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Why are humans religious? Is God just a metaphor? Why have we believed in gods? Are we just irrational? Or is there something else going on? In this first part of a two-part discussion, we take a look at the rise in atheism - even so-called Christian atheism - and whether their claims are worth taking seriously. The celebrity atheists argue that belief in God is not only wrong, it's irrational. But most of their targets are low-hanging fruit.

As philosopher R. G. Collingwood argued, atheist types are guilty of the same sin as the fundamentalists: they take the language of religion literally. By doing so, they have blocked off entire regions of fact and experience from being taken seriously and they don't end up explaining why humans are religious, or what the real meaning behind the religious imagery might be.

But even Collingwood doesn't go deep enough. Because what is the source of religious experience? What's the source of the objects of imagination? Maybe the religious worldview has something to say not only about the way we should act, but also about the nature of reality. Maybe materialism isn't the whole cosmological banana.

Tune in Saturday, 12:00 pm EDT.

Running Time: 01:10:38

Download: MP3

Here's the transcript of the show:

Harrison: Hello everyone and welcome back to The Truth Perspective. It is June 2nd, I'm your host Harrison Koehli, joining us today is Corey Schink.

Corey: Hello everybody.

Harrison: Today, our question, God: Cosmic Criminal, or Universal King. We are going to be talking about theism and ideas about God, because there was an interesting thing happening right now. After 9/11 we saw the rise of these so-called New Atheists, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, these kinds of guys, and there's been a rise, apparently, in these past years, of a number of Americans in particular, but I'm guessing worldwide, who are self-declared atheists. So, their not just agnostics, they actually believe in this kind of doctrine spread by Dawkins. Harris, and Hitchens. Just in the last couple of years, we've had Jordan Peterson come on the scene, advocating a kind of maybe, maybe not kind of theism, where he just doesn't say "Yes, I believe in God," because he thinks it's a complex question, but we have a lot of people, a lot of young people who are re-finding their religion, the religion they grew up with, Christianity, and starting to go to church again, even though previously they would have described themselves as atheist, and even if they still would describe themselves as atheists.

So I've heard this new semi-movement called Christian Atheists. These would be people that don't necessarily believe in the literal doctrine of even idea of a Christian god, but there is something about it that makes sense to them, in the kind of archetypal Jordan Peterson sense of the story in which you live your life, and it's ability to give meaning, and thus its practical usefulness. So basically, adopting a kind of religious framework as a practical approach to life, because maybe it works.

But when Peterson for example. is questioned the existence of God, he basically says well that's a hard question to ask because it's just a very complex question and depends on what you mean by God, because there are many hidden assumptions that come with a question like that. So what we are going to do today is just look at theism, generally, the belief in God, just try to get a general idea of why people do believe and have believed in god and are religious in general, and then try to look at some of the overarching narratives or stories that go along with our Western/Middle Eastern Judeo-Christian idea and narrative and god, and then to see if there might be a middle ground, because just to get it off my chest in the beginning, I very much disagree with the new atheists. Well I agree with them on some points, but there's something that I think they're lacking. But I also disagree with most of what most religious people say, self-declared religious people, and especially specific Christian dogmas.

So, yeah, we'll be looking at that, and basically seeing if there's a way of looking at all this and if there's anything salvageable to the idea of there actually being a god. Because if you ask any atheist, I just listened to an interview with Michael Shermer and he just cannot believe in a god, that is a supernatural being who does whatever, either created the universe, or intervenes in certain times in history and in our lives in miraculous ways, or that's just up there watching and keeping tabs on us. It's just like a no-go area. Michael Shermer just cannot believe it, no matter what, and so, how can you justify any kind of these religious beliefs? Anyways, short overview of where we're going to be going.

Corey: I'd just like to touch on the idea of defining what God is. For ancient philosophers, and Aristotelean logic, the mind works in three ways, predominantly. The first way is that you work with concepts, terms, and then in the second way, you judge those concepts. So you have a concept of a cat, and then a judgment, you say a cat is hairy, or a cat is this, and in the third way, you argue. You form premises, in order to make an argument.

Well, in terms of the discussion that we're going to be having, when you start out with the idea of god, god is a concept that has been filled with so many different definitions over the years. For our Greco-Roman ancestors, the gods were these fickle, crazy beasts that inspired ecstasy and were hoped to help an individual to achieve greatness in life, possibly. But then when Paul came around, the central dogma changed radically, and god after Paul and after the acceptance of Christianity in ancient Rome, around the 4th century AD, the idea of god was radically changed. God was now this central figure. There was a god, Jesus Christ was his son, and there was the definite Semitic element to it, in regards to the traditions of the Jews, and the Jewish god, and monotheism. But over the years when people discuss god, you rarely ever get this kind of a discernment in terms of what we're actually talking about, in terms of what god is, and what god it is that we're going to be talking about. So Harrison, what god are we talking about today?

Harrison: Well, we're going to be talking about two gods. The Cosmic Criminal and the Cosmic King as we're calling them.

Corey: Okay.

