Preachers who don’t believe

Well, the semester is up and running at full pace now, so I find myself with less time for blogging than before.  But I couldn’t resist putting up a link to this fascinating new article in Evolutionary Psychology by Dan Dennett and Linda LaScola entitled “Preachers who are not believers”.  The article consists primarily of interviews with five members of the clergy, from five different Protestant denominations, who continue as clergy despite not believing in God.

The article is interesting in part because one has the impression that Dennett and LaScola intended to explore the psychology of a certain kind of self-deception, or at least insincerity; to unmask these clergy as folks who are in some sense forced to live a lie by the Church.  Towards the end of the article, for example, they ask what will happen to these pastors, and although the question is ostensibly about what role they will end up playing in their communities, the authors seem to be insinuating a broader indictment of the Church and their role in it:

We all find ourselves committed to little white lies, half-truths and convenient forgettings, knowing tacitly which topics not to raise with which of our loved ones and friends. But these pastors – and who knows how many others – are caught in a larger web of diplomatic, tactical, and, finally, ethical concealment. In no other profession, surely, is one so isolated from one’s fellow human beings, so cut off from the fresh air of candor, never knowing the relief of getting things off one’s chest.

On the other hand, by listening closely to the interviewees themselves, one is struck by the impression that at least some of them see no inconsistency whatsoever between their position and their beliefs.  Partly this is because they believe that Christianity, presumably like all religions, allows for a wide array of interpretations.  Indeed, despite being non-believers of various sorts, at least some of the pastors refuse, even in these confidential interviews, to call themselves atheists.  Dennett and LaScola tend to see their ways of evading or softening the question of God’s existence as merely the exploitation of various long-established errors:  conflating the use of God’s name with the mere mention of it, for example.  But one is struck by the impression that even if this is literally true, Dennett and LaScola have missed something more important about what is going on in these people’s lives.  They have no way of taking seriously, for example, the insistence of at least one of the pastors that their attempt to paint him as feeling “trapped” in his position has no basis in reality.

One is left feeling that there is something much more interesting than self-deceit going on here; perhaps even with the idea that what is at the heart of the way these people live their religion is something more like a mood of existence than a particular range of beliefs.  In the book we explore an interpretation of the Gospel of John that takes seriously the idea that John’s understanding of the center of Christianity is the mood that Jesus manifested in his life, a mood that those around him could catch and be caught up in themselves.  The idea of human beings as those beings who are open to moods that have authority over them then meshes with Melville’s idea that moody Ishmael – who is capable of getting in sync with the mood of various forms of the sacred – manifests the saving possibility for the culture.   I would be fascinated to know whether this reading rings true for the pastors in question.

About Sean D. Kelly

Sean Dorrance Kelly is the Teresa G. and Ferdinand F. Martignetti Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University. He is also Faculty Dean at Dunster House, one of the twelve undergraduate Houses at Harvard. He served for six years as chair of Harvard's Department of Philosophy. Kelly earned an Sc.B. in Mathematics and Computer Science and an M.S. in Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences from Brown University in 1989. After three years as a Ph.D. student in Logic and Methodology of Science, he received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of California at Berkeley in 1998. Before arriving at Harvard in 2006, Kelly taught at Stanford and Princeton, and he was a Visiting Professor at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris. Sean Kelly's work focuses on various aspects of the philosophical, phenomenological, and cognitive neuroscientific nature of human experience. He is a world authority on 20th century European Philosophy, specializing in the work of Martin Heidegger and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. He has also done influential work in philosophy of mind and philosophy of perception. Kelly has published articles in numerous journals and anthologies and he has received fellowships or awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the NEH, the NSF and the James S. McDonnell Foundation, among others. Fun fact: He appeared on The Colbert Show in 2011 to talk about All Things Shining. Sean Kelly lives at Dunster House with his wife, the Harvard Philosopher Cheryl Kelly Chen, and their two boys, Benjamin and Nathaniel.
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28 Responses to Preachers who don’t believe

  1. Kelly Dean Jolley says:

    I too suspect that something other than self-deceit is going on here (at least in some of the cases). D and L work with few categories. You and I will disagree in important ways about the mood manifested by Jesus in the Gospel of John (I expect); but, Jesus does manifest a mood. And one can recognize that Jesus manifests a mood, take oneself to have caught and to be caught up in that self-same mood, and be mistaken about oneself. In that plight, one need not be understood as self-deceived. To twist a phrase, many are called, but few are chosen.

