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October 13th, 2010
07:00 AM ET

Hitchens brothers debate if civilization can survive without God

Editor's Note: CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor Eric Marrapodi files this report from Washington, DC.

Brothers Christopher and Peter Hitchens squared off Tuesday in a debate over whether civilization can survive without God. Christopher, the older of the two, is a renowned atheist thinker and author. Peter, the lesser known of the two, is a practicing Christian and also a well-regarded author.

Christopher Hitchens is going through a very public battle with cancer, a subject that came up often during the debate. Michael Cromartie from the Ethics and Public Policy Center, moderated the debate and mentioned Christopher, who lives in the District of Columbia, was attending in between doctor appointments. Peter Hitchens had flown in from England specifically for the lunchtime debate.

Christopher Hitchens arrived with a white straw Panama hat. Beneath the hat he has no hair, lost from cancer treatments. Though noticeably thinner, Hitchens did not seem to suffer any intellectual consequences from his treatment.

He argued civilization could survive without God and in many cases is surviving without God.

“There used to be a word which could be used unironically,” he said. “People meant what they said when they said the word Christendom. There was a Christian world. Partly evolved, partly carved out by the sword, partly defended by the sword, giving way and expanding at times. But it was a meaningful name for a community of belief and value that endured for many, many centuries. It had many splendors to its name, but it’s all gone now.”

He said that today, in “huge parts of what we might call the industrialized modern world, tens of millions of people live in a post-religious society. It’s hard to argue that they lead conspicuously less civilized lives than their predecessor generations.”

He added, “I don’t think it’s really true to say that we live less civilized a life than those of our predecessors, who believed there was a genuine religious authority who spoke with power.”

To further his point he added examples from his own life of interacting with people of faith.

“If you go around the provincial halls and public theaters as I do, whenever I can, and engage in belief and the believers you’ll find to an extraordinary extent an ethical humanism with a vague spiritual content. It’s extremely commonplace.”

He specifically pointed to two American examples: Reform Judaism and self-described American “cafeteria Catholics” who pick and choose aspects of their faith they find appealing. That, he argued, proved God, and to a larger extent organized religion, are unnecessary to continuing civilization.

His brother Peter took the opposite side. He was quick to clarify later in the event he was arguing from the perspective of Christianity and not from the perspective of all religions.

In Peter Hitchens’ remarks he described his time as a journalist covering the fall of Mogadishu and the crumbling of his boyhood neighborhood in England to roving thugs. He said both examples showed a massive decline of civilization, and he said the civilization we see today could disappear.

“The behavior of human beings towards one another has sunk to levels not far from the Stone Age,” he said.

In addressing his specific boyhood neighborhood, he asked, “How has this decline come about in civilization?”

“Well I think it has come about, a least partly, and I’m not a single-cause type of person, but at least partly there is no longer in the hearts of the English people the restraints of the Christian religion that used to prevent this type of behavior. I think it would be completely idle to image the two things are not related.”

He continued and drew a parallel to his argument with American and British society. “The extraordinary combination which you in this country and I in mine used to enjoy, and may for some time continue, of liberty and order, seem to me to only occur where people take into their hearts the very, very, powerful messages of self-restraint without mutual advantage, which is central to the Christian religion.”

While the two were on opposite ends of the spectrum when it came to the role and place of God in civilization, they did find unique common ground on Christopher Hitchens' cancer.

During the question-and-answer session, NPR Religion Correspondent Barbara Bradley Hagerty asked Christopher about the prayers of support he had received from Christians.

Hitchens responded, “Obviously expressions of solidarity are welcome and very touching to me. And whatever form they take.”

But he continued, “I do resent, always have resented, the thought it should in some way be assumed now that you [with a potentially fatal illness] may be terrified, or that is to say, miserable. Or as it might be depressed. Surely now it would be the ideal time to abandon the principles of a lifetime. I’ve always thought this to be a rather repulsive approach.”

His brother Peter jumped in right after in a show of support and said, “I also think it would be quite grotesque to imagine someone would have to get cancer to see the merits of religion. It’s just an absurd idea. I don’t know why anyone imagines it should be certain.”

