Welcome

January 2, 2011 § 29 Comments

Welcome to Changing Religions!

My name is Deacon Duncan, and I’ve been running a blog called Evangelical Realism for a few years now. The focus at ER has largely been on debunking the gullible and superstitious claims of the older, more primitive religions, particularly the various flavors of Christianity. Over the course of writing this blog, I’ve learned that this approach is like attacking the ocean with a sword: it’s disappointingly trivial to hit your target, and afterwards, no matter how devastating your blow, the tide rolls on.

There’s a very good reason for this, as I’ve discussed in my post on Getting Religion: people do not believe because of the apologetics, they use the apologetics because they believe.  Attacking their beliefs may cause them personal distress and/or offense, but does not in any way impact the actual, fundamental reasons why they believe.

This blog, Changing Religions, has a new goal: to start a discussion about finding ways to build a new religious fellowship, a specifically post-Christian fellowship, to “sell” to believers as a superior alternative to the religion they subscribe to currently. I expect to lose some or all of my current subscribers, who will quite rightly be suspicious of any attempt to, as they see it, compound the problem by inventing a new religion. But I do have one or two points to raise in my own defense.

Is it really wise to start a new religion? Yes, because religion is about community, and most people will not abandon their old community unless they have a better one to move to. To defeat the narrow, gullible and superstitious religions of the past, we have to compete with them, and to compete we have to have a product in the same market. Christianity cannot be defeated, it can only be replaced.

Is it honest to start a new religion? I think it is, because I’m not going to invent any fictitious gods. My religion is actually centered around a very old God: Reality itself. In other words, this religion will be pantheism, but it’s pantheism with a very human twist. Most forms of pantheism fail to attract much in the way of followers because, however wonderful it may be to worship nature in all its glory, there’s a distinct lack of personality there, and thus a lack of personal appeal. My religion addresses Reality in personal terms, giving Her the name of Alethea.

This is the point where I will lose some people and (hopefully) gain others. Is it right to address Reality as a person, knowing that it is not? The hard-core atheist will say no, it is dishonest, but I disagree. I say that seeing Alethea (Reality) as a person is a spiritual perspective—an intuitive way of experiencing reality that exposes a different kind of truth about it, or rather, about how we, as human beings, engage it.

My favorite example is the phenomenon we call sunrise. Does the sun really rise in the morning, move across the sky, and then fall again in the evening? The analytical truth is that it does not: the earth rotates, and causes an apparent motion of the sun across the sky. Yet in practical terms, what sunrise means to us in terms of our experience, is a lot more than can be simply expressed using only the analytical truth. Sunrise is the earth turning to face the sun, but it’s also a change in our ability to see, an end to the hidden dangers of the night, a metaphor for discovery and the beginning of a new era.

Our “metaphoric” experience of reality is an added dimension of experience, above and beyond the scientific analysis. The dimension that is added is “interconnectedness”—a sense of the relationship between things, and the meaning of those relationships. This is the value that religion brings to the individual, and that the religions of the past have, however badly and perversely, attempted to provide. We need to provide the same thing, and we can.

I think that I’ve covered the atheists’ objection (to my own satisfaction, at least). Believers might have a similar objection, expressed as, “But Alethea isn’t really a god!” My answer to this is that perhaps we’re the ones who have been using a poor definition of “god.” If you met a real space alien, would you say, “He can’t be a real alien because he doesn’t look like a Klingon”? Men have historically imagined gods in their own image, but it’s not all that far-fetched to suggest that such fictions fail to describe a real god accurately.

For my part, I’ve tried practicing Alethianism the same way I used to practice Christianity, and have been mildly surprised (though not entirely) to find that it works pretty much the same as my old faith did, but without the confusion and disappointments. That’s part of the reason I’m slightly optimistic about starting a new religion: I’ve taken it for a test run, and it did as well as the competition, without the disadvantages.

And that’s because Alethea really is the essence of what we’re groping for when we try to perceive and understand God: the power greater than ourselves whose complex dealings with us reflect certain moods and preferences that we need to take into account in order to do well in this world. The die-hard atheist may object that these moods and preferences are not the analytical truth about what’s happening in the real world, but from a spiritual, layman’s perspective, there’s no significant difference. We experience them as moods and preferences, and they act as moods and preferences, and our community will benefit from understanding them and reacting accordingly.

The big advantage of worshiping and obeying Alethea is that we can be the one religious community that has no fear of atheists or scientists. Atheists see the same Reality (our God) as we do, and scientists can help us to know Her even better, because our theology uniquely overlaps all other branches of science. Also, because our faith is based on reality rather than on gullibly believing whatever certain people say, we have no fear that our religion will ever prove false. If we ever find that we have been wrong, that just means that we now know our God even better!