  2. Sean D. Kelly says:

    I’m fascinated to know more about what you’re thinking, Kelly. First, what do you think the mood is that is manifested by Jesus in the Gospel of John? I wasn’t thinking of anything more than the mood of agape love, though of course that only names the mood instead of describing it. I’d love to know more about what you think that mood amounts to. But also, I’m interested to know what kind of mistake you think one might have made – other than the mistake of self-deceit – if one is mistaken about oneself in thinking one is caught up in Jesus’ mood. I don’t doubt that one can be mistaken about oneself in such a case, but I only meant to be suggesting that whatever is going on in these cases it didn’t look like it was self-deceit if that meant taking oneself to have beliefs one doesn’t actually have. I wasn’t thinking they were making some other mistake (though they might be). I was only thinking that they might not be making any mistake at all, since they might actually have gotten the core of the religion right by having caught its mood. Or at least by having taken themselves to have done so.

  3. Kelly Dean Jolley says:

    I will try to post something more soon. For now: I don’t mean that each of the cases is to be treated as involving a mistake about having caught and being caught up in the mood, but rather that such a mistake is another possibility to which it seems D and L are not alive.

    As you likely have guessed, I take the agapic mood to be complicated, to involve more than regarding others with what Kant might have called “practical love”. You may take it to be complicated too, perhaps in ways similar to the way I do. But I am still waiting to read the book to know for sure. While I wait, can you say just a little more about what you take the agapic mood to be? (I don’t mean to burden you; I am just eager to know. I also don’t want to argue at cross-purposes about such important matters.) The worry nags me that your take on the agapic mood will denature agape–in *something like* the way that Kant’s take on it denatures it.

  4. M. Heidegger says:

    Preachers that don’t believe are no different than politicians that legislate that which they don’t believe in. So the question here is: What is their ‘for the sake of which’? The clue comes from those who they serve. What do they want or need? They need their world to be maintained and preserved, which is why they allow non-believing preachers and politicians to comport themselves towards coping with them by preserving their world. So, their (non-believing preachers and politicians) ‘for the sake of which’ is in part, to be a preserver.

    What is the difference between believing preachers and politicians and non-believing ones? Is one more authentic than the other? A transcending world needs moderates that will maintain the world as it is, while the new Gods gather their strength to slay the reigning Gods. When the moment of transition comes, these non-believers will deliver little or no resistance to the clearing and mounting of the new world. At this point, the non-believing become authentic because their ultimate “for the sake of which” is to provide the pathway for the emergence of new Gods.

    Prior to this moment they were covering up the impending emergence of the new God. God creators need collaborators that are both active and passive. The path which the new God must follow to its ‘throne’ is always one of least resistance. So, the God is thrown into the clearing, as a beacon that lights up everything that will show up in that clearing, by the God creators in the direction which offers the least resistance.

  5. David Leech says:

    Dennett’s rhetorical, rationalistic, and anti-religion project has him cast his interviewees in one light when it seems to me that he could have cast them — some at least — in a “less trapped” light. He seems to have the material right there in the interviews to develop the notion of what Charles Taylor (Secular Age) calls “seekers” (part of a larger historical thrust Taylor identifies as “believing w/o belonging” and “diffuse Christianity,” p 518; and “minimal religion” and “just Christians,” p. 533), a group that Taylor argues form a vanguard of folks who, in Heidegger terminology, are preparing the way for a new god, a post-nihilistic god.

