The Raving Theist

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Overcoming Skeptimalism

February 6, 2009 | 73 Comments

Commenter Skeptimal opines that I “may have once been an atheist, but . . . apparently was never a skeptic.” He suggests that I gullibly fell for an “urban legend”:  Amy Welborn’s account (related the the last column of her late husband Michael Dubruiel), of a woman, Diana, who in a dream foresaw her own death and salvation on 9/11. In fact, I am a highly skeptical believer. I know a hoax when I encounter one and have debunked my share both before and after my conversion. But I believe in Diana’s dream because I trust in God, and in the word of those who trust in Him.

For you skeptical atheists I will translate this with the words of the ultimate skeptical atheist, David Hume. Hume was well aware of the nature of what are now called “urban legends,” of hearsay, and of the possibility of human error and deceit. But his view of human nature was such that he recognized that there were certain circumstances under which it would be foolish, and indeed unscientific, to distrust our fellow man:

Were a man, whom I know to be honest and opulent, and with whom I live in intimate friendship, to come into my house, where I am surrounded with my servants, I rest assured that he is not to stab me before he leaves it in order to rob me of my silver standish; and I no more suspect this event than the falling of the house itself, which is new, and solidly built and founded.–But he may have been seized with a sudden and unknown frenzy.–So may a sudden earthquake arise, and shake and tumble my house about my ears. I shall therefore change the suppositions. I shall say that I know with certainty that he is not to put his hand into the fire and hold it there till it be consumed: and this event, I think I can foretell with the same assurance, as that, if he throw himself out at the window, and meet with no obstruction, he will not remain a moment suspended in the air. No suspicion of an unknown frenzy can give the least possibility to the former event, which is so contrary to all the known principles of human nature. . . . Above one half of human reasonings contain inferences of a similar nature, attended with more or less degrees of certainty proportioned to our experience of the usual conduct of mankind in such particular situations.

I have never met Father Groeschel, Amy Welborn or Michael Dubruiel, but from my familiarity with their writings and reputations, and my experience with “the usual conduct of mankind” I can confidently calculate that the probability that Diana’s dream is an urban legend to be precisely zero. Their faith does not depend on such anecdotes for its sustenance, and they are the sort of people who would sooner allow their entire bodies to be consumed by fire than to invent a story of that nature. I would no more expect them to do so that I would expect them to rob or stab people. Their faith simply precludes those options.

Skeptimal lists various “red flags” which to him brand Diana’s dream as an urban legend. My own experience with such legends is that, with the millions of Skeptimals scouring the internet, the source of the legend (usually an e-mail) is quickly pinpointed and discredited. The source is found to be a known or admitted hoaxer, or the details of the hoax are contradicted by the available evidence. That has not, and will not happen here.

The problem here, I believe, is not with Skeptimal’s skepticism but his atheism. It overcame his judgment and blinded him to the more prudently skeptical (and atheistic) alternatives. I will provide them here now for his solace. Specifically, I reassure him that the most that Diana’s story proves is that someone had a dream before she died in a manner reminiscent of the dream. The nature of her dream may have been shaped by the nature of her faith. Dreams of falling and dreams of death are common and others who died on 9/11 may have had them too, with a certain percentage of those victims communicating those dreams to their loved ones before their deaths. Under this calculus even an atheist may accept that Diana’s dream was more probable than not, while preserving his faith that upon death his own body will be consumed by worms or rats or flames.

That Michael related Diana’s dream to Amy in his last column may also be coincidence. I take it as evidence. And I fervently pray that one day those two good people will be reunited with Him in the life everlasting.

Comments

73 Responses to “Overcoming Skeptimalism”

  1. Craig
    February 6th, 2009 @ 3:08 pm

    …Wow. Very nice post TRT.

  2. UnspeakablyViolentJane
    February 6th, 2009 @ 3:34 pm

    TRT “…I really, really trust my online friends.”
    Craig “Awesome.”

    LOL! The logical flaw is that you presume that Micheal thought he had heard a made up story – that he was perpetrating a lie. Of course the reason that urban legends fly with such speed is that people beleive them to be true.

    I beleive that Micheal thought the story to be true, but like Skeptimal, I think the story of Diana is an urban legend. And perhaps am also more likely than a theist to see the historical Micheal as a human rather than a spirit now imbued with ubber powers.

  3. Kathy
    February 6th, 2009 @ 4:12 pm

    I was under the impression that urban legends were motivated by fear, or at least the desire to incite fear, which it usually does and that’s why they go around emails like wildfire.(those stories involving fear of unknown cities, eating certain foods, handling animals, gang initiations etc). They usually scare me, at least until my rational side prevails! The difference with this story is the reactions it received. Either inspiration or skeptism, not fear. ‘The proof is in the pudding’ as they say, or as Christians say ‘you can tell by their fruit’.

  4. Ruth
    February 6th, 2009 @ 4:20 pm

    I went on Scopes and searched in various ways for a story similar to this and found none, even though there are literally hundreds of 9/11 legends to be found there.

    I find both the story and David’s account of it to be very faith strengthening.

    David’s soul and Amy and the family are in my prayers. I hope to meet them all in heaven someday myself.

    Ruth

  5. UnspeakablyViolentJane
    February 6th, 2009 @ 4:37 pm

    I’ve always suspected that theists were lying about their belief and my biggest reason for thinking this is that you don’t see more of them killing loved ones.

    If you really really beleive there is a heaven, and you really beleive that your loved ones are heaven bound:

    1.Why would you ever be sad when someone died?
    2.Why don’t loving Christian mothers sacrifice themselves to eternal damnation and kill their babies right after baptism, sending them immediately to God?

  6. Kathy
    February 6th, 2009 @ 4:42 pm

    Uh, what? Why don’t we kill our loved ones, our babies to send them to heaven? There is no amount of words that can even begin to reason that one out.
    People who don’t understand faith also don’t understand suffering and the value it can have.
    All I can offer is this quote from St Thomas Aquinas:
    “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”

  7. UnspeakablyViolentJane
    February 6th, 2009 @ 4:47 pm

    It would be the logical choice if you really believed.

    That way, the child would not have committed any sin and would be guaranteed entry.

  8. Carla
    February 6th, 2009 @ 5:14 pm

    I have been to some wonderful and joyous Celebrations of Life after a loved one has died. We grieve because we love. We are joyous because we have the hope we will see our loved ones again.

  9. Kelly
    February 6th, 2009 @ 5:36 pm

    Jane, God wants us to live, experience his good creation, and come to a knowledge of Him. Christians do not believe that we just “go to heaven” when we die, but that we must bring the kingdom of heaven to earth. Creation is good though fallen. We are called to RESTORE it. Therefore just killing your infant is (obviously) anti-biblical. Life is GOOD. We want everyone to have the chance to fulfil their God-given potential to help in the redemption of creation.

  10. frustrated(mk)
    February 6th, 2009 @ 5:42 pm

    VJ,

    There are animals. There are angels. Animals are purely physical beings. They live on the temporal plane and nowhere else. Angels are purely spiritual beings. They live in the spiritual plane and nowhere else.

