thinktoomuch.net

Pondering the South African Memesphere – Looking for the Good in Everything

thinktoomuch.net header image 2

“What is your agenda?” he asks.

April 24th, 2008 · Posted by Hugo · 24 Comments

“Education”, I respond, after only a brief pause. “Critical thinking, science literacy, and compassion.”

I would like to thank everyone that sent words of encouragement following my previous post. Let me give my current conclusion on the matter as an answer to bluegray’s comment on Do Any Shofarians Care About Science? He asked:

Sorry if I seem blunt, but I don’t read your blog regularly, so a few questions before I reply:
Why the need to rescue Shofar from the clutches of Creationism? Are you a member?
If you don’t agree with certain aspects of the Shofar faith, why do you feel the need to change it, and not discard it entirely, maybe look for something more in line with your beliefs.

I care about education in general, and would like to play my part in teaching critical thinking and encouraging scientific literacy. Furthermore, I would like to evangelise compassion and humility, and fight hypocrisy, arrogance and hatred. Shofar’s teachings provide me with something to respond to in the process of doing all these things. I am not a member of Shofar.

I do not want to come across as anti-Shofar, Shofar consists of more than just its teachings. First and foremost, I see a church as a community, a group of people, rather than a particular set of doctrines. I don’t have anything against Shofarians, only against a significant number of things they believe or are taught (you know, love the sinner hate the sin? ;) ). I can just as easily respond to EveryNation’s doctrines, for example, or some other church for that matter. Shofar is just the most criticised (sometimes accused of being a cult), the most visible, I have good knowledge of their teachings and enough material to work with. (For example, the first semester of their three year Bible school. Shall I try to get the second as well? That’s the semester that features creationism, for example.)

I will also be defending the good in religion, because hypocrisy, arrogance and lack of compassion is of course also found in non-theists. I would love to see the best of both worlds come together, in a process of developing mutual understanding and cooperation to make this world a better place — in Christianese: to make the Kingdom come. The Kingdom of Heaven, the Republic of Heaven? Whatever. I don’t care about the politics as much as I care about the result. (I believe we can have a Kingdom and a Republic at the same time.)

With regards to trying to find pro-science Shofarians: if I succeed, I can learn more about how other attendees perceive Shofar: how it works and who it appeals to. If there are people that care about Shofar and want to improve it, I want to give them that option. It would be good for the rest of their community. On the other hand, if I cannot find any pro-science Shofarians, I will have a good excuse when anyone accuses my writing of stereotyping/generalising. ;)

Looking for the Good in Everything

I am not on a vendetta. I am not on an anti-religion crusade. I don’t like Dawkins’ approach very much, even though I understand why he does it. I don’t like hypocrisy and negativity. In order to avoid being negative, I always try to find the good in everything, to the point that I can defend it (the good), before I allow myself to criticise the bad. Most of the madness on this blog came about precisely as a result of this process.

On Shofar Membership

I actually did consider joining Shofar, as it is a requirement before you are allowed to attend Foundations 3, 4 and 5. Back then I was interested in attending these in order to learn what they teach about things like the demonic. However, I was unable to sign their membership contract. I documented one of the reasons in the post titled Why I Cannot Join Shofar. One friend in particular suggested it might be worth it to go covert and sign it anyway, but I value honesty and would like to “stay clean”. Going covert could be considered hypocritical, and would be used against me.

More on their membership requirements may follow at a later date, pointing out where and how I can agree, and where and why I cannot.

Categories: Religion and Science · Shofar
Tags: · ·

24 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Ben-Jammin' // Apr 24, 2008 at 3:25 am

    Hugo, that was spooky.

    “What is your agenda?”
    Hugo: “Education”, I respond, after only a brief pause. “Critical thinking, science literacy, and compassion.”

    “How can the world be made right?”
    Me: “Education, compassion, and inquiry.

    If we want to affect situations, we need the best understanding we can obtain – therefore we need inquiry to reduce our ignorance. To make the information that we then obtain available for everyone to use to affect situations, we need education. To decide how we should try and affect situations we need compassion – there is no ‘we’ otherwise.

