Dozens of gatherings dubbed “atheist mega-churches” by supporters and detractors are springing up around the U.S. after finding success in Great Britain earlier this year. The movement fueled by social media and spearheaded by two prominent British comedians is no joke.
On Sunday, the inaugural Sunday Assembly in Los Angeles attracted more than 400 attendees, all bound by their belief in non-belief. Similar gatherings in San Diego, Nashville, New York and other U.S. cities have drawn hundreds of atheists seeking the camaraderie of a congregation without religion or ritual.
“The true formula of atheism is not God is dead - even by basing the origin of the function of the father upon his murder, Freud protects the father - the true formula of atheism is God is unconscious.
In order to properly understand this passage, one has to read it together with another thesis of Lacan. These two dispersed statements should be treated as the pieces of a puzzle to be combined into one coherent proposition. It is only their interconnection (plus the reference to the Freudian dream of the father who doesn’t know that he is dead) that enables us to deploy Lacan’s basic thesis in its entirety:As you know, the father Karamazov’s son Ivan leads the latter into those audacious avenues taken by the thought of the cultivated man, and in particular, he says, if God doesn’t exist… - If God doesn’t exist, the father says, then everything is permitted. Quite evidently, a naïve notion, for we analysts know full well that if God doesn’t exist, then nothing at all is permitted any longer. Neurotics prove that to us every day.
The modern atheist thinks he knows that God is dead; what he doesn’t know is that, unconsciously, he continues to believe in God. What characterizes modernity is no longer the standard figure of the believer who secretly harbors intimate doubts about his belief and engages in transgressive fantasies; today, we have, on the contrary, a subject who presents himself as a tolerant hedonist dedicated to the pursuit of happiness, and whose unconscious is the site of prohibitions: what is repressed are not illicit desires or pleasures, but prohibitions themselves. “If God doesn’t exist, then everything is prohibited” means that the more you perceive yourself as an atheist, the more your unconscious is dominated by prohibitions which sabotage your enjoyment. (One should not forget to supplement this thesis with its opposite: if God exists, then everything is permitted - is this not the most succinct definition of the religious fundamentalist’s predicament? For him, God fully exists, he perceives himself as His instrument, which is why he can do whatever he wants, his acts are in advance redeemed, since they express the divine will…)”
The rhetorical point of departure for civ. is clear and famous (retr. 2.43): ‘Interea Roma Gothorum irruptione agentium sub rege Alarico atque impetu magnae cladis eversa est. Cuius eversionem deorum falsorum multorumque cultores, quos usitato nomine paganos vocamus, in christianam religionem referre conantes, solito acerbius et amarius Deum verum blasphemare coeperunt. Unde ego exardescens zelo domus Dei adversus eorum blasphemias vel errores libros de civitate Dei scribere institui.’ But A.’s rhetorical strategy should not be allowed to obscure the sequence of events that led up to the work.
On 24 August 410 the Visigoths under Alaric entered Rome, remaining to plunder for a few days. The event is of modest importance among the military disasters of the late empire, but it was too obvious a symbol to be viewed by contemporaries with any balanced perspective. Jerome’s disproportionate exclamations of grief (his epp. 123, 127, 130, etc.) are perhaps more famous than they deserve to be; other immediate reactions are lacking. Our main historical sources for the events all date from after years, when the events of that week had become the substance of polemic. How severe the calamity really was cannot be said with certainty. It is safe to infer that there was death and destruction, fire and plunder, and other injuries besides.
