Atheists vs. Theists: The Quest for Middle Ground

Introducing people of all ages to mythology... in pre-college educational curricula, youth orgs, the media, etc. Share your knowledge, stories, unit and lesson plans, techniques, and more.

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AndrewT.O.
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Post by AndrewT.O. » Sat Apr 21, 2007 8:39 pm

First off, I guess I am neither an atheist nor a theist. I am an agnostic trying to develop his personal religion. I am open to conversion to either view, but do not consider it crucial.

In fact, to my mind the most crucial question is not "do you believe in God?" but rather "how does your belief or lack thereof cause you to see the world?"

You have, for instance, christians on either side of the conservation debate, both grounding their opinions on their faith. The same applies to atheism.

To my mind, if people's religious beliefs (or the lack thereof) leads them to a worldview that accepts the global nature of man, his environment and his challenges, then so much the better. Anything else shortly will be rendered obsolete.

And I think this is the point that should be hammered out consistently: Where public action is concerned, atheism and theism CAN both lead to the same place. They can both form human beings that approach the world with the perspectives we will need if we are to survive what is ahead.

The words of John F. Kennedy echo through the decades and stir me: "We all share a common humanity". Edit that to say "a common planet" and you see the the most relevant aspect of this whole debate.
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Post by Limbo » Sun Jul 08, 2007 8:16 pm

I was very active at the Richard Dawkins site I linked to in the second post of this thread. I have just under a thousand posts there, talking to theists and atheists alike.

I wish I could say I made a notable difference there, but I can't. I got through to a few people but the misconceptions and willful ignorance regarding mythology and mysticism are too great.

So I eventually got too frustrated and had to quit for a while and moved on to other things.
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Post by xSatanicYosef » Sat Aug 11, 2007 1:37 pm

I believe the word "atheist" means someone who does not believe in a diety. So I guess I am an "atheist" in that sense. Though, I usually call myself agnostic to show that I am not condescending enough to rule out any possibilities. I think Karen Armstrong's explanation in her book the "History of God" and her book on Religious Fundamentalism best explains the Atheism we see today. Religion is highly pragmatic. Each generations idea of God is sired into existence over a prolonged period of time and transformed from generation to generation to accomodate the circumstances of the time period. In her recent work "The Great Transformation-the beginnings of our religious traditions" Karen explains that each of the worlds religious traditions seemed to be created out of recoil of the violence and injustice caused by the previous generations conception of the divine or "God". In "the Battle for God" she explains that contemporary Fundamentalism is the result of a freudian ego defense mechanism against modern culture and science. The religious people are clutching their ego's tightly to defend themselves against the onslaught of modern science. They are convinced that liberal society is trying to whipe God and them out of existence. Likewise, the Atheism of each century can be explains as a similar "fight or flight" response to Fundamentalism or other archaic notions of God. Just as someone said, the first Christians were called "Atheists". However, most Atheists still find the world mysterious and numinous in some sense. However, they will atribute everything to the physical world just as Religious people will attribute everything to their espoused notion of "God". To me it's no wonder atheism is in the vogue. If one just looks at the horrors of 9/11, Israel, and the Christian Right, it's easy to see why atheists would clutch their ego's and find any notion of belief in something transcendent to be in biblical terminology "an abomination". The sooner the older immature understanding of the word "God" and the mystery that informs all things is abdicated, the sooner atheists will be able to lower their spider senses and open their minds to new possibilities.
As far as Richard Dawkins is concerned, although he may recoil at the word "God" his mythological mind is certainly operational. In a number of interviews and even in the God Delusion he speculates on extra-terrestrial life.

page-72 "whether we ever get to know about them or not, there are very probably alien civilizations that are super human to the point of being God-like beyond anything a theologian can possibly imagine."

& there was one fascinating interview I read about a year ago where he said at the close of a debate "I'm not denying that there are amazing things out there, but why Yahweh, why can't it be the martian God?" or something like that. That was a very illuminating read. I've been searching for it on google but haven't been able to find it again.

