Internet Goosing the Antithesis

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Faith and Reason: Part 3

This week I visited the North Texas Church of Freethought, which is the organization which supplied atheists for interview to the "Faith and Reason" class I attended two weeks ago, as well as last week. Since both groups meet at the same time, I had to miss out on this week's "Faith and Reason," which Kevin Harris informed me would focus on "The Beast" of Revelation, given the proximity to June 6th.

I was welcomed as equally by the Freethinkers as I was by the Christians. Especially once I explained that I had heard about their church from attending the interview at the Baptist church, they were very interested to hear what I thought of the experience. The proceedings were conducted less like a church service, and more like a seminar. The theme was: "Forebears of Freethought," and presentations were given on Helen Gurley Brown and George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans). Another member gave a talk on the Left Behind Video Game, and its connection to Rick Warren's "Purpose Driven" Ministry's stealth-dominionist agenda.

I picked up a brochure called, "Freethought 101," which was written by the pastoral director of the church, Dr. Tim Gorski. It establishes the church's definition of freethought, and talks about rationalism, parsimony, materialism, atheism/agnosticism, and morality. To justify its existence as a church, there's an argument made for freethought being a counterpart to religion:
Now reason demands that in thinking about facts we should distinguish between different kinds of facts. There is a world of objective facts and there are worlds of subjective facts. The sound of a voice that we all hear, for example, means something different than the sound of a voice that only one person hears, though theologians and psychiatrists disagree on what the latter means.

Secondly, Freethought is distinguished by its concern with "questions of religion." That is, it concerns those aspects of the human condition that have to do with meaning, morality and purpose and the personal and conscientious intellectual/emotional motivations - "spiritual" motivations in this sense -for such ideas as divinity, eternity, origins and ends, worth, duty, rewards and punishments in this world or some other, and so on. This is why we take the position- and the Church of Freethought is really predicated on the claim- that “Freethought is religion.”
Now there is a lot to think about in this schematic, and I invite you to draw it out and consider it at your leisure. But notice that nowhere is there an axis of reason-unreason. In fact, it is possible to apply reason in all these areas. It's just that below the x-axis there is a lot more potential for disagreement. And when you get over into the religion quadrant it's not even always possible to tell whether someone is being reasonable or not. This is because the relevant facts may be confined inside that single person's individual subjective experience. In fact, even they may later change their mind as to how reasonable they had been.
I'm not sure how I feel about this diagram- by being paired with religion, freethought is placed in the subjective/spiritual section of the diagram. I'm uncomfortable with the idea of placing disciplines on a continuum that incorporates an unintelligible concept like "spirituality." In addition, the freedom of freethought shouldn't be confined to subjective reality- in my opinion, freethought should encompass the three-quarters of the diagram that are not congruent with religion, not the other way around.
Freethinkers make an effort to respect the natural boundaries of subjective and objective human experience and secular and "spiritual" - in a non-supernatural sense - kinds of problems and concerns.
I think this is an admirable effort, but I'm still not sure what a "non-supernatural" "spiritual" thing would be. Perhaps the church should try to clarify their interpretation of this concept, but regardless, they're a fine group of individuals, and they're clearly appreciative of the fellowship and opportunity to exchange ideas, which is commendable. I'll probably be checking them out again.

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At 6/04/2006 5:07 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

These axes are total bullshit. The words "objective" and "subjective" are completely useless, for one thing. I have completely foregone their use, because all they do is cause problems in discussion.

At 6/04/2006 6:23 PM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...

I agree- I'm not sure why the make this argument, other than to justify their existence as a church, but to that I would say: if you enjoy getting together once a month and talking about rationality, then that's all the justification you need.

At 6/04/2006 9:51 PM, Blogger breakerslion declaimed...

Hmm. The human brain, either through basic composition or selective breeding, is capable of being influenced by procedural mummery often called "spiritual". Some of this stimulus-response can even be beneficial, the calming effects of meditation for example. As a species, many of us are driven to explore the unknown, and some turn inward on that path of discovery and some turn outward, and some get caught up in/with religion. The difficulty faced by these "freethinkers" as I see it, is in trying to reconcile the actual, observable, biomechanical effects with the wishful-thinking causes and the base motives that proliferate them.

I also believe that if these were true free thinkers, at least one of them would feel compelled to turn that diagram into a paper airplane or some such in defiance of the attempt to create dogma.

Besides, "everybody knows" that Religion belongs to the East of the Y axis. ;)

At 6/04/2006 11:14 PM, Blogger KP AND REE REE declaimed...

I noticed your blog. I am reading FreeThinkers by Susan Jacoby. Wondering if you have heard of it and/or have any thoughts. I am trying to understand an area i know little about.

At 6/05/2006 7:19 AM, Blogger t.f. declaimed...

The words "objective" and "subjective" are completely useless, for one thing. I have completely foregone their use, because all they do is cause problems in discussion.

Then what in the hell are you fighting for in your "war on relativism"? *eye roll*

At 6/05/2006 8:20 AM, Blogger Vic declaimed...

They jumped the shark the second they actually mentioned obvious bullshit like 'subjective facts'. A fact is a fact is a fact, and is by definition objective, because it's the same to everyone, period.

ZM said: "to that I would say: if you enjoy getting together once a month and talking about rationality, then that's all the justification you need."

Given their use of 'subjective facts', I'd say their discussions are nowhere near being about rationality.

SKP: I've read that Jacoby book. Quite enlightening - it's a shame what a rich secularist heritage we have in the US that is being buried by the religious wingnuts and their historical revisionism

At 6/05/2006 12:35 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

"Then what in the hell are you fighting for in your "war on relativism"? *eye roll*"

What does the war on relativism have to do with this, shithead?

At 6/05/2006 12:42 PM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...

Vic: They jumped the shark the second they actually mentioned obvious bullshit like 'subjective facts'.

Zach: I think that by "subjective facts" they mean "opinions."

At 6/05/2006 3:41 PM, Blogger Trepkos declaimed...

Maybe if they replaced Objective with Exact answers, and Subjective with Fuzzy answers. One can find the gravitational constant with much more accuracy than one can find the reasons and causes of why Geoffrey Dahmer killed people.
Both axes could be labeled in such a manner though.

At 6/05/2006 3:51 PM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...

I think they're stuck in a tight spot because they want to think of themselves as a "church." I think you can define the concept of a church in such a way so as not to muddle with objective/subjective or spiritual/secular.

I think a church can be described as an organization with the purpose of providing a community wherein conclusions regarding the metaphysical nature of reality is a foundational value. As freethinkers, they've adopted a naturalistic stance, and I think that's where their focus should be.

At 4/19/2016 7:56 PM, Blogger GraceS450 declaimed...

Weird that intelligent people would actually pooh-pooh the distinction between subjective and objective. It's just the difference between perceptions that are shared - we both see that two things are the same size or that one is larger - and those than cannot be shared, like chocolate tastes better than vanilla or this color reminds me of the taste of the cookies grandmother used to make. It's not so hard to understand people.



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