Friday, October 12, 2007

question everything

I was a little disappointed with Dennett - maybe I'm growing tired of the subject, or rather of the massive effort required to get believers to rethink their beliefs and to consider evidence in a dispassionate way, as well as the massive effort required to turn the tide against permitting the holders of such weird beliefs to have such disproportionate political influence, even in Australia, let alone Iran, the Sudan and the US. Breaking the Spell didn't have the combativeness and sense of outrage of Dawkins or Onfray, nor the analytical exhaustiveness or psychological depth of Boyer. It might've been the sort of book I would've written, so little in it surprised me, though he's more on the ball about memes and other replicators - ok and much else besides.

I'm pleased though that Dennett reinforces my own position so forcefully. Being a timid type who doesn't tend to impose his reflections on too many others, I sometimes use Sarah as a sounding-board, and though she's no lover of religion, she often takes umbrage at my attacks - probably a degree of defensiveness vis-a-vis her daughters, all of whom have a religious turn of mind [though in one case the religion is socialism]. Recently she claimed that my definition of spirituality was no more than a cheap shot, yet Dennett and others say much the same thing about spirituality as a concept naturally opposed to, and pretending to a superiority to, materialism, and about believers' perpetual linking of spirituality and moral value, sans argument of any kind.

He's generally kinder to believers than me though, and even seems to want to engage with them [though, unsurprisingly, he's more interesting when he's not trying to]. Of course I rarely engage with anyone, believer or non. Should I make more effort? I only know one believer remotely well, but I'm sure she could introduce me to many others...

Ideas swirl and swell in my head. I could formulate a questionnaire, and with it conduct a series of interviews. Televised, or at least recorded, and maybe put up on youtube. Here are some rough questions:

Do you believe in God?
Do you believe the Bible was written by God? [Please elaborate as much as you like on all of these questions].
Do you believe the Bible and the Qu'ran were written by God?
Most religious people don't believe in the god you believe in - are they simply wrong?
Do you believe religion is compatible with science?
What is your response to the creation story in the Bible?
Considering your belief in God and the Bible, what are your thoughts on the theory of evolution?
Considering that not everyone believes in God, do you think the onus is on the believer to prove that God exists, or on the non-believer to prove God doesn't exist?
Can you explain your conception of God? Human-like, or more abstract?
Do you think it's important for believers to have a common conception of God, or is it ok for different believers to have quite different conceptions?
Do you believe that Jesus was the son of God and was born of a virgin?
Do you believe that he performed miracles and rose from the dead after execution?
Jesus's comments don't always, on the surface of things, suggest him to be as gentle meek and mild as is usually claimed. For example, he refuses help to the Gentile Canaanite woman, saying 'It is not meet to take the children's bread, and cast it to dogs.' [Matt 15:26, Mark 7:27]. Another time he addresses a crowd, saying 'Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?' [Matt 23:33]. He also claims that only those who believe in him shall be saved, presumably meaning the rest will be damned, no matter how they live their lives. Do you believe this is so? Would you like to comment on these remarks and their implications for us today?
What do you understand by the term faith? Is faith a type of knowledge? Do you think faith is superior to other kinds of knowledge?
Do you think Christians, or other religious believers, should be expected to justify their beliefs?
Can you comment on the well-worn remark of Dostoyevsky's that, without God, everything is permitted?
Do you think the Christian churches have a political role to play in society?
What is your view on the separation of church and state?

With this idea I should let my ambition fly and solicit such worthy interviewees as George Pell, the Jensen Brothers, the Costello brothers, Kevin Rudd, Tony Abbott and other religious and political heavies. I'll get on it right away...


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