The Raving Theist

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The Great Divides

October 5, 2006 | 36 Comments

In the faith wars, the battle lines can be drawn in different places. The most important distinction for many is between theism and atheism. Both sides of the question may see the gulf as unbridgeable. Those on the religious side often feel that their differences with other faiths pale when compared to their differences with the godless. Similarly, atheists who might quarrel over the best reasons for disbelief view the religious as a separate species. The Pledge of Allegiance controversy especially polarized believers and disbelievers of this mindset, with each group highly offended over the perceived slight to their worldview. Atheists of this persuasion generally view believers as unintelligent or deluded; the believers see the atheists as immoral and rebellious.

A second line exists between absolutists and ecumenicists. Absolutists, whether believers or atheists, are galled by the suggestion that all beliefs regarding religion are equal. Their greatest contempt is not necessarily for those on the opposite side of the God-question, but for those who profess there are many ways up the mountain. The ecumenicists do not hold the particular tenets of their faiths as essential and hold harmony as a greater virtue than consistency. The developing storm over The Faith Club — a book by a Christian, Jew and Muslim — highlights this division. Albert Mohler has a perceptive essay written from the absolutist end of the spectrum. You can also listen to him discuss The Club it here (and stay tuned for his subsequent discussion of Dawkins’ The God Delusion).

Which distinction is more important to you?


36 Responses to “The Great Divides”

  1. severalspeciesof
    October 5th, 2006 @ 8:52 am


    What God wants, God gets, God help us all.
    Which distinction do you think is more important for me?

  2. Kate B.
    October 5th, 2006 @ 9:52 am

    Oh dear God in Heaven you just quoted a Roger Waters Solo Album! For shame, severalspeciesof, for shame! The Pink Floyd/Roger Waters Solo career is one of the most important distinctions out there!

    Re: RA’s question: I think the distinction between absolutism and ecumenicism is more important. It seems to have a greater effect on people’s actions. As we all know, there are moral atheists and immoral religious. Absolutism seems to insist in adherence to a moral code–because this moral code is the RIGHT one, of course–whereas ecumenicism, like relativism, implies an “anything goes” attitude toward moral behavior or the lack thereof.

  3. EclecticGuru
    October 5th, 2006 @ 9:59 am

    The latter.

    Unfortunately, there are practically no theists who believe that faith in god is equal in value to non-faith in god. So it ends up looking more like the former.

  4. severalspeciesof
    October 5th, 2006 @ 10:46 am

    To KateB,

    Glad to here from a Pink Floyd/Roger Waters fan? My apologies for not giving credit to Waters. I’m surprised you didn’t catch my moniker as being from Ummagumma.

    Ummagumma is severely underrated by most critics, and I’m being absolutist about that fact.

  5. severalspeciesof
    October 5th, 2006 @ 10:51 am

    By the way, both Floyd and Waters are great and I’m being ecumenical about that!

  6. a different tim
    October 5th, 2006 @ 10:57 am

    There aren’t many atheists who think faith and scepticism are of equal value either. I certainly don’t.

    I think most of us are ecumenicists within an absolutist framework – a scientist may admit that his theory could be right or wrong while maintaining that science as a whole is the best way to find out about the universe; RA’s theists may agree that the important thing is to be in “the faith club”, but that excludes those of us who are not. So the ecumenicist/absolutist distinction is false, I think.

  7. Kate B.
    October 5th, 2006 @ 11:12 am


    I haven’t listened to Ummagumma in years! But now that you mention it, your moniker is part of one of the greatest songs titles ever!

    I must say I’m more of a Pink Floyd fan than a Roger Waters fan, and even some of Floyd’s earliest stuff is a bit too experimental for my tastes. I’m not much of a Syd Barrett fan, either.

    October 5th, 2006 @ 11:25 am

    Enough with the @$%ing “3rd degree” !

    Why has the Raving Antiabortionist blog become a barrage of questions and surveys without nothing but vague hints about his opinions and beliefs?

    What is his point?

    This it getting rather STRANGE !!!

  9. bob barker
    October 5th, 2006 @ 11:41 am

    “Their greatest contempt is not necessarily for those on the opposite side of the God-question, but for those who profess there are many ways up the mountain.”

    I think there’s no complaint about there being many ways up the mountain. At least there should be no complaint. The gripe, my gripe at least, is that everyone claims to be climbing the same mountain when they are not.

    There are many paths that can lead a person to a particular god but don’t assume that every god is the same. Logic 101.