The event was put on by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. It was billed as a conversation between the brothers and the press. As a result, no winner of the debate was announced.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Atheism • Christianity

soundoff (671 Responses)
  1. Ben

    If there is a god, he certainly isn't perfect. The fact that christians can accept the fact that this " all loving " god can sit back while people suffer, and brush it off as " free will " is absolutely ridiculous. The bible is no more than a story put together by MAN, to teach lessons that were valid in the TIME IT WAS WRITTEN. Organized religion is good for two things – 1) Social status and 2) breeding hate and dividing people.

    October 13, 2010 at 11:58 am |
    • David Johnson

      Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge. So god created disease. He constructed the tick and the flea, and the tape worm and the mosquito. He caused the animals to prey on one another. God did this to teach...what lesson, to the subsequent generations? The desire for knowledge is evil? Just read your bible and believe? What lesson?

      But you say man did it to ourselves. Really? Did these things spontaneously generate as the fruit was chewed? So when a person is placed under the lash or upon the rack, he brought it upon himself? No matter how hideous the penalty, the person applying the punishment bears no guilt? Did no one fashion the lash or devise the rack?

      Some say, "This world is basically a spiritual battleground/classroom that we apparently have created in order to learn from, after all."

      So you are contending that God allows some evil because it builds positive character in the victims or in others which outweighs the negative value of the evil itself (e.g., John Hick).

      I don't think "we" created the classroom of pain. God would have had to create it. This is like the fundie claim, that god doesn't send you to hell, you send yourself to hell. Make no mistake. God sends people to hell.

      If God exists, we must have evidence that all of the evils we see are means to a higher purpose. All the pain and suffering should have the purpose of teaching. But even fundies admit there is no evidence. That is why they must resort to talking about the mysterious ways in which God works. There's no evidence at all, that 300 to 500 million people dying from Smallpox in the 20th century, is for a greater good.

      Even if suffering is a teaching tool, God would only allow as much evil or suffering as is absolutely necessary in order to achieve a greater purpose. Any suffering above that necessary to learn, would be overkill. But when we look at the world around us, we find prevalent instances of apparently gratuitous evil—pointless suffering from which no greater purpose seems to result.

      As William Rowe points out, when a fawn burns to death in a forest fire and no human being ever knows about it, this apparently unnecessary evil does nothing to build the character of human beings. It is just suffering.

      Again I ask, how would this scenario look different if there was no god? Would there be suffering for no apparent reason? Would there be more evil than could ever be necessary to preserve either free will or for soul making?
      The answer once again, is: The scenario would look exactly the same.

      If there is no difference between god and no god, then what good is god?

      October 13, 2010 at 2:15 pm |
    • Ben

      Typical rebuttal from a typical bible belter. Your argument is generic and old.

      October 13, 2010 at 2:39 pm |
    • Inyourdreams

      @ Ben
      Free will absolutely does make sense. The only way in which the will of no other creature could possibly impeded me, is if I was the only creature alive. As soon as you have just one other creature and their paths cross, you have the possiblity that A will do something that B doesn't like. If A wants his path to be going downhill, and B is coming in the opposite direction, he must by necessity be travelling uphill. Fill the world with billions of creatures and the wills of individuals cross. At any point in time God could intervene ensure no one's will, if meant for bad, could be mobilized. For instance, if A has a bat and wants to hit B, God could render the bat like silly putty. But to do so would require God to intervene billions of times each day to prevent free wills from functioning. How many times a day do you lust after a woman, but suppose she would be offended by you lusting after her. Shouldn't God intervene to stop your thoughts from offending her? Wouldn't he have to intervene dozens of times a day? Therefore God gives man a long leash and then holds him accountable for the free will he has exercised while in the flesh.

      October 14, 2010 at 12:00 am |
  2. CN

    on a completely different note, it's good to see Hitchens vs. Hitchens again, as they are both masters of the english language. i thought the implication from their first debate, as Peter said, "... they might turn into gladiatorial combat in which nothing would be resolved and enmity could be created."