Harrison: But, before we describe those gods, who are very interesting characters, I think we should set the ground by trying to figure out just why people have believed in gods. There's something to the New Atheist arguments, they've got some points. There's the agency hypothesis where humans tend to see agency in other humans, for instance, to share a sense of intentionality. I see that you are a being that has a sense of its own self and has its own goals and does things, just like I am, and so we can work together to do things. I detect an agency in you. There's a certain thing moving you, you're not just an object, there's a Corey, that is there, and that does stuff on it's own. For example, in a rock, there's no obvious agency, but because it's helpful for human survival in order to detect agency, especially with dangerous animals, you need to be able to detect if something can come out of the bushes and kill you. You need to be hyperactive in discerning and looking out for agency. That's kind of the idea right, that's basically it?

Corey: Yeah, I think the best way to sum it up is if you watch a scary movie at night, and your going to bed, and you're going down the dark hallway, and it's late at night, and you should already be in bed because you have to work, but then your going into your bedroom, and all of a sudden, it's dark, and you see something in the corner, and immediately you're thinking, like "Okay what is the agency involved in that?" That's your immediate intention, "What is that?" And then, you also want to know what is the intention of the agency. So there are those two extremely important factors involved, the agency and the intention behind the agency. You want to figure it out to know what it's going to do to you.

Harrison: Yeah and you want to err on the side of caution, so it would be better to be semi-certain, to actually be certain in the moment that there is a threat that could harm your life, and you take that as real in order to get away, as opposed to not detecting the agency involved and being like, "Oh well, I can immediately recognize that that's a coil of rope and not a snake, so I'm going to not move out of the way" and then it happens to be a snake!

Corey: Right, and the argument isn't the argument that this is just automatic. It's basically the result of us having these psychological modules, as an evolutionary psychologist might call them. That we have the need to detect agency, and we also have this theory of mind where we try define the intention of the agency. Then religion comes out of that, because it just kind of goes haywire. It's so hyperactive, it's trying to find agency everywhere, and pretty soon, the crops go bad, the gods did it.

Harrison: Mm hmm.

Corey: And I was a bad person, the gods punished me.

Harrison: Okay, we've got overactive agency detectors and instantiators. We will ascribe agency to more things than may actually have them. So of course if you look at the history of religion, you have agency ascribed to everything, including rocks, the spirit of the rock, and whatever, and a near infinite amount of gods and so-called supernatural beings, to the point where an atheist or a critic of many religions would say, "Well they can't all be true, and chances are not one of them are true, so none of them are true." Those are the odds, right? If you've got a thousand religions, the chances of any one of them being true is either going to be one in a thousand or less that one of them is true. So what's the point, right? And why have humans done this?

Well, there are arguments for why they've done this, and arguably religions have been adaptive for humanity's survival and social group cohesion. I don't want to get into those areas, I want to take it into a couple of different directions. We recently read this interesting philosophy book by Robin Collingwood called Speculum Mentis where he gets into his thought on art, religion, science, history and philosophy. The way he describes religion is it's imagination let loose to a certain degree, specifically like art. Art is pure imagination so he calls it, or at least that's the belief of the artist, that it's pure imagination. You tune in to that imaginative faculty and create something that is birthed out of that dark womb of imagination and creativity in the mind.

Of course, that's somewhat of a philosophical error, he calls it, because there is some implicit thought that goes into it, it's not pure imagination, and imagination is always rooted in the experience of the artist, just your everyday experience, the objects that we encounter. The objects, the colors, the shapes will all influence to a great degree, what the artist ends up creating. What we end up having is this work of art that doesn't have any explicit meaning, right? This is what Collingwood argues; you can't say that a piece of art means this, "This is the meaning of this piece of art," because when you say that, if that was the full meaning and the full significance of that piece of art, then you could just say that, and you wouldn't need that piece of art. Art is, in and of itself, an artistic creation. It's a whole world in and of itself, and it kind of cheapens it to say, "It means this."

But at the same time we feel that there's something in art. There's something in it that moves us, and it's like we feel something, it's significant in some way. Especially, for me, being a musician, when you hear a really great piece of music, well what does that piece of music mean? Can you put it in words, what that means? Oh, you can try but, you're just going to sounding like a cheap music critic writing for Buzzfeed or something.

So we've got that art as imagination which doesn't have an explicit or even an implicit meaning. The way Collingwood describes it is like it puts you in touch with the secret of the universe. So there's something mysterious about the universe, and art puts you in touch with that. It doesn't explicitly provide an answer. Art is a constant question, and Collingwood says that questioning is the cutting edge of knowledge. You can never learn something new, if you're not constantly seeking for that little bit beyond what you already know, because if you just have what you already know, and you don't question it, you don't try to break that boundary, then you'll never progress, you'll stagnate, you'll stay the same forever. But by constantly questioning, you're constantly reaching out into the unknown, encountering the unknown to find something potentially new, a new fact, or a new idea, and that is the function that art plays.

Art is constantly grasping for the unknown, reaching out into those vast unexplored territories of human thought and behaviour, and finding something and putting it together in an artistic way, in an aesthetic way, to create a well-crafted story, or piece of art that captures something, or a unified piece of music that captures something. It's impossible to say definitively whatever it is at any given instance, but that's just the nature of art, right? It's almost mysterious, it's on an unconscious, subconscious level, where it operates.