    It doesn’t lead to utopia or making the world right. It only leads to making the world better.”
    Link to where I posted it.

  • 2 Hugo // Apr 24, 2008 at 3:37 am

    And with the bad, I include the teachings that break people emotionally/psychologically/spiritually and lay their potential to waste. I don’t know what percentage get broken this way, maybe there aren’t many, maybe there are, but one is too many already. Especially from a religion that is supposed to care about the lone lost sheep.

    I’ll try to get some testimonies later. Feel free to contact me if you would like to share and are prepared to meet with me.

    (Al, I know you’ve pasted a bunch of stuff in the comments previously, thanks. For posts though, I’m going to go with people and testimonies that I can talk to personally. I already have someone in mind, one that walked out quite recently, looking for help. I hope he’ll be prepared to talk to me and share his story with us here. Under pseudonym, possibly.)

  • 3 Pienk Zuit // Apr 24, 2008 at 1:10 pm

    St Augistine’s “agenda”:
    http://www.pibburns.com/augustin.htm

    He says what I think but cannot express. Those words are exactly why creationism bothers me so much.

  • 4 Ben-Jammin' // Apr 24, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    Hugo, your ‘agenda’ is spookily similar to mine:

    http://www.friendlyatheist.com/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=308

    “How can the world be made right?”

    Education, compassion, and inquiry.

    … If we want to affect situations, we need the best understanding we can obtain – therefore we need inquiry to reduce our ignorance. To make the information that we then obtain available for everyone to use to affect situations, we need education. To decide how we should try and affect situations we need compassion – there is no ‘we’ otherwise.

    It doesn’t lead to utopia or making the world right. It only leads to making the world better.

  • 5 Hugo // Apr 24, 2008 at 4:33 pm

    Was it Voltaire that said you should judge a man by his questions, not by his answers?

  • 6 Hugo // Apr 24, 2008 at 4:34 pm

    Pienk Zuit: yup, one of my favourite Augustine quotes.

  • 7 bluegray // Apr 25, 2008 at 12:12 am

    I care about education in general, and would like to play my part in teaching critical thinking and encouraging scientific literacy. Furthermore, I would like to evangelise compassion and humility, and fight hypocrisy, arrogance and hatred.

    I am not on a vendetta. I am not on an anti-religion crusade. I don’t like Dawkins’ approach very much, even though I understand why he does it. I don’t like hypocrisy and negativity. In order to avoid being negative, I always try to find the good in everything, to the point that I can defend it (the good), before I allow myself to criticise the bad.

    This is a noble aproach, one I share with you. And it is in line with what people like Dawkins and Shermer are doing. Dawkins is a bit more direct in his stance against religion, which I believe is because he sees religion as a direct threat to critical thinking and scientific literacy. And he is not wrong. Religion teaches people to blindly believe, usually without any solid reason and sometimes even in the face of contrary evidence. That is excatly what critical thinking and science is not.

    The problem becomes even worse when organized religion actively pursue non-critical thinking and pseudo science. I think you will agree that this is what Shofar is doing. Thus the need to defend it.

    But you run the risk of being a hypocrite yourself if you choose only a few beliefs of the church to oppose. What you are saying, is that it is ok to believe this interpretation from the bible, but not that interpretation from the bible. Who are you to decide which beliefs they can believe and which ones they can’t? And what criteria are you using to differenciate between them? If nothing else, at least they are consistent in using the bible and uncritical thinking to justify their beliefs, and not choosing to use evidence where it suits them.

    I agree that community is important. But the reality is that in this information age, there are more different views than in the past, and that unfortunately will always divide people. The immediate people around you have a greater multitude of different ideas and it becomes more difficult to stay together as a group – which is probably why religions like Shofar have the number of followers they have, by dictating to people what to believe, you create a group of people with similar beliefs and create a community. In my case, I do not want to compromise what I believe in just to be part of a community. And it is not easy, but it is not without reward. I am sure my beliefs are not compromised and I find enormous peace of mind and fulfillment in that.