To see Joseph Campbell & Richard Dawkins in an open debate about "God" and "Spiritually" would literally be a dream come true.
Campbell would no doubt find Dawkins the incarnation of the Muladhara chakra (rootbase) of the Kundalini wherein the psychology of the individual gravels before sheer "fact". Unfortunately since that can't happen I would love to see him debate the Religious Historian Karen Armstrong who is very Campbellian.

Oh yea, & since someone brought up memes that brought a question into my mind. What is the difference between a "Meme" & an "archetype" of the collective unconscious?

I saw a discussion on this between darwinians & they seemed to think "archetyes" like "God" are giant memes I don't know if I find that a satisfactory explanation. I remember reading somewhere a postulation that ideas such as "God" and the "afterlife" are simply ideas we evolved to survive. I think it might have been the book "Why God won't go away". Dawkins would say obviously that these ideas survive most because they are comforting ideas. I guess memetics might make sense if you were to look at it from a cultural diffusion perspective but I think the collective unconscious idea is more satisfactory given the ubiquitous nature of the ideas. As for whether we evolved them I don't think Campbell would disagree but he also would see them as metaphorical for the cosmic mystery of the universe. I wonder if Joseph Campbell read the "Selfish Gene" or ever spoke about memetics? I don't think he would have been troubled by the idea. He himself suggested that the notion of the posthumous existence was spread from the agricultural societies via the imagery of the pruning of plants & the NT saying of Jesus "I am the vine and you are the branches" and so forth. Also, a theist could counter if the idea of the afterlife spread because it was comforting why did the idea of Hell spread so well? If ideas spread because they are comforting surely wouldn't Buddhism, Jainism Taoism, or Hinduism should have spread. Conversely, Christianity, an extremely restrictive religion filled with forced subjugation to a litany of impossible rules and the only religion in history with the idea of eternal damnation in a seething endless torture chamber is the "meme" that survives the most. A case could be made that atheism is perhaps a meme that could have spread as a counter to the madness of Christianity that had been inculcated on medieval europe.
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Post by xSatanicYosef » Tue Aug 14, 2007 4:54 pm

I asked around about my question concerning the difference between Jung's archetypes & Dawkin's memes & the sophisticated explanation I came upon was that Dawkin's 'memes' are the cultural ethnic ideas. They the inflections our ego consciousness places on the elementary ideas which elusively tarry deep in the unconscious. Hence, when Dawkin's talks about religion being a virus spread from individual to individual he speaks of the concepts and ideas passed through mythology via cultural diffusion. Meanwhile the archetypes are universal priori knowledge of which we are not conscious and only manifest themselves in the raimant of the cultural memes that surround them. The meme concept I would say is equivalent to all the other non-Jungian counter theories to the collective unconscious which Campbell said were unsatisfactory and unable to explain the ubiquitous and uniform nature of the religious ideas found in all the world.
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Post by Robert G. » Wed Aug 15, 2007 3:41 am

I think Andrew has a key insight here. What is actually going on when someone says they hold a theistic or atheistic belief? What associated concepts go into their "worldview"? What behavior is happening, what are their emotional or mental experiences? What is the relationship between their beliefs and their actions? How do these play back and forth? What is their economic status, and how does that impact their views? Racial/ethnic background? In what historical period are they living, and how do those events impact them? Campbell's point that no two people believe in the same god is perhaps equally valid for belief in general: different people mean different things by that word.

I think it is when you look at what is actually happening when people claim these beliefs, instead of their content, that the similiarities become so striking. In the negative aspect, one gets a rigidity in thought, a feeling of superiority and an us vs. them mentality, perhaps an unrealistic sense of persecution (something so prevalent in the US today). In the positive aspect, there a sense of confidence and security, a willingness to be open, an ability to share, a structure on which to build long-term relationships. One of the things that interests me is what it is that inclines someone to inhabit either the positive or negative aspect of whatever system they are in. I find the correlation between socio-economic "forces" and sets of beliefs very striking, but when I see people who get as excited about themselves as Dawkins and, say, James Dobson, I find it hard not to imagine some kind of powerful, maybe "Freudian" thing going on.