    According to Taylor: 

“The same long-term trend … now has brought forth today’s pilgrim-seeker, attempting to discern and follow his/her own path. The future of North Atlantic religion depends for one part on the concatenated outcomes of a whole host of such quests; and for another on the relations, hostile, indifferent, or (hopefully) symbiotic which will develop between modes of question and centers of traditional religious authority, between what Wuthnow calls dwellers and seekers.” (p. 533)

    Dennett presents the “fallen” pastors at the end of their rope, which is what Dennett hopes, since he seems to view religion as a memetic virus! But Taylor’s analysis, from inside a broad/deep tradition of faith, argues that they are part of a much larger thrust that, “tells against forms of unbelief …[a] series of nagging dissatisfactions with the modern moral order [I would say, exemplified by economic theory and the goal of consumption]…the rapid wearing out of Utopian versions, the continuing sense that there is something more. … The fading contact of many with the traditional languages of faith seems to presage a declining future. But the very intensity of the search [Dennett’s interviewees!] … may be full of promise. … Perhaps something analogous can be said about the situation in ‘post-secular’ Europe. I use this term as designating an age in which the declines in belief and practice of the last century would have been reversed, because this doesn’t seem likely, at least for the moment; I rather mean a time in which the hegemony of the mainstream master narrative of secularization will be more and more challenged. This I think is now happening.” (p. 533-34)

    Dennett seems so completely ensconced in the tenured, academic world, and in his project to “cure” us of religion that he thinks these pastors are special in the way they are trapped! He says, “In no other profession, surely, is one so isolated from one’s fellow human beings, so cut off from the fresh air of candor, never knowing the relief of getting things off one’s chest.”

    Give me a break!

    Either Dennett is completely out of touch with how the rest of us live (outside philosophy departments) or he is so wrapped up in his anti-religion project that he can’t see the stupidity of this comment. I mean, I am really glad that we have institutions that pursue the quests for “Truth” through open Socratic exchange of unvarnished and carefully-consider opinion (even if I am highly skeptical about the goal, in its “capital T” form), but belonging to that institution (and perhaps having forgotten life there “before-tenure”) seems to have put him completely out of touch with ordinary (non-tenured and non-academic) person, successfully working for organization dedicated to other things — profit, market share, or even world peace — who rolls out of bed for years-on-end with that nagging feeling, “this is not right, its a lie” and quickly pushes it aside, until tomorrow morning, because s/he is in some sense “trapped” by (I might rather say “alive to”) the complex “puts and takes” of the age in which we live, an age saturated, on my account, by the rift between the homogenizing forces of the market (our age’s post-Neitzschean god-susbstitute or work of art), and the heterogeneity of situated experience (cultivated by all sorts of community-building institutions (even if their secular form they seem in decline, according to Putnam’s Bowling Alone), not the least of which is religion in it many forms which, on Taylor’s account seems to be flourishing).

    Dennett is in the vanguard of the (moribund?) secularization movement. I think (hope) he is betting on the wrong horse but I also think that there are more than two horses in the race; that “All Things Shining” represents a youthful stead that could “come from behind.”

  6. David Leech says:

    It just dawned on me: this is an example of the primacy of practices over beliefs. These are preachers who carry out their role as “preachers” but whose beliefs are more or less irrelevant. I am going out on a limb here (no doubt I will be corrected, hopefully) but maybe we could say that, ontologically, they are preachers (“articulators” of a marginal understanding of being); ontically they are “fallen”; and then, in their falleness, they are, ontologically, what Dreyfus calls, “preparatory thinkers,” or what Taylor calls. “seekers.”

  7. Enoch Lambert says:

    I know I’m getting into the conversation late but I had a few thoughts and questions. In general, I’m sympathetic to the idea that “moods of existence” are more important to being religious than many interpretations admit, and “ranges of belief” less so. However, I’m curious whether you want to go all the way in saying that beliefs are not important at all, or that it is sufficient to being religious to “catch” the proper mood. Moods seem to be very temporary and transient, even if they are public. The examples you often give, such as parties, exemplify this aspect of moods. Yet, Jesus seems to demand something far less transient and far more stringent of his would-be disciples than just catching a mood from him. For instance, he asks people to forsake their families, deny themselves, etc. and follow him. It seems he wants to effect more significant and lasting changes in his followers than those that seem to come about by the catching of transitory moods. There also seem to be several moods portrayed by him throughout the Gospels: humility and meekness, care-free abandonment from the worries of this world as one learns to rely solely on God, even righteous indignation in some places. Can all these different “moods” (assuming for now that is what they are) simply be “caught”?