    And that does not mean I am not part of the community around me – there are plenty of people who won’t avoid you because you believe differently from them. I don’t need a church to be part of a community. And as you no doubt found out, online communities might lack in physical relationships, but they are useful for intellectual relationships. ;)

    Anyway, it’s late and I’m rambling, so I’ll stop here and reserve the right o change any of my arguments using this excuse :p

  • 8 Hugo // Apr 25, 2008 at 3:27 am

    But you run the risk of being a hypocrite yourself if you choose only a few beliefs of the church to oppose. What you are saying, is that it is ok to believe this interpretation from the bible, but not that interpretation from the bible. Who are you to decide which beliefs they can believe and which ones they can’t? And what criteria are you using to differenciate between them?

    Based on your questions, your approach to interpretation seems modernistic. A modernistic interpretation. “This interpretation is correct, that interpretation is incorrect.” That is the same thing that fundamentalistic churches do. Non-fundamentalistic churches are not obsessive about particular interpretations, and focus more on “what can be learned from this story?” – and if there’s something that can be learned, there’s something that can be learned. It is then not a case of “correct” or “incorrect”.

    In the end, you’ll simply have to wait and see how I approach things, before we’ll know if I run the risk of being hypocritical. By all means, call me on it if you see it, but until then, have some faith! ;)

    Online communities are inadequate for fulfilling the human need for real community. So we should have some get-togethers every now and then. ;)

  • 9 bluegray // Apr 25, 2008 at 10:40 am

    Based on your questions, your approach to interpretation seems modernistic. A modernistic interpretation. “This interpretation is correct, that interpretation is incorrect.” That is the same thing that fundamentalistic churches do. Non-fundamentalistic churches are not obsessive about particular interpretations, and focus more on “what can be learned from this story?” – and if there’s something that can be learned, there’s something that can be learned. It is then not a case of “correct” or “incorrect”.

    Is modernistic a special term for scientific? And are you implying that my position is that nothing can be learned from the bible?

    Online communities are inadequate for fulfilling the human need for real community. So we should have some get-togethers every now and then. ;)

    Probably depends how you define community ;)
    If by real community you mean face-to-face interactions, then sure, online community does not provide that. But give a time and place, and I’ll be there ;)

  • 10 Hugo // Apr 25, 2008 at 11:02 am

    Is modernistic a special term for scientific?

    No. But I find it hard to explain what I mean concisely. Something like “fact obsessed”, much of our culture is that way.

    And are you implying that my position is that nothing can be learned from the bible?

    No, I was not doing that either. I was just trying to give some idea of how I approach the Bible and religion, or how I will approach it on the blog. So all of this matters not: it will become clear with time.

  • 11 bluegray // Apr 25, 2008 at 11:39 am

    No. But I find it hard to explain what I mean concisely. Something like “fact obsessed”, much of our culture is that way.

    And you have a problem with that because you think some beliefs don’t need to be based in fact?

  • 12 Hugo // Apr 25, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    There is more to life than facts. It’d be nice if some philosophers could chip in here. Talking about the context of beliefs, my belief in compassion isn’t based on “fact”. I suppose you could argue my belief in empiricism or the scientific method is somewhat based on “facts”, in the sense that these beliefs are useful.

    Believing in a better future, i.e. having hope, also has a great effect. I’m under the impression it is one of the things that got early Christianity going. Having hope is useful, and it isn’t based on fact.

  • 13 Hugo // Apr 25, 2008 at 12:42 pm

    And now someone’s probably going to make some stupid comment and irritate the shit out of me. Something about “false hope” or something like that. Fact fundamentalists. Sure, especially the apocalyptically minded were misguided, but I’m talking about something abstract here. Fact fundamentalists give non-theists a bad name.

  • 14 Kenneth Oberlander // Apr 25, 2008 at 12:56 pm

    I second bluegrays viewpoint here Hugo. Please do highlight Shofar’s beliefs, even those that you agree with. I know very little of the internal workings of the group, and would appreciate some input from someone who has experienced this first-hand.

    I will also be defending the good in religion, because hypocrisy, arrogance and lack of compassion is of course also found in non-theists.

    Let this be noted, I don’t doubt for a second that religion has good aspects. But I would turn your argument around. In light of your statement above, how is any religion better than, say, a secular charity organisation, or community hall, or internet chat room, at providing those good aspects to members?