That’s my dream, my vision. If you’d like to join me, or if you have some ideas that might help, let me hear from you. I have no idea whether or not anything will come of this, but I’m going to give it a shot, in the spirit of lighting a single candle. Perhaps, with God’s blessing, some good may come of it in any case.

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§ 29 Responses to Welcome

  • Tina says:

    Dude, I”ll follow and read, but scary. Are you trying to find, well, something? Are you going to become like the other religions? I noticed you used the word “obey”. Exactly what are we to obey, please?

  • Lee says:

    You have me curious indeed!

    I’ve been following ER for the past year or so and very much enjoy your take on apologetics and interaction between religious, irreligious, non-religious, and otherwise-minded folks. And now to start a new religion?

    Hmm.

    I’m interested to see how you will continue to define Aletheanism and its beliefs and practices. I have no suggestions at this point, but hope to chime in now and again.

  • Oh, no, I’m not trying to find something. Quite the contrary in fact: I’ve already found, and want others to find too.

    Not to worry, when it comes to Alethea, “obey” is not really a problem, since Her laws are the laws of physics and stuff. DISobedience isn’t really an option. On the other hand, if we fail to understand what the laws of nature are, we can work against them and vice versa. So, for example, it’s God’s will for us to take steps to counter global warming, and if we don’t, She’s liable to punish us with bad weather, higher sea levels, etc.

    Notice that the substance of what I’m saying isn’t materially all that different from what an informed atheist might say, as far as actions and consequences go. I’m just expressing the cause-and-effect relationship in more human terms. If we treat Reality as a person, it can make our understanding a bit more intuitive and meaningful—the role religion ought to fill. It’s just that in this particular case, the “Scripture” we’re based on is Reality itself, and not any lesser authority.

  • Tina says:

    I think I get it. I’m only a month into agnostic/atheist/whateverIam. I “studied” with Jehovah’s Witnesses for a few months, normal humans except for their beliefs, and now I want nothing to do with organized religion. I used to be tolerant of other’s beliefs, had no impact on me. But now, here in America, what these Christians are saying! They are the reason I began studying, reading the bible for myself. LOL, didn’t turn out like I thought it would or how I’m sure they’d want it. K, nature..being good to the earth, fellow humans, taking care of both. That’s good.

  • Pepe says:

    Interting idea. Im’e often wondered if something like this could work. Would we still call ourselves atheists? At the very least, it could be a kind of transitory religion for people who otherwise can’t make the leap, kind of like deism was for me.

  • ssjessiechan says:

    I think I understand what you’re trying to do… and I wish you success. As for myself, I don’t really need such a community, but then, that’s probably true of a lot of atheists right now. Those of us that could do without have had the courage to face facts and find our own way. Those that can’t go without, don’t. It may be that your way (and the way of Michael Dowd, if I understand), becomes the real New Atheism. Those of us that live life in the literal and scientific world, I hope, can support your effort to make the world a little safer for the rational. Best wishes!

  • mikespeir says:

    I confess I’m skeptical. We’ll see.

  • Len says:

    Good luck. I think I understand what you’re aiming for. Your approach is a little unusal, but maybe interesting.

    I’m not sure about the connotations surrounding the idea of worshipping reality, as that seems to move toward personification, but let’s see how that goes.

    As long as people don’t start believing that Alethea may talk back to them (ie, a voice in their head), I guess you’ll be OK. In other words, keep it real.

  • Hunt says:

    DD, I’ve been following you for quite a while, and I think I understand what you’re getting at here. It might be helpful if you explained how this differs from Church of the SubGenius or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, if it does, and in what way. Anyway, I’m always one for experimentation, innovation, and simply going for it.

  • Pepe: I call myself an Alethian.

    mikespeir: I’m actually skeptical myself, but we’ll see.

    Len: Personification is the idea, with the caveat that Alethea as a person is only an approximation of a truth that’s otherwise to big for us to handle. Then again, even in the more traditional theologies, God is a quantity that exceeds human comprehension, so I’m really just correcting a basic human religious tendency by pointing it in the right direction.

  • Arthur says:

    You’ve shown too much clarity and insight in the past for me to worry about where you’re going. I’m along for the ride in any event. I’m excited, frankly.

  • David D.G. says:

    Deacon Duncan, I have been a big fan of your writings at Evangelical Realism. I have a lot of respect for your opinions, and I hate to be the iceberg for the maiden voyage of your new blog; but I, for one, am dismayed at the idea of taking things in this direction. Anthropomorphism of reality seems to me to be exactly the wrong way to get people to see reality clearly; indeed, I gather that anthropomorphism of nature is the foundation of animism (and thus of all supernatural religions) in the first place.