    October 13, 2010 at 11:52 am |
    • David Johnson

      I could listen to them all day long!

      October 13, 2010 at 12:34 pm |
  3. Reality

    "Do no harm and Repect thy Neighbor" is all the human race needs to survive. Notice, god is not mentioned.

    October 13, 2010 at 11:51 am |
    • Selfish Gene

      Just like the con sti tut ion!

      October 13, 2010 at 5:28 pm |
  4. ¡Bingo!

    Do as you would be done by–or... do not do to others that which you do not want them to do to you. This as much religion as you need and thusly you can avoid Inquisitions and the Reigns of Terror. Can't really see why the god fiction has to come into it.

    October 13, 2010 at 11:49 am |
  5. runswithbeer

    The relationship between a Supreme Being and a person does not require organized religion. I have no idea who created the Universe. NO ONE DOES. If there are creators then they have chosen NOT reveal themselves. Organized Religion in my view is simply a tool for the few to impose their will on the many. I do know this, when I look up into the night sky or gaze at the beauty of the country side I know someone or something is out there smarter than myself and after 60 years of searching I still have no idea who is out there.

    October 13, 2010 at 11:49 am |
  6. Reality

    China's respect for human rights is non-existent but they have accomplished a lot without god.

    October 13, 2010 at 11:48 am |
    • John

      5,000 years of practice leads to a lot of social stability.

      Although it's worth noting that while they don't have a Judeo-Christian god, China does enjoy the social order-reinforcing doctrines of Confucianism.

      October 13, 2010 at 12:30 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @Reality

      Yeah, they have accomplished enough so that our Christian children may be working in Chinese fast food restaurants.

      October 13, 2010 at 12:32 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @John

      And..... Taoism, and some populations of Buddhism as well.

      October 13, 2010 at 7:52 pm |
  7. Richard Mavers

    The bad thing about debates like this are that people start with picking a side and just agree with everything their side says and disagree with everything the other side says. Look at debates on youtube and in the comments section each side claims victory. People (on BOTH sides) aren't mature enough to consider that they might be wrong.

    October 13, 2010 at 11:45 am |
  8. TiredODaCrap

    Lot of blow-hards tooting their own intellecutal horns in the comments to this story. Actually thought the article was interesting, but reading the reader's comments has ruined that for me. Thanks....

    In the words of the moderator of the debate in "Happy Gilmore", we are all now dumber for having listen to (read) your response(s)!

    October 13, 2010 at 11:44 am |
    • SayWut

      There is an old saying, "Tis better to be silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt." – Abraham Lincoln

      You, sir, have removed all doubt.

      That quote is from "Billy Madison". An Adam Sandler movie, yes, but a completely different story than "Happy Gilmore".

      October 14, 2010 at 3:34 am |
  9. Realist

    In order to have an argument both sides need to agree on a few base assumptions. There is no way either side is ever going to agree on these simple assumptions (i.e. God needs/doesn't need any explanation to exist). Therefore all that can be requested is for all you "There is a god people" to do the rest of us a favor and keep your religious beliefs out of the government that rules as all. That should be a very basic right of mine to not be ruled by beliefs from a book I don't believe in.
    And as an after thought. Nothing makes less sense then religious people calling other religions bogus, please leave that to us atheist. There is no reason a Christian can make fun of Scientology for having funny or nonsensical beliefs.

    October 13, 2010 at 11:41 am |
  10. nord

    If religious faith is so necessary for morality, why are atheists and agnostics sent to prison at less than half the national rate? Do they all convert when they're Mirandized?

    October 13, 2010 at 11:39 am |
  11. Angelique

    I can no more believe in "God" then I can believe in the Tooth Fairy. The whole concept has always smacked of conceit to me. "Well I'm going to retreat into my head & envision a great big man hovering over me in the sky. Then I'll assign him supernatural powers. I'll then cower in fear for the rest of my life, knowing He/God/It is keeping an eye on my every move. Oh, but I can shirk personal responsibility all I want, because I'll be able to blame God for my failings."