Molly gives me a clue about what that "something" may be. She said
Theist and Athiest alike actually want the same result, a peaceful healthy earth and interesting, kind people living on it.
This may or may not be true. It deals with the contant of their desires. What it made me think of is: what is going of there functionally? What I see is that they are both striving for the same thing, which is certainty, and all the cognitive and behavioral benefits that come with not having to doubt one's position. I think that the inability to live with uncertainty is one of the key things that inclines someone to the negative aspect of their system.
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Post by boringguy » Tue Aug 21, 2007 4:07 am

Robert,


Nice hit! (as in nail on the head)



Atheist or theist or what ever: The color of life comes from it's uncertianty, not it's certianty.

Sometimes we would be better to stop worrying about what the wild flowers down the trail might look like, and set about getting there to see some of them.



____________________

To know is not to know, not to know is to know



____________________

Well ok, in retrospect, just so everyone doesn't think I'm overly excited about myself here, I would concede that we all need a box. We are not wired to live in total chaos. The trick is in keeping our box pushed out there just as far as we can stand it to be. (embrace the possibilties of the mystery) Maybe in that, lies some middle ground.
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Post by Robert G. » Sun Aug 26, 2007 8:45 am

The wearer knows best where the shoe pinches.
I heard it called the philosophers disease the other day - the need to find the correct reading of a text - ouch!! :oops: In social work we have a joke about "authoritarian personality disorder" - as a diagnosis for the worker! I know I'm suspicious of this tendency in others because I see it in myself - no surprise to all of you! :wink:
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Post by Robert G. » Tue Oct 02, 2007 6:59 pm

I just finished reading The Reason Driven Life, by Robert Price. I happened to see it at the library, and it looked entertaining, I did not expect much from it of any depth but a few laughs and maybe some practical tidbits. Let me just say that this author could not have had a more sympathetic audience, I found the Purpose Driven Life fad of a few years ago wholly ludicrous and somewhat offensive, I was exposed to it largely through AA where the church-going membership just could not get enough of it, and the thought that a trade paperback was going to enable people to find meaning in life - well, that's just silly :D Anyway, I was very receptive to a rebuttal of that book. However .... Mr. Price's book is poorly written, offensive, rude, and not convincing at all. If this is the response of the nonreligious to the fundamentalist position, no wonder fundmentalism continues to spread. Seriously, how hard is it to pull apart The Purpose Driven Life? Marx was right about this one, it really is opium for the masses, and blatantly so. Unfortunately, Price wastes his time in trying to make fun of religion, and accusing believers of having glaring psychological problems. As I was reading it, the irony was painful! There was zero difference between the two books (oy, and the writing in both! :shock: ) Price's book is endorsed as a "witty, devastating, and thorough critique of the Evangelicals" but if this is all there is we might as well hand Dobson the keys to the Oval Office because this type of work can do nothing to convince someone who didn't already agree with the author.

Sorry, but reading that book was a thoroughly unpleasant and experience. Depressing really, when I was looking for hope that there can be respectful discussion of religious issues :(
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Post by Limbo » Tue Oct 02, 2007 8:34 pm

Well here is a little update of my adventures with atheists over at Richard Dawkins forum.

They seem to have gotten frustrated with me, and I with them. I got into an argument with the forum admin, and he gave me a 7-day suspension. The argument was about mythology and atheism.

I'm partially to blame, because as I said I have grown frustrated with them over the past year with them. But I'm not 100% to blame. I think the suspension was unfair. The atheists there tend to be a little extreme, and they don't much care for people who demonstrate that they are ignorant of something...in this case comparative mythology. They seem to have made up their minds a priori that it's all mumbo-jumbo, not worthy of notice, and has no relevance to understanding modern religion. Then when I prove them wrong about something, they don't like it much. They get defensive and abusive.

Neither do religious fundamentalists like it of course, so at least these two polarities have something in common. They both shun comparative mythology.

If I had my way, every single JCF associate would rally and register at Richard Dawkins forum to educate the atheists there about comparative mythology. They desperately need it.