    This brings me to my next question which is curiosity about the singular focus on the Gospel of John. This Gospel has long been considered somewhat different from the other three. And one of the differences, at least as interpreted by some, is the marking of more significant Hellenistic influence. The opening chapter is a prime example. Given Dreyfus’ own care to distinguish the different modes of existence characterized by Greek and Hebrew cultures, it is curious to me that your book would focus on what is arguably one of the most Greek influenced parts of the New Testament to interpret the essence of Christianity. The different moods and calls for sacrifice I mention above might be more prominent in the other Gospels. Should they be taken into account in the interpretation of the Christian “mode of existence”?

  8. Karl Tyson says:

    My father started out as a midwestern Congregationalist minister. He followed the path leading to the “God is Dead” theology. Since this path seems pertinent in many ways to the discussions on-going here, I will mention that it touches, among many other thoughts, immanence vs. transcendence, post-modernity, and the reaction of my father’s generation (he was exempt from WWII draft on his “man of the cloth” aspirations), to the holocaust that blew scorching into their face.

    After a decade or so, he quit the ministry and became an academic gate-keeper, pumping young prep schoolers and stand-outs into elite universities, and supporting the globalization of western secular humanism under Armand Hammer.

    I remember vividly when I was seven or so, my father immolating his typed out sermons in the brick trash burner beside the garage. I was in love with war already, playing nearby in a rubble heap with a GI Joe he couldn’t keep me from, under his sad pacifist eyes, listlessly destroying, page by page, the material traces of his dead-God preaching, neither of us comprehending the utter devastation we would experience upon losing each other. A year later in D.C., he deserted my mother and us five bright, handsome, crew-cut kids in 1968, never to re-appear, while the echo of riots and the smell of marijuana drifted through our acrid family remnants. None of his brilliant sons ended up in elite universities.

    We reconnected at the end of his life, not too long ago. I forgave him for the frightful damage he inflicted on that little boy playing WWII in the sand, by his holocaust of false faith, by his re-enacting the Death of God at the tiniest human scale possible. He said if he knew what he knew in the end he would have done things different.

    Few of us atheist christians are as lucky as my Dad. He became a beloved figure on his campus in his last decades, a sage, a Holy Man, practicing Tai Chi in the sanctuary, waking every morning at dawn to stand alone in a room, performing intercessory prayers, and talking . . . very . . . slowly . . . about important things.

    My father was an atheist and a pastor and a great spiritual man, despite his intricate faults. I am a Dostoevskian existential christian, for what it’s worth.

  9. M. Heidegger says:

    – Unfallen Dassein would not have a tradition from which it could unravel to reveal a new one. This means that Dassein falls into the world with historicality from which it can begin to cope with things. Since Dassein exists in time and time is differential (Aristotle), tradition and culture must transcend along with Dasein as it copes. Dassein is its world existingly.

    On page 220 of Being in Time in the Macquarrie/Robinson (p176 German), inauthenticity does not mean Being-no-longer-in-the-world, but rather, it means that it is the kind of being that is totally fascinated in the ‘world’ and the ‘they’. A non-believing minister is still in the world in which he began coping from the historicality that he fell into, unraveling it to reveal new secular practices.

    God, in the religious sense, is not fallen since it does not have historicality nor does it have a world. God therefore cannot have Dassein. God does not get its practices from anywhere. Without a world, God would have nothing to cope with, which would mean that it would not have any moods or cares. If God did have a world, our world, then its cares would be us and its moods would be governed by our needs. God would then have no free will, or limited free will at best. God’s For-the-Sake-of-which would be to cope with the universe and all of its constituents. Bert could tell you that this is something that God could never realize, because by the time that God can become God, it would not be around to realize it. That’s right, folks, God would have to die in order to become God. I could go on in further detail, but all of this is quite boring. You can see the impossibility of God existing in the traditional religious sense from the argument thus far. What is more interesting is what kind of god can appear out of secularism in the technological age?

    – Dassein can only experience moods and nothing else. Moods give Dassein its cares, and cares give Dassein its direction. As I have mentioned in a previous post, being is entirely temporal and care is spatial. Moods are the bridge between the two. Care brings closer a thing to be perceived. ( The book that I am currently writing will explain this in detail, and why it is necessarily so. ) If a god is to be perceived then Dassein must have the moods that manifest certain cares that allow that god to appear. A god is the personification of a set of practices that are manifest by the moods of Dassein so that its cares, which summed up, is itself can be realized. All Dasein is seeking is itself.