    Human beings have one foot in both worlds. We are spiritual beings AND physical beings. As such we are subject to the laws of both realms.

    When someone dies, our spirit celebrates. We know that it is best for them (if they have died in a state of grace) and rejoice. But as physical creatures, we are sad. Our “bodies” will miss their “bodies”.

    Haven’t you ever had a friend move away, to a better life, someplace she really wanted to go? You were happy for her, because you knew she was happy, but you were sad for yourself, because your friend was gone?

    It isn’t black and white. It isn’t either/or. Of course we miss them. Of course we wish we had more time with them. If you love someone it’s never enough. Some deaths are harder. Children, young parents (Like Michael). We don’t cry for the person that is gone. We cry for ourselves. We have emotions. We can’t help it. It’s the nature of humans.

    That said, sacrificing your soul for your childs is ridiculous. Killing your child right after baptism is ridiculous.

    Our own personal journeys are not to be messed with anymore than life and death. Each child, each person, has the God given right to find their own way. If you are truly thinking of what is best for the child, then you would know that what God wants is what is best for the child. Not what you want. If God wants to take your child in infancy, that is His decision, not yours. Tho, I can honestly understand why you would think the way you do. It almost makes sense…almost.

    Lastly, we NEVER sacrifice our souls. EVER. This would NOT please God, and that is our goal. Not to “save” our children, tho that is also tantamount, but to pleas HIM. I think it would displease Him greatly, if we were to try to be Him in order to insure our kids salvation. Don’t you?

  11. Paco
    February 6th, 2009 @ 5:43 pm

    Azucena Maria de la Torre, 50, was the core of her family
    Prior to attack, dreamt that late father and sister told her ‘her turn was coming’
    Date of Death 9/11/2001
    By Diana Yates
    Advance staff writer
    Friday, 09/28/2001

    http://www.silive.com/september11/lr/index.ssf?/september11/lr/delatorre.html

    This does not prove that the Diana story is true but as noted in RT’s response, shows that there were people who had recent dreams related to death and actually died as a result of the 9/11 attack.

  12. Lily
    February 6th, 2009 @ 5:45 pm

    If I had a dollar for every atheist who has asked me Jane’s question or a variant thereof, I could retire a rich woman!

    Let’s see. Why don’t we kill our babies?

    1. Murder is on the Top Ten do not do list. They go to heaven, but we go to hell. Ergo, we will never see them again and, like the selfish bastards we are, we really want to see them again. Or, we really want to go to heaven ourselves more than we want them to. Hmmm, which could it be?

    2. Why are we sad when a loved one dies? Because they leave a great big hole in our lives that only they can fill. IT IS ALL ABOUT US!

    I trust that clears everything up for for you atheists.

  13. James Stephenson
    February 6th, 2009 @ 6:19 pm

    ‘1.Why would you ever be sad when someone died?
    2.Why don’t loving Christian mothers sacrifice themselves to eternal damnation and kill their babies right after baptism, sending them immediately to God?’

    – UVJ

    UVJ,

    I usually think you talk sense, although I often disagree with you.

    But this was poor.

    1. We are sad because we are human (despite atheists telling people otherwise), and we feel things, and we miss the presence of our loved ones. You might as well ask why I might miss my wife whilst she is away on business. After all, I know she is happy, so why am I sad?

    2. I’m sorry, but your second question hardly deserves a comment it is so juvenile. It is something I would expect someone with asperger’s to ask (as is the first question). Why would a Mother who is filled with love, and who dotes upon her newborn child that she has longed to bring into the world, and looks forward with excitement to raising that child and showering it with her love, not kill it?

    Because unlike those suffering with asperger’s, she does not make calculations like a computer, but has been filled with an indescribable love by God.

    I suppose you could call her selfish for not sending the child to heaven – if your thinking was perverse enough.

    Now I’m not saying you are autistic or that autistic people do not love others – I’m just using poetic license.

    But I do have a very low opinion of your thinking processes regarding this issue.

  14. James Stephenson
    February 6th, 2009 @ 6:23 pm

    And good going TRT – despite comments about your newfound inability to think straight, you have nailed this one.

  15. Lily
    February 6th, 2009 @ 6:23 pm

    It is a fairly safe bet that Jane was being sarcastic. Hence my equally sarcastic reply. It would *really* be something, if she were serious.

  16. James Stephenson
    February 6th, 2009 @ 6:54 pm

    Well Lily, that restores my faith in Jane, but I have come across many atheists that seriously ask questions like this.

  17. frustrated(mk)
    February 6th, 2009 @ 7:17 pm

    Actually, I don’t think it’s that crazy of a question. If a person honestly doesn’t know what we believe or why we believe it, I could see how this might sound like a contradiction.

    Muslim extremists kill themselves in Allahs name after all. They believe that this will get them to heaven.

    WE know it isn’t how it works, but what if someone truly doesn’t have a clue as to why we believe what we believe?

    I figure if it’s a sincere question, no matter how absurd it might sound, it deserves a fair answer. To a person that has had no exposure to the Catholic Church (and I’m assuming we’re talking about the Catholic Church as VJ asked about baptizing infants), then I imagine a lot of what we believe sounds bizarre…

  18. UnspeakablyViolentJane
    February 6th, 2009 @ 7:19 pm

    For the record, James, if I thought I was talking to a group that was mentally fragile, I would never make the above comment lest someone think “Wow, that’s right.”

    Still, living right next to the Mexican boarder we see parents die all the time trying to get a better life for their kids, with only a vague idea about life in the US. Heaven is sold as a much larger prize, hence the question.

    mk said Lastly, we NEVER sacrifice our souls. EVER. This would NOT please God, and that is our goal. Not to “save” our children, tho that is also tantamount, but to pleas HIM. I think it would displease Him greatly, if we were to try to be Him in order to insure our kids salvation. Don’t you?

    Sure, I’m imagining a situation in which you would absolutely be putting your children ahead of God. His displeasure and Hell would be a forgone conclusion for you, but what I hear you saying is that you would never put your kids ahead of God. Is that correct?

  19. UnspeakablyViolentJane
    February 6th, 2009 @ 7:20 pm

    Completely unrelated to this conversation, but curious. What do you guys think of The Gospel of Thomas?

  20. frustrated(mk)
    February 6th, 2009 @ 7:25 pm

    VJ,

    His displeasure and Hell would be a forgone conclusion for you, but what I hear you saying is that you would never put your kids ahead of God. Is that correct?

    Exactly. I put nothing before God…I hope. ;)

    As for the Gospel of St. Thomas…I’d have to know more about the reasons for it not making it into the cannon. There are parts of some of those Gospels that are considered okay to believe, but not considered inspired.

    Personally, I wish the book of Enoch was allowed. I find it fascinating!