    October 13, 2010 at 11:26 am |
    • nord

      Angelique, though they're perhaps the most vocal of the Christian groups, the people who justify destructive behavior on the forgiveness doctrine are (I hope) in the minority. I remember my grandmother, a person of deep faith (that I never shared), who used her religion as a guide to personal behavior, as we might hope all people of faith would. She believed in honesty, forgiveness, and redemption, and also in personal responsibility for the world she lived in. It led her to civil rights, anti-war stances and a general acceptance of others. She also marched for women's votes, but that's another story. But I know from her example that the screaming hate-mongers who believe that they'll be forgiven no matter what they do aren't the whole story.

      October 13, 2010 at 11:51 am |
    • Angelique

      Nord, that your grandmother found a way to endure the trials & tribulations of life is a good thing. My point is, common sense can go a long way. It's wrong to hurt others. Do I really need a book and a floating Superman to remind me of that? The very act of prayer is selfish. When you can be ladling soup to the homeless, doing real-life activities that assist humanity, you're holed up in yourself, your thoughts, talking to the ether. I'm sorry, I know I'm coming across as a snot here, but I've been flabbergasted my whole life through that any rational, thinking being can subscribe to the god concept.

      October 13, 2010 at 12:01 pm |
    • nord

      Angelique, I tend to agree, but still have to give a nod (albeit a cautious one) to people for whom faith serves simply as a guide to leading an exemplary life. It does happen, and we need to keep it in mind. On the admittedly rare occasions when we see a fundamentalist "walk the walk" and do something admirable and fine, it can be enough to make me forget, for a time, that such faith can also be an impetus to truly heinous behavior. But I have seen both.

      October 13, 2010 at 12:05 pm |
    • Angelique

      Nord,speaking as one who majored in anthropology I've given a lot of thought to the question "can a civilization can endure without religion?" Yes, religion does provide a bond, a glue, for a culture. And yes, it gives those bereft of common sense a moral rubric. That being said, Christopher Hitchens point is that religion in its modern form has ceased to have deep meaning & is becoming increasingly irrelevant. We have new cultural glues now, chiefly, the internet. And while there are those rare people who use religion healthily, such as your grandmother, the ones who use the banner of their religion as a rallying cry, as an excuse for warfare, unfortunately get the most attention.

      October 13, 2010 at 12:27 pm |
    • nord

      Again, Angelique, I agree.

      October 13, 2010 at 12:30 pm |
    • Angelique

      It's great to have a civilized conversation with someone about religion, especially on the internet! Nice chatting with you Nord...

      October 13, 2010 at 12:39 pm |
    • nord

      Is this where we promise to annihilate each other?

      October 13, 2010 at 12:45 pm |
    • Angelique

      Probably. It's not very internet-ian of us to be so polite.We should probably flame up now...so, um, yo mama!

      October 13, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
    • nord

      Unfortunately, my 84-year-old mama remains quite capable of defending herself. So we'll have to accept that we're terminally civil and let it go at that. And I was so hoping for a reality show...

      October 13, 2010 at 1:17 pm |
  12. Mark from Middle River

    Raison –

    Hey Buddy there was something that you said that sounded very very familiar.

    "I may condemn their choice, but not the people themselves. They deserve pity and I wish there was some way of healing them of their delusional belief systems but science has not gotten that far yet. We can only try to de-program them."

    So you condemn a choice but not the people themselves. Ok, in another thread you had nothing but scorn for those of Faith, but lets compare.

    Person of hate : Being gay is a choice. We hate the sin of being gay but we love the person who sins.
    Raison: "I may condemn their choice, but not the people themselves."