  • 15 Hugo // Apr 25, 2008 at 1:26 pm

    In light of your statement above, how is any religion better than, say, a secular charity organisation, or community hall, or internet chat room, at providing those good aspects to members?

    I never said it is better, did I?

    But yes, there are things that religion does better than secular alternatives. (And vice versa… And I’d like the learning/understanding/improving to go both ways.)

  • 16 Kenneth Oberlander // Apr 25, 2008 at 1:29 pm

    No, you didn’t, I was asking the question sincerely. I really am interested in what you think religions do better than secular alternatives.

  • 17 bluegray // Apr 25, 2008 at 1:34 pm

    Talking about the context of beliefs, my belief in compassion isn’t based on “fact”. I suppose you could argue my belief in empiricism or the scientific method is somewhat based on “facts”, in the sense that these beliefs are useful.

    On what is your belief in compassion based then? Surely you can argue that it is from experience also useful and or beneficial to society, and therefore also based in fact, using your argument.

    Believing in a better future, i.e. having hope, also has a great effect. I’m under the impression it is one of the things that got early Christianity going. Having hope is useful, and it isn’t based on fact.

    So hope is something useful that is not based in fact? Anybody with a little life experience knows that being positive and hopeful is more useful than being negative. That is a fact.
    And being hopeful is not only for christians.

    How do you evaluate your beliefs? How do you decide which ones to keep and which ones to discard?

  • 18 Hugo // Apr 25, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    Apologies for comment #13, just blowing off steam. I get frustrated sometimes. (Not in this thread and not you necessarily, I got frustrated by merely thinking of the direction that the conversation could take. Foresight isn’t always good… ;) )

    Hugo: No. But I find it hard to explain what I mean concisely. Something like “fact obsessed”, much of our culture is that way.

    bluegray: And you have a problem with that because you think some beliefs don’t need to be based in fact?

    I’m not talking as much about “beliefs” as much as you (plural) seem to be. When it comes to “fact obsession”, I’m talking about reading and appreciating Biblical texts, for example. Much of it isn’t about whether it is factually true or not. Mythological texts are like that. Truth is not dependent upon facts.

    And much of my commentary is directed at particular strains of religion. Many times in the past of this blog I’ve made comments mostly targeted at such religion strains. And then the non-religious think I’m addressing them, and things get messy. ;) Oh well. Vagueness might be frowned upon by philosophers, but this isn’t a philosophy blog. It is targeting a diverse audience, not just the high-PQ (philosophical quotient, Auke’s terminology) crowd.

    Why is “myth” a negative word? Why does it carry negative connotations? That is much of our problem in our modernistic culture. Tell a religious person that Genesis is “myth”, and he thinks you’re insulting Genesis. I have reverence for myths. I respect myths. When I say “it is a myth”, it’s more like putting it on a pedestal than it is insulting it as “wrong, lies, nonsense”. People that cannot appreciate myths could be described as fact fundamentalists? And no, again, this isn’t addressed at the people commenting here, it’s a general statement explaining my position.

    Hopefully that clears things up a little better.

  • 19 bluegray // Apr 25, 2008 at 1:45 pm

    Truth is not dependent upon facts.

    How do you know it is true then?
    And I’m also very much interested in the answer to Kenneth’s question.

  • 20 Hugo // Apr 25, 2008 at 1:52 pm

    No, you didn’t, I was asking the question sincerely. I really am interested in what you think religions do better than secular alternatives.

    One of the things that I think the author of Parenting Beyond Belief (which I haven’t read yet, but I have it on my shelf) pointed out was community building. Religions seem to currently be much better than secularists at community building.

    Other things may include helping people break drug addictions or break free from a bad life. The “conversion experience” does help people. Is there a secular equivalent, that is equally effective? Dunno. And here I believe different strokes for different folks. Some break habits better when they embrace a “I have the power over my own future” perspective, and others do it better when they place their faith in some idea of a “higher power”, be it family/humanity/friends or a deity. I believe, as Dennett also pointed out in a talk I linked to on this blog, the secret to happiness and a fulfilled life is having some concept of something that’s bigger than yourself. Whatever that may be. An ideal, a set of values, a goal to strive towards, I dunno. Something like that.