  10. severalspeciesof
    October 5th, 2006 @ 11:57 am

    I agree with Primate,

    This blog is getting strange. Where else can one find talk about Fermat’s Last Thereom, A 747 vs. God, and the absolutist/ecumenical debate about Pink Floyd/Roger Waters (Ooopps, the Floyd/Waters thing was my and Kate B’s idea, but what the hell…). I say we give answers that are as oblique (or not, I’m not sure, and I’ll never tell) as RA has been.

    Go Waters. (Damn, I missed him in Chicago this past weekend, and I’m absolutely sure about that, too.)

    October 5th, 2006 @ 12:34 pm

    Pink Floyd — yes indeed – excellent music.

    In a music appreciation class I had in college I did an analysis of their “Time/Breath/Great Gig in the Sky” ….

    My 80 year old professor just loved it !!! Although I did feel bad for playing a song about reaching the end of one’s life …

  12. Andy Holland
    October 5th, 2006 @ 12:38 pm

    “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”

    To the vain the Bible is a mirror, to the humble a window into Heaven.

    If a person is a true scientist, and really wants to study the religious question, then they have to look at the evidence with dispassion.

    If you want absolute scientific proof about God, visit Glastonbury on Orthodox Christmas, and/or visit Beti Shour near Bethlehem, and visit the Church of the Holy Resurrection in Jerusalem on Orthodox Holy Saturday.

    But the easier way is simply to read the Bible with a well written ancient commentary keeping in mind that God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble and meek.

    andy holland

  13. HappyNat
    October 5th, 2006 @ 12:59 pm

    “If you want absolute scientific proof about God, visit Glastonbury on Orthodox Christmas, and/or visit Beti Shour near Bethlehem, and visit the Church of the Holy Resurrection in Jerusalem on Orthodox Holy Saturday.”

    Or go to the strip club near the airport, I’m pretty sure that is heaven.

    lap dance enjoyer

  14. The Unbrainwashed
    October 5th, 2006 @ 1:57 pm

    Ya know how when you’re writing an essay, the professor/teacher always implores you to make an arguement and not just summarize the situation. The Boring Theist, formerly the Raving Athiest, used to be great at this. But now, we get these passive obersvations with no insight at all.

    How the mighty has fallen.

  15. Professor Chaos
    October 5th, 2006 @ 2:09 pm

    So…how ’bout them Yankees?

  16. Axolotl
    October 5th, 2006 @ 2:45 pm

    Re: 12. Andy Holland

    Andy, I believe you used that exact same comment on another thread recently! Perhaps you have a limited number of those “tracts” and are having to recycle them …???

  17. The Power of Greyskull
    October 5th, 2006 @ 2:56 pm

    What’s the deal with airplane food?

  18. Forrest Cavalier
    October 5th, 2006 @ 3:10 pm

    God-belief is not a destination, nor a mountain to climb.
    Instead, it is a process of becoming.

    Two distinctions matter to me.

    1. Which way are you are facing?

    2. Are you acting charitably?

    I recognize that many joy-filled atheists “pass” both while many puritanical fire-and-brimstone believers might have trouble.

    Everyone I’ve read in posts here demonstrate they pass #1 pretty clearly, atheists and God-believers alike seem to be refining, testing, understanding, improving. They all seem facing the same direction to me. Interesting.

    Some, like Choobus and You Need Mercy, seem borderline on #2, although satire is often a powerful motivator, Choobus gets too sharp for me. Outright condemnation (e.g. by YNM rarely is helpful to the other. See CCC 160

    I’ll stop now, since this is already hypocricy on my part. I don’t always act and come across as I know I ought.

  19. bob barker
    October 5th, 2006 @ 4:48 pm

    “I don’t always act and come across as I know I ought.”

    That’s not hypocrisy. A hypocrite is not someone who fails to live up to the ideals he espouses, but one who does not attempt to live up to the ideals he espouses.

    Some call religious people moral hypocrites because they don’t practice what they preach. That’s not a hypocrite. Do they attempt to practice what they preach? That’s the real question. If the litmus test for moral hypocrisy was failure to deliver the goods then we’d all be labeled moral hypocrites and the term would lose its forcefullness. You might as well say nothing.

  20. Lucy Muff
    October 5th, 2006 @ 6:37 pm

    choobus is devil and is not sharp as he thinks he is. He is filthy atheist and is goign to hell.

  21. Professor Chaos
    October 5th, 2006 @ 8:36 pm

    If you weren’t such a whore, perhaps your muff wouldn’t be so loosey.

