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May 03, 2005


Richard Lawrence Cohen

I'm with David and Danny here. Scientists who oppose religion usually oppose a caricature of religion, a straw man with a white beard sitting on a cloud, disapproving of sex and fighting against the laws of nature. And their view of design is so simplistic -- because it's based on the metaphor of the automobile designer, the rocket designer, not the artist. God has much more in common with the latter. (Norman Mailer, in a recent talk here in Austin, called God an "imperfect artist." I would say that, perfect or not, God is a self-evolving artist who continually refines and revises his work. (And so do car and rocket designers, actually, if you look at their process over a long timespace.)) He's not working from an immutable blueprint that was thought up all at once 15 billion years ago and remains locked in place. No designer works like that.

In fact, Tamar, your view of some universal transcendentalism and Dawkins' enthusiasm for the miracle (though he doesn't use that term) of being alive are much closer to religion than the primitive cultism that Dawkins opposes. Einstein once said somewhere that there are two possible ways of looking at the universe: as if everything is a miracle or as if nothing is a miracle. I choose the former. And it's not a matter of proof through evidence. How do we decide what constitutes evidence? I think the fact that we're here, doing this, is evidence. We can spend a lifetime refusing the obvious, like children refusing their cereal. That's a kind of child mind too.

William James, I think, is a lot better guide on these matters than Dawkins. And as far as European secularism is concerned, that's a culture that is currently in the process of reasonably lying down so it can be trampled to death by the unreasonable.

Richard Lawrence Cohen

I meant timespan, not timespace.


"How do we decide what constitutes evidence? I think the fact that we're here, doing this, is evidence."

Yeah! For me human connection and relationships is wherein my "spirituality" lies.

I respect your, Danny's and David's faith even though I am sure each of you believe and value different things in different ways and with differing degrees of complexity.

Here I will reiterate part of my comment that I posted over at Amba's today for those who won't get there in the hopes that you are able to respect my view, as misguided as you may believe it is:

As I said at Amba:

I was amused by the story you tell of your friends trying to convince you that there is no god. I was amused because the reverse has been happening to me so much lately. Not only from the media, our administration and colleagues at the end of my presentations. But really close friends have been begging me to see the light - to believe in an afterlife and they *all* are convinced they have been with me in a former life, even though their religious beliefs differ. In a way it has been touching and flattering because they truly care about me and want what is best for me. Plus I understand that they have found something really wonderful that has enriched their lives and they want to share it with me. They don't come at it in arrogance or a "holier than thou" manner as your friends seem to have done. I usually sit quietly and listen. I even attend their churches, synagogues or whatever they are into. I chant with them, and accept that this is where they are in their lives, feelings, ideas. I am even happy for them that they are happy. But there just seems to be so little respect for my view or, even, any interest in if I have a different view at all. And if I do talk about it (and I seldom do with friends) there seems to be so much anger at me.

A blogger friend once wrote this to me:
"I seem to be in a minority on this, most particularly now during America's trend toward Christian McCarthyism, but I believe one's faith, religion or lack thereof, to be at least as personal as one's sexual practices and for anyone to try to persuade another to his/her beliefs without being invited is out of human bounds. I don't have a lot of rules about other people's behavior, but that is one I don't tolerate and have been known to be quite 'un Christian' in my response."

I guess I agree with that blogger about this except that I am more accepting when people come at me with religion. Like the time I wrote to my colleague who had given me a bible:

I guess my post on Dawkins was offensive to some people and I am truly sorry about that. It was not my intention. As my friend wrote to me in my "update" today, I am in the minority and perhaps have been hiding frightened in the closet. My "coming out" might have been a shock to some. But I'm not a bigot, even though some people have suggested that some people who come out of closets are bigots! Gee, I so hope they are not refering to me.

Richard Lawrence Cohen

Tamar, I share your concern about the new fundamentalist McCarthyism. I'm saying that to take that as coterminous with religion is a mistake, a rhetorical error that atheists falll into because it gives them an easier argument. To reject religion because of Pat Robertson and his ilk is to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

I don't think God cares what you or I believe, but that's just my opinion.