  21. Beelzebub
    February 6th, 2009 @ 7:30 pm

    You’re free to interpret the anecdote as you wish, of course. Skeptimal is skeptical and highlights the things that stand out to him. Maybe that’s the most significant thing that can be drawn from stories like this, that you make of them what you will. Our minds are pattern recognition organs, and when we establish “priors” to our expectation (as we all do), that’s often what we get. If your interest is in deriving “the truth” you need to attend to all the potential statistical fallacies, e.g. the Prosecutor fallacy, along with missing information, variables etc. Here are some of my notes:


    It was exactly five years and 10 days from that night in Orlando, FL when Father Benedict nearly lost his life in a tragic accident, and almost four years to the day that I spent a week with him in New York, assisting him in putting the finishing touches on a book that he co-authored with Bishop Baker.

    This doesn’t exactly constitute numerology, but I wonder about the kind of mood he’s trying to kindle here, citing these pretty meaningless statistics. At the very least he’s playing with the suggestion that some kind of mystery is about to unfold. No doubt this is just the style he has chosen to adopt for this piece, but it’s important to note his intension.

    I was waiting for him to make some corrections on a text when I noticed what looked like a wedding program. I asked him if it was for a relative or a couple he had married. He replied that it was neither, but told me the story of the person behind it.

    Perhaps I’m being paranoid (or just very skeptical), but this doesn’t mean that Diana was directly connected with the program. Indeed, it doesn’t mean it was a program for her wedding, only that she was involved in the story “behind it.” We already know it wasn’t someone Benedict knew intimately. The entire story could have been related by someone who had simply given the program to Benedict because the wedding caterer was really good.
    This may seem like quibbling, but the entire veracity of the story hinges on it, so though it may be a point of low probability, it’s also one of very high significance.

    One night Diana had a strange dream. In the dream Jesus appeared to her, dressed in a white robe, standing on a cloud of smoke. He was beckoning her to come to him, telling her not to worry, that he was going to take her with him. Then it seemed to her that the whole world disappeared from beneath her and she awoke.

    “the whole world disappeared from beneath her” sounds suspiciously evocative. We have to take it “on faith” that this recounts the dream with any fidelity. Any literary embellishment would of course taint our ability to judge any synchronicity here.


    The next few nights, the dream repeated itself. She told her mother, who wondered what it could mean.

    Her mother is the one who wondered. Remember that.

    A month later on September 11, 2001, Diana was at work at her investment firm in the World Trade Center on one of the top floors. She phoned her husband and mother on her cell phone after the second plane struck the tower below her. She reminded them of the dream, just before the tower crumbled.

    One month is significant, as the dream did not foretell an imminent event. Does prescience have an expiration date? What if the dream had happened a year before, five years, ten?
    Also, note that she phoned her mother, who seems to be the one most interested in the entire sequence of events. If anyone confabulated this story, it was her. Perhaps she was the one who incidentally gave Benedict the program to her daughters (or someone else’s) wedding.

    So the point to all this is that yes, I agree with the Hume quote. You can form reasonable beliefs and expectations of people and events around us; we all do. But it’s equally true that you can form false conclusions — or it is at least theoretically possible to do so — from well intentioned testimony. There need be no deception for there to be false conclusion drawn, and of course, the occurrence of any kind of confabulation amidst the telling virtually guarantees a false conclusion.

    So, enjoy the story, but caveat “reador”.

  22. Lily
    February 6th, 2009 @ 8:12 pm

    Gospel of Thomas? It may have been too late to be taken seriously as a candidate(The dating varies wildly for it– from 50-140 AD.) It may not have been known outside of Syria at the time the the canon was being firmed up. Thomas was revered there and the Gospel may have originated there. Although the early fathers did quote from or allude to the canonical Gospels in their surviving writings, the earliest certain mention of Thomas was in 222-235 AD.

    The formation of the canon is a really interesting subject. The criteria for inclusion were strict– the book had to have been associated with an Apostle or someone close to one, it had to teach true doctrine, it had to have been used in the liturgy, and a couple more. That is why the Didache, which was wildly popular and taught true doctrine did not make the cut. It was never used liturgically.

    Anyway, you can find out way more than you ever knew there was to know about this and all sorts of early gospels and other writings at the site I have mentioned before: (www.earlychristianwritings.com/index.html). For Thomas see the FAQ (scroll down)at (www.earlychristianwritings.com/thomas.html)

  23. frustrated(mk)
    February 6th, 2009 @ 8:20 pm

    Lily,

    It appears to have been heretical also…hmmmmm…

  24. Lily
    February 6th, 2009 @ 8:28 pm

    James, mk. I know that atheists ask this sort of question (why we don’t kill our babies and loved ones) all the time. I just don’t believe they are really serious. Rather, they consider this a “stumper” for us. It is akin to such philosophically deep questions as: Can God make a rock so heavy that even He cannot lift it? I always have to laugh when that one is posed to me! It is hard to oversestimate how stupid atheists think we are!

  25. frustrated(mk)
    February 6th, 2009 @ 8:32 pm

    Lily,

    I hear what you’re saying, but it can’t hurt to give someone the benefit of the doubt. Even if it’s meant to stump us, an honest answer could give someone cause to pause…and think. I don’t know. I never had anyone ask me that before, and it reminded me of suicide bombers.

    Plus, it was no skin off my nose to answer it, you know? If I look like a fool for doing so, eh, who cares? I’ve looked like a fool for a lot less… ;)

  26. Lily
    February 6th, 2009 @ 8:46 pm

    Good grief, mk! You don’t and never do look like a fool! You always give thoughtful answers. I just have had too long an association with certain atheist types who would ask such questions and then twist the answers I had taken great pains with beyond recognition. Then they would ask the same dishonest questions all over again 2 days later.

    Frankly, I know what you mean about the possibility of someone asking that question totally seriously. But until the day comes that we see Presbyterians flying planes into buildings, Methodists stoning rape victims for adultery, and Catholics rioting over rude depictions and cartoons of the Pope, I am not likely to think that the question is really serious.

  27. Kelly Clark
    February 6th, 2009 @ 9:48 pm

    If you really really beleive there is a heaven, and you really beleive that your loved ones are heaven bound:

    1.Why would you ever be sad when someone died?
    2.Why don’t loving Christian mothers sacrifice themselves to eternal damnation and kill their babies right after baptism, sending them immediately to God?

    Actually, Jane’s first question is a very good one and quite legitimate.

    As others have said, Jane, many of us are saddened because of the loss. It’s a selfish thing.

    Chrysostom’s words on the Gospel depicting Christ’s raising of the little girl from death are worth reading:

    “It is clear that death is now no more than a sleep. Today it is a truth that shines more brightly than the sun. ‘But,’ you say, ‘Christ did not raise my child!’

    “Yes, but he will raise him up and with even greater glory. Because this little girl whose life he restored died again, whereas your child, when he has raised him up again, will abide forever.

    “So let no one weep any more, let no one groan, no one criticize Christ’s work For he has conquered death.

    “Why are you weeping useless tears? Death has become a sleep: why do you moan and weep?”

    Answering your second question is a no-brainer…a hard truth for some, but still a no-brainer:

    We love God more than we love anyone else.

    I hope this is helpful.

