Children’s Religion

In our Western culture, we have a polytheistic religion especially for children. Like any polytheistic faith, some figures are more or less important, and some families have particular devotion to one or more.

The spirits, deities or supernatural beings in this religion include:

Father Christmas. Who judges our moral qualities and travels round the entire world visiting every child on Christmas eve to bring their rewards.

The Easter Bunny. A figure who’s devotion is on the rise. Visiting on the night before Easter and laying out an elaborate chocolate puzzle for children to solve.

The Tooth Fairy. Who brings monetary gifts as compensation for the traumatic experience of bodily loss.

The Sandman. Who brings blissful dreams, and nightmares, and whose visits can be detected by the grains of sand-like hardness in your eyes when you wake. His devotion is somewhat waning these days.

Jack Frost. Who brings the cold weather, and whose finger prints can be seen on your window when you wake.

The Bogeyman. A malevolent spirit who will visit retribution upon children who misbehave.

Many parents react with as much anger and outrage at the prospect of someone taking away their children’s faith, as they would if someone were to take away their own. Yet this religion is unique in that we expect it to last only for a time.

Adults, despite not believing, are expected to be the theologians and priests of the religion. Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles are expected to give theological accounts of this religion, and to act as apologists in the face of skeptical questioning.

Despite this odd feature, Children’s religion is a religion like any other. It relies on the same theological and evidential tricks, the same appeals to the supernatural, the same moral calculus, and the same cultural inertia.


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63 responses to “Children’s Religion

  1. Wow, that was excellent, Ian.
    Superbly crafted and spot on. Loved it. Best reading today! Thanx.

    I have had friends get mad it me in the past as I challenged their children’s polytheism indirectly by not indoctrinating my children. Parents actually took me aside and asked me what the hell I was doing by not teaching my kids that Santa was real or there was an Easter bunny. I tried to explain to them I was only a believer in the Trinity: the tooth fairy, the boogie man and the sandman!

    OK the trinity thing is fiction, but I did piss off parent. Only later, when they saw my kids actually didn’t buy into Yahweh were they really pissed. They didn’t take me to the side then, they merely whispered behind our backs.

    Ah religion is such a wonderful thing! How do sd dirty atheists every live without it?

    Great reading, man, thanx. I think I will read it to my kids tonight when I get home from work. A bedtime story for atheist children. Fantastic.

  2. TWF

    Well done, sir. Well done. These spirits, deities or supernatural beings are sometimes go-to examples of religious priming, but I love the way you’ve brought them all together with the polytheistic aspect.

  3. Ian

    We’re faithful priests of the religion here, I have to say. But I’ve never understood the fanaticism about it.

    Thanks for the compliment. My wife and I had a big road trip today and this was a fun conversation topic.

  4. We do the whole Santa and Easter Bunny thing with our son. I’m an atheist and I dislike indoctrination of children into religion, but as you pointed out, these beliefs fall away after childhood. We do it because we believe childhood should be a wonderful time for children (not saying that kids who don’t believe in Santa don’t have a wonderful time also) and it’s the one time in your life that you can believe in these things. It gives a sense of wonder and on a more practical level, develops imagination. I don’t expect my child to carry on believing after childhood. This is why I think it is more acceptable than indoctrination into religion that will continue for a lifetime.

  5. But Shape, I think your rationale is exactly what many progressive Christians use (with a bit more theological spice) to justify their post-modern religion. It nurtures their wonder == they drop old silly childhood metaphors (as you suggest), and make their god metaphors unchallengable — abstract and allusive. No North Pole, no eggs on the lawn.

  6. The difference being I don’t expect my child to carry on belief in these things into adulthood in the form of God. I don’t see the harm in Santa as long as it doesn’t manifest itself in a skewed world-view.