But be warned...they are an ignorant and arrogant bunch. A particularly nasty combination.
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Post by Clemsy » Tue Oct 02, 2007 9:21 pm

But then, they are just at one stop on their own way, no Limbo? Everyone finds what they're ready for... and if they are living a proper life of compassion, being kind to children and puppies and all that, what does it matter? If they're not, then, well :P.
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Post by Limbo » Tue Oct 02, 2007 9:51 pm

Clemsy wrote:But then, they are just at one stop on their own way, no Limbo? Everyone finds what they're ready for... and if they are living a proper life of compassion, being kind to children and puppies and all that, what does it matter? If they're not, then, well :P.
I hear you. You are right. But in my estimation, they're not living a proper life of compassion. They are living a life of ignorance and belligerence, and they are doing their share of harm. Maybe I have no right to determine this, but then again I am sort of following the advice Joe gives in Power of Myth episode one, which inspired me:

"I will go to war. I will participate in the game. It is a wonderful, wonderful opera except that it hurts."
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Post by Clemsy » Wed Oct 03, 2007 9:54 am

Cool. But remember also that Campbell advised to do so playfully, otherwise the other side may say, "Ugh! That Limbo sure is ignorant and belligerent! Let's kick him out!" Far too often this is the reaction when one is simply saying, "Hey! Look at this and that! No, really, look! They are exhibit A and B that may prove you wrong!"

Then they say, "We have our own exhibits that prove you're an idiot!"

"But my exhibits are better!"

"Are not!"

"Are too!"

...etc.

People are quite possessive about their construct of the nature of things. They've put a lot of effort into it. I try to take the stand that says, "Well, that's one way of looking at things, I guess. I have another. Would you like to share? Perhaps there are points where we meet.

Of course there are world views that don't intersect with mine at all. I've written about them around here. Mostly, this is because they are into coercion. Coercion makes me growl. Deep, rumbly growls from the back of the throat.

Being playful is really the hardest challenge in Campbell's take on things. Mostly, I'm still at the level just below that: trying not to take things too personally.

Cheers,
Clemsy
Last edited by Clemsy on Sun Oct 07, 2007 4:30 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by noman » Sun Oct 07, 2007 3:46 pm

Reading this thread makes me wonder why so many people would opt to go to church on a Sunday morning when they could simply log onto the JCF forum and read a conversation like this one. Wouldn’t even have to dress up.

Anyway, it seems to me everyone agrees that there is a problem. I mean - there is a problem with our culture’s mythology in general. Someone once told me that there are three steps to problem solving:

1.) Identify the problem
2.) Develop a solution
3.) Implement that solution


The Problem:
…the theist/atheist argument is basically childish in which both 'sides' are making the same mistake: this mistake is to accept that God, if God exists, is like a person - to parody it somewhat the image of an old man with a white beard, sat on a cloud somewhere.

- Neiel


* * * * * * *

As long as both theists and atheists alike mistake what God means they will continue to have pointless arguments about whether God does or does not "exist".

- JackSt

* * * * * * *

Dawkins and Collins apparently agreed that the proposition “God exists” is either true or false.

But maybe this proposition is the whole problem?

- Nandu

* * * * * * *

Joseph Campbell explains in The Hero's Journey, that half of mankind are theists who believe that their metaphors are facts, and the other half are atheists who know that they are not facts, and so they are lies.

- Martin Weyers

* * * * * * *

I think the issue here for me is that this current manifestation of atheism falls prey to the exact kind of thinking that has crippled theism in recent times. It's a fight fire with fire mentality.

- Om Shanti
The problem is two-fold. One is agreeing on a definition of the word ‘God’. The second problem is the problem of battling ignorance. Om Shanti’s metaphor of fighting fire with fire literally means, in this case, fighting ignorance with ignorance. The scientists, represented by Dawkins, use ignorance to battle the religious fundamentalists, represented by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, who was a champion of ignorance.

The Solution
The sooner the older immature understanding of the word "God" and the mystery that informs all things is abdicated, the sooner atheists will be able to lower their spider senses and open their minds to new possibilities.

- xSatanicYosef

* * * * * * *

…reconciling the theists and the atheists - eventually -

on one side will happen when theists recognize that God is not a 'person' and that God is not 'somewhere else' but is essentially a way of referring to the whole of existence that focuses on the life enhancing

on the other side will happen when the atheists recognize that the psychological conception of God, and other religious metaphors/myths/images is/are both powerful, valuable, and capture some valid aspects of being... part of our ancestors solution to the existential problems of being.