    – Adopting traditional practices is to become banal. “East Coast Searle” might be moving away from the standard banal practices of the ‘they’ by adopting the practices of “inside philosophy departments”. Dasein can’t create new worlds by being banal. Unfortunately for both ‘West Coast Dennet’ and ‘East Coast Searle’, neither can be the new god. Only I can assume that role.

  10. Jessica says:

    Thanks so much for this interesting thread.
    A short story on this theme:
    Unomuno y Jugo’s “San Manuel Bueno, Martyr”
    Gordon Marino, ed. Basic Writings of Existentialism
    Modern Library Classics

  11. David Leech says:

    Replying to Enoch Lambert, I think its important to keep separate the mood that Jesus is claimed to have evoked (lets call it brotherly love, or, a little bigger, the love of a small, tight-knit community wherein each wants the best for the other for the other’s sake) and the mood that was evoked by his articulators, the Gospel writers, who, according to contemporary New Testament scholars, were not personally acquainted with Jesus. They were recorders of an oral tradition that may have originated with those personally acquainted.

    In any event, I would expect the mood to change significantly from one situation to the next. But even if we grant that there is not much of a mood/experience change between Jesus’ disciples and the authors of the Synoptic gospels (the Apostles Mark, Mathew, and Luke) and their communities, that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t an important difference between the early and late Apostles, between the Mark/Mathew/Luke communities and the John communities. (According to Robert Funk — Jesus Seminar — their Gospels are even based on different sources, the former relying on the “Q source” and Mark and the later relying prominently on the “Sayings source” perhaps without access to Mathew/Mark. To me, this implies different community practices and this likely represents some differences in experience/mood.)

    I think Dreyfus/Kelly pay more attention to John because he represents a significant evolution of the beliefs and experience/mood of Christians; an evolution that points to a mystical experience of the sacred, and perhaps an “other worldly” mood with which later important thinkers will have a hard time grappling.

    Thomas Sheehan (who is a respected Heidegger scholar as well as a New Testament scholar) argues that, Jesus’ divinity (an ontological claim that Sheehan thinks was not part of Jesus’ teaching and practice and not present in the earliest Gospel sources) “achieved it highest expression in the hymn to the preexistent and incarnate savior that serves as the prologue to the Gospel of John …the prologue pushes the existence of the Word back to a point even prior to creation …[and]… Although there is no mention of the Trinity … the text is certainly on its way to that later doctrine. (T. Sheehan, The First Coming, 1986).

    I think John is as an example of part of a long line of metaphysical claims about the sacred that have gotten us further and further away from our essential humanity as disclosers of worlds in the here and now. John represents one of a long line of erroneous (ontotheological) understandings of being that Dreyfus/Kelly are trying to unpack so we can get back on a more sure-footed path.

  12. M. Heidegger says:

    What is the classification of that which is preached by non-believing preachers? Is it chatter, idle talk, gossip or bullshit? What do the preachers spewing their nonsense think they are communicating? It certainly can’t be the truth, since the truth has its proofs and religion is based on faith, which relies on the absence of truth. If one knows the truth, one need not have to rely on faith and hope. It is only when one is unsure of the truthfulness of something that one relies on faith and hope. All this means that a system based on faith and hope can only be adopted by the ignorant, which is what our species still is.

    What can faith and hope possibly disclose or reveal about the world? The only concession I can make is that: in the absence of a truth, faith is better than nothing. Why do human beings like being bullshitted? My experience with the catholic church has made me believe that most if not all members of that sect know that they are bullshitters. The Virgin Mary must be virginal despite the historical evidence of her giving birth to many children. (Some clergy have made the claim that Mary was of virgin birth as well, towards some end.) The priests know about the historical family of Jesus, but will never preach it to their congregation. They would rather bullshit them with a history that omits that which might make their flock uncomfortable. It seems, then, that the unbelieving ministers are providing equal solace and maintenance for their congregation by feeding them the same level of bullshit. Has this been the case for all religions from the beginning? Has every religious representative felt that some aspect of their religion was bullshit that had to be fed to the believers?