  7. Well, Shape, that is fine and good that you don’t want your children to carry on believing about Santa. But religious folks don’t want their kids doing the same either. And Progressives may say that their God beliefs are very different forms of beliefs from the younger naive mind and instead they have sophisticated inspirations and hopes and see them as “God” just as many of the ancients did. They don’t see their faith as harm either. They don’t view their beliefs as a skewed world view.

    We have to be careful not to confuse the various flavors of Christianity with each other, just as we need to not blur the Gospels together. The blurring can cause us to make inaccurate broad generalizations.

  8. Wow… okay then. Rather trite and simplistic. There’s parallels between the two, but not exact. Nor is there no mystical or spiritual connection, but that’s another matter.

    I use these myths to overturn convention. My children are already influenced by these because of their peers, but what I do with them is another matter. For example: Santa Claus.

    A saint of the church now used to peddle greed. When my daughter goes up to Santa, she asks for one thing she wants and then tells the unwitting mall employee what she’s going to do for the poor; what she’s going to give away.

    The myth has power and we can cultivate virtues through it. And we don’t do the other ones, so that’s the only one I can speak to. Many atheists don’t understand the power of story and myth. It’s a shame because largely that’s why the creationists keep winning. They tell a story that’s more compelling. But don’t take my word for it…

    And that’s all I have to say about that.

  9. Ian

    Thanks for commenting. Interesting points.

    I’d say there are no exact correspondences between any two religions. All religions are unique. And often those expounding a religion lock onto those uniquenesses as evidence their religion is the only valid one (e.g. “ours is not a religion, ours is a faith”). The claim of the last paragraph are at a particular level of generality: comparative religion, as all comparative endevors has to occupy a middle ground between over-specification and over-generality. Other than its focus on Children, and the odd features of how its theology is constructed, it seems to be as connected to a general core of what we would agree is religion as many others.

    I’m not sure what you mean by a mystical or spiritual connection. There is a lot of mysticism in Children’s religion, from a child’s perspective. And I think various childhood experiences around these figures could be seen as spiritual. But ultimately it purely depends on how you define both terms. As for the first paragraph, you can define things so that only the things you want to keep stay, sure.

    As for the use you personally put these characters too, sure. That’s cool. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

    You’re right, myths are vehicles for the rehearsal and transmission of values. And I think atheists often throw the bathwater out with the baby, yes. But there is no clear mythic replacement for religious myths. The problem with retaining Christian myths is that they have damaging political currency.

    There are alternatives, though. Geek culture is pretty widespread among Gen-y and millenials, and in many ways the myths of those fictional worlds become special to them and compelling. They have the same features of post-primary narrative, where the stories spread beyond authorial control to be common currency of devotees. There are rituals around the rehearsal of the stories, including cosplay, for example. So I think there are alternatives, and they are more helpful and more knowing than religious myths.

    I’m not sure why you think creationists keep winning. They’re certainly well funded and annoying, but their actual legal and wider social victories are rare, and they are shrinking slowly in recent polling numbers. It could be a blip, but regardless, at worse it is roughly steady state.

  10. “And I think atheists often throw the bathwater out with the baby, yes. But there is no clear mythic replacement for religious myths.’
    -Not yet anyway. Sabio does a good job of saying “Christianity isn’t the only religion which values this.” And is able to provide other options. Yet another thing he misses the openness of Progs and the fact that many of us already know this. There is a movement just getting started, Peter Rollins is the lead dude here, it’s called The Christian Atheists. Interesting stuff, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

  11. Ian

    Interesting, I’ll look that up. Shane, who used to comment here and on Triangulations a lot, had a website called “The Church of Jesus Christ, Atheist”, which was the same idea. In fact he came up with the “throwing the baby out, keeping the bathwater” line. As I said, I have a lot of sympathy for that, and generally I have a lot of progs in my life who I respect (but enjoy a little good natured ribbing of). But I find it morally difficult to go there personally because the mythos is so politically active and toxic, and I can’t shake the feeling that even knowingly adopting it is feeding it.

