality. Why isn't this obvious?

Listen to Prof. French's voice of reason amongst the pseudo-respectable woo here:

Or download the podcast version here:

The blurb from the iPlayer:
Beyond Belief debates the place of religion and faith in today's complex world. Ernie Rea is joined by a panel to discuss how religious beliefs and traditions affect our values and perspectives. Near-Death Experiences often seem to include bright lights, the presence of benevolent spirits and a sense of peace - in other words a very positive experience. However, more unusually, there are others whose experience is very different, some cite overwhelming fear and visions of being chased by demons. Do these have a rational scientific explanation or are they indications of a life beyond this one? Joining Ernie Rea to discuss the nature of Near-Death Experiences are Dr Penny Sartori of the University of Swansea, whose book 'The Wisdom of Near-Death Experiences' is due to be published in 2014; the Very Reverend Professor Gordon McPhate, the Dean of Chester Cathedral who is also a trained Pathologist and a member of the Royal College of Physicians and Chris French, Professor of Psychology at Goldsmiths College, the University of London.

Producer: Liz Leonard.

Monday 2 September 2013

Burnee links for Monday

Nagel’s bat doesn’t demonstrate incompleteness in materialist science | coelsblog
You'll never know what it's like to be a bat. And that's OK.

Richard Carrier Blogs: Defining the Supernatural
"Supernatural" doesn't necessarily mean untestable.

No One is Born Gay (or Straight): Here Are 5 Reasons Why | Social (In)Queery
Well, that's interesting. Maybe it's true.

Stephen Fry — Am I an Islamophobe?
He of brain-the-size-of-the-Universe finds himself having to say it yet again. And I'm guessing it won't be the last time.