  22. RealAtheist
    October 5th, 2006 @ 10:06 pm

    Folks, by now you should know that this blog serves no purpose other than to feed the Raving Atheist’s ponderous ego. Move on to something less postured and more honest.

    You could start by googling Massimo Pigliuccci. Virtually anything is better than this wallowing, self-indulgent, epiphenic egofest.

  23. Some Guy
    October 5th, 2006 @ 11:27 pm

    Are you still an atheist?

  24. EcumenicallYours
    October 6th, 2006 @ 2:05 am

    Two distinctions matter to me.

    1. Which way are you are facing?
    Silly, meaningless question. Maybe it has a meaning to you, but you don’t share the meaning with us, so we have no way of knowing if your answer (that we are all facing the same direction) has any value.

    2. Are you acting charitably?
    I’m willing to believe that you aren’t actually as arrogant or ponderous as you come across in plain text. So, yes.

  25. The Power of Greyskull
    October 6th, 2006 @ 3:08 am

    Hey Choobus, did Lucy Muff mean to call you THE Devil. If so, that is quite a prestigious position to hold. How do you manage to continually defy God? Nice one…

  26. Kreme
    October 6th, 2006 @ 5:45 am

    You know,

    in reality, yes, I’m an atheist, but I’ve come to realize a lot of the time that I can get along with religious theists, even enjoying their company until they find I’m atheistic, in which case they either become uneasy, or critical of me, despite the fact that prior to the religion talk, I was an enjoyable conversationalist. As much as I’d like be “ecumenicist”, all to often I’m not given the mutual respect I offer, despite the other’s beliefs in whatever. And now, you have things like The Faith Club adding to the shittiness of social divisiveness. Had it been called The Human Club perhaps this would be alright different matter altogether. Alas this is not the case, and it remains that the alien threat, or out-group, to these people is whatever lies outside their Abrahamic influence. Perhaps we should consider sensationalizing Ronald Regan’s threat by a “power from outer space.”, to give all people a reason to drop the dumb religious prejudice in exchange for an idiotic interplanetary prejudice.

  27. R and All
    October 6th, 2006 @ 8:25 am

    “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble and meek.-andy holland sinner”

    My first thought, Andy, is that you seem awfully proud of your humility and meekness.

    My second is that your god sure seems high maintenance.

  28. Andy Holland
    October 6th, 2006 @ 8:53 am

    Dear Axolotl:
    “Re: 12. Andy Holland

    Andy, I believe you used that exact same comment on another thread recently! Perhaps you have a limited number of those “tracts” and are having to recycle them …???”

    Perhaps rote would help?

    People are claiming to be “scientific” and they are not looking at the data or evidence with scientific dispassion.

    Don’t claim to be “scientific” when you don’t have the basic courage to look at a subject and evidence with scientific dispassion and consideration. The first people who found the Incarnate God were shepherds, the testimony of which was not accepted in any law court at the time.

    The three wise men (real scientists) followed an anomalous star to the shepherd’s field (Beti Shour) and found the shepherds to inquire where to find the Incarnate God. Their investigation was without prejudice and thorough. They humbled themselves, and only then did they find God. They had nothing to loose to look a little deeper, they tried asking a king, and found out through a dream that he was an idiot bent on destroying babies.

    Now you will support billions of dollars for “research” into the “origin” of the universe, and look for life on Mars and other dead worlds, but you won’t grab a passport and a couple of commercial flights. Or you won’t read Holy Scripture with disspassion, remembering that better people have found God there.

    But you’ll quote from that poor Dawkins who claims to be “scientific” and yet reads the Bible as though everyone else that came before him was a fool, and everyone around him who does not believe as he does is a fool.

    Chrysostom, Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, and Athanasius were not fools. They were men who gave all they had to serve the poor, the sick, the freindless and the needy, and they found something more than mere philosophy; they found the manifest truth in their lives by the grace of God.

    True shepherds gave their lives for their sheep, and in that they were only following the one true shepherd, having emptied themselves of themselves to actually practice Christianity.

    So what is written in the Scripture is correct, ‘there is more hope for a fool, than for one wise in his own eyes.’

    The “scientist” who depises the shepherd will never find God, but will go away in his arrogance and perish – that is truly just, who wants to spend eternity with the arrogant?

    But if you have a chance to live forever with God, wouldn’t you look around to try to find Him? Of course, that would mean giving up pride, prejudice, and conspicuous consumption – so I suppose, it is easier just to pretend He does not exist, while all around you the beauty of life proves to you otherwise.

    andy holland

  29. Thorngod
    October 6th, 2006 @ 9:25 am

    Andy, how do you suppose the three “scientists” who homed in on that anomolous star decided it was pointing to Bethlehem, since that town–and every other point on Earth’s surface–was moving at 25,000 miles per hour in respect to the stellar field? And if God had commanded the star to remain in Earth-synchronized orbit, imagine the terror of the townsfolk once one of them noticed the thing! Hundreds would have been trampled to death as they fled the precincts.