  28. Pikemann Urge
    February 6th, 2009 @ 10:08 pm

    It doesn’t matter whether the dream was real or not. I know at least one person who did have a premonitory dream although the circumstances were more personal and, thankfully, death was not on the menu. So yeah, people can have these kinds of dreams whether they’re religious or not.

  29. Kamikaze189
    February 6th, 2009 @ 11:43 pm

    “Commenter Skeptimal opines that I “may have once been an atheist, but . . . apparently was never a skeptic.” He suggests that I gullibly fell for an “urban legend”: Amy Welborn’s account (related the the last column of her late husband Michael Dubruiel), of a woman, Diana, who in a dream foresaw her own death and salvation on 9/11. In fact, I am a highly skeptical believer.”

    You consider yourself a skeptic still, then? Alright. If that’s the case, you must have some amazing evidence for the theist side. You wouldn’t be convinced by simple irrational belief for belief’s sake, like a significant portion of believers. That’s what being a skeptic means.

    But if you had this knowledge, I suppose you would share it and make a believer out of everyone. I won’t hold my breath for your amazing insights. We can be quite sure you don’t have any.

  30. jolly atheist
    February 7th, 2009 @ 6:18 am

    One more anlysis on the story:

    1. If I remember correctly, Hume’s example was a preliminary discussion to lead us to the conclusion that when phenomena occur one after the other – in this case dream and then occurance of the dream – the cause and effect are not NECESSARILY connected to each other. Those are just two separate impressions which the mind binds together as cause and effect.

    2. Now, let’s remember the qualities of the story:

    a. Jesus calling in a dream is a very common archetypical vision; it is vague and can be related with a lot of phenomena which will occur later.
    b. Apart from subjective statement, we have no evidence.
    The evidence can be described as being based on ‘convincing’.

    Under these circumstances, if the muslim pilot of the plane – were he caught alive – claimed that he had a dream (subjective)and in God he trusted, and a community of muslims around him believed the story (convincing), then, where would we stand?

    I would relate this story to a distortion of the mind whereby a lot of people connect some vague dream or fortune-telling to a true event.

  31. Beelzebub
    February 7th, 2009 @ 7:44 am


    I would relate this story to a distortion of the mind whereby a lot of people connect some vague dream or fortune-telling to a true event.

    Yes, and since most people are incredibly naive regarding the statistical nature of coincidence, you can’t make very much from anecdote like this. For instance I could probably present a most fantastical tale that would be true in every way, if it was in my power to choose from the 3000 odd tragedies from that day. In every large grouping there will be post hoc stories used by the unscrupulous or credulous to convince others of one thing or another. To be a skeptic is to be immune to these predicted pretenses. It’s here that RT falls down. Blithely hiding behind the claim that it’s just a feel-good story is nonsense. It’s a poor propaganda story, meant to affirm or reaffirm belief, and should be evaluated as such.

    Ultimately I have to conclude that Skeptimal was spot-on in his assessment. This is not a story reported by a skeptic, or even a critical thinker. This is a story that would only be given credence by a propagandist.

  32. jolly atheist
    February 7th, 2009 @ 8:16 am

    Actually, I believe – though it requires hard work to base on evidence – that this is a very good example of how religions occur. Somebody says he receives a revelation/has a vision and makes a statement. It is completely subjective. If those around him are convinced, then the story starts being carried around orally. While on the one hand, the statement changes shape euhemeristically, on the other, the more audience it attracts, the more true it becomes. And at the end, the man becomes a prophet and his statement a religious doctrine. That’s why religions have such conflicts like both claiming to be divine and universal, yet being completely local. (Too simplistic?)

  33. skeptimal
    February 7th, 2009 @ 9:03 am

    RT said: “But I believe in Diana’s dream because I trust in God, and in the word of those who trust in Him… I have never met Father Groeschel, Amy Welborn or Michael Dubruiel, but from my familiarity with their writings and reputations, and my experience with “the usual conduct of mankind” I can confidently calculate that the probability that Diana’s dream is an urban legend to be precisely zero.”

    What I hear you saying is that you’ve made a leap of faith based on your understanding of the world. I think we all make them. We disagree, though, on when it’s wise to make such a leap.

    If you’re actually a skeptic, then I don’t need to tell you the number of ways that false stories propagate. Someone along the Diana-story chain of communication has fabricated a story, and probably not for nefarious reasons. For instance, I think the mother, if she exists and if her daughter actually died on 9/11, could be forgiven for creating this beautiful story. The priest could be forgiven for embellishing another story he had heard. Michael could be forgiven for embellishing his story for the sake of an interesting article. The secretary could be forgiven if she made the whole thing up to comfort Amy. The lie may not be acceptable, but it is understandable in light of the grief involved.

    I won’t burrow further into the story for other signs of mythology, because Beelzebub and Jolly Atheist have already done so (and very well). BTW, it’s hardly surprising that no one has exposed the story publicly, because no one has time to chase down every beautiful story seen on the internet.

    You said: “The problem here, I believe, is not with Skeptimal’s skepticism but his atheism. It overcame his judgment and blinded him to the more prudently skeptical (and atheistic) alternatives.”

    I haven’t brought this up before now because it hasn’t been relevant, but…I don’t usually describe myself as an atheist. There’s a lot of confusion about what “atheist” means. If you define atheist as someone who is certain that there is no higher power than man, then I’m not an atheist.

    If you define atheist as a non-theist, in other words, “without a god,” then I’m your man. The distinction may not seem important to many, but it is to me. It’s true that I don’t believe in the supernatural, but I’m open to the possibility that there are things about the *natural* multiverse that we don’t understand or haven’t experienced.

    Nevertheless, I don’t think my unwillingness to accept extraordinary claims without extraordinary evidence makes me blind. Quite the contrary.

    You made your leap of faith. I suppose you could say this is a leap of faith for me: I believe the truth is always better. I’d rather have an ugly truth than a beautiful lie. It isn’t that I love ugliness, because I don’t. But I don’t think you can see real beauty if you’re willing to settle for less.

  34. Lily
    February 7th, 2009 @ 10:09 am

    This thread has been fascinating– the skeptical mind at work, I guess. Some observations. Jolly– you wonder if this story illustrates how religions occur. Well, I don’t think religions “occur”, since I think they are all grounded ultimately in the nature of reality; there is a Creator. Of course, the form specific religions take will depend on a number of factors and, undoubtedly, stories do get passed around and thus pass into legend.

    But apart from that, I am really amazed at how much trouble y’all have gone to to explain away the facts and miss what I consider to be the main point. We don’t believe in God because of Diane’s story (or that of anyone else). We believe Diane’s story (or, perhaps, it would be better to say that we find it plausible) because we believe in God. That is, we know that he is perfectly capable of working miracles and of speaking to us in various ways (like dreams).

    God is in control. As I always like to say, so I will say it again, we don’t draw a single breath apart from his will. If as Matthew tells us, 2 sparrows don’t fall to the ground apart from his will (10:29), we can be sure he has Diane and all the rest of us in his constant care. There simply is no obvious reason to discount the story. Dreaming that Christ is calling us to him is no dream. That’s reality.