    Person of hate: we need to pray for those who are gay and find a cure for them.
    Raison: " They deserve pity and I wish there was some way of healing them"

    I could go on and on Raison but its like dad told me about when I came home from elementary school and told him a Polish joke. He corrected me and told me that the joke became a "N-g-r" joke the very second I left the room. A lot of your response post today, all I would need to do is remove a word targeting a subject and I could probably lip sync it over a Hitler speech or more mundane, you and Pat Roberston 700 club sound crazy similar. I mean Raison, you are talking about reprogramming people to think as you do. You have to admit that is a bit much kid. Raison it is time to drop these hatreds enough to find a way that folks can find out how to work together. The pope might not be here but I know I. a person of the Christian faith, am.

    Raison : "Every dance hall has been driven out of existence here, one after the other. " Good grief dude, please do not tell me ..... I think I need to find my sound track of the movie Footloose.

    October 13, 2010 at 11:25 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Here yah go Raison

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUsNpfXwEy0&w=640&h=360]

      October 13, 2010 at 11:34 am |
    • nord

      The way I read it, Raison was parodying people of faith. "Oh, I pray every night for the Lord to open your eyes!"

      October 13, 2010 at 11:42 am |
    • Raison

      @Mark
      Okay, I will address your vicious and uncalled-for attack upon my words.

      You said, "Ok, in another thread you had nothing but scorn for those of Faith, but lets compare."

      If I have scorn for those of "Faith", rest assured that this is on an individual basis.
      If you act like a [expletive], and I believe it is because of your belief system, then my anger will be expressed accordingly.
      If you can't handle this, tough. I don't have to be consistent all the time. I am not perfect and neither are you.

      You go on to put my words next to "Person of hate". I personally find this to be extremely offensive.

      You are really plssing me off, Mark. Why the fck are you doing this? Why are you being such a shlt?

      Did I plss you off with my other responses or something? What the heII is wrong with you???

      And I am not a fcking racist or a religious whack job. I resent these insinuations extremely. I know you are dark-skinned, yet have I ever, in ANY of my fcking posts, called you the N-word or anything like that??? NO I HAVE NOT!
      I'm not even fcking ho-mophobic! WHY the FCK are you being such a PRlCK?

      You'd better have a FCKING GOOD EXPLANATION FOR YOUR INSULTING POST, 'cause there isn't much that could excuse your behavior right now..........................................

      October 13, 2010 at 12:06 pm |
    • HA25

      Umm – WHAT? Your quotes attributable to a "person of hate" are attributable, in may cases, to the Pope himself as well. Your ascribing racism or hate to these people in these cases is opinion at best but more clearly is just nonsensical. And certainly not comparable to the entries from Raison to date. I suggest you drop this line entirely.

      October 13, 2010 at 12:51 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Mark: Never thought I would say this but... you have a point. And it seems you've hit a nerve with Raison. Maybe it's time to make peace.
      @Raison: You seem to have lost your "raison" and went right to the ranting and name-calling... seems to me that's not very reasonable at all.

      October 13, 2010 at 4:31 pm |
    • Raison

      @Frogist

      Mark makes a post that is grossly insulting to me and you say he has a POINT?????
      He snidely insinuates that I am these disgusting things and you AGREE with him????
      Well, fck you too, you sleazy slimy little bltch!
      I'm sorry I ever thought you were nice.
      You just s-u-c-k.

      I was polite to you in the past, but we all do things we regret later. Don't ever fcking talk to me again.

      October 13, 2010 at 5:26 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Not sure what all the fuss is about, I think Mark's comparison is invalid.

      Person of hate : Being gay is a choice. We hate the sin of being gay but we love the person who sins.
      Raison: "I may condemn their choice, but not the people themselves."

      Since being gay is not a choice, condemning ho.mose.xuals is condemning them, not their choice. That is the fallacy of many anti-gay positions.

      October 13, 2010 at 6:05 pm |
  13. George Greek

    Ethics and morality are not solely predicated upon, or reliant upon organized religions in order to flourish and exist. They can, and do stand independently from religions. Human beings have this innate characteristic called intelligence and intuition, upon which they can use to understand and practice empathy, logic, right and wrong, etc. Ever since I personally became less religious, and more 'reality based', I have come to appreciate life more, being that now it seems more precious and finite. Thusly, I have come to appreciate and practice living a moral and empathetic life moreso than when I was a Christian. I consider myself an Agnostic, fully believing that the only logical approach to the grand philosophical and cosmological question of god's existence is that we humans just don't know. Either way, we have NO proof of the past or present existence of a 'superior being', so the subject is not an important one in my life. I feel more honest and humbled by my realization now.