  12. @ Ian:
    excellent points. Especially liked:

    The problem with retaining Christian myths is that they have damaging political currency.

    @ Luke:
    Since you decided to state what you feel my shortcomings are, may I add to Ian’s observation above.

    I wonder if progressive Christians are a product of mainly Christian-privileged economically-advantaged countries. [and please don’t get into “Mainline Christianity” stuff — that is a whole other thing — I’m talking about radically progressive Christians, not the Presbyterians and Methodists in my town. We are talking about Rollins and that ilk.

    I think those sort of progressives ride on the Christian-priviledge wave — for why don’t they just embrace a good form of Buddhism or Hinduism and try to do the same. Because they’d be rejected and gain no respect. They can have it both ways as Christian progressives.

    So, no only do retained Christian myths and language carry damaging baggage, but those that say they reject all the literalism, conservatism and exclusivism benefit from the wave of acceptance and status. That is why I don’t think progressivism thrives in other countries.

    Just a thought — and I admit, I don’t have the empirical evidence of numbers.

    I don’t miss that some Progs are open minded, but I think they are often blind to how they play both sides and benefit from it. Nor of the collateral damage done by reinforcing old bigot laden mythologies.

    Just saying.

  13. @Ian ” because the mythos is so politically active and toxic”
    Okay…. Gotta be true to yourself. Me, I think any system has been abused and turned into an ideology. I can change a lot more from in the inside… and I can’t say how many times I’ve found that I didn’t know what I thought I knew. Conventional Christianity isn’t Christianity. Christianity is much more layered and detailed and interesting. Concepts, the people, the movement, the history, the gospels themselves and how they came to be and what they might mean. Goes a little further than Santa, Toothfairy, and what not. And this is just from a nonspiritual approach, and I’ll end there because any further comments would just muddy the water. I think this is why you and Sabio blog so much about it.

    @Sabio: It was interesting to read your true thoughts on Prog. Christians. I think you’re way off. Nor do I want to argue about it. Have fun.

  14. Ian

    @Luke – don’t read undue antagonism into my responses, or read across your horn locking with Sabio onto me. There are issues we’ve disagreed with, but mostly I’ve marvelled at how we’ve so often ended up in the same place by different routes!

    I agree that there’s a depth in Christianity that isn’t there in Children’s religion. I don’t think Christianity is unique in that. I think there’s an astonishing depth in Judaism and Hinduism, and (I presume) other long-standing faiths too (I can detect elements of that same mythological complexity in the Santa myth, but not nearly so well developed, or as matured with age). I agree there’s a whole world of fascination in the concepts, the people, the movement, the history and the scriptures of Christianity, and that is definitely why I blog so much about it. And why, despite not being a Christian, it still occupies such a central and cherished role in my mental life. I’m fascinated by religion, and Christianity is the one I know best.

    My point of departure I guess, I that I am pretty sure I know why those things happen, in all religions, over time, and how it is that religion provides spiritual fulfilment, when it does. And I am as sure as I can be that it isn’t because there is some referent at the end of the word God.

    I do wish there was some way to be rid of the temptation to take the myth too literally, which — as a form of idolatary — I think is the root cause of all kinds of evil. But I find it frustrating that, for all the problems of religion, the reasons why I think it works makes it difficult to just invent an alternative and have it work equally well. That depth is important.

    So, while I have a moral problem strengthening Christian privilege, when a particular caricature of it is so politically toxic, I don’t have a moral problem with religion per se, nor with those who do want to change it from the inside. I’m happy to argue with progs like you or James McGrath, but the quality of that disagreement is fundamentally different to the disagreement I’d have with a Pat Robertson, or Michele Bachman.

  15. @Ian: Thanks for your response! It was thoughtful and respectful and I’m right along with you. Love what you stated about idolatry.