    So, how does bullshit help Dassein disclose anything?

    • David Leech says:

      “M. Heidegger” (of all people!) isn’t distinguishing between epistemological truth and ontological truth. Most of his questions have reasonable answers within the latter category, once the distinction between core and marginal (ontological) truth is made. In the opening paragraph of Age of the World Picture (1938), H makes this distinction when he says, “Metaphysics grounds an age, in that through a specific interpretation of what is and through a specific comprehension of the [ontological] truth it gives to that age the basis upon which it is essentially formed. This basis holds complete dominion over all the phenomenon that distinguish the age.” Presumably, there are phenomena that don’t “distinguish the age” and these phenomena are understood in terms of what Dreyfus/Kelly call “marginal practices.”

      H. has a more dynamic way of expressing the same distinction in the essay, Rememberance (1942), and the lecture, Holderlin’s Hymn ‘The Ister’(1942) where he develops a watery infrastructure metaphor of rivulets-stream-river-sea, perhaps “floating towards” the “bridges” of the “Building, Dwelling, Thinking” lecture of 1951.

      In the watery infrastructure version of the margin-to-center story, the essential historicality of human being (the movement from one ontological truth to another) starts with brooks, starting from their difficult-to-grasp “source” (difficult because of the two dimensions of forgetfulness – the old story of how the light in the room withdrawals and how we get absorbed in the current understanding of being) (we find this in Ister, p. 132) and following shallow streams to hidden depths of wide rivers to its destination in the sea. (“Remembrance,” p. 122,). And then in this version of margin-to-center, foreign-to-homecoming, the historicality of human being is traveling to foreign lands and then the thinking-in-reverse, from the colony, to the sea, to the river, to the brook, to the source. (“Remebrance”, p. 164).

      The bridge of “Building, Dwelling, Thinking” is situated in this watery infrastructure metaphor for historicality. The types of bridges are different ways of learning to dwell on Dreyfus’ account and they exist in the same town, just like ontological truths exist in some proximity to one another.

    • The Catholic dogma of the Immaculate Conception actually refers to the mother of Mary – the so-called Saint Anne. According to this doctrine, the Virgin Mary was conceived without stain. In 1950, the Catholic church added to its dogma The Assumption of Mary – she didn’t die, she was assumed into heaven. What has this got to do with the teachings of Jesus?

    • George Herbert Friesen says:

      M. Heidegger’s comments remind of a dinner conversation I had several years ago when a person claiming to be an atheist lectured me on what I had to believe if I was to call myself a Christian. As I recall, I had suggested that being a Christian didn’t necessarily involve being anything like certain about the existence of God or, possibly, even being able to say that one believes in God. She took great offense at this comment. I told her that it seemed to me that one of the great delusions to which human beings can fall prey is the delusion of certainty. I think I also referred to St. Paul’s observation that we “see through a glass darkly” and that uncertainty is an inherent part of the human condition. I am somewhat astounded at M. Heidegger’s comment, “It is only when one is unsure of the truthfulness of something that one relies on faith and hope.” “Only when” one is unsure…? I’d suggest that we should be perpetually unsure of virtually everything. And, yes, on occasion our response to living in relative darkness can be characterized as “hope.” At other times, it seems to me it involves a conscious act of the will, the self-chosen imposing of order in a way that should not be characterized as hypocrisy but is, rather, a splendid demonstration of the strength of the human intellect. I’m reminded of T. S. Eliot’s phrase, “the voluntary suspension of disbelief.” As an aside, I suspect that Eliot engaged in this form of mental discipline when he became an Anglican. Now to venture into dangerous territory with this group of scholars since I’m forty years away from my last reading of Moby Dick. Despite the years that have passed, I still remember how much my thinking was impacted by the chapter entitled, “The Whiteness of the Whale.” It is in this chapter, I believe, that Melville refers to “whiteness” as the “colorless all-color of atheism.” It is this characteristic of Moby Dick that Ahab finds so offensive. Is it possible that Ahab’s inability to tolerate virtually all pervasive uncertainty, that is, “whiteness,” is also a result of his inability to tolerate what St. Paul suggests is the permanent human condition, seeing through a glass darkly?
      Finally, to end remarks that I hope haven’t been too rambling, let me say that it’s possible that Ahab would have slept much better at night had he been an Anglican, as I am. Why is that? A number of years ago, Bill Buckley observed that “nobody from Mao Zedung to the Pope can say, with confidence, that they’re not an Anglican.” Of course, Buckley didn’t mean this to be a compliment. I accept it as one, however. Uncertainty is the name of our game.