    October 13, 2010 at 11:23 am |
  14. Platypus

    People on Earth may not be the dreams of the gods, but the gods are the dreams of these people...

    October 13, 2010 at 11:22 am |
  15. stevie68a

    This Halloween season, I remind people that the jesus story reads like a horror tale. Drinking jesus' blood: Vampires! Being
    raised from the dead: Zombie jesus! Eating of his body: Cannibals! A crucifix: A Voodoo doll!
    One thing about "the greatest story ever told"- stories are sometimes FICTION.
    jesus is Santa Claus for adults. It is time to grow up.

    October 13, 2010 at 11:19 am |
  16. Mockingbird

    @thinkpoint
    As I understand it, you are saying that it is possible that a thing does not need a cause. And you say that thing is God. But if is possible that a thing does not need a cause, why can't that thing be the Universe?

    October 13, 2010 at 11:18 am |
    • Raison

      @Mockingbird

      Wow. Damn good point!

      October 13, 2010 at 11:24 am |
    • David Johnson

      Yep, that is the standard reply to the Cosmological Argument. If your god can always have existed, I claim the same for my universe.

      This is even more true today. Hawking and other scientists are working on a theory of everything. This M theory if it holds up, does not require a god, even to explain the existence of the singularity.

      October 13, 2010 at 12:23 pm |
    • David Johnson

      I will print this quote once more. It is a good quote.

      If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument. It is exactly of the same nature as the Indian’s view, that the world rested upon a tortoise; and when someone said, “How about the tortoise?”, the Indian said, “Suppose we change the subject.” – Bertrand Russell

      October 13, 2010 at 12:26 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @David Johnson

      And one of my favorites... the rest of the story that is said by the Indian is when asked....." Why, it's turtles all the way down............"

      October 13, 2010 at 7:44 pm |
    • thinkpoint

      You avoid the point by changing the discussion.

      October 26, 2010 at 9:07 pm |
  17. Bruce

    I think the more important question is can civilization continue to survive with religion. With religions ability to divert man to destructive courses, as witnessed worlwide with terrorist attacks made in the name of Allah, do we someday face the possibility of religous inspired nuclear terroism?

    October 13, 2010 at 10:58 am |
    • Kevin

      That's a silly question. It always has, and it always will.

      October 13, 2010 at 11:00 am |
    • Luke

      Kevin – That is actually a very valid and cerebral question. It is no fantasy to currently regard the state of Islam with the way we read about the Crusades. Just imagine if the Christian Crusaders had nuclear bombs and biological weapons instead of swords. I suggest you ponder this before attempting to rebutt.

      October 13, 2010 at 11:13 am |
    • civilioutside

      It's a valid question. As technologies advance, we've reached a point where a relatively small number of people can do vastly disproportionate amounts of damage. Couple that capability with a belief that global destruction is a desirable thing in order to "save souls from sin" or because "paradise can only be found outside of this existence," (concepts that are foundational in some religions, and altogether absent from atheistic worldviews), and it certainly does become legitimate to wonder if, or for how much longer, human civilization can survive religion.

      October 13, 2010 at 2:08 pm |
  18. Papa_K

    Interesting I am not an athesit myself however I do not believe in organized religion nor do I believe that our laws should be based on religious doctrine. I think religion has played an ugly part in our civilization as it justifies behavior. It makes people think that they can make excues for their actions as long as they are religious. As stated in the article above, people tend to take certain parts of religion without consideration of the whole. Religion was used in the past to educate people and to instill fear of the unknown. The unknown still being the rath of a being much higher than yourself with the authority being someone who is the spokes person for that religion who is bias themself. My opinion is that religion is wrong.