Corey: Yeah, Collingwood writes that the "Failure of art is, as we have said, not a complete failure. Substantial truth is revealed to us. We are not cheated of that, but it is revealed only in the equivocal form of beauty, submerged, so to speak in the flood of aesthetic of emotion. It is only because truth is revealed in it that the emotion is aesthetic, but emotional truth, truth in the guise of beauty, is not truth at all in the formal sense. Art asserts nothing, and truth as such is a matter of assertion. To be itself, it demands logical form. Art fails us because it does not assert. It is pregnant with a message that it cannot deliver." I think that sums it all up right there.

Harrison: Yeah, and that's kind of what he says about art. There's some sense of a truth in it, but it's an implicit truth and it can't even be expressed in words. But when we progress to religion, there's an artistic and aesthetic consciousness, there's a religious consciousness, and each have their place, in not only development, but being a well-rounded human being. And what happens with religion is that, whereas in art, each imaginative element is seen as it's own world and as imaginative creation - you don't go to a movie and then think that all those things are real, or watch a play or a movie. The artist isn't saying these people are real, and you don't think it. You realise it's a fictional creation, it's a lie that speaks a truth that's unutterable.

Corey: It's an acceptable lie.

Harrison: It's an acceptable lie. But then, with religion, it's like the imagination, how does he put it? That's when the objects of the imagination are then given reality. So now it's not just a unicorn, it's a god, a real god that is accepted as a real being, something real. So we have an explicit statement of fact now. It's an assertion about the nature of reality, and about the way the world is constructed, and the way the world is made and the way the world works. So art won't assert that, it just presents it's imaginative creation, But religion on the other hand takes an imaginative creation, arguably, and says 'this is reality'. Does that make sense?

Corey: Yeah, it makes sense to me. It seems that with the aesthetic emotion that's involved in art, there's also a very intense emotional component to religious experience, especially in conversion and through rituals and all those different religious experiences. There's this emotional, very subjective, preverbal, not something that people are entirely conscious of, that they can consciously understand. It's an overwhelming experience for most people who are having a conversion experience or a religious experience and that in and of itself is kind of taken to the next level in an actual religious setting, that it's those symbols that are involved that produce those emotions are themselves laden with some form of truth. There's some truth behind the symbol that is implicit, but still you can't really talk about what it is that made you feel this way, but it's this holiness, holy factor that Collingwood said, is the important kernel of the religious experience, whereas beauty is the kernel of the artistic experience.

Harrison: Yeah, so for Collingwood, in religion, the religious truth is stated in a metaphorical form, in a symbolic form, and then that symbol is taken as the truth. So for religion there is a hidden meaning, but that hidden meaning is never stated explicitly, and all that you're left with is a symbol, and that symbol is taken as the literal truth, and then accepted as literal truth, but even then, you can tell that there's something behind it. He uses the example of a child's belief in god, and how parents might even instill this idea of god as this big bearded man in the sky. They know that that's not a literal depiction, and the kid pictures it in that way, like Santa Claus.

But, the way Collingwood describes it is, when you grow up, the fictional and the meaning behind the metaphor both grow in tandem, and they don't contradict each other. You can have both at the same time and it doesn't create mental illness or anything like that. It works, and he says that's necessary, that religious truths basically needs to be told in a metaphorical form, in a story form, because they don't have their power when they're stated baldly in some dry philosophical language. That stops being religion and starts being philosophy. But for Collingwood, philosophy is the explicit meaning behind the symbols of religion.

At the same, time, you can't have one without the other, just a philosophical outlook, without the religious imagery that speaks to the heart. I guess you could say that you don't get the benefit of the religious truth, without that connection to the heart, which Collingwood calls the religious consciousness The problem you get to with religion is that it creates this separation between man and god, and it focuses on that and solidifies that transcendence, that difference. Man and god are essentially different, and that's what impels humans, will motivate to them to be better, to be more like god, because you're so far away, you're so disconnected from god, here's what you can do to get a bit closer. It requires that distance. Then Collingwood essentially says that the solution to the problem of religion is basically the negation of religion, you realise that distance isn't there.

That was what Paul was all about, in the very earliest Christianity, to break down that barrier between man and god, and you see that in the figure of Jesus Christ, right? It's the man who is also god, and who becomes human to experience the utter suffering of the human condition, and the to be sacrificed, and betrayed and die the worst death possible, and then to be reborn in a higher state, in a divine state. But even then it's stated in a symbolic manner, and it's not necessarily a literal truth, at least according to the way that Collingwood has of looking at it, that there's still this metaphorical thing going on, and the thing about religion as religion, is that it takes that symbol as reality.