    The confusing thing about progs is that we know the dark side and the downside to religion. And forgive me for scoffing at the idea that progs are privileged, as I didn’t come from there, was at habitat build all day yesterday (after reading my daily devotionals with Shane Claireborn), and am dealing with economic issues all the time. So when it comes to “horn locking with Sabio” he’s down the street at the country club locking horns with the Buffalo in the lobby. I’m close enough to watch it, but that’s about it.

    All I am asking for is that you believe that I believe. And how I believe is not new, but has been part of the tradition since the Reformers. There is great depth, but I know I tend to stay on the surface in conversations like this and talk about things we can point to. So the connection between Children’s religion and ALL religions and the “tricks” being “played” is bunk IMHO. An orienting myth that helps guide through the chaos and complexity of life? Check. On the level of ol’ Santy Claus? No. I read this in your last paragraph. A little too hyperbolic for my stomach, but I enjoyed the rest of the post before that rhetorical leap.

    “while I have a moral problem strengthening Christian privilege, when a particular caricature of it is so politically toxic”
    -Funny, me too. I hate that there’s an unspoken test of faith for candidates. And I work against it, even if it’s shooting myself in the foot. Why? To be Christian is about service, and such service is done not to convert but for the sake of service alone. Calvin said that.

    @Shay, you’re so far off… dude… you’re only confirming that you only know the conservative version of Christianity… cause you’re sounding like a conservative Christian in your “just say’n.” Plus isn’t privilege a charge leveled at atheists by conservative Christians? So this would be a proverbial pot calling the kettle…

  16. Ian


    I am very happy to believe you believe. I think that doesn’t tell me much, though, but as we interact more, I get to know how and what and why you believe. That is different for everyone, and is one of the things most interesting to me. And I respect people’s desire to believe what they choose.

    On the other hand, I do think part of the ‘mission’ of this blog is to explore and share how and why religion works. Which can be an inherently anti-religious act, because religions each have their own story about why or how they work, and often those meta-stories are wrong. So there’s a line I have to tread, and I hope that folks like you will show up and tell me I’ve stepped over it, at times.

    A couple of things that made me furrow my brow (indicating mild disagreement 😉

    Firstly, privilege doesn’t work like that. My male privilege is not removed because I am disabled. My wife’s white privilege is not removed because she is female. So I agree, having ‘privilege’ often feels like nothing of the kind. The worst off able-bodied straight while males have a worse life than the best off disabled gay black women, sure. But that’s not quite what privilege is. Christian privilege over atheists in the US is a systemic not a personal advantage (and interestingly though there is Christian privilege over other faiths here, there is basically none over atheists). One can certainly be led by one’s faith to voluntarily diminish oneself too, but even that does not negate the inherent privilege.

    Secondly, calling me out on the word ‘tricks’ is good. It does have a pejorative sense which plays to the gallery. But I can’t think of a better one for ‘a technique that is effective at generating an effect without being obvious how the effect is achieved.’, which I think is absolutely central to theology and mythological systems generally. Part of the problem with synthesizing myths or knowingly adopting them is that I’m really not convinced they have the same power. Knowingly stating that Jesus rose as a fictional metaphor for some underlying truth, does not seem to fire people up on the level of actually believing he did. At least, the idea of explicitly saying that this is a metaphor and didn’t actually happen, right before a celebration of the resurrection, strikes the Christian ministers I am friends with here as a good way to rather kill the mood and diminish the power of the myth. So I suspect that kind of slight ‘playing it both ways’ that most progs I know (perhaps you’re different) engage in, is a trick of a kind. Though not one that I’d be scathing of. Perhaps there’s a better word than ‘trick’.

    (Sorry – very long).

  17. “On the other hand, I do think part of the ‘mission’ of this blog is to explore and share how and why religion works. Which can be an inherently anti-religious act,”
    -Nah, there’s a call to self-awareness in the Eastern religion and even in the Western… but due to various political factors, this doesn’t always get carried out. This is why I read your’s and Shay’s blog. Good to have another set of eyes.

