Author Topic: Even though the claims may be nonsense, are the religious stories valuable?  (Read 1294 times)

bluehillside Retd.

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Moving on from the question of whether we’re done here in terms of anyone making a logically coherent argument for his religious beliefs of objective fact (god, soul, a resurrection etc) being objectively true, even if though it seems that we are done with that nonetheless is it the case that the stories themselves still have value? 

The question is prompted by watching a couple of interesting YouTube videos recently of Jordan Peterson and Sam Harris debating in Vancouver last year. The links are below, but be aware if you want to look at them they’re each 2rs plus.

Unsurprisingly in that amount of time there are lots of ideas and ideas spawned from those ideas but one them is that the difference between actual fact and metaphorical fact – that even if you conclude that the factual claims of religious texts have nothing to validate them nonetheless the overall stories themselves have value as metaphorical truths. That is, the stories may be fictions but they’re still useful fictions. To put it another way, while the scientific method may reign supreme in the world of facts it can’t tell us about values, so is it possible that religious stories can?

It’s a complex question that spawns all sorts of arguments but it seems to me to be a much more interesting one than the (frankly dull) broken reasoning of those here who would argue for their faith beliefs as factually true.

Any takers?   

1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jey_CzIOfYE

2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEf6X-FueMo
« Last Edit: January 24, 2019, 02:37:54 PM by bluehillside Retd. »
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jeremyp

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even if you conclude that the factual claims of religious texts have nothing to validate them nonetheless the overall stories themselves have value as metaphorical truths. That is, the stories may be fictions but they’re still useful fictions.

Religious stories are a subset of the set of all stories. I don't think that anybody would claim that stories can't convey useful metaphorical truths even when fictional. I see no reason why the intersection between religious stories and metaphorically true stories should be the empty set.

Shakespeare's plays are almost entirely fictional, even the histories and yet people bang on all the time about their unparalleled analysis of the human condition. I don't see why religious stories can't be similar.

The only problem is that nobody claims that Shakespeare's plays convey metaphorical truths because they were written by Shakespeare. The text stands or falls on its own merits. Religionists, on the other hand, claim their stories convey metaphorical truth because they were allegedly written - or inspired by - their own gods.

Edit: fixed a typo that reversed the sense of the second sentence.
« Last Edit: January 25, 2019, 02:57:52 PM by jeremyp »
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bluehillside Retd.

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jeremyp,

Quote
Religious stories are a subset of the set of all stories. I don't think that anybody would claim that stories can convey useful metaphorical truths even when fictional. I see no reason why the intersection between religious stories and metaphorically true stories should be the empty set.

Shakespeare's plays are almost entirely fictional, even the histories and yet people bang on all the time about their unparalleled analysis of the human condition. I don't see why religious stories can't be similar.

The only problem is that nobody claims that Shakespeare's plays convey metaphorical truths because they were written by Shakespeare. The text stands or falls on its own merits. Religionists, on the other hand, claim their stories convey metaphorical truth because they were allegedly written - or inspired by - their own gods.

Yes quite, that's one of Sam Harris's points - even if the story contains a profound truth about the human condition, attaching "faith" to it and the associated baggage of "a god wrote it, therefore it's inerrantly and unchangeably true and I will behave accordingly" is problematic. Peterson however argues that we risk throwing the baby out with the bath water if we just dismiss them because they're religious.

You'd like the videos I think by the way.     
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SusanDoris

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jeremyp,

Yes quite, that's one of Sam Harris's points - even if the story contains a profound truth about the human condition, attaching "faith" to it and the associated baggage of "a god wrote it, therefore it's inerrantly and unchangeably true and I will behave accordingly" is problematic. Peterson however argues that we risk throwing the baby out with the bath water if we just dismiss them because they're religious.