So it's like, the mother of Jesus Christ was a virgin, Mary was a virgin, and that will be latched on to as a literal truth, and a dogma, when as Collingwood puts it, the real question is, "Well, what does that mean?" It's one thing to just say it. What value is there in just saying it and believing it if it doesn't mean anything? Well, then what's the difference between religious knowledge and just a brute historical fact? "On this day, back then, this person did something." I say it, I believe it's true, and what? Mary, mother of god, was a virgin. Okay, say it, believe it, what does it mean? What's the point in even believing in something like that, right? Well, there must be something more to it because there's so much emotion and significance placed on religious themes and religious symbols. So one thing that I don't think that Collingwood gets into as much is, something you mentioned earlier Corey, the actual religious experience that motivates a lot of religious belief. Did you have something to say on that, or are you going to contradict me? {laughter}

Corey: Yeah, I'm going to completely contradict everything you said! No, I was reading William James' Varieties of Religious Experience just last week and I was struck with both how excellent a psychologist he was, and also there's so much depth to the religious experience that really isn't touched on in modern day psychology. I think it fits in with what we are discussing about how human society seems to kind of evolve over time, or just struggling, really, to come to grips with reality. All of these different forms of religious experience attest to that desire, that need, that struggle. There's a deep struggle involved. But with just the sheer subjectiveness, you can see why people might not want to believe in necessarily gods and angels and all this stuff, because there's such an element of wishful thinking, and ecstatic self-abandonment that goes into it.

Harrison: The absurdity.

Corey: Yeah, the absurdity. One feels quite a lot of pity for people that have been completely transformed, depending on the effects that it has on their lives. What we were talking about is that this religious experience kind of gives way, or it creates these sort of insoluble philosophical problems, like you were talking about, like god separate from existence, and then how that leads to so many different philosophical problems, like we were discussing, the problems of evil, why there is evil in the world, if god is from existence, all-powerful, omnipotent and all-good, then why is there evil? Theologians and the average person doesn't really care too much about all these philosophical problems, but the intellectual centers in society struggle with those problems, and that in and of itself, generates over time, a scientific intellectual attitude towards the cosmos.

Harrison: I think there are two issues here, at least, but I'll focus on two. If we think in terms of what Collingwood says about the way in which religious beliefs are created, it's basically, human imagination that is then made real, in a way that art isn't, and accepted as real, and passed on through culture. Now, what happens with that is that you have a metaphor, a symbol, that is then taken as reality, and then that literal reality is taken as a philosophical starting point, which then leads to a philosophy, which guides the worldview along with the religion, that doesn't make sense. It doesn't fit together. It's incoherent in some way. If you poke to hard on one of those points, it falls apart, and you get this kind of insecurity about the metaphors, about the symbols, because they lead to this intractable situation, where it's like, "Okay, here are my starting points, my religious symbols, my religious dogmas. Here's the philosophy they lead to. That philosophy doesn't make sense, so, what does that say about my symbols, right? So I must be wrong, my religion must be wrong." Very few people are going to admit that their religion is wrong, so they'll hang on to it and kind of ignore the hard questions. That's one problem.

The other problem is that, if we look again to the forces that shape the development of religion, and the experience that lead to those symbols taken from imagination that are given reality, if we look at those basic experiences, the atheists are just as guilty of taking their religious symbols literally as religious people are. It's just that religious people take them literally and say "Oh, I believe that," and then, atheists take them literally and say "I don't believe that." They're both taking them literally. Neither of them are seeking the possible truth behind the metaphor, behind the symbol.

So applying that to the phenomena of religious experience, because there are numerous kinds of religious experience, the question might be to ask is, what is the reality behind the religious experience? Is there a reality behind it? Is there a reality that is maybe more expansive and more complex than the Michael Shermers and Richard Dawkinses of the world would have us believe? We should really be getting into that. What is going on with religious experience?

I watched this debate between one of the celebrity atheists Matt Dillahunty and Jordan Peterson and they were talking about religious experience, and Peterson brought up psilocybin mushrooms. He was talking about the research that has shown that if a person takes a dose of psilocybin mushrooms, and has a trip, a religious experience, almost like a psychedelic moving experience, they'll be 80% more likely to have all kinds of benefits; they can quit smoking if they want to, whereas previously they would have tried and wouldn't be able to do it. Basically it's a turning point in their life. Peterson is saying, "This means something. This is evidence of something." Dillahunty eventually concedes the point but says "Why can't we just see that as something happening in your brain?"

They didn't go as far into the conversation as they could have, because I know Peterson has read Rick's Strassman, the guy that wrote the book on DMT. What this guy found, is that when you created these types of psychedelic experiences in the lab, a lot of these people were seeing aliens, for instance. He said "That's really weird," because they were just seeing aliens and every person seeing this reported on this, and said it felt like it was a real experience. When they experienced it, they experienced it as real, and they experienced these alien creatures as alien creatures, as alien beings. It wasn't like, "Oh, I saw this being, and it was just a part of my consciousness." No, when the experience happens, it's just like another being. It may not be, but that's the nature of the experience.

so, Dillahunty and Peterson got into this debate about why we ascribe reality to these supernatural beings, whether they're gods, or demons, or fairies, or whatever. But the question that they never quite got around to, and neither of them got into, was why is it when we have a religious experience or why many people have religious experiences, when they encounter something, it is encountered as a being? Without getting into the overactive agency detection and stuff, if you just look at the research on religious experiences, it's very easy to see why people believe in gods and spirits and all these supernatural beings. It's because they have encounters with them, experiences of them. Again, that's not to say that these are objectively real in every way experiences. But it's clear that people do experience what is presented as another being, this supernatural being. So, it doesn't make much sense to me, why a lot of atheists would be so confused as to why people believe in these things, because if you look at the religious experience aspect, that's what happens.