  13. M. Heidegger says:

    Sorry, I temporarily stepped out of my world and into the banal one in response to the attack on academia. Whether or not East Coast Searle is right or wrong, he is still trying to create a world, whereas the banal are preservers of banal cultural practices.

    I agree with Bert that epistemology is dead. Truth directly corresponds with being, and thus there can only be ontology. Truth always belongs to a world. What I meant to say is that God’s world is over, and its truth no longer applies to the world we share existingly.

  14. David Leech says:

    I am not a Christian but Heideggerians I respect “seem” to be, including Taylor, Borgmann, and Sheehan. Maybe that’s not correct but for the sake of argument lets assume it is; lets assume that they have become attuned to the passing of the danger (paraphrasing H. in The Turning); they are “preparing the way” for a new understanding of being; they find “focal practices” in the margins of our age (Christian communities); and they cultivate them so to get in a free relation to technology.

    Are there practices in those marginal worlds that are consistent (if that’s a requirement) with cultivating the experience of a giverless gift? I think so because I think, following Stark & Finke’s analysis (Acts of Faith, 2000), that adherence to religion is primarily about practices, and only secondarily about beliefs.

    If that’s true, and if, at the center of a functioning Christian community is small-f “faith” (a form of grounded meaning I think, like the faith I have in my children, my brothers, my spouse — a dimension of the experience of love I suppose) and the hope, perhaps the experience, that this world-changing faith can grow outward through the community’s practices, then that marginal ontological truth could well be the basis for the more global ontological truth (perhaps a “polytheistic” truth that is experienced as a gift without a giver) that will distinguish the next age and that, if I understand it correctly, is what All Things Shining will attempt to cultivate, and what its author’s are attempting in some of their work.

  15. M. Heidegger says:

    These people are fake Heideggerians. They are no better than the “intelligent design” cabal, which seeks legitimacy in pseudo science. This group that you have mentioned try to justify Christianity by allying it to Heideggerian philosophy. Christianity will always be a subject/object philosophy, which dooms it to Cartesianism. These so called philosophers should look into Buddhism, since it is closer to the work.

    Dassein is ever transcending. This means that the new practices must come out of the margins as old practices become marginal. Conformists always conform to the banal cultural practices which a true cultural expert would not be doing. A thinker/world creator is even less likely to be a conformist. A theist cannot be a thinker, unless his/her god/s are ones of their own creation. The last time I checked, Rome did not rule the world. There is no need for Jesus, unless he can show us how to receive free wifi, and get to level 35 on some video game.

    The gift is the clearing. Every new age has its clearing which is lit up by a god/ess. Disclosure and interpretation is the nature of Dasein, and that which allows Dasein this opportunity is a gift.

    • David Leech says:

      It was probably a mistake to use the word, “Heideggerian” since, now that I reflect on it, as I used it, I am not sure what it means. Given the variety of meanings it could have — one could be a early- middle- or late-Heideggerian, for example, or a selection or composite of these — it would have been better to refer to Taylor, Sheehan, and Borgmann as Heidegger scholars who seem to be Christians.

      • M. Heidegger says:

        The early work is more conceptual and deals mainly with the dynamics of Dasein in relation to being. Like science, it appears to be un-worlded. The later work examines being and Dasein within a world. It is also very poetic, which has, apparently, confused many. The talk about technology and about earth and sky, etc, has clouded, rather than clarified.

        The whole point of the transition was to first develop a methodology for understanding being and how it manifests itself into a world, and then to use that understanding into making our existence intelligible.

        As for rivulets, rivers, and oceans: the length is thinginess and the width is being. The move is away from thinginess towards being. When all is just being, one ends up with the longest rivulet, which brings us back to thinginess.