You'd like the videos I think by the way.   
The ability to tell any kind of story is evidently an essential survival trait and has a powerful effect on all lives. I have mentioned occasionally the book 'Nation' by Sir Terry Pratchett, where the heroine of the story finally gives up trying to make the storyteller stick to the facts and concedes that the only way the people will remember the story and its lessons of truths are via the elaborated story woven by the storyteller!  So, yes, there would be a definite danger of throwing the baby out  with the bath water. After hundreds of thousansd of years, though, it is certainly about time that more people realised the fiction of gods etc spoken of in the stories and gave all the credit where it is due, i.e. to the human brain and its imagination. I wonder, however,  how many could cope with the knowledge of the reality of death and the responsibilities inherent in that acceptance?

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Dicky Underpants

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. Religionists, on the other hand, claim their stories convey metaphorical truth because they were allegedly written - or inspired by - their own gods.


That is indeed the bugbear, but I think that blue - referring to the doctrine of 'inerrancy' -  makes things seem blacker than is the case. 'Inerrancy' tends to be hobby-horse of the extreme fundamentalists (and maybe the Islamic fundamentalists are even worse than the Christian kind in this regard). Liberal protestants tend, naturally enough, to be more flexible, though no doubt many of them think that the 'spirit of God' was working through the writers - and no doubt is supposed to work through the sincere believers when they try to interpret the texts. The Catholic Church may not insist on the inerrancy of scripture, but no doubt will assert the inerrancy of the Church Fathers, the Magisterium, and of course the Pope in interpreting what is written (I'm willing to stand corrected on this).
The only honest approach, as far as I can see, is that these are all "words about God" - the attempts by sincere believers to set down what they thought the Deity required them to write (and the impressions differ enormously). Then again, when you come to the Old Testament, there are those texts which don't have much to say about the deity at all - such as Esther (zilch), Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, Song of Solomon etc. Some of these are still a source of valuable insights, or are simply beautiful writing.
Even those books where the writer's sense of the deity is all too present from the first - such as the Book of Job - give valuable insights into how the  people of those times were grappling with the problem of evil and pain, and trying to come up with a solution.
At the very least, the OT is a collection of good (and often gruesome) stories. Sometimes you even come across a particularly vivid understanding of the nature of the male sexual impulse, particularly that of young and stupid males - such as the story of the rape of Tamar*....

in 2 Samuel 13
« Last Edit: January 29, 2019, 05:48:41 PM by Dicky Underpants »

bluehillside Retd.

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Hi Dicky,

Quote
That is indeed the bugbear, but I think that blue - referring to the doctrine of 'inerrancy' -  makes things seem blacker than is the case. 'Inerrancy' tends to be hobby-horse of the extreme fundamentalists (and maybe the Islamic fundamentalists are even worse than the Christian kind in this regard). Liberal protestants tend, naturally enough, to be more flexible, though no doubt many of them think that the 'spirit of God' was working through the writers - and no doubt is supposed to work through the sincere believers when they try to interpret the texts. The Catholic Church may not insist on the inerrancy of scripture, but no doubt will assert the inerrancy of the Church Fathers, the Magisterium, and of course the Pope in interpreting what is written (I'm willing to stand corrected on this).
The only honest approach, as far as I can see, is that these are all "words about God" - the attempts by sincere believers to set down what they thought the Deity required them to write (and the impressions differ enormously). Then again, when you come to the Old Testament, there are those texts which don't have much to say about the deity at all - such as Esther (zilch), Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, Song of Solomon etc. Some of these are still a source of valuable insights, or are simply beautiful writing.
Even those books where the writer's sense of the deity is all too present from the first - such as the Book of Job - give valuable insights into how the  people of those times were grappling with the problem of evil and pain, and trying to come up with a solution.
At the very least, the OT is a collection of good (and often gruesome) stories. Sometimes you even come across a particularly vivid understanding of the nature of the male sexual impulse, particularly that of young and stupid males - such as the story of the rape of Tamar*....

in 2 Samuel 13

Nice post, as thoughtful as ever. Perhaps I do make thigs seems blacker than they are, but my issue is with certainty as a phenomenon rather than with the certainty claimed for some of the stories. The great strength it seems to me of reason-based thinking is that nothing is certain – no matter how likely, there’s always room for being wrong. This it seems to me leads necessarily to circumspection – people who don’t accept certainty even in a generalised sense will be less likely to act irrevocably than those who think they cannot be wrong.