Corey: They just deny that all of that literature exists. They don't read it. They deny that people are having those experiences. Well they deny that it's possible, right, so why even read it, because it's not even possible. You can't have an experience with an alien, because aliens don't exist. But then you ask what you point out, "Well people are having these experiences so, do you just leave them to their own devices?" "Well no that can't be." They base all their credentials, their philosophical viewpoint, their career on this because it's profitable to them, obviously. There is a segment of the population who likes it. Like you said, it's growing.

Harrison: Yeah, well, it's profitable. There are so many ways to take that. A lot of them, like Dillahunty, are ex-pastors or, they were very religious people, until something happened and they basically couldn't go back. I think that is the case with a lot of people who convert from mainstream religion into atheism. A lot of times it's a feature of the religion itself. In Christianity there is a very strong importance placed on truth, and so if you're instilled in the idea that truth is very important idea from a young age, and then you see something in the Bible that doesn't seem truthful, it doesn't seem like it makes sense according to what you know about what truth, what is more important? Believing that one little bit of nonsense, or untruth, or a lie, or holding truth in high regard, as you should? I think a lot of the people that convert out of religion do so for truth, because they regard truth highly.

But then they still get stuck in the details, because they are still taking the religious symbols literally. I was happy to see Collingwood say something to the effect of this in the book because he wrote it almost a hundred years ago, or something like that? Maybe a bit less than a hundred years ago. This is something that other people have said recently too. Peterson says it. When you look at what atheists do, the targets they pick are easy targets. They're shooting fish in a barrel. They take the weakest points, and the weakest arguments that religions and religious people make, and they're like, "Oooh, I refuted your argument, I'm smart." But they don't take the best arguments because then they wouldn't be able to win the argument, and that's what most celebrity atheists want. They just want to win the argument. They want to be the Julius Caesars of the academic atheist world, never having lost a battle. So they will frame the debate in such a way that they can't lose because they're only taking on weak targets. That's one of the beefs that Peterson has with them. They haven't read the deep religious thinkers that have a different outlook. They're not just fundamentalists that take things literally.

But, where I want to go with that is to take a real-world example, get a little bit into the symbol and the narrative structure of a large aspect of the Judeo-Christian mythos. If we look at an example, we'll be able to see the simplistic symbol as literal truth, way of looking at it, and then we'll see the consequences and the implications of looking it like that, and then how that has affected our philosophical notions about reality and god, and even our ideas of science and then hopefully next week we'll be able to get into a possible third option. If the literal symbol isn't true, and if the rejection of that literal symbol is just shooting fish in the barrel, then what is the other option? Is there potentially a deeper truth to be found behind that metaphor? Corey, do you have a description of the eschatological belief in Judeo-Christianity?

Corey: Yeah, so I guess when you look at early Christianity, it's just like a minefield. There's just so much going on, it's hard to tell. But I was going through a lot of recent scholarship and just looking at Saul and Saint Paul. In his context at the time as an apocalyptic Jew, coming from numerous apocalyptic Jewish communities. For them, the end times were there, they were near. For Paul, the death of Christ had initiated this huge domino effect that was going to culminate in the rising of Christ. For Paul, the resurrection was the first part. The second part was the return, which would lead to the resurrection, and then the overthrow of all the worldly powers, and then the final stage of the plan, which was god's plan, was the return of the divine rule of Christ and the full dominion of god's sovereignty over all the earth after years of suffering.

But for Paul, he was opening it up to Jews and Gentiles at the time. It wasn't just Jewish, but that was were he was coming from. It sounds like at the time his philosophy, that religious outlook, was gaining a good number of converts. At that time the names the early Christians had for themselves were like The Way, The Nazarenes. They weren't really necessarily calling themselves Christians, but it was the way they were following. They had the plan of action, of how to act, how to behave, how to purify yourself, what purity meant, not just in terms of Jewish laws like you can't eat pork or you can't eat this or that. It was very intricate. I'm not even going to try to go into the details of what the early Jewish thinking was on purity and impurity for Gentiles, but basically they had this plan in order to re-establish.

Harrison: Did they have the plan or was it god's plan, or was it both?

Corey: It was given to them, it was revelation.

Harrison: Okay.

Corey: And there was apocalyptic literature in the Books of Enoch and basically foretold that the messiah would come, and that this plan would play out, so get ready, now everybody has to live a moral life. This was forty years or so after the death of Caesar. Just imagine what kind of moral impact that had on all those communities, with the Jewish war. Apocalyptic thinking was catching on. Over the course of a few centuries they were discussing whether or not to include the revelation in canon. I read one author - I can't remember - but at the time revelation was really catching on for people! The apocalyptic view was really catching on to people.