  35. jolly atheist
    February 7th, 2009 @ 10:20 am

    Lily: “Of course, the form specific religions take will depend on a number of factors and, undoubtedly, stories do get passed around and thus pass into legend.”

    Why should your religion be an exception then?

  36. Lily
    February 7th, 2009 @ 10:39 am

    My religion is grounded in a historical claim made in a particular place and particular time. Its origin is not in the “misty past” and it does not rest on unverifiable private revelation.

  37. frustrated(mk)
    February 7th, 2009 @ 10:44 am

    Skep,

    I believe that is called Agnosticism. Where you neither believe nor disbelieve.

    To me, Atheism is as much a “religion” as Catholicism, because you actually “BELIEVE” something. You actively BELIEVE that there is no God…To me, this takes as much of a leap of faith as believing that there IS a God.

    While there are good arguments for Agnosticism…lack of evidence…I don’t think the argument for Atheism…lack of evidence…is as good. It holds about as much water as believing that there IS a God without any evidence.

    We have no empirical evidence one way or the other. Sans that evidence I choose to believe there IS a God and other choose to believe there ISN’T a God. But both are beliefs and nothing else.

  38. jolly atheist
    February 7th, 2009 @ 10:49 am

    Lily: Is Moses’ revelation/vision not included in your faith?

  39. Lily
    February 7th, 2009 @ 11:13 am

    Christianity rests on the resurrection. If Jesus rose from the dead on the 3rd day as his followers testified and taught, then he is God. If he didn’t, then he is not God. We believe that he is the fulfillment of God’s promises to the Jews and we honor the Old Testament as the Jewish people’s record of God’s dealings with them. It is a source of great wisdom for us. Jesus acknowledged that the law given to Moses was God’s law, which he had come to write on our hearts, and so do we.

  40. jolly atheist
    February 7th, 2009 @ 11:31 am

    mk There is a limit to our knowledge; it improves every day, but still there is a lot we don’t know. When we come to the edge of what we know, beyond that, it is what we don’t know. The theists’ mistakenly think that ‘what we don’t know’, can only be evaluated with reference to the existence or non-existence of a God. At this point, an atheist – I will speak for myself – I am not against God, it is not that I disbelieve in a God, it is just that God is irrelevant in my imagination concerning ‘what we don’t know’. To repeat, God is just irrelevant! The term has no connotation for me – except for what the believers explain.

    For this reason, I agree with Skeptimal when he says: “I don’t believe in the supernatural, but I’m open to the possibility that there are things about the *natural* multiverse that we don’t understand or haven’t experienced.”

    Exactly. But, he says ‘natural’ multiverse. And for me, ‘natural’ multiverse just doesn’t have anything to do with a concept like Jesus.

    You see I’m not a disbeliever because to use the prefix ‘dis’, I must be accepting the existence of an entity which I disbelieve!

  41. UnspeakablyViolentJane
    February 7th, 2009 @ 11:43 am

    Kelly, thanks. That was very direct and very helpful on both questions.

    Lily and mk, regarding the Gospel of Thomas – what the little I’ve read of it is very eastern “Rather, the Father’s kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people don’t see it.” And from the review “In The Gospel of Thomas, you’ll discover a different kind of Christ–a wandering spiritual teacher from Galilee who performs no miracles, reveals little prophecy, announces no apocalypse, and dies for no one’s sins. –P. Randall Cohan”

    I thought it was interesting.

  42. frustrated(mk)
    February 7th, 2009 @ 11:58 am

    Interesting VJ, yes, but also heretical. You find much the same today. People claiming that Jesus was only a prophet (Islam), or a learned man (Judaism), or didn’t exist at all.

  43. frustrated(mk)
    February 7th, 2009 @ 12:07 pm

    Jolly,

    I don’t believe in leprechauns. It’s not just that they are irrelevant. I recognize that some people believe that they DO exist, while I believe that they DO NOT. They are irrelevant, but I also DO NOT believe in them. I take a stand.

    Do you not do the same with God. And at the risk of sound snide (which I do not intend), you’ll notice that my moniker does not have the word leprechaun in it. This is a sign of how truly irrelevant they are. While you call yourself the Jolly Atheist. God, or your nonbelief in Him, was relevant enough that you used your disbelief to distinguish yourself.

    To me, this is a sign that He or the lack of a He is more relevant than you let on.

  44. Skeptimal
    February 7th, 2009 @ 12:19 pm

    Jolly said: “The theists’ mistakenly think that ‘what we don’t know’, can only be evaluated with reference to the existence or non-existence of a God.”

    MK,

    This is sometimes referred to as the ‘god of the gaps’ approach, meaning that when a theist comes upon a natural mystery, they fill in that knowledge gap with “here, god worked a miracle.”

    The problem is that those darned scientists keep coming up with natural explanations for things that used to be explained by the supernatural. Diseases used to be caused by demons until we discovered microorganisms. The diversity of life used to be “proof” of god, until evolution came along. Isaac Newton believed that the fact the planets were all orbiting in the same plane was proof of god’s existence. The gaps keep getting pushed further back.

    That doesn’t disprove the existence of gods, but it makes them less necessary as an explanation for what we don’t know.

  45. frustrated(mk)
    February 7th, 2009 @ 12:39 pm

    Skep,

    I’ve never heard that. What comes to mind is that what we call supernatural, is just stuff that is “naturalthatwedon’thaveanexplanationfor…”

    If you accept the existence of God, then God is responsible for EVERYTHING…so EVERYTHING is supernatural…

    If by supernatural we mean outside of nature, that’s really an oxymoron as nothing exists outside of nature. It only exists outside of our understanding of nature…

    I’m thinkin’ out loud here and could be waaaay off base, but it seems to me that being able to explain something that wasn’t explainable prior, does not address who made these natural laws to begin with…it speaks to our intelligence and ability to discover new ways of understanding our universe, but it doesn’t say a single word about whether or not God exists. Even if I could eventually explain EVERYTHING, what does that have to do with God…do you see what I’m saying?

    The term supernatural has more to do with us and our way of looking at things than an actual supernatural being.

  46. Lily
    February 7th, 2009 @ 1:40 pm

    Skeptimal– Your (atheists’ and skeptics’I mean) god of the gaps schtick always makes me laugh. You assume that naturalism (the belief that the physical world is all there is) is true. But why? Do you think that is what science demonstrates, when it explains some phenomenon?

    Science grew out of the Judeo-Christian belief that the universe was comprehensible because it was the product of a vastly superior intelligence and that our intelligence was designed to comprehend it. It was jump-started in the middle ages precisely because scientists (who were all Churchmen at the time) believed that understanding the world would lead to better understanding God.

    What evidence is there that the physical universe is all that exists? (Big Bang certainly casts doubt on that.) Do you have some empirical evidence for that proposition or can you make a compelling logical argument for it? I don’t think naturalism makes sense as a starting point, because it offers absolutely no explanation of why there is something rather than nothing, why the universe behaves as though it were governed by laws, why it’s describable in terms of mathematics, and why we’re able to comprehend it, among many other things.