A.’s first known reaction to the events came in s. 81, preached at Hippo later in 410. This text gives few circumstantial details of the sack; A. seems uncertain himself and preaches under the assumption that the damage to the city may have been considerable. He makes no mention of what will later be a central piece of his defense, that refugees were granted sanctuary in the basilicas outside the City. There are already refugees coming to Africa, for he closes thus: ‘et in ista occasione multorum peregrinorum, egentium, laborantium, abundet hospsitalitas vestra, abundent bona opera vestra.’ (s. 81.9) There are already murmurs in the air: ‘Locutiones illae, verba illa, quibus nobis dicitur: Ecce quid faciunt tempora christiana, ecce quae sunt scandala. … Ecce quae nobis dicunt pagani: quae nobis dicunt, quod est gravius, mali christiani.’ (s. 81.7-8) But the response A. offers is already marked by the theme of citizenship and pilgrimage: ‘Eia, christiane, coeleste germen, peregrini in terra, qui civitatem in coelo quaeritis, qui angelis sanctis sociari desideratis, intelligite vos sic venisse ut discedatis.’ (s. 81.7) Some of the rhetorical devices that characterize ciu. are also in place: the pagan gods of Rome are reproached for failing to preserve their first home, Troy, and Sallust and Vergil are quoted to drive the point home. In short, there is worry in the air and A. moves quickly to offer Christians the line to take; he shows no sign here that he shares any of the extreme emotional response of a Jerome. The events entail for A., as they always would, a threat against Christianity in the realm of ideas and ideology; the material threat to the stability of the Roman regime is an incidental concern. The response is in an accordingly lofty tone, buttressed with secular and sacred learning and calm reflection.
Erdemt is a 54-year-old former herder (who, like many Mongolians, only goes by one name), and as a shaman, he is considered an intermediary between the human and spiritual worlds. Although he is new to the role – he became a shaman in 2009 – thousands of people, all of them ethnically Mongolian, have visited so that he could decipher nightmares, proffer moral guidance and cure mysterious ills. His patients pay him as much as they wish.
Despite his success, Erdemt’s status as a shaman in China is uniquely precarious. He’s an emerging religious figure in an officially atheist state, an expression of ethnic pride amid roiling ethnic tensions, and an embodiment of the distant past in a rapidly changing present. His China is one of resource extraction, mass migration and cultural upheaval. It is a constant exercise in compromise and restraint.
In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Sunday programme , Lord Jonathan Sacks said the growth of individualism over the past 50 years was responsible for a pervasive breakdown in trust.
"When trust breaks down, you see institutions break down," he continued.
He will be replaced by Ephraim Mirvis, a former chief rabbi of Ireland.
Lord Sacks, 65, who is to step down next month after 22 years in office, highlighted the 2008 financial crisis and the declining marriage rate.
He said: “I think we’re losing the plot actually. I think we haven’t really noticed what’s happened in Britain.”
He added: “If people work for the maximum possible benefit for themselves then we will not have trust in industry, in economics, in financial institutions, we will not see marriages last.”
He also said institutions, including marriage, broke down “when you begin to lose faith and society becomes very, very secularised”.
"It’s not the fault of one government or another, and it’s not even the fault of government," he added.
"It’s the fault of what we call culture, which is society talking to itself."
One of the Buddha’s primary doctrinal innovations was to fundamentally alter the then prevailing notion of karma in Indian religious thought. While the word “karma” simply means “action”, the Buddha virtually redefined the term from ritual action to volitional action. The effect was to ethicize the concept, making intention central to the karmic results of any deed.
In some instances, intention itself is sufficient to bear some degree of karmic consequence. So, for example, simply thinking unwholesome thoughts will have negative karmic effects. Those effects, of course, are magnified by actually committing the deed. The important alteration in the Buddhist theory is the distinction between action in general and intentional action (the latter of which bears karmic consequences).
Among Myanmar’s Buddhists, it is a relatively common belief that if an action or its result is not intentional there is no moral or karmic culpability. For example, in one of the Jataka tales (one of the hundreds of stories of the Buddha’s past lives), a king and his advisors discuss the king’s deeds and the merit or demerit that follows from them.
Are “family values” a taboo topic for the left? For one thing, there may be a language problem. “Family values terminology is so closely connected to the 1980s and Jerry Falwell-esque way of framing it — it’s an immediate turn-off,” said Brad Wilcox, the Director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. “You should be talking about a ‘family-friendly agenda.’”
True, for those who lean to the left, the phrase “family values” tends to bring back uncomfortable memories of the Reagan era and the “Moral Majority.” But there’s a deeper issue: An important and damaging intellectual collapse in the way the public talks about politically charged topics.