So that was kind of the context of the early Christian belief. And then there's the elements of sin, especially in terms of missing the mark. Man can't choose his own fate, basically, is the idea of sin, that everything you do is going to fall apart and that you are completely enslaved to sin. Looking at it now, we could look at it in terms of lower nature. But there was a moral element and out of that sin, that's how god worked his plan. You were basically unconscious of everything that you did, that there was nothing you could do about it. You were going to sin forever, but Jesus' death made it so that you could be forgiven for that sin, and now you could take the benevolent part of god's plan, whereas everyone before, eeehhh.

Harrison: Okay, so there's a few elements. I'll break that story down and state it very simply. There's something wrong in the world and something will happen to make things right again in the world. God will intervene in the world to set it right. There is a social aspect to it and an individual aspect. The social aspect being resetting the social order, right? This will be the Kingdom of God. Reinstituting god's rule on the planet, or at least in the known world, the known region in terms of which these people thought. On the individual level we have sin so there's a state of disconnection we talked about earlier, a separation between man and god, and that wrong, that thing that's disordered or there's something wrong with, that will be righted as well, and you will be put into right alignment with god.

A couple thoughts on both of those thing, one about apocalypticism in general, is that the apocalyptic framework wasn't specifically a Jewish or Christian thing. It was in all the Middle Eastern and Near Eastern cultures at the time. You could find in Greece, North Africa, Persia. The basic apocalyptic idea went something like this: there's something wrong with the way the world is right now, and it was usually because of foreign occupation. So, a different nation or ethnos would come in, take over and occupy the people and their land, and then the priests or the scribes in their religion, the conquered people, the occupied people, would then right these apocalypses, they were called, and in these books, they were like, "Okay, we're currently occupied, this is a state of cosmic chaos, and what will happen is that things will break apart even further. There will be cosmic calamities, comets from the skies, earthquakes, wars and death, and things will break down further, to the point when god intervenes and re-institutes god's rightful rule. So basically, we'll get control of our land and our government again." That was usually accompanied by a messiah-type figure, god's agent in the world.

So, things were bad, because we were basically an occupied people. What's going to happen is that god was going to send his warrior to us to set us free from our captivity, and just very broadly and even using metaphoric language because it's not necessarily a captive people, right? So the reason this applied in the first century was the Roman occupation of Judea, where Paul and the figure of Jesus were allegedly from. In this region, the Romans ruled and the Jews at the time didn't have full self-rule. So it's understandable that using these themes at the time, that was seen as a bad state of affairs, and that god would intervene to set things right.

Now, Paul came in and changed the game a little bit. He still had that framework, but he kind of changed the terms of what was going on, because for a lot of these apocalyptics, it was very literal. God was going to come and he was going to fight for us in our war, and we were going to beat the bad guys, and then things are going to be the way they were again. They're going to come back to this cosmic state of order.

But Paul didn't seem to be really into that kind of thing, Jesus Christ for him wasn't this warlord that was coming to fight a war for Judea against the Romans. Paul famously said in his letter, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and give to God what is God's," or words to that effect. So, Paul was in a sense apolitical. Of course there's always a political aspect to what is going on. But what Collingwood argues is that Christianity - Collingwood doesn't say this - but really what that means is Paul, because most everything we think of as Christianity comes from Paul, and from Paul's own experience and the thought that he developed based on his experiences. He closed the gap between god and man, and again, that's a symbolic thing. We have to ask what that means. When we have this story of god intervening in the world to set things right, that can have a very literal depiction, and a literal meaning. You can have a literal painting of god coming through the sky, appearing and maybe some thunderbolts and lightning, and you've got his little avatar messiah figure fighting the holy war and regaining the control of the land. Then you've got god's kingdom, and it's all very nice and literal, except that we've got this god coming through, this old bearded man in the sky, which doesn't quite match with our experience. So that's a problem, right? Is that a problem, that we can't see a bearded man in the sky? {laughter}

Corey: Is it? I don't know. When I look at what Paul did at that time, reading about all the crazy mystery rites, the initiations, just the widespread need for ritual in ancient Rome and thousands of years of crazy, bizarre processions, self-flagellation, and the sacrifice of animals, what Paul implemented was this, I feel like deep down, a religion of truth, even if it wasn't always that. But with Paul, the value system that brought to bear was, "Okay, no more messing around, let's get serious about our religion. The highest aim is truth, god incarnate, Christ died for your sins." Chris, in the New Testament, refers to himself as the truth, as the way, and at that point, it seems like the idea of religion, through this dogma, became that much more serious and less chaotic and frenzied. It seems like it really provided that fertile ground for the intellect of Western society to develop that would then turn around and devour its own creator, devour the Christian mythos and logos that gave birth to it. But, maybe that's skipping a few steps.