    Yet all of these have to be assumed for science to even get off the ground. That’s why science was born out of the Judeo-Christian worldview and not, say, out of Buddhism, Hinduism, or animistic views.

    Unfortunately, some scientists and an awful lot of atheists think that science can explain everything, not realizing that science starts with a whole host of presuppositions that are not scientific but metaphysical in nature. So yes, through science, we learn more and more about the natural world and how it works.

    But God still did it.

  47. Skeptimal
    February 7th, 2009 @ 1:42 pm

    MK Said: “it seems to me that being able to explain something that wasn’t explainable prior, does not address who made these natural laws to begin with… Even if I could eventually explain EVERYTHING, what does that have to do with God?”

    You’re so diplomatic. The truth is that you can’t disprove a negative, so the non-existence of gods can’t be proven. My own thinking is that there had to be something that always existed, either the multiverse or a supreme being. You and I will disagree about which one is more likely.

    We keep finding natural explanations for things that used to be mysteries. That doesn’t rule out the existence of gods, but it does open the door to the question: are gods necessary to explain the existence of the universe? I don’t think they are, but I won’t rule out the possibility a supreme being exists.

    I say “supreme being” because I think anyone capable of doing all of this would be insulted to be compared to a mere god. If you haven’t noticed, our gods have traditionally been petty and insecure.

  48. frustrated(mk)
    February 7th, 2009 @ 2:20 pm

    Skep,

    I have to laugh at the god vs Supreme thing. It reminds me of how we used to call African Americans, colored people. then black people…and every time we changed the name, the old one took on negative tones even tho they weren’t viewed negatively at the time…

    And they all mean the same thing. Peoples of the Negroid race. I imagine God gets as much of a giggle at the title Supreme Being as He does the title God. No word could ever encompass Him, but God is good enough for me.
    Supreme being works too.

    We just got a letter in the bulletin telling us that out of respect for the Jewish faith, we will no longer sing songs that contain the word Yahweh, as it is considered disrespectful by the Jews to say God’s name…And in Malaysia the Muslims are up in arms because a Weekly Catholic newspaper keeps using the word Allah, and they claim that no one but the followers of Islam may call Him by that name…go figure. A rose by any other name is still a rose. God is God, and all the parts we get wrong, don’t change Who He is. I’m sure He’s yuckin’ it up at all of our shenanigans.

    Out of curiosity, if you believe that there IS a Supreme Being, why aren’t you curious as to who He is?

    Oh and about being diplomatic? Tell that to my oldest kids! They’ll enjoy the laugh! ;)

  49. jolly atheist
    February 7th, 2009 @ 2:49 pm

    mk You say:

    “Do you not do the same with God. And at the risk of sound snide (which I do not intend), you’ll notice that my moniker does not have the word leprechaun in it. This is a sign of how truly irrelevant they are. While you call yourself the Jolly Atheist. God, or your nonbelief in Him, was relevant enough that you used your disbelief to distinguish yourself.”

    You are perfectly right. We call ourselves atheists without much thinking and because we have always been called so. Actually AC Grayling wrote about this in his book Against All Gods. Atheist sounds like we are against some God, which is not correct; he offered the word ‘naturalist’ which I will use from now on and I’m changing my moniker to ‘nile’ – my real name shortened.

    I will mention here another problem of the ‘naturalist’. In Turkish, I am short of vocabulary because lots of terms include Allah or mention of God in some way, say related to birth,death, hope or wish. I’m trying not to use these terms, but I often have difficulty in expressing my grief, joy or good intention for others. I will work harder though.

    Thank you for reminding me just in time. So don’t forget. It’s ‘nile’.

  50. nile the jolly
    February 7th, 2009 @ 3:09 pm

    “if you believe that there IS a Supreme Being, why aren’t you curious as to who He is?”

    The problem here is that the God of philosophy is not the same as God of religion. God of philosophy is considered as a supreme power (Mind/Unmoved Mover) however this God does not answer prayers or punish or award people. It is an explanation for the universe. The two must not be confused.

  51. nile the jolly
    February 7th, 2009 @ 3:23 pm

    Lily, you say: “Science grew out of the Judeo-Christian belief that the universe was comprehensible because it was the product of a vastly superior intelligence and that our intelligence was designed to comprehend it. It was jump-started in the middle ages precisely because scientists (who were all Churchmen at the time) believed that understanding the world would lead to better understanding….”

    You really need to improve this belief of yours. I wrote elsewhere about Aristarchus – lived BC – who knew about the heliocentric theory. You disregard all Egyptian science, all those Greek philosophers (I say philosphers because science was included in philosophy)Arab astronomy, Chinese discoveries and inventions. In Germany there is a museum that displays Islam technology from 10-11th centuries. You may have some point, but you have to give credit to the idea that science was always on stage – from Mesopotamia to Mexico.

  52. Lily
    February 7th, 2009 @ 3:56 pm

    Nile? Are you Jolly Atheist? In any case, What has heliocentrism to do with what I am talking about? What does technology have to do (necessarily) with science? I mean, no one needed to know about heliocentrism, in order to invent the stirrup, did they? The precursors to the flowering of modern science in the middle ages are simply off-topic. No one supposes that science came into being ex nihilo.

    While there are obviously lines of influence that would need to be disentangled, if we were doing a full-blown history of science, it simply isn’t germane here. I am pointing out that naturalism is limited and the methodological naturalism of science covers up the metaphysical presuppositions that make it possible.

    Likewise, God, the Supreme Being, is not simply the God of philosophy (as if philosophy and religion had no relation!). Once we concede that there is such a being or could be (actually God is, logically speaking, a postulate, since an infinite regression of causes cannot explain anything), we can assume, since he has made the universe in some way intelligible to us, that he is revealing himself; communicating, if you like, with us. From there it is not very hard to weigh claims that Christ is God and suppose that such a thing could not possibly be.

  53. skeptimal
    February 7th, 2009 @ 3:59 pm

    Lily said: “I am really amazed at how much trouble y’all have gone to to explain away the facts and miss what I consider to be the main point.”

    I can’t speak for the others, but I know for me, it scratches an itch to prod at superstition, and that goes well beyond the theism-atheism debate. I’m the same way about ghosts, psychics, mystics, space aliens, horoscopes, etc.

    It’s interesting that I get the same kind of response from my friends who believe in those things too. I’ve even been told that I *must* be psychic, because I’m resisting my own psychic gifts so.

    “…not realizing that science starts with a whole host of presuppositions that are not scientific but metaphysical in nature.”

    That’s an interesting perspective. This kind of thinking may explain why I’ve been told by some Christians that science isn’t possible for non-Christians. I didn’t buy it from them, either.

  54. skeptimal
    February 7th, 2009 @ 4:09 pm

    MK said: “Out of curiosity, if you believe that there IS a Supreme Being, why aren’t you curious as to who He is?”