    October 13, 2010 at 10:58 am |
  19. joan

    There is nothing wrong with "cafeteria Catholics".. in a sense why would an atheist attack such people anyway. One of the big arguments by atheists is always against organized religion and how "stupid" we all are for having them. Well, then if people are willing to dissect their religious organizations and pick out which best suits their spiritual needs... what's the problem. The whole concept of religion-not organization based but faith based- is that people have a unique relationship with God or gods and in that sense there is not a soul on earth who is more right than the next.

    October 13, 2010 at 10:56 am |
    • DarthWoo

      There is something wrong when that religion, whether through a supposed personal relationship or through an organized church, gives people an irrational justification for committing the most heinous acts of barbarism and discrimination. Whether it be things on a small scale like mutilating the genitals of women because the religion teaches that women should never receive pleasure from intercourse, discriminating against those who are merely genetically different because the religion teaches that they are "unclean", to larger scale genocides and murders in the name of a deity, religion can drive people to absurd and atrocious acts.

      October 13, 2010 at 11:02 am |
    • Jess

      @joan
      While I think "cafeteria" style religion leads to better people than "fundamentalist" style, the basic problem is that you've admitted that the bible isn't word for word instructions on how to behave if you want to go to heaven. You are using modern knowledge and ideals to decide that, for example, slavery is wrong. I happen to agree that slavery is wrong, so I'm good with that. But if you have some external notion of what's right and wrong that you use to pick through the bible – why not just stick with that innate/societal sense of morality and not use the bible or God as a crutch?

      October 13, 2010 at 12:04 pm |
    • Frogist

      @ joan: I have always wondered about this myself. If people take the parts that are right in a religion and discard the parts that are outdated and downright immoral, what exactly is the issue? The "cafeteria-Catholics" and those like them, are following their internal moral code which we all have. They just call it by another name. Where I draw the line is when those who pick and choose do not follow that up when what they consider important is maligned by their church. For example, if someone says, they have no issues with gay people, but their church preaches about how it is a sin and they will go to hell if they don't turn straight, why wouldn't you question the validity of that church? And why would you support the church with your attendance and money? That is the point where personal morals come in conflict with the church's morals and either reform or a break with the church and/or that religion must ensue.

      October 13, 2010 at 3:15 pm |
  20. thinkpoint

    A well-known agnostic was a bit more honest than some posting here: “This is my dilemma. I am dust and ashes, frail and wayward, a set of predetermined behavioral responses, … riddled with fear, beset with needs…the quintessence of dust and unto dust I shall return…. But there is something else in me…. Dust I may be, but troubled dust, dust that dreams, dust that that has strong premonitions of transfiguration, of a glory in store, a destiny prepared, an inheritance that will one day be my own…so my life is spread out in a painful dialectic between ashes and glory, between weakness and transfiguration. I am a riddle to myself, an exasperating enigma…the strange duality of dust and glory.” Richard Holloway
    http://thinkpoint.wordpress.com/2009/01/26/the-exasperating-enigma-of-existence/

    October 13, 2010 at 10:55 am |
    • Raison

      @thinkpoint

      I am an agnostic. What makes you think he's an agnostic? He sounds pretty damn religious to me...but maybe he isn't as far out as I am. 😛

      October 13, 2010 at 11:14 am |
    • civilioutside

      How are we defining "honest," here? I say with perfect honesty that I have no sense of some great glory or destiny awaiting me. I don't even have a particular desire for such a thing. Maybe Mister Holloway experiences those emotions, in which case his words are honest for him. But they don't necessarily apply to everyone (which his use of "I' in describing his condition rather suggests he understands, even if the way in which you seem to be trying to use his quote suggests that you do not). What makes a person's words honest is how closely they agree with their experience of reality, not how closely they agree with your beliefs.

      October 13, 2010 at 1:51 pm |
    • Guest

      "dust that that [sic] has strong premonitions of transfiguration"
      This person may want to get checked out. This may be an indicator of larger issues such as a dysmorphic disorder or somatic delusions.

      October 13, 2010 at 5:50 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.