Harrison: What Paul also does is that he made it very practical, in a the way that Jordan Peterson does for a lot of people today. I was "Here is how to sort your life out. Here are some very basic, simple things for you to do in your interactions with people around you." Basically, he brought religion and philosophy out of the sky. It wasn't just some mental exercise that you engaged in, lounging on the weekend in your cigar lounge, not that they had those back then, but it was something very practical that you engage in every day in all your interactions with other people. Religion was how you lived your life, and that was what Paul was constantly haranguing his people for. "Okay, put this in practice. What are you doing? You say you believe in this. Well actually prove it by your actions. Be a decent person," basically". Really, when you read Paul's letters it seems like very simple stuff, but it's the simple stuff that is so difficult to actually put into practice. Well it should be easy, but it isn't/

Corey: We're talking about the elements of this religious thought and just the practical aspects of it. Collingwood writes in The Idea of History about how Christianity revolutionized the study of history for Western society, whereas before Christianity, historians were subject to a number of different errors in the way that they perceived history, whether it was in the history of Rome, as if Rome always existed and would never change and would exist into the far future, or just particular histories, histories of certain cities. When Christianity came around, the idea of sin, and the fact that man was enslaved to sin, and that god's purpose throughout all of the world made it possible for Christian thinkers and historians during those times, to look at every people and look at the world itself as a universal history. It all had a purpose. It all had relevance for the study of history. That all came about because of the concepts that were developed by Paul that were implemented in Christian society and that continued to have their influence all the way up to the 18th century when history really had another radical leap in thought. But at that time there was a lot of problems because they believed they could see the future. That was the problem. You know what's going to happen. God is going to come down and change everything and put everything into its right place, so as soon as somebody knows what the future is, then they're not really doing history anymore. They're writing fan-fiction or whatever. {laughter} But just as a practical effect is in the evolution of the Western thought, thanks to theism. That was one of the practical effects.

Harrison: Oh, just a note for our listeners, we're going to keep this week's show pretty short, and then continue our discussion next week. So, maybe one last theme for discussion before we end this week's show, and that is to look at this idea of god and some of the literal ideas that people have had about god, especially in the monotheistic religions, and then how that has played out and some of the implications that it has had for us today. It has got its roots in that story of there being something wrong in the world, and then god intervening to set it straight.

I think a lot of the problems that we've had over the last couple of hundred years of the clash between science and religion has actually been caused by some of these symbolic ideas that were taken literally, and it's had negative effects on religion today, as well as science. A lot of that can actually be traced back to this idea that was ascribed to god early on, and that is creation out of nothing. In Latin it's called creatio ex-nihilo. This is the idea that god was this all-powerful supernatural being, that out of nothing created the universe.

So there was nothing, there was only god, and then god created this universe. The logical implication of this, is god is omnipotent, god has all the power, and therefore god has complete and total control over that universe, so god can intervene in any way. Basically there are no unbreakable cosmic laws. So if god wants to break the law of gravity for an instant, maybe to float Jesus across the water, then he can do that. But, basically god can do anything, anything that is imaginable god can do, because god is all-powerful.

So god can control people's minds, control their actions, god can destroy the entire universe in any instant, or bring it back in any instant. Basically god can intervene in any way at any time, and those are called miracles. So when god intervenes through his son, Jesus Christ, that is a miracle. That is god intervening in the way the world has naturally been playing itself out, and kind of hitting the reset button a little bit. Well, at certain times, right?

So, god intervenes in the creation that he created out of nothing, and is all-powerful over that creation. There's a lot of implications for that idea. That's why at the beginning of the show, I asked if god was the Cosmic King or the Cosmic Criminal. Atheists would argue either that god is a cosmic criminal or doesn't exist, but also, implicitly, the religious thinkers and believers in an omnipotent god, view god as a cosmic criminal. They both do it, but in a different way. For those who believe in miracles, god is a cosmic criminal, because he is capable and does on occasion, break the physical laws of the universe, through what have traditionally been called miracles. The thing about the way the idea of miracle developed in the Christian tradition, is basically anything kind of supernatural that was in Christian history or believed to have been in Christian history, was considered a miracle. That was god's unique intervention in the affairs of the cosmos. But no other experience from another religion would be classified as a miracle. Those things just either didn't happen, or maybe they were the devil impersonating or fooling people into believing that this was an actual miracle from god.

So in this, we have this tradition of seeing god as the creator of miracles, as the agent behind the miracle, and the miracle as being this unnatural, supernatural event, that only occurs because of the intervention of this transcendent supernatural being with all power. Like I said, there are several bad implications of this, which we won't get into a lot of, but one of which is, if god is all-powerful, then essentially that means that no part of creation can have any agency, because agency is power, the power to self-determine your own life to some degree, and god has all power, then by extension, all agents, all people we think of as agents, ourselves, is in some sense, are all controlled by god. And the implication of that is that god is evil, because god must be therefore directly responsible for any evil in the universe. There are all ways to try to wiggle out of that one, but it all seems to have been an insoluble problem, at least in theology and in the philosophy of religion, because it's one of the arguments that all of the atheists make.