  16. Pingback: Navigating Past Nihilism » David Ehlers - Art, Algorithms, & Design

  17. Michael Drew says:

    I think that to ask Dennett and LaScola to be more open to preachers’ other conceptions of what it is to be religious really asks too much of atheists. It is not reasonable to ask atheists to go out of their way to indulge religious clergy’s difficulty with belief itself in terms that preserve a pose of such belief, if the clergy themselves will not adjust their public statements about doctrine and belief to the reality of their own. If Chrstinianity is a mood and not a truth, then let these doubters get that reality straight in their minds and let it come to constitute their preachings. Until then, it is fair for an exercise like this to focus on the realtion of their preaching to their real beliefs. Perhaps this means that, as atheists who themselves preach their true beliefs, these aren’t the best authors to write this paper in a way that pleases people at this blog. But then, that is certainly not their aim in writing, and they are also under no obligation to write the article as they see fit. If an author who would be inclined to do this work in a more nuanced way had happened to be inclined to do it at all before now, she absolutely could have. One such could just as much do similar work now and cast the research in whatever light she desired. I have my doubts that an author with either such inclination ever existed. This is not a line inquiry, after all, that D&L intended to give comfort to those whose intellectual focus is the work of smoothing over the difficulties of religious belief in the modern world. I don’t imagine such scholars tending to want to choose to take it up all things being equal.

  18. Jim Lein says:

    I just read this. It reminds me of Richard Kim’s book, The Martryed, set in the Korean War. Twelve, as I recall, South Korean chaplains were captured and tortured by the North Koreans. All but one of the chaplains denounced his faith in order to avoid being tortured to death. The one who was put death was an atheist. The survivors were all believers.

  19. Jim Lein says:

    Nevermind. I got it wrong, the Richard Kim novel, The Martyred. I found a review online. All 12 were executed, 11 groveling, only one defiant, and he was ambivalent about his faith. So the agnostic chaplain was braver in his weak or non-existent faith than the more theist ones.

  20. Norman Chaleff AB 76 says:

    I have three reactions to the article.
    1. The survival of civilization and indeed humanity for the next several centuries is not assured, and anyone who says that doesn’t matter is expressing extreme contempt toward our decendents. So there happens to be a common enterprise or calling – acting to increase the likelihood of such survival – that was not understood a century ago. For most of us, the challenge of nihilism has been postponed until the question of survival has been answered.
    2. Several liberal Jewish thinkers have attempted to keep the baby (the values of religion and community) but throw out the bathwater (belief which is inconsistent with observed reality, especially post-Holocaust). I note particularly Rabbi Bradley Artson, who speaks of a non-omnipotent God (the ideal of omnipotence being a Greek distortion, in his view) who is constantly whispering good choices to all of us, and Rabbi Arthur Green, whose book “Radical Judaism” sets forth an even bigger departure from traditional views. Whether these or other attempts will ultimately be successful (in the various meanings of that term) remains unknown, but it seems to me that the effort is at least honest and at best noble.
    3. Many voices, both Christian, Jewish (which never claimed an exclusive path for all the world) and other, are coming to understand each tradition as a path to wisdom and goodness which can be especially effective with those having a common background, without needing or wanting a claim of exclusive truth. Each tradition has its stengths, its weaknesses, and its risks of veering into fanaticism. Comparing the relative dangers of the different traditions seems less interesting than figuring out how to keep each of them within a range unlikely to lead to disaster.

  21. Jim Lein says:

    Still not right. See review online.
    The Martyred by Cholly Choi: Review of The Martyred

    Two survived, one because defiant, the other crazy. One was ambivalent about his faith. The others groveled and were killed.

  22. Dave says:

    Funny : I’ve been considering becoming a pastor though I don’t believe the resurrection of Christ was possible. Why? Because 1) I grew up in the Church and feel most comfortable there, 2) I believe the Church serves basic, important, and human needs for God, faith, community, salvation, and redemption among other things, and 3) I need a job to keep surviving

  23. Excellent essay, and insightful comments.

    God is the most powerful placebo I have ever encountered. I can understand why those ministers stick with it. The more deeply I engage it, the more astonishing it responds. And so I find it useful to work with this “mood” as continually as possible.

    Whatever it is “essentially,” it has worked remarkably well for me. From Confucius: The master “sacrificed to the gods as if they were present.” 祭神如神在

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