That incidentally is one of the curiosities of religious inerrancy: ”We’re sure our interpretation of the text is inerrant, but if we reinterpret it to mean something else then we’ll be inerrant about that instead”. One obvious example is limbo – think of the 800 years of torment countless parents went through because their babies died without being baptised only for Benedict XVI to decide that unbaptised souls could got to Heaven after all. How many priests I wonder during those 800 years told the grieving parents, “of course we could be wrong about this limbo stuff”? 
« Last Edit: January 30, 2019, 12:28:13 PM by bluehillside Retd. »
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Dicky Underpants

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Hi Dicky,

Nice post, as thoughtful as ever. Perhaps I do make thigs seems blacker than they are, but my issue is with certainty as a phenomenon rather than with the certainty claimed for some of the stories. The great strength it seems to me of reason-based thinking is that nothing is certain – no matter how likely, there’s always room for being wrong. This it seems to me leads necessarily to circumspection – people who don’t accept certainty even in a generalised sense will be less likely to act irrevocably than those who think they cannot be wrong.

That incidentally is one of the curiosities of religious inerrancy: ”We’re sure our interpretation of the text is inerrant, but if we reinterpret it to mean something else then we’ll be inerrant about that instead”. One obvious example is limbo – think of the 800 years of torment countless parents went through because their babies died without being baptised only for Benedict XVI to decide that unbaptised souls could got to Heaven after all. How many priests I wonder during those 800 years told the grieving parents, “of course we could be wrong about this limbo stuff”?

Hi blue

Of course the danger of circumspection is that people who don't accept certainty may be paralysed into taking no action whatever - "The good lack all conviction, whilst the worst are full of passionate intensity".

The question of the inerrancy of Catholic doctrine is in a class of its own. The head-banging reinterpretations of fundamentalism have nothing on it. The capacity for Jesuitical double-think and obfuscation is at first mildly amusing, and ultimately horrifying. It probably tends to boil down to "Oh, we never considered it to be infallible teaching in the first place" - blithely ignoring the fact that for centuries the matter was taught as if it were infallible.
Similarly the teaching on contraception - which is taught as if it were 'infallible' - and taken to be so - but in the years ahead it may turn out to be just a bit fallible after all.

Sassy

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Moving on from the question of whether we’re done here in terms of anyone making a logically coherent argument for his religious beliefs of objective fact (god, soul, a resurrection etc) being objectively true, even if though it seems that we are done with that nonetheless is it the case that the stories themselves still have value? 


  Why do you prolong the agony of asking such questions for which you will never find a satisfactory answer to appease yourself?

We know we have to work together to abolish war and terrorism to create a compassionate  world in which Justice and peace prevail. Love ;D   Einstein
 "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."

Constable Dogberry

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Yes - I no longer believe very much of Christianity as objectively true (I waver about the existence of God), but I am still a practising Christian, because I accept it as psychologically true, i.e. it speaks to deep psychological needs. Humans have a religious capacity and need*, so let's practise a humane version of religion, without worrying about its objective truth.

*In general, not necessarily in every case, before one of the smart-arsed non-believers on here says "I don't need it".
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Outrider

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I think the danger of throwing the baby away with the bathwater is that, as time progresses, there is increasingly little baby left, particularly in the Old Testament.

Culturally, I think we're aware of the 'better' pieces of the Bible; here we're perhaps a subset of the populace with a higher awareness than most of some of the more problematic elements when seen through a modern lens.

Do they have value - perhaps.  Certainly as much as, say, the Iliad and Odyssey.  Whether they have more or less value than the likes of Shakespeare is a personal, perhaps even aesthetic judgement - I'd quite happily feel I wasn't losing out on anything if I didn't come across either of them again.

O.
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Sriram

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Its not just about God.  Much of our civilized world has come about because of religious teachings.  Maybe they have their negatives....but the positives are so rigidly ingrained into our psyches for thousands of years, that even we will not be aware of them.

We all are products of centuries of religious teachings whether we like it or not.

 

Outrider

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Its not just about God. Much of our civilized world has come about because of religious teachings.

And much of our civilised world has come about despite religious teachings...