It's also a problem that most religious scholars and theologians have trouble with. They basically have to come to the conclusion either that it's not really evil, like the things we see around us aren't really evil, they think they're evil, but they may actually be good in a larger context. So they might argue this point, but they don't explicitly say that, "Oh, you know, raping and torturing little kids must be a good thing in some way, for us and for god, and for that little kid, because we can't explain how god would let that happen." But it really just comes down to this simplistic and wrong idea of god, because I mentioned this idea that the creatio ex nihilo, creation out of nothing. Well that idea kind of came out of nowhere! It was a creation out of nothing, because traditionally, in the Hebrew scriptures, and even in early Christian thinkers, for the first hundred of two hundred years, that idea didn't exist. What you had was a creation out of chaos, not a creation out of nothing.

So there was something pre-existent, that god then shaped into a habitable order. God didn't create it out of nothing, and the implication of this, is that there are certain things god can't do, because there was a chaos, there was a world, there was a raw material, basically, out of which the universe was formed, and god didn't create that. It was already there. It has its own power, and that is arguably the starting point for how free will can exist, to tie it back to our last show. There is, at the very beginning of all creation, however we measure the beginning, at the most primordial level, there are some things in this chaos that have their own power, and that power arguably is then expressed in higher beings as free will. It's that ability to do something, and that actually can account for evil. Well, do you have anything to say on that, Corey?

Corey: When you were discussing that conception of god as creating everything out of nothing, it makes me think about this need that these atheists, these mechanistic people, this relationship between these people who believe in some super big white bearded daddy in the sky, far away, the people who have that conception of god as the top of the pyramid, the big bad guy who's going to beat everybody up, take names at the end of time and the atheists, they have this symbiotic relationship, because in the 17th century, as people were curious about all the different sorts of psychology, about miracles, and people were naturally starting to think, "Well if miracles occurred in the past, maybe miracles can happen...", like we were talking religious experiences, that people have these crazy religious experiences. It could be fairies, it could be all this, but people, maybe it would be natural for people to start to think "Well maybe that's just a natural part of reality, that sometimes, just crazy, crazy things pop in and do horrible things". But the church at the time or these authoritarian followers of the church, they had to squash that. They had to squash the idea that any other kind of miracle, or any other kind of breaking of the laws would be possible because that's only reserved for their tradition.

So then they turned to the mechanistic philosophy, to basically say no, it's god who created everything, he put everything into place, everything follows these laws and these abstract laws became the foundation of the scientific worldview. We still get to keep our god. He's still out there. He just kind of intervened in some of the things we don't quite understand, but as time has gone on, like you discussed before, god and the gaps has continued to disappear as there become fewer and fewer gaps in terms of this weird cause and effect worldview which for some reason we still discuss it as if we have any idea what it really is. I mean, a cause and effect, everything has a cause and effect, a chain of cause and effect from the beginning to the end, as if there aren't a billion different things impinging on that, so much chaos, and order, and so many things impacting the universe at any different time. But just going back to what I was saying about the religious experiences that people have, the atheists and those diehard theists have basically done a huge number, gas-lighting a large part of the population.

Harrison: Well, we're going to wrap up. Maybe just to sum up some of the ideas that we'll continue to develop next week, to bring back Collingwood's idea about religion and art, the religious symbol of god the father, as this all-powerful being, has been taken literally for 1800 years, at least. One of the results of was that we humans created what became a scientific worldview, out of those assumptions. So, out of that literal view of god as the omnipotent supernatural being that exists outside of creation, and sticks his hand in like a Monty Python god every once in a while to set things the way he wants them to be.

Some of the ways in which that has happened, as you were saying Corey, is because miracles were strictly a Christian thing, proving the truth only of Christianity, that blocked off any scientific study of religious experience, or what we would call parapsychology from very early on. because, well, you don't go there. It was inconvenient evidence because if it were to be shown that a lot of the things described in, for example, the New Testament like the apparition of Jesus in his resurrected body, not necessarily as flesh and blood, there's something kind of spiritual about it, if that were to be shown as a kind of common experience, or just any kind of these weird stories, if some of those were to be found to be more common than people would otherwise believe, that would take away the exclusive truth of Christianity.

So, this actually led to what we have now as our scientific worldview which is based only on your senses. You perceive reality only through your senses. It's atheistic, so there's no god. And it's materialistic. What basically happened is that we had this, materialistic framework to the way the world works, and the only reason that materialistic framework was created to begin with, was to preserve the supernatural omnipotent nature of god. Now, for anyone that's interested in reading the arguments and how that all happened and how it works, there's a book called God Exists but Gawd Does Not, by David Ray Griffin. God Exists, but Gawd, G-A-W-D, Does Not. so the first God, G-O-D, and the second Gawd, G-A-W-D. Arguably, the god that we were talking about for this show is G-A-W-D. It's this omnipotent god that has all the power and that intervenes in creation, and in the causal nexus of what happens in creation. God is the reality behind the symbol. Collingwood would say, an absolute being, or a supreme being, absolute ultimate, the very simós of all creation. So, I think we'll wait until next week, to get into some of that. That sound good Corey?

Corey: That sounds great.

Harrison: Alright, for now, thank you everyone for tuning in, and we'll be back next week. Make sure to tune in tomorrow for Behind The Headlines, and we'll see you then. Everyone take care.

Corey: Have a good week everybody.