    “Firstly, privilege doesn’t work like that.”
    -It wasn’t a statement on how it ‘worked’ but an acknowledgement it was there. A “yeah dude, I see what you see and it sucks” sort of thing.

    “So I suspect that kind of slight ‘playing it both ways’ that most progs I know (perhaps you’re different) engage in, is a trick of a kind.”
    -Only if you’re coming from a modernist mindset of “this had to have happened for it to be ‘true.'” Faith means you don’t know. Something happened, and it can’t really be proven even though the burden of proof is on those making the claim. I used to be in the resurrection as metaphor camp, now I’m not. I have experienced it both ways. Most recently in walking with a transgendered woman as well as a former addict, very real resurrections in both the metaphorical and literal senses of the word. And I can’t explain it very well.

  18. Anyway, trick is the wrong word.

  19. Ian

    Thanks for continuing to engage. I do feel it is fruitful.

    Only if you’re coming from a modernist mindset of “this had to have happened for it to be ‘true.’”

    No, not really. Not in the sense I mean it, anyway. Lots of fiction can be true, deeply so. But we treat religious ‘fiction’ (quotes there to acknowledge your discomfort with the term, happy to use an alternative) quite differently to literary fictions that can also be true. And one of the differences is in a kind of ambiguity over the historicity of the story. As you say, you’ve now moved out of the metaphor camp and into an acceptance of that ambiguity, and perhaps even of the historicity (with caveats, I imagine). That makes it unlike anything else that we treat as true, but did not happen, I think.

    It is that deliberate ambiguity which makes it interesting, but also dangerous, I think.

  20. @ Ian

    (1) Christian Privilege
    Great explanation to Luke to perhaps help him see how I used the phrase. I can give endless examples here of how “not being Christian” can block careers, memberships and more. Whereas being Christian is largely a signal of “see, I’m good.” here in this country. Those who use the privilege (consciously or not) won’t see it, of course. It is probably less so in England and even less in parts of Europe. Whereas, being Christian is a liability in Egypt where “Muslim-privilege” exists, or in China where “Party-atheist-privilege” still thrives. It is all demographics, eh?

    I thought “trick” was perfect — but then I would, wouldn’t I? 🙂
    Others I could think of are gimmick, ploy, artifice and stratagem. But all those have nuances unacceptable to the folks who are pulling them off.

  21. associatedluke

    “Christian privilege over atheists in the US is a systemic not a personal advantage”
    Once again, I don’t question the reality of Christian privilege, I just prefer such conversations to be based in fact, not anxiety about hypotheticals which is what you raise.

    Religion is one of the categories in EOE laws, so you cannot get fired directly for your religious beliefs (unless you work at a religious institution, which are exempt from that portion), but I’m sure it does happen indirectly. I tried to research stats on this, but it is very hard to measure this sort of thing. Yet I have no doubt that there is a systematic privilege in being a Christian in this country but identifying where and how it’s played out is incredibly difficult and there are many considerations that go into play.

    Sabio is right, it depends on the context. Many of the university profs in my church state that being Christian is sometimes seen as ignorant. I’d almost say it’s easier to fit in with the faculty when one is atheist.

    And there’s also not being the “right sort of Christian.” A seven day Adventist recently got fired because he wouldn’t come in for work on Saturday at the casino in town. At one of the Subways in town, a teenager is very active in their church which is the Reformed Catholic movement (a splinter group that ordains female clergy and still claims to be part of the Roman church) and has gotten written up a few times because he wouldn’t take off their cross necklace. Yet a coworker is in Young Life, the evangelical youth group which is incredibly popular in this area, wears a cross, even has a tattoo of one on their wrist! and hasn’t been written up at all. It’s all in demographics and it’s a very messy thing.

    Ambiguous, one might say. And such is reality.

  22. Ian

    Wow, I’m not sure what the religious equivalent of mansplaining is, but this is an example, I think. I didn’t expect that from you, Luke.