    As soon as you start talking about “Alethea’s will” (or, even worse, “God’s will”), you are implying — no, you are DECLARING the existence of a personal consciousness, just by the use of the word “will.” And this implies a personality of some kind to go with it, which might be friendly (or otherwise). You say that it’s basically shorthand for the laws of physics and such; but by grafting a Name onto them, those normally impersonal, neutral physical laws become unavoidably entangled with the concept of a Mind that sets, uses, and/or rules them. That seems an alarmingly short step away from being able to expect divine intervention, miracles, and so on; so how does this really change anything from actual (supernatural) religions?

    I gather that you’re trying to create a “landing place” for recovering theists; Greta Christina has discussed the need for atheism to try to provide such a thing, and I think that’s a worthwhile concern, but I don’t think that dressing up reality with a Name and referring to it as a living, conscious entity does anything to provide this. At best, it’s a distraction from the real thing. And at worst, people who are too deeply steeped in religious thinking or who are otherwise too supernaturally inclined (or who are just too stupid) won’t be able to recognize the use of metaphor for what it is. It will be too subtle for them, and they’ll either deny it as “against God” or just see it as yet another perspective for Yahweh, or The Goddess, or whichever deity or deities they favor; and, again, nothing really gets changed.

    Of course, if I am misunderstanding what you are trying to do, please set me straight. I respect you highly, and I will happily take back any criticisms that aren’t applicable. You are a very insightful thinker and an incisive writer, and I will continue to read your posts here. Best of luck to you!

    ~David D.G.

  • Arthur says:

    As soon as you start talking about “Alethea’s will” (or, even worse, “God’s will”), you are implying — no, you are DECLARING the existence of a personal consciousness, just by the use of the word “will.” And this implies a personality of some kind to go with it, which might be friendly (or otherwise).

    But we intentionalize things all the time. It’s a powerful aid to our understanding (up to a point), and it’s also just a habit our brains have. It’s only a problem when we forget that we’re doing it. The term “natural selection” itself implies that nature has intentions–and people misunderstand the idea, deliberately or not, on that basis–but any true appreciation of Alethea includes, by definition, an appreciation of our habits of mind, and of the importance of being constantly reminded of them. True humility!

    (I would agree, though, that the word “God” surely carries an inordinate amount of baggage. Stephen Hawking, talking about “the mind of God,” is just begging to be misunderstood or misinterpreted. I wouldn’t say the same of Richard Feynman, talking about “nature’s imagination.” But maybe that’s just me.)

  • No Paranormal Beliefs? No Supernatural shenanigans? Above all… NO denial of death scheme?

    Sounds more like a bowling league… or an “alternative Prom”. The kind that the parents of unpopular, goofy looking kids, set up so that their misshapen offspring won’t feel totally left out.

    I’m not entirely convinced that the point of religion is “community”. Paranormal beliefs are ubiquitous. I can’t think of a family, clan, tribe, nation or empire at any time or place in human history without paranormal beliefs. I’m an atheist, but, even I can be observed practicing the black art of “action at a distance” as I physically force my chosen horse over the finish line first at the race track. Oh, and I have lucky socks.

    What’s the point of having a religion if it doesn’t assure you that you don’t “really” die? Human beings NEED to know that their life has value in a world that has meaning. I can embrace the absurdity of life in matter… that it really has no meaning… but I think those of us that do this are the freaks of nature, not the other way around.

    Will there be an agreed upon likeness of Alethea? You do realize that without an agreed upon likeness there is no possibility of EVER seeing Her beautifully rendered in the melted mozzarella cheese atop a pizza. Or, for that matter, in the oil stains found in driveways from one end of America to the other. Something to think about.

    • Tina says:

      Are we freaks of nature? Or have we just figured out that we simply exist, we take up space and use resources and that’s okay. In fact, it takes the pressure off. No more stressing out because we haven’t done anything grand in this world. Most people seem to need a purpose, a reason for being, all the time. The supernatural, superstitions, are needed. But why? It seems so much easier the other way.

      • Tina, By and large the main purpose of ALL religions (I know of NO exceptions) is to provide human beings with a denial of death scheme. A story for you to believe that results in the conclusion that humans don’t “really” die. I stand by my contention that it is the “freaks” of nature that don’t want this.
        Humans “create” a reality that gives their life purpose in a world that has meaning. Paranormal beliefs are as human as noses.

  • mikespeir says:

    You do realize that without an agreed upon likeness there is no possibility of EVER seeing Her beautifully rendered in the melted mozzarella cheese atop a pizza. Or, for that matter, in the oil stains found in driveways from one end of America to the other.