Quote
Maybe they have their negatives....

Maybe?

Quote
...but the positives are so rigidly ingrained into our psyches for thousands of years, that even we will not be aware of them.

Or, perhaps, authors of these stories identified some key fundamentals in the human psyche and implemented them into their stories?

Quote
We all are products of centuries of religious teachings whether we like it or not.

Yeah, but sometimes you learn from lessons and sometimes you learn from mistakes.

O.
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Sriram

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Without religions the world would never have become civilized and united.

https://tsriramrao.wordpress.com/2017/02/19/religions-have-suceeded/

Outrider

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Without religions the world would never have become civilized and united.

https://tsriramrao.wordpress.com/2017/02/19/religions-have-suceeded/

We had religions, they have served as a fundamental 'unit' of social cohesion in many places - in the places where religions haven't flourished other cultural cohesion mechanisms have developed instead.  Religions have been useful at times, but I'd argue they've been a manifestation of humanity's tendency towards civility in social groups rather than in any way imposing it on humanity.

Religion was a result of humanities attempts at civilisation, and as we've got better at it we've refined it and started to rid ourselves of the extraneous parts and keep what's necessary - that's why we've replaced the appeal to a deity with a documented Declaration of Human Rights as the centrepiece of our decision making on what we consider to be the best way to mediate between people.

O.
Universes are forever, not just for creation...

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Nearly Sane

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I agree with Outrider here. There is a false dichotomy between the views that religions are bad/good because it is way more complex than that. They also are not extraneous to what we are - too often antitheists attack religion as if it exists outside of humanity in the way that some religious people often approach it, that is they see it as 'God given'. It is a manifestation of us, and while it often shows co-operation, it also is shaped by how we like to exclude/ Tribalism is a good and a bad outcropping of what we are.


I also don't think that it makes any sense to talk about what we would be like without religion. If one could wave a magic wand and remove religion from humanity, it wouldn't cause a world like this but without the 'bad' bits of religion. It would be a fundamental change in what it means to be human, and there is no way of working out the consequences.

Sriram

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We had religions, they have served as a fundamental 'unit' of social cohesion in many places - in the places where religions haven't flourished other cultural cohesion mechanisms have developed instead.  Religions have been useful at times, but I'd argue they've been a manifestation of humanity's tendency towards civility in social groups rather than in any way imposing it on humanity.

Religion was a result of humanities attempts at civilisation, and as we've got better at it we've refined it and started to rid ourselves of the extraneous parts and keep what's necessary - that's why we've replaced the appeal to a deity with a documented Declaration of Human Rights as the centrepiece of our decision making on what we consider to be the best way to mediate between people.

O.

What do you mean...'Religion was a result of humanities attempts at civilisation, ..'?!    There was nothing called 'civilization' that people world over were aiming for and because of which they whipped up religions to reach that goal....  That is ridiculous!

Religions arose spontaneously across the world, due to various standard reasons such as fear, incredulity...etc, ....including perhaps NDE's, spiritual philosophical theories, personal fulfillment and so on. 

These religions also served the purpose of social control, in the absence of secular law making and enforcement.  Commandments, customs, rules, sharing, charity.... gave rise to personal control and discipline. Common beliefs also led to a feeling of kinship and unity across race, language and geography...leading to interactions and sharing of ideas.

This is how civilization arose.  No doubt, other reasons also contributed to unity such as conquest and empire building...but these were also often based on religions, at least in the case of Islam. 


« Last Edit: November 22, 2019, 05:22:15 AM by Sriram »

ProfessorDavey

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What do you mean...'Religion was a result of humanities attempts at civilisation, ..'?!    There was nothing called 'civilization' that people world over were aiming for and because of which they whipped up religions to reach that goal....  That is ridiculous!

Religions arose spontaneously across the world, due to various standard reasons such as fear, incredulity...etc, ....including perhaps NDE's, spiritual philosophical theories, personal fulfillment and so on. 

These religions also served the purpose of social control, in the absence of secular law making and enforcement.  Commandments, customs, rules, sharing, charity.... gave rise to personal control and discipline. Common beliefs also led to a feeling of kinship and unity across race, language and geography...leading to interactions and sharing of ideas.