    I don’t question the reality of male privilege, I just prefer such conversations to be based in fact…

    Sex is one of the categories in EOE laws, so you cannot get fired directly for being female (…there are exceptions…), but I’m sure it does happen indirectly. I tried to research stats on this, but it is very hard to measure. I have no doubt there is systematic privilege in being a man, but identifying where is incredibly difficult.

    Many of the kindergarten school teachers I know see men as less caring. I’d say it is easier to fit in with the school if one is female!

    And there’s also not being the “right sort of Man”. A man recently got fired because he wanted to have time off to look after his children when they got sick. At one of the restaurants in town there’s a man who wears eyeliner and long earrings, he’s been written up a few times. Yet a co-worker who is a total jock and has a tattoo of a football on his arm hasn’t been written up at all. Its really not that simple.

    Such is reality.

    We could do the same with race, of course…

    As I said before, I really think you’re not ‘getting’ privilege.

  23. associatedluke

    I get it. You’re just not listening because issues of identity and tribalism are at play. I’d be taking something away from you if you say that you agree.

    Nice way to try to trash the complexity of the issues of privilege, especially religious. So much for dialog.

  24. Ian

    Hmmm…. I don’t really know how to make progress, though I think it is important we try somehow. And I’m definitely not trying to shut down dialog.

    I don’t *think* I’m responding out of identity and tribalism (I can’t be sure, of course).

    Having lived on both sides of the Atlantic, as both a Christian and an Atheist, I think I can see this at work. I think there is a vast difference between Christian privilege in the US and the UK.

    I struggle to identify any significant Christian privilege over Atheists in the UK. So personally I don’t feel I have a lot of personal identity tied to this question.

    All privilege is, of course, complex. I have white privilege, and white privilege is complex, because there are different kinds of ‘white’, and they have a range of qualities. Similarly with gender privilege. Of course. All privilege is complex: abled bodied people have privilege over the disabled, yet in the UK, the state pays for a car, treatment, home adaptations and some carer expenses for disabled folks. So plenty of abled bodied folks think the disabled are the privileged ones. It is always complex.

    But, in all discussions of privilege, privileged people tend to react by minimising the privilege. By arguing to areas where they lack privileges, by looking at formal legal structures (such as EOE laws) rather than lived experience. By atomising experience to the point where it is easily divided and dismissed, or minimised. And wrapping it all in ‘I’ve no doubt that this exists BUT…’ is again a very common trick.

    We can certainly have a discussion about the complexities of Christian privilege. But the complexities aren’t the issue, unless by the complexities your aim is to diminish the overall pattern. So at the moment, I don’t know how to progress, because you don’t sound like someone who is articulating what it means to have privilege, to me. You sound like someone in quasi-denial, who knows they should acknowledge it exists, but doesn’t really believe it, or doesn’t believe it is a particular serious or widespread issue.

    Now, please don’t read that as a personal attack. We need to have a way to discuss things critically, and disagree robustly, without it being personal. I think you’re very wrong on this, you clearly don’t, so how do we make progress for me to help you see why I think you’re wrong, or for you to demonstrate that I am wrong to think that?

    Perhaps, given you’ve already said that you are ‘sure’ there is Christian privilege, you could say what form you think that takes, and why you are sure.

  25. associatedluke

    I have all sorts of training on privilege, YWCA Racism Institution, LBGTQ, etc. but we’re not here to discuss credentials. I am not trying to minimize it, but contextualize it and identify the patterns. Which is why I stated, “I just prefer such conversations to be based in fact.” All you’re giving me is squish, which is uncharacteristic of you. You are doing this prolly because it’s such a huge issue as well as some identity things… but who knows. That’s your call, I’m just trying to state how I feel and what I see.