    October 6th, 2006 @ 10:40 am

    Lions, Tigers, and Bears – oh my !

    Chirstians, Muslims, and Jews – oh my!
    Chirstians, Muslims, and Jews – oh my!
    Chirstians, Muslims, and Jews – oh my!
    Chirstians, Muslims, and Jews – oh my, oh my, oh my !!!

    Both Oz and those 3 religions are quite the fascinating fantasies!

    Oh well – even if the Raving Antiabortionist has become quite the bore …. thre is still a little fun to be had here:

    That Mr Holland the sinner is really quite the fun read :)

  31. Forrest Cavalier
    October 6th, 2006 @ 11:28 am

    Replying to EcumenicallyYours in #24….

    I like the “climbing the mountain” analogy. But I disagree we are on different mountains, so end up with different gods, as someone else posted.

    Unlike real mountains, there is no “top”; no matter where you are, you can improve. And unlike real mountains, where you can be only at one elevation, every human is a work in progress, with uneven qualities, some excellent, some begging for improvement.

    Materialists and secular humanists may be inclined to describe this as the hedonistic treadmill. We always want something better. Never satisfied. I think this concentrates on results and destination too much. Their glass is always half empty.

    Theists observe and describe the same drive in theistic terms, such as restless hearts, as did Augustine of Hippo. Personally, I get more joy to focus on a path of improvement, rather than focusing on results and destination. I don’t focus on how empty or full, but I work to keep the level rising.

  32. JP
    October 6th, 2006 @ 11:34 am

    Anyone know what is going on with the Packers this year? Maybe we should give Bret Favre his pain meds back.

  33. Andy Holland
    October 6th, 2006 @ 11:44 am

    “Thorngod said:
    Andy, how do you suppose the three “scientists” who homed in on that anomolous star decided it was pointing to Bethlehem, since that town–and every other point on Earth’s surface–was moving at 25,000 miles per hour in respect to the stellar field?…”

    Dear Thorngod,

    When the Bible speaks of a third of the stars of heaven falling, do you believe that means the stars you see in the sky?

    andy holland

  34. Rocketman
    October 6th, 2006 @ 12:10 pm

    Ah Andy,

    No–everyone who came before us was not a complete fool. But I trust you would rather that the surgeon operating on your was using the most modern sources of infomration on the diagnosis and procedure rather than the medieval barbers guide to trepanation.

    You speak of evidence–but you are missing an essential understanding of what that means–and it is painful and painfully obvious.

    You talk of taking a pane ride to one of these palces–what will we see?

    A group of people worshipping.

    What is this evidence of? Nothing more than a group of people worshipping. It does not presuppose anything else–let alone a realistic interpretation of your specific religious text.

    If you are going to play in thei field you should bring the correct equipment.

  35. Irreligious
    October 7th, 2006 @ 2:56 pm

    It always made sense to me to be absolutist when it comes to universally observed principles that are for the good of all, such as: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” which would include the admonitions to not kill, steal from or malign others.

    On most other things, it only makes sense to me to be more the ecumenicist. Which two (or three or more) consenting adults choose to sleep together is of no consequence to me, nor is what they eat, how they choose to dress, and how, if or when they pray. I am neutral on all of these as it pertains to others.

    I have always been troubled by philosophies that instruct their adherents to fear, despise and dominate others. However, it does not seem reasonable or practical to advocate stripping said adherents of their rights to those philosophies. As such, I would advocate only that all be legally bound to the principle that one possesses only the right to be offended by others, and no authority to take up violent or prohibitive actions against those who, otherwise, pose no direct or concrete threat to the offended individual’s physical well-being. Of course, interpretations over what constitutes a direct or concrete threat will vary, but adhering to the principle, I think, is a good starting point for negotiation.

  36. Godthorn
    October 8th, 2006 @ 4:39 am

    Irreligious, I’ve always been a bit a bit skittish in regard to absolutism, but you’re right, of course, that to be human, we have to be absolutist in regard to certain principals. And you designated the primary one, in my opinion.

    I think the individual has a natural right to absolute imperiousness–but, of course, you and I have the right to oppose his ambition. Cooperation, compromise, and respect for the equality and liberty of all others, is the only workable social philosophy.

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