When it comes to issues like gay marriage, welfare, and abortion, liberal politicians and intellectuals are vocal and often indignant. But they’re quieter about the ways that traditional “family values” are guiding their own choices. The irony is that college-educated, wealthier Americans who identify with the left are overwhelmingly raising their kids in two-parent households. This is no coincidence: Research indicates that family stability (i.e., couples who wait to have kids until they’re married and then stay married) makes a difference in income equality and social mobility.
This public/private divide raises a problem: It’s like stable marriage and community are the secret sauce of economic well-being that nobody on the left wants to admit to using. As Kay Hymowitz, a researcher at the Manhattan Institute who studies the relationship between family issues and economics, put it, “They are choosing that route in part because they know on some deep level that it is the way their children will be able to remain in the middle class.”
Read more. [Michael Gil/Flickr]
Although magical thinking might be less pervasive in the sparkling hospital wards of Europe and the private clinics of New York than inside the healer’s hut, it is still significant. According to a survey on the British Medical Journal website in 2007, only about half of all clinical practices rest upon a solid evidence base. Plenty of doctors would rather prescribe a useless antibiotic for an earache than do nothing at all (and many parents pressure them to do so). Question them, and they will complain that their authority is being stripped away. They are second-guessed by Google, second-fiddle to the wonder-drug makers, and second-class in the eyes of the actuaries. More than anything, these doctors find themselves crushed under a sea of data, data that can conflict with their most cherished rituals and ideas. The annual checkup, argued Lasse T Krogsbøll and colleagues in the British Medical Journal last year, does no good and can even do harm. Ditto prostate screening, according to the final recommendations of the US preventive services task force in 2012. Bad cholesterol is not so bad after all, said researchers at Texas A&M University in 2011.
Maurice Iwu, the esteemed Nigerian ethnopharmacologist and author of the Handbook of African Medicinal Plants (1993), has railed against Europeans who try to modernise African medicine by preserving its rational elements and dispensing with the magical ones. ‘The use of herbs in combination with the power of the human spirit, assistance from the gods, and other unseen forces constitutes a fundamental aspect of African ethnomedicine,’ he has written. Iwu and other proponents of traditional and alternative medicine often frame it as a cultural issue, suggesting that science, which they associate exclusively with the West, cannot possibly cast judgment outside that realm.
All these profound matters must be suggested in short and imperfect phrases; and the shortest statement of one aspect of this illumination is to say that it is the discovery of an infinite debt. It may seem a paradox to say that a man may be transported with joy to discover that he is in debt. But this is only because in commercial cases the creditor does not generally share the transports of joy; especially when the debt is by hypothesis infinite and therefore unrecoverable. But here again the parallel of a natural love-story of the nobler sort disposes of the difficulty in a flash. There the infinite creditor does share the joy of the infinite debtor; for indeed they are both debtors and both creditors. In other words debt and dependence do become pleasures in the presence of unspoilt love; the word is used too loosely and luxuriously in popular simplifications like the present; but here the word is really the key. It is the key of all the problems of Franciscan morality which puzzle the merely modern mind; but above all it is the key of asceticism. It is the highest and holiest of the paradoxes that the man who really knows he cannot pay his debt will be for ever paying it. He will be for ever giving back what he cannot give back, and cannot be expected to give back. He will be always throwing things away into a bottomless pit of unfathomable thanks. Men who think they are too modern to understand this are in fact too mean to understand it; we are most of us too mean to practise it. We are not generous enough to be ascetics; one might almost say not genial enough to be ascetics. A man must have magnanimity of surrender, of which he commonly only catches a glimpse in first love, like a glimpse of our lost Eden. But whether he sees it or not, the truth is in that riddle; that the whole world has, or is, only one good thing; and it is a bad debt.”G.K. Chesterton, Saint Francis of Assisi Chapter V