    More? I don’t know, we’ll look at this over time. We’ll look at the things that one side does well, and try to identify how the other side accomplishes similar results, where there is a gap, and how it can be improved… That’s the idea.

    How do you evaluate your beliefs? How do you decide which ones to keep and which ones to discard?

    My beliefs? I think about them. I test them. ;) I’m not going to discuss my beliefs right now, we’ll come across some of them later.

    (But here’s some examples: I believe it doesn’t matter whether I believe Jesus really walked on water or not. I.e. I believe God won’t mind if I don’t believe it ;) , even if it really happened. And I believe it doesn’t matter if some people believe he did even if he didn’t. And I believe it worthwhile to leave my position on such matters vague on this blog. And I believe Einstein’s views on religion are pretty sweet.)

  • 21 Hugo // Apr 25, 2008 at 2:04 pm

    How do you know it is true then?

    Truth… philosophers have much to say about truth…

    There is truth found in myth, even if the myths are not factual. Now you could argue that these truths are based on facts outside the myths. Sure. Now where did I misplace that link to a wikipedia article on a philosopher that I discovered that says what I believe: much confusion and misunderstanding is as a result of language… what we’re battling with here is possibly different definitions/understandings of “fact”.

  • 22 bluegray // Apr 25, 2008 at 4:15 pm

    Religions seem to currently be much better than secularists at community building.

    Other things may include helping people break drug addictions or break free from a bad life.

    Does Shofar do any of this?

  • 23 Hugo // Apr 25, 2008 at 4:46 pm

    They believe they do. Personally, I think their solution isn’t healthy. The person that’d know more about that kind of liberation would be Al Lovejoy. He came from a bad background, and found salvation. Then he was in Shofar for quite some time, eventually came to the conclusion that that’s a drug as bad as any, so he left Shofar. But Christian he remains. The Christian tradition is truly beautiful, when seen and understood in the right context.

    Now by “right” here, I don’t mean one specific context that’s correct, and all the others are wrong. It is a whole class of contexts. The Judeo-Christian story is one of exodus, a journey out of banishment and back into a “life with God”. See that as a “beautiful, moral life of compassion with a community of like minded people”. In that sense, the Judeo-Christian narrative is very effective. Humans are story tellers. Stories grab the mind and paint a beautiful world. This is the power of a story-based worldview, something that we might be losing due to modernism, because we care so much about our “facts”. Not saying modernism is bad or good here, just lamenting the loss of some beautiful culture, kinda like Tolkien lamented modernism in The Lord of The Rings. Or so I think. Something like that.

    Anyway, Al Lovejoy wrote a book titled “Acid Alex”, which I have yet to read. If you’re interested, take a look. I hear it’s a really good read. Some info at http://www.acidalex.com … go check it out. ;)

  • 24 Negate // May 1, 2008 at 11:14 am

    Buddha said I am what I’m becoming. A Christian looks to god as his something bigger to guide and push him. I look at my goals to push and guide me. Am I more selfish because of this? Everything in nature happens whether we believe it or not. Is it not then also part of human nature to find something bigger than him? Like Dennett said.

    I think Buddha and Jesus would cry if they knew what was done in their names.
    I agree with hugo that there is no wrong or right in this matter. We should believe in what Jesus tried to teach. Jesus asked his followers who do you think I am. He gave them a choice. Piety is not what the lessons bring to the people, it is the mistake they bring to the lessons. Buddha also said that we should not believe in what he Is saying. We should find out the truths for ourselves. Is that which is being said about the future true? Is that which is being said about the past true? Is that which is happening right now True?

    And isn’t it a bad thing to be deceived about the truth, and a good thing to know what the truth is? For I assume that by knowing the truth you mean knowing things as they really are. (Plato)

    Everywhere religion is, they are purging some joy as a sin. A Simple path to goodness needs a supernatural willpower. It is a real shame that only fairy tales build churches and temples.
    I believe the virtual world will recindal our views and thoughts about what community really means

Leave a Comment

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>