    So that’s why I presented what I’m seeing in my settings. I am attempting to put flesh on the bones in my comments, not deny or minimize, but to look at how this is played out in various settings . And see where I might be contributing, benefiting, or resisting: I don’t feel like I am, but you’re hearing me different. Just as your comments about white privilege, there’s range and you missed economics. That’s a huge one! And it goes across all sorts of lines.

    Another story: I have attended the meeting of the NW Ohio Skeptics, Free Thinkers, and Atheist recently and it was interesting to see what shook out. The older members, 45 and up stated that they were closeted but the younger members in their 20s stated that they were “out.” And there were some overlap and muddiness in the 30-45 range. And I just was there as an ally, and mostly listened. I was invited through a Faith forum. It was a cool experience. Maybe it’s a generational thing? Younger atheists feel more open to speak up and be vocal?

    Today, I don’t feel like I’m particularly benefiting. In fact, quite the opposite. Plus I take the perspective of Rowan Williams and think that Christianity works best as a religion from the margins.

  26. Bigotry, Abusive Privilege and Exclusivism are ugly where ever we find them. And Luke, Ian and myself have seen them and fought them in several different settings. And all of us confess unavoidable residuals in ourselves. That is a common point.

    In the USA, I have never heard a Christian being fired from a job just for his beliefs. Atheists have had that happen many times in the USA and I have written about my bad cases of the same. Sure, the law may say it can’t be done, but it happens and fighting it in court is tough.

    To compare such a threat of livelihood to not being able to wear a burqa or a cross or being allowed to not work due to your religion proclaiming a holy day, are very different things. We should not tolerate religious holy days at all, if people want vacation days, they can apply for them like all other days. If your job requires certain clothing, too bad that you religion demands otherwise. If your job demands you are off drugs, too bad yours recommends hallucinogens. But denying a job for simple beliefs can not be compared to these implying you are trying to show balance or complexity. They are very different categories.

    I hope younger atheists keep being able to speak out as Christian privilege dies — and Luke helps that in many ways. Vocal atheists have helped — even those branded as “militant” are a huge boon to the up-coming younger atheists. May religion continue to loose all privilege in society. But may it also never be a test to exclude jobs too. Bigotry can always swing the other way because that is what people do. I just wished Christians would see how privilege is loaded in the language and playing both sides — as Ian has written. I am loaded with privilege and it still sneaks out in my language all the time. I just had an interesting long conversations this weekend as I couch surfed with a white Bronx cop with his black Haitian wife in a Irish neighborhood. The interesting thing was a Russian couchsurfer at a party who assumed all the wrong things about me and the cops brother who said all sorts of racial things to his brother’s wife — prejudice is deep and often unconscious. And all these folks denied it as the rest of us laughed.

  27. Ian

    Like you say, this isn’t about credentials, but about how you came across.

    So here’s the summary of why we got here, as I see it.

    Sabio thinks that, one reason progressives are tempted to adopt Christian language and norms for their abstract and demythologized divine, is that by doing so they can leverage the cultural presumptions about Christianity, and thereby take advantage of its privileges.

    You said you ‘scoff’ at that idea, and see yourself as not benefitting (‘in fact, quite the opposite’) from that cultural presumption about what you are and what you believe.

    Yet, I find that a staggering claim. I really do. Being as objective as I can muster.

    As a Christian minister you can visit people in hospital without undue fear of being detained by security. You can tell people what you do without them cancelling play-dates with your kids or having them ostracise you. You can appear on the internet under your own name without fear of repercussions against your family beyond some strongly worded internet responses. You can expect to find communities in most towns that honour your religious stories and rituals, and could find employment as a professional minister in most cities in the country. You could appear as a character witness in a trial of one of your congregants without fear it would count against them. If you divorced, your Christianity wouldn’t be used by your wife as evidence of you being unfit to have custody of your kids. Your church is very unlikely to be vandalised or set on fire.

    All of these issues I have seen, or I know people who have experienced.

    Do you honestly think you are privileged against because you choose to be a liberal religionist under a Christian banner, as opposed to say a humanist, or buddhist or NRM one?