… For when we approach the utterances and activities of an alien culture with a well-established classification of genres in our mind and ask of a given rite or other practice “Is it a piece of applied science? Or a piece of symbolic and dramatic activity? Or a piece of theology?” we may in fact be asking a set of questions to which any answer may be misleading … For the utterances and practices in question may belong, as it were, to all and to none of the genres that we have in mind. For those who engage in the given practice the question of how their utterances are to be interpreted—in the sense of “interpretation” in which to allocate a practice or an utterance to a genre is to interpret it, as a prediction, say, rather than as a symbolic expression of desire, or vice versa—may never have arisen. If we question them as to how their utterances are to be interpreted, we may therefore receive an answer which is sincere and yet we may still be deceived. For we may, by the very act of asking these questions, have brought them to the point where they cannot avoid beginning to construe their own utterances in one way rather than another. But perhaps this was not so until we asked the question. Perhaps before that time their utterances were poised in ambiguity … Myths would then be seen as perhaps potentially science and as literature and theology; but to understand them as myths would be to understand them as actually yet none of these. Hence the absurdity involved in speaking of myths as misrepresenting reality; the myth is at most a possible misrepresentation of reality, for it does not aspire, while still only a myth, to be a representation.”Alasdair MacIntyre, “Rationality,” pp. 252-53
quoted in Jürgen Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action Volume One, pp. 62-63
Brenner found that the United States and Canada were outliers—not in religious attendance, but in overreporting religious attendance. Americans attended services about as often as Italians and Slovenians and slightly more than Brits and Germans. The significant difference between the two North American countries and other industrialized nations was the enormous gap between poll responses and time-use studies in those two countries.
Why do Americans and Canadians feel the need to overreport their religious attendance? You could say that religiosity for Americans is tied to their identity in a way that it is not for the Germans, the French, and the British. But that only restates the mystery. Why is religiosity tied to American identity?
I have said enough to put the character of Anglo-American civilization in its true light. It is the result ( and this should be constantly kept in mind) of two distinct elements, which in other places have been in frequent disagreement, but which the Americans have succeeded in incorporating to some extent one with the other and combining admirably. I allude to the spirit of religion and the spirit of liberty.
The settlers of New England were at the same time ardent sectarians and daring innovators. Narrow as the limits of some of their religious opinions were, they were free from all political prejudices.
Hence arose two tendencies, distinct but not opposite, which are everywhere discernible in the manners as well as the laws of the country.
Men sacrifice for a religious opinion their friends, their family, and their country; one can consider them devoted to the pursuit of intellectual goals which they came to purchase at so high a price. One sees them, however, seeking with almost equal eagerness material wealth and moral satisfaction; heaven in the world beyond, and well-being and liberty in this one.
Under their hand, political principles, laws, and human institutions seem malleable, capable of being shaped and combined at will. As they go forward, the barriers which imprisoned society and behind which they were born are lowered; old opinions, which for centuries had been controlling the world, vanish; a course almost without limits, a field without horizon, is revealed: the human spirit rushes forward and traverses them in every direction. But having reached the limits of the political world, the human spirit stops of itself; in fear it relinquishes the need of exploration; it even abstains from lifting the veil of the sanctuary; it bows with respect before truths which it accepts without discussion.
Thus in the moral world everything is classified, systematized, foreseen, and decided beforehand; in the political world . everything is agitated, disputed, and uncertain. In the one is a passive though a voluntary obedience; in the other, an independence scornful of experience, and jealous of all authority. These two tendencies, apparently so discrepant, are far from conflicting; they advance together and support each other.
Religion perceives that civil liberty affords a noble exercise to the faculties of man and that the political world is a field prepared by the Creator for the efforts of mind. Free and powerful in its own sphere, satisfied with the place reserved for it, religion never more surely establishes its empire than when it reigns in the hearts of men unsupported by aught beside its native strength.
Liberty regards religion as its companion in all its battles and its triumphs, as the cradle of its infancy and the divine source of its claims. It considers religion as the safeguard of morality, and morality as the best security of law and the surest pledge of the duration of freedom.”Alexander Tocqueville, Democracy in America, pp.42-43