This is how civilization arose.  No doubt, other reasons also contributed to unity such as conquest and empire building...but these were also often based on religions, at least in the case of Islam.
I agree with most of that Sririam - but the upshot of what you are saying is that religion is a social construct and one that has arisen within different human societal structures in somewhat distinct ways.

Sriram

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I agree with most of that Sririam - but the upshot of what you are saying is that religion is a social construct and one that has arisen within different human societal structures in somewhat distinct ways.


Yes...and so...?!

enki

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I think a good case could also be made for the trading of goods as being as major an influence on how civilization developed, very often without the negatives that religions are inclined to be burdened by.
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ProfessorDavey

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Yes...and so...?!
Just pointing out the key point of what you are saying - that religions are a human social construct.

ProfessorDavey

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I think a good case could also be made for the trading of goods as being as major an influence on how civilization developed, very often without the negatives that religions are inclined to be burdened by.
I think trading and therefore interaction with other communities has played a huge role in the development of civilisations with individual communities borrowing from and adapting social customs etc from each other. However that is distinct from the drivers that made those civilisations arise in the first place, which is more fundamentally linked to the nature of humans (and other closely related species) as social animals highly reliant on the group for survival.

If tigers had developed the level of higher consciousness that humans have they'd have developed their social structures in entirely different ways (albeit the solitary, rather than social, nature of tigers probably means that in evolutionary terms they'd never develop the same level of advanced consciousness as it would not be evolutionarily advantageous).

Sriram

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Just pointing out the key point of what you are saying - that religions are a human social construct.

Yes indeed. That is what I have been saying for years. Religions are culture based and are a human construct.  And that is why religions should not be confused with Spirituality.

Spirituality is basic and deals with what we are fundamentally, what death means and why we exist.  It is common to all humans and all life forms.

Religions help in spiritual development but are not essential. Lots of people develop spiritually without religion.  But lots of people do through religion too...

ProfessorDavey

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Yes indeed. That is what I have been saying for years. Religions are culture based and are a human construct.  And that is why religions should not be confused with Spirituality.

Spirituality is basic and deals with what we are fundamentally, what death means and why we exist.  It is common to all humans and all life forms.

Religions help in spiritual development but are not essential. Lots of people develop spiritually without religion.  But lots of people do through religion too...
Nope spirituality is exactly the same, a human social construct - effectively the individual 'personification' of the collective 'religion' - not that all claimed spirituality aligns with a specific collective religion.

The notion of spirituality as a seeking of answers is completely distinct to the notion of 'what life and death means', which is a leading question anyway as it implies that life and death have meaning, and that in itself is highly anthropomorphic as a notion.
« Last Edit: November 22, 2019, 08:08:23 PM by ProfessorDavey »

Sriram

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Well...I have nothing more to say on this. You can try this if you want....

https://tsriramrao.wordpress.com/2016/06/06/spirituality-and-religion/

SusanDoris

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That is, the stories may be fictions but they’re still useful fictions. To put it another way, while the scientific method may reign supreme in the world of facts it can’t tell us about values, so is it possible that religious stories can?
Yes, they are a valuable source of our human history. When I was a child, I heard and read all the stories in the context of a CofE background, but the difference in my family was that my father was clear about the fact that these were stories not factual in every detail,  which taught us a bout the wide range of human behaviour. The only thing he insisted on and had no doubts about was the actual existence of God, whom he praised, knew that he knew well, and with whom he had conversations.  Although towards the end of his life, I think even he was beginning to wonder if perhaps there might be an element of doubt, he never acknowledged it.
As a younger man, he had had quite a lot to do with Spiritualism, and believd that there were various levels of advancement that had to be negotiated in the spiritual life after death before one reached a level with God. 

Anyone who teaches all or most of the stories as absolute truths is, in my strongly held opinion, holding back the spiritual* development of those who are trying to understand the world as it is.

*spiritual as in the meaning I give it!!
« Last Edit: November 23, 2019, 11:51:35 AM by SusanDoris »
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