- neiel

* * * * * * *

It seems to me, then, that if we grow out of Mr. Harris' conception of "faith," that doesn't mean we have to grow out of faith into nothing - from "theism" to "atheism."… The creative alternative, I think, would be to discover -- and not merely invent -- "a theism" for the 21st century and beyond.

- Emil Mihelich

* * * * * * *

Where public action is concerned, atheism and theism CAN both lead to the same place. They can both form human beings that approach the world with the perspectives we will need if we are to survive what is ahead.

- Andrew T.O.

* * * * * * *

…I think though, beyond becoming a decent individual, it is of highest importance for mankind, to develop a relation to life and nature, that is based neither on analytic research alone, nor on religious theories of the past. Both are turning the world into a wasteland!

What we need is an open dialogue between science and spirituality.

Only if we learn again understanding and experiencing nature and people as manifestations of consciousness, we will be able to solve the problems that have been caused by a mindset that is hostile to life and nature. That's why the "Quest for Middle Ground" is so important!

- Martin Weyers

* * * * * * *

I think that awakening the mythological mind of BOTH atheists and theists are the only way for each side to understand the other. Not only does a proper understanding of myth eliminate religious fundamentalism, but also it enlightens those atheists who are ignorant of the message of the myth.

- Limbo

* * * * * * *

I don't consider myself a theist or an atheist, or even an agnostic if you get right down to it. I just am. If humanity is going to survive for another few generations, the lessons of compassion and morality have to become our priority.

- Molly J
There might be a few little differences here or there but for the most part, I see everyone agreeing on the solution.

The Implementation:
If I had my way, every single JCF associate would rally and register at Richard Dawkins forum to educate the atheists there about comparative mythology. They desperately need it. But be warned...they are an ignorant and arrogant bunch - a particularly nasty combination.

- Limbo
Limbo offers a solution that could actually be implemented. Enough with the talk. Now is the time for action. Let’s rally the troops, and face the dragon of ignorance with courage and resolution. Shoulder to shoulder, brothers and sisters in arms. We may not defeat the dragon of ignorance but we can give it our best shot – and be the more virtuous for it.

Unfortunately, I don’t think it would do much good to storm into the Dawkin’s website and enlighten our brethren. Just as it would be of no use to storm a Christian Fundamentalist website in an effort to show them the path to enlightenment. Though it might be loads of fun.

The thing to remember, considering both extremes of the divide, is that these people are not stupid. On average they are just as intelligent as we Campbellists. Nor do I believe that these folks are particularly malicious. I mean – any more malicious than the rest of us. We all like to think we are above average when it comes to morals.

So why – why would intelligent, well meaning people - choose the path of what we so clearly see as ignorance?

Robert G. addresses this issue:
I think it is when you look at what is actually happening when people claim these beliefs, instead of their content, that the similarities become so striking.

In the negative aspect, one gets a rigidity in thought, a feeling of superiority and an ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ mentality, perhaps an unrealistic sense of persecution (something so prevalent in the US today).

In the positive aspect, there is a sense of confidence and security, a willingness to be open, an ability to share, a structure on which to build long-term relationships. One of the things that interest me is what it is that inclines someone to inhabit either the positive or negative aspect of whatever system they are in.

Molly gives me a clue about what that "something" may be. She said, “Theist and Atheist alike actually want the same result, a peaceful healthy earth and interesting, kind people living on it. “

This may or may not be true. It deals with the content of their desires. What it made me think of is: what is going on there functionally? What I see is that they are both striving for the same thing, which is certainty, and all the cognitive and behavioral benefits that come with not having to doubt one's position. I think that the inability to live with uncertainty is one of the key things that incline someone to the negative aspect of their system.

- Robert G.
This is a marvelous and thought provoking post. The only problem I see is that we Campbellists, judging from the offered solutions posted above, seem pretty certain of ourselves as well. Even if that certainty is a more open-minded, more inclusive, philosophy. We know what is wrong with these other two ways of thinking and why they are wrong - and how they can be corrected. And we know this without being any more intelligent or any more compassionate. (IMHO)

I don’t see a lot of uncertainty from the panelists. And I - ‘certainly’ - have an explanation for it.

This is my theology theory.