    I’m open to the possibility of a supreme being, but I wouldn’t say I believe there is one. If I did believe, I would have to rule out Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity because of all the evidence against them.

  55. nile the jolly
    February 7th, 2009 @ 4:37 pm

    Lily, you say: “I am pointing out that naturalism is limited and the methodological naturalism of science covers up the metaphysical presuppositions that make it possible.”

    The presuppositions are not metaphysical. The metaphysical involves some ontological difference in nature. A presupposition of science is just a tentative assumption made in order to draw out and test its logical or empirical consequences. If satisfactorily verified, then it is a scientific theory.

    The relation of metaphysics to physics is that what was thought to be metaphysical before (that is ontologically different) turns out to be physics
    as science advances. I can give you God of Storm as an example. God of Storm was a metaphysical entity; but as hypotheses/presuppositions on meteorology came to be tested and proved, storm is not considered metaphysical any more.

  56. Lily
    February 7th, 2009 @ 4:43 pm

    Skeptimal, The metaphysical presuppositions are hardly a “perspective”. They are plain cold fact. Einstein said it best “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.” Apparently, you are taking this for granted.

    Most scientific arguments are arguments from ignorance– that is, they hold for as long as the evidence does. When more or better evidence turns up, theories are adjusted or discarded accordingly. This is possible only because we see that the universe is governed by something that looks suspiciously like laws that we can discover.

  57. Pikemann Urge
    February 7th, 2009 @ 5:17 pm

    Frustrated #37, atheism is in no way a religion. It isn’t even a worldview (although it’s part of one). It certainly is a useful identifying label so people do use it.

    Remember, atheists simply say that there is no evidence of God and they are happy without him. And technically they can say “there is no God” simply because nobody has furnished any evidence for a specific one.

    Not that I agree – I am very much with the mystics who say that God is a vibe, not a personality. More like The Force than Jehovah or Zeus.

    And so if God exists that’s fine, even for atheists. They don’t mind. But as to whether God can be pinned to a particular religion, that’s a different story.

  58. Daniel M
    February 7th, 2009 @ 5:54 pm

    I see very little reason to believe that “Diane” ever existed.

    I see the complete absence of premonitions before 9/11 (despite their popping up afterwards, which really doesn’t count) as very damning evidence against people like Diane really existing.

    It’s a nice story, it’s a feel-good tale to make christians (especially) feel nice about tragedy but it’s not got a shred of believability in it. I think it likely that this story would get repeated on those merits alone and the people repeating it don’t see a use in verify it’s authenticity.

  59. Matthew in Fairfax
    February 7th, 2009 @ 7:06 pm

    I see very little reason to believe that “Diane” ever existed.

    Daniel M.,

    Without getting into specific names here, a person meeting Diana’s desciption died on 9/11 in the manner described in Michael Dubruiel’s last column. Her family suffered a very real loss.

    Use that as a starting point for whatever point you want to make.

  60. frustrated(mk)
    February 8th, 2009 @ 6:28 am

    Nile,

    You are too funny…

    I have to say tho, that I never thought of the word Atheist as being “against” God. That would contradict what I think the word means. You’re right. You can’t be against something that you don’t believe exists.

    I don’t think you are “against” Him. Or that Atheists are “against” Him. I think Atheists have weighed the evidence as they see it, and DECIDED that He does not exist at all.

    My original point was that Agnostics have made no decision. They plead the fifth.

    While Atheists have formed a decisive opinion. God does NOT exist.

    This is a belief. Agnostics have no belief.

    Atheists don’t believe God exists, but are opposed to Him. They don’t believe He exists at all. I just flipped the wording to the positive expression of this idea.

    Instead of Atheists DON’T believe in God (which is more, to me, of an agnostic view) to Atheists DO believe that God does NOT exist…do you see the difference? To believe is an action…a verb.

  61. frustrated(mk)
    February 8th, 2009 @ 6:30 am

    Sorry, that should read Atheists don’t believe God exists, but they AREN’T opposed to Him.

  62. frustrated(mk)
    February 8th, 2009 @ 6:37 am

    Nile,

    The two must not be confused.

    But why can’t they be the “same”?

    You called it the mind/unmoved mover. We refer to God as Logos…loosely translated into the “Word”…In the beginning God was Logos. Thought. Mind…

    In the Old Testament, when it says that God Said Let There Be Light…He didn’t really “say” anything. He has no mouth. He is a purely spiritual being. The only time He took on physical form is when He was born to a woman.

    He is the Mind…the unmoved/mover. All the rest…the rewarding, the answering of prayer, the punishing…came as a result of have “moved” human beings into existence. Why couldn’t the Mind/Mover have struck up a relationship with something that He “moved”…?

    Why does He have to remain aloof? Why can’t He be both the Unmoved Mover AND have a relationship with his creation?

    Why does it have to be one or the other?

  63. frustrated(mk)
    February 8th, 2009 @ 6:47 am

    Here, this is from WIKI…

    In early Ancient Greek, the adjective atheos (ἄθεος, from the privative ἀ- + θεός “god”) meant “godless”. The word began to indicate more-intentional, active godlessness in the 5th century BCE, acquiring definitions of “severing relations with the gods” or “denying the gods, ungodly” instead of the earlier meaning of ἀσεβής (asebēs) or “impious”. Modern translations of classical texts sometimes render atheos as “atheistic”. As an abstract noun, there was also ἀθεότης (atheotēs), “atheism”. Cicero transliterated the Greek word into the Latin atheos. The term found frequent use in the debate between early Christians and Hellenists, with each side attributing it, in the pejorative sense, to the other.[8]

    In English, the term atheism was derived from the French athéisme in about 1587.[11] The term atheist (from Fr. athée), in the sense of “one who denies or disbelieves the existence of God”,[12] predates atheism in English, being first attested in about 1571.[13] Atheist as a label of practical godlessness was used at least as early as 1577.[14] Related words emerged later: deist in 1621,[15] theist in 1662;[16] theism in 1678;[17] and deism in 1682.[18] Deism and theism changed meanings slightly around 1700, due to the influence of atheism; deism was originally used as a synonym for today’s theism, but came to denote a separate philosophical doctrine.[19]

    Karen Armstrong writes that “During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the word ‘atheist’ was still reserved exclusively for polemic … The term ‘atheist’ was an insult. Nobody would have dreamed of calling himself an atheist.”[20] Atheism was first used to describe a self-avowed belief in late 18th-century Europe, specifically denoting disbelief in the monotheistic Abrahamic god.[21] In the 20th century, globalization contributed to the expansion of the term to refer to disbelief in all deities, though it remains common in Western society to describe atheism as simply “disbelief in God”.[22] Most recently, there has been a push in certain philosophical circles to redefine atheism as the “absence of belief in deities”, rather than as a belief in its own right; this definition has become popular in atheist communities, though its mainstream usage has been limited.[22][23][24]

    Do you see what I mean by an actual belief? I used the term “religion” loosely…only meaning that it is a “belief”…the “BELIEF” that God does not exist.

    I didn’t mean to imply that it is actually a “religion”.