    I like a lot of what you say, but I have to disagree with this. I think it’s the very fact that no one knows what Jesus or Mary looked like that lets people see their images everywhere. If we really knew what Jesus looked like, we could just wave our hands dismissively at the oil spot and mutter, “Aw, that’s Frank Zappa. ;-)

  • mikespeir… I’m not convinced that human beings are capable of conceptualizing ANYTHING without an image. Even if you are correct, all we would have then are Sunday morning TV Evangelical Zappaians.
    What about the “denial of death scheme”? ALL religions have that in common. Without THAT you really have nothing to sell.

    • mikespeir says:

      So we’ve got to have something at least vaguely Jesus-like in mind that prompts us to exclaim, “That’s him!” I guess I could buy that. The reason we say, “That’s Jesus!” and not, “That’s Zappa!” is that we don’t worship Zappa. In other words, we’re not looking for Zappa.

      • Precisely mikespeir. Shiva doesn’t come to Catholics in their dreams and Jesus doesn’t come to Hindus.
        My contention is that without a likeness of Alethea all this will be 2nd rate. Slip-shod.

      • Len says:

        @mrs. neutron’s garage: we must be careful that we don’t start worshipping that likeness, as if expecting its personification to walk through the door. We follow truth.

  • Hunt says:

    I’ll volunteer my likeness.

    Except that I’m a guy. Shit.

  • Len,

    Humans will always determine for themselves what is true. We will always create the reality we need to hold madness at bay. The real question is, “At what level of illusion are you the happiest and healthiest?”

  • Adam says:

    Sorry, DD, I’m not buying it.

    >>So, for example, it’s God’s will for us to take steps to counter global warming, and if we don’t, She’s liable to punish us with bad weather, higher sea levels, etc.

    >>Notice that the substance of what I’m saying isn’t materially all that different from what an informed atheist might say, as far as actions and consequences go. I’m just expressing the cause-and-effect relationship in more human terms.

    To me, this sounds like reframing atheism to make it more palatable to theists. I have no interest in converting theists to atheism, and even if I did, I wouldn’t hide it behind a personal pantheist god. I also have no desire for a spiritual worldview. For me, facts are enough.

    In my humble opinion, either you believe what you can experience or what you can trust a modern source (eg living or at least documented while alive) with the expertise to test, experience, and share, and passing peer-review (scientific evidence) – or you believe something out of a book because someone told you it was credible.

    Alethea, as it were, turns me off. Have fun, though.

  • Adam says…. “For me, facts are enough.”

    No insult intended Adam (I REALLY mean that), but, I have met many people who honestly claim that. I have yet to meet one who can live it for a lifetime. I’m not sure it’s human.

  • Scotlyn says:

    Not sure where this might go, but I wonder if you have given any thought to certain other analogues of religious phenomena – such as martyrdom? Another major difference between Jesus and Zappa (other than the fact that we know what one of them looks like) is the difference in the number of people who have suffered or died to proclaim their faith in each. Some people measure the truth value of a proposition in relation to how much pain its adherents are willing to undergo – this is one area where faith adherents of a supernatural religion (promise of future reward in heaven) have always been able to trump adherents of non-promising/non-demanding reality.

    • David D.G. says:

      “Some people measure the truth value of a proposition in relation to how much pain its adherents are willing to undergo – this is one area where faith adherents of a supernatural religion (promise of future reward in heaven) have always been able to trump adherents of non-promising/non-demanding reality.”

      Are you serious?!?

      I fervently disagree that faithists “have always been able to trump” realists (a highly offensive assertion), most especially by claiming that willingness to suffer or die for one’s beliefs is any objective measure of those beliefs’ objective reality.

      Cults tend to be exceptionally good examples of exactly the opposite; Jonestown, Branch Davidians, and Heaven’s Gate come to mind. There is no reason to suppose that Jesus’ apostles could not be considered to have been similarly insane.

      And reality, by the way, is hardly “non-demanding.” Ask all those snake-handlers who die by snakebite, or “Christian Science” (I hate that term) adherents who die of perfectly treatable diseases or disorders, or people duped by “faith healers,” or people who drown when they try to walk on water or are mauled when they face lions while armed with nothing more than a Bible and their faith. Reality demands a great deal from us to avoid suffering; most importantly, it demands that we use our minds sensibly. Someone once said that reality is what happens whether you believe in it or not; I’d say that reality easily “trumps” people’s childish supernatural fantasies any day.

      ~David D.G.

      • Dear David DG,
        Reality doesn’t trump anything. And if supernaturalism is childish then humans are all children. The only question anyone has to answer is “at what level of illusion are you the happiest and healthiest”. Reality is as plastic as silly putty.
        I think you are confusing natural law with reality. That’s a mistake.

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