On the other hand, look at it from the fundamentalists' perspective. If you were convinced that you possessed an absolute truth and that without it, all your friends and loved ones would suffer horrible eternal punishment, wouldn't you want to rescue them even if they considered it a gauche imposition?


Ah Richard, here is what I think: I don't know what to think because everything that has been taught to me by women, men, society and religion is a patriarchal world view. This god of which you speak is always male, for starters. It was determined eons ago by a bunch of men that all the well-known prophets and divine gods are male. So, for one, I want to work this out for myself. I want to read everyone's view, think about what works for me inside my psyche, taking into consideration who I am, how I came to be whom I am and what kinds of choices, decisions I want to make for myself as a responsible, moral, mature adult who is able to think for myself in the future. This process has been so difficult because of the deeply patriarchal socialization that has taken place. It is, indeed, a constant struggle.

And no, I do not agree that someone else who is sure of an absolute truth has any rights over what I believe, nor do they have the right to determine what is best for me. To begin with, it is undemocratic. I have lived in a country for close to twenty years where there is no separation of church and state (Israel) and believe me it is horrific - and usually for women.

I am not throwing anything out with the bathwater but I want to be very careful before I just go ahead and accept some sort of male deity or practice riutals that men have determined as the truth or dictated for years - without question and with blind faith. Intolerance of gays, women, and other points of view or ways of believing is what I see much of organized religion as doing. I don't want people to be suspicious of me or pity me as misguided and lost because I don't agree with their belief system or world view. I want to be accepted, respected and taken seriously. Somehow, when the god belief thing comes into play all that stuff that I want gets thrown out with the bathwater.

I believe in human connection and relationships, not hurting others and compassion. I believe in doing good, discipline and freedom. I work, struggle hard at accepting diversity and surely understand that everyone believes differently, personally, deeply, spiritually (though not necessarily through religion), in very different ways. I believe that it is all very complex and there is still so much mystery for which I am content in not knowing the answers. I believe in emotion - lots of it - and expression of it - lots of it - in death and dying and pain. If you want to shake your head bemusedly and say, "well that's god, kiddo, and you just won't admit it," that's your prerogative - that's where you are at right now and that's what fits with your belief. For me it is what it is, and I surely don't want to hurt anyone with it.


Although I'm late to the party, I wanted to say, Tamar, congratulations on coming out of your atheistic closet! Your post, the follow-up discussion, and all the provocation has been an amazing read.

So much so, I'm going to blog about it, I think. I started a lengthy response and decided it was so "me" oriented that I better save it. :)

I'm in between extremes. I consider myself an agnostic.


Adriana, thanks for joining in. I can't wait to read what you have to say about all this and learning more about the *you* you will be sharing.

Richard Lawrence Cohen

Tamar, I don't want anyone to have any rights over what you, I, or anyone else believe. I believe in the Constitution of the United States. I was saying that although we don't want to be badgered by proselytizers, we can try to exercise some empathy for them as for any other person who is different from us.

As far as the issue of patriarchy, I fully understand how that could turn a woman away from organized religion. That fits in with one of my themes: that we shouldn't mistake the fallible, primitive, contingent, adulterated forms of human religion for the ineffable thing that has inspired those religions. As Zen says, don't mistake the finger pointing at the moon for the moon.

And now on to Adriana's site...


Richard, I understand what you mean about exercising empathy for people different from me. Have become alert though to how insidious the religious right (of any religion)can be as a "body" that takes over our rights based on taking advantage of everyone's fear of the word "God."

I like the Zen saying that you use here and thanks for the James recommendations over at T.A. Thanks too for this discussion.


Gamble everything for love,
if you're a true human being.
If not, leave this gathering.
Half-heartedness doesn't reach
into majesty. You set out
to find God, but then you
keep stopping for long periods
at mean-spirited road houses.


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