  64. frustrated(mk)
    February 8th, 2009 @ 6:52 am

    Reading on, it appears that Atheism has undergone many, many changes since it’s first usage. It can now mean a whole range of things, from actually believing there is NO God, to disbelieving ALL things supernatural or metaphysical, to simply refraining from having an opinion one way or another as it is (like you said Jolly) irrelevant.

    I didn’t realize that. It’s awfully confusing. It almost renders the word useless. To call oneself and Atheist is to really not say much of anything at all.

    In fairness, to say that one believes in God doesn’t really say much either, without expounding on which God one believes in…

    Hmmmmmm…food for thought.

  65. Beelzebub
    February 8th, 2009 @ 7:06 am

    Don’t forget that there are also people with self-appellation of “agnostic-atheist,” this is, one who admits the incompleteness of knowledge, yet doesn’t hold dear the notion of a god or gods.

    I think the whole theist/atheist wars are eventually going to amount to a tempest in a tea-cup because in the end we are all agnostic; there are just different shades of “don’t know.” It’s only when people who think that they “know” become a little uppity that trouble begins to brew in the teacup.

  66. frustrated(mk)
    February 8th, 2009 @ 7:17 am

    It’s only when people who think that they “know” become a little uppity that trouble begins to brew in the teacup.

    I assume you mean on both sides…

    Even the Creeds begin with “I Believe”…not “I know”…

    So why is there all this animosity amongst believers and non believers. I mean, I understand that each of us might want to explain our beliefs to each other, possibly convincing the other side…but why do Atheists/Agnostics look at believers with such derision, and why do believers treat Atheists as less than human?

    Both behaviors seem to contradict the very things that each side claims to believe…

  67. Beelzebub
    February 8th, 2009 @ 7:35 am

    I think it’s because religious or non-religious affiliation has largely become proxy to moral and political sympathies and the prejudices tied to them. When a person espouses a certain “belief” they automatically convey a certain world-view, which really does have sympathies and antipathies–likes and dislikes–associated with it. Even while the higher order religious belief itself may be fraught with doubt and uncertainty, even doubts acknowledged and accepted, even lauded with the group, they are used as cues to truly devout biases pertaining to how the world should actually be run. Just look at how tolerated “struggle” over a religious belief always seems to be. It’s accepted as a natural consequence of our being human. What is often not accepted is questioning of central moral and social precepts. Of course, this isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it has enough power to force delineations that really aren’t a byproduct of religious belief itself.

    Evangelicals are more prone to this than Catholics — far more, with their sharp conservative divide against liberals. You really don’t see evangelicals “struggling” with their antipathy over homosexuality. They’ve got that one pretty nailed.

    So, in my view, religion really runs interference against the real issues, the ones that people are truly divided against.

  68. frustrated(mk)
    February 8th, 2009 @ 7:43 am

    BB,

    Yes, I could see that. So it’s not really the issue of whether or not you believe in God, it’s that this belief is used to back up laws of the land pertaining to things like abortion, gay marriage, contraception, Euthanasia, War, Socialism, recreational drug use, comp sex ed…etc.

    Which is a shame really. Because without dialogue there is no hope of reaching a consensus.

    You’re right that Catholics aren’t strictly liberal or conservative.

    I don’t know who said it but I read the line once that Catholics have conservative heads and liberal hearts. I think that’s really true.

    We are motivated by compassion, but ruled by reason.

    I agree that evangelicals are often motivated AND ruled by emotions. If you read the documents (encyclicals, bulls, catechism) of the CC you can see that our views on everything from contraception to communism is based on “reason”…we can tell you “why” we believe what we believe without bringing God into it, even tho God is at the heart of it…does that make sense?

  69. frustrated(mk)
    February 8th, 2009 @ 7:46 am

    And now I’m off to worship said God and must shower ;)

    Just didn’t want you to think I’d deserted this conversation…I actually like the one on one that we get to do early in the morning/late at night because it has less distractions. Not that I don’t also enjoy the more heated discussions when we’re ALL on, but these are nice.

  70. Beelzebub
    February 8th, 2009 @ 8:08 am

    Yes, I think you’ve more or less summed up the idea. Religion has become hopelessly enmeshed with socio-political ideology and hence has inherited the rancor of that never-ending debate.

    It’s always been a tendency, and the fact that Carter enlisted evangelical support for the ’76 election kind of kick-started the divide in the US. This may seem an odd nit to pick, but Carter really was the birth of modern day Christian political influence. The Evangelicals, of course, thought he had betrayed them, but the entire movement (“The Moral Majority” etc) had its inception in the late 70’s. Before then Christians had generally been of the opinion that involvement in politics was a corrupting influence and steered clear. People don’t realize just how much has changed since pre-Carter.

    Shalom.

  71. Daniel M
    February 8th, 2009 @ 2:43 pm

    @59:

    …a person meeting Diana’s desciption died on 9/11…Her family suffered a very real loss.

    There was only one Diana amongst the official lists of names, and her surname was O’Conner – I have to assume that’s her. Several thousand people died that day, nobody can argue about the depth of the loss.

    The point isn’t about her though, it’s about the believability of prophetic dreams warning about doom and gloom which spread after the event itself – too late to have been very useful, leaving nothing of substance to go by.

    Without doing the most awful thing of pestering this family for the truth of part of the article, the story is just that – a story.

    The deaths were real. The loss is real. Michael was real, somebody called Diana did die that day and nothing I or anyone else can say can detract from the sadness of that event, but without proof, the story of the feel-good prophetic dream is just that; a feel-good story to give hope.

  72. Jennifer (Conversion Diary)
    February 8th, 2009 @ 9:21 pm

    This is a great post. Keep up the good work!

  73. Eileen R
    February 10th, 2009 @ 12:16 pm

    My two bits: The reason I didn’t doubt the story’s provenance was simply that it came from Fr. Benedict Groeschel. There really are sources that one grows to have respect for. Groeschel is frankly one of the very few people in the world whose word I’d take on a story like this. He’s famous for being on the skeptical side of apparitions etc. while still believing in God’s capacity for individual revelation. He’s an expert in sorting out cases of alleged miraculous origin. He’s a psychologist with a huge fascination for what the mind can convince itself of. He’s exhibited an iron trap mind in everything I’ve read from him.

    I think an atheist would naturally doubt that the miraculous things Groeschel believes in are in fact miraculous, that’s quite fair. He obviously is much more likely to believe in the miraculous because he believes in God.

    But in my opinion, he’s not the type to repeat straight-up urban myths, where he doesn’t know the person and the details. And that’s why I would accept his story, when frankly I wouldn’t from my parish priest/grandmother/best friend who repeat everything they hear through the grapevine as fact. It’s about knowing the person and judging their capacity to discriminate. If you don’t know the people involved, yes, the story becomes much more suspect.

    The additional level in this story is Michael, whom I also knew, and respected as a reporter of facts. There is a possibility he got the details wrong, but again, I respect the source.

    I don’t think there’s anything suspect in people who haven’t formed any opinion of the sources over the years being more skeptical.

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