First, it is my belief that there is no such thing as atheism. Fourswords expressed this idea:
An atheist is just someone who doesn't believe in someone else's god. Pious ancient Romans often called the Christians "atheists" because they didn't have the courtesy to pay any respect to the gods of others.

- Fourswords
Secondly, I also believe that there is no such thing as monotheism. We are polytheistic and always have been. The names change, the stories change. But these battling deities are manifestations of our desires and fears. They aren’t personified as they were in the days of old. But we still pay homage to them. They are: Health, Beauty, Equality, Happiness, Progress, Truth, Creativity, Power, Charity, Knowledge, Peace, Prosperity, Love, Compassion, and Environmental harmony. We pay homage to them in our own way - without slaughtering any animals.

Campbell quotes Paul Tillich as saying, “One’s God is one’s ultimate concern.” But I’d improve on this statement by saying, “One’s Gods are one’s ultimate concerns.”

It’s my little paradigm shift. All of us, whether we are religious fundamentalists, scientific atheists, or ‘middle grounders’, worship all of these modern deities. These deities are sometimes in conflict with each other, sometimes in collusion. And we don’t worship all of them equally. Just as in the pantheons of old, some deity or deities take a dominant role. In our culture, each of us has a particular configuration of deities, some more dominant than others.

So the person who has ‘Power’ as their leading deity is not going to get along too well with the person who has – say – ‘Peace’ or ‘Love’ as their leading deity. The person who has ‘Knowledge’ as their leading deity may not get along with the person who has ‘Charity’ as one of their leading deities.

So with this paradigm, I can ask myself what it is that both sides of the atheist/theist divide want? How are their desires and fears being expressed through their configuration of deities?

I believe the religious fundamentalists have ‘Happiness’ at the top of their pantheon. Religion is, indeed, the opiate of the people. And I have heard of happiness studies that show a strong correlation between church attendance and happiness.

Scientific atheists, on the other hand, have the goddess ‘Truth’ and ‘Knowledge’ at the top of their pantheon. It doesn’t mean that they don’t want happiness just like everyone else. It’s a matter of priority. And this idea of truth and knowledge compromising happiness is nothing new. Many sages throughout history have stated that the price of knowledge is suffering.
I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven.

What a heavy burden God has laid on men!

For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.

- Eccl 1: 9
Often, scientific atheists hate religious fundamentalists. Whenever you see deep-seated hatred and intolerance, you can bet your bottom dollar of an inner struggle. This sort of hatred is often the best litmus test for one’s insecurity. But deep within the soul of every hardheaded scientific atheist the deity of ‘Happiness’ is actively campaigning, whispering tales of Shangri-La. They secretly yearn for spiritual fulfillment.

Similarly, some Christian fundamentalists hate rationalists. But deep inside the soul of every Christian fundamentalist there is the deity of ‘Truth’ tormenting him or her in the wee hours of the morning. So they pray, ‘Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief.’

Of course, the best weapon against insecurity is to surround oneself with people that have the same belief system; that is, the same configuration of deities. This is the support you see at the Dawkin’s website, at a Christian Fundamentalist website, and here, at the JCF forums.

But what does this say about us - us ‘middle grounders’ – us Campbellists? What are our ultimate concerns?

Campbell once said that mythology is about harmony. Our ultimate concern, (in my never so humble opinion), is about harmonizing these deities. That’s why we love mythology so. We seek the middle way – as though sailing the treacherous waters between the Logos of Scylla (science) and the Mysticism of Charybdis (religion).

I don’t believe ours is the right way, only that it is the right way - for us.

But other than that, my conclusion is pretty much the same as Robert G., Martin Weyers, Limbo, and all the other voices in this thread. The only difference of opinion I have is that I don’t think most of the world is capable of, or the least bit interested in, the middle way – and to expect them to be is to invite a grave disappointment.

But I would still advise anyone who asked, that this forum is a much better place to visit on a Sunday morning than a fundamentalist church - or and atheist website.

- NoMan
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Post by Limbo » Mon Oct 08, 2007 10:41 am

/applause
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Post by Clemsy » Mon Oct 08, 2007 2:23 pm

Couldn't agree more! Of course to a fundamentalist Christian, this is the home of the :twisted:
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