    I totally get that your life may be a struggle, and the people you minister too may be among the most under-privileged people around. I totally get that being a professional minister is a very tough job, with very little remuneration (I went to school with and am friends with several ministers – I really get what being a minister actually entails – I couldn’t do what you do). I also understand that as a progressive, rather than an evangelical, you live under the shadow of the more powerful evangelical privilege and presumption. But surely it isn’t tribalism to say that all those things don’t diminish the fact that you’re better of as a minister of an identifiably Christian denomination than as a minister of one that did not so identify.

  28. Superbly summarized, Ian, I couldn’t agree stronger. And stated in such a way that it should be easy to address the core issue(s) concretely.

  29. associatedluke

    Well stated Sabio.

    @Ian: “Like you say, this isn’t about credentials, but about how you came across.”
    -Yup, there’s a lot of problems and I’m not the smartest or the most articulate in these matters. And I’m in a lose-lose situation, debating a topic where I’m in the majority and a very public figure of such, with two very eloquent and much smarter dudes. So however clumsy, I’m saying: I get it. I see it. I see these examples in my life. And I’m trying, in however awful way, to counter, resist, and bring awareness to those within my tribe/banner/privileged set.

    And I contradict myself a lot.

    “Do you honestly think you are privileged against because you choose to be a liberal religionist under a Christian banner, as opposed to say a humanist, or buddhist or NRM one?”
    -In some ways, yes. Bring in Spong or redaction, and watch the sparks fly. Often placed in the category of “damn atheist” which confirms the privilege of a certain type. But still, I’m on the scale and benefit from the system. I get that. What to do about it… that’s another matter, one I thought we were discussing.

    Now, you’re exactly right, I won’t have the rest of those things happen to me, and that’s further example of the privilege. Same with religious holidays. Well, we did have a couple of playdates cancelled cause they “found out” I was a pastor and assumed we were trying to convert them, not befriend.

    Love that Sabio stated, “I am loaded with privilege and it still sneaks out in my language all the time.” And here we are discussing these issues of great importance… on the internet. On computers… many don’t have that. I think this interaction will help all three of us figure ways to help others. I would say “bless” but that would be exactly what Sabio was talking about up there 😉

  30. Ian

    @Sabio – thanks. I’m having trouble keeping up with this discussion, and doing some work 😦 Work is losing at the moment.

    On thing I would want to challenge you on, though, is the lumping of Muslims with Christians in comparison to atheists in a discussion of privilege. I don’t know any US muslims (none that are outwardly so, anyway – that may be telling). But I know many UK muslims and I’d say they have a *much* worse time dealing with privilege issues here. It is absolutely the case that people are fired for being a muslim, their community centres are attacked, they are de-facto disqualified from public office in many places in the country, and their religion is routinely maligned in media and general conversation. I don’t think there is a general ‘religious privilege’ here, again it might be different in the US, that I’m not aware of.

    @Luke – well I feel we’re getting to some kind of three way equillibrium, if not agreement. Which is positive.

    I agree that bringing up Spong or a metaphoric ressurrection would strip you of much of the privileges I identified. But I read that as rather Sabio’s point. It is the fact that you don’t have to do that — you can live and work safely in presumption of what you believe — that forms the privilege Sabio is trying to identify.

    I suspect there’s probably something similar even with evangelicals. If you identify too strongly with the characteristic differences of your denomination, compared to the Christian average, you’ll be seen as odd and dangerous. So most people don’t, they just enjoy the presumption of a ‘Christian’ norm.

  31. @Ian,
    Where did I talk about Muslims — oh, maybe about Burkhas. Yes, Muslims have prejudice working against them here and I think they could help avoid it if they spoke out loud and clear against the militant Muslims. But their silence makes them suspect. And as long as we got Muslims who fight to change our laws to allow breaks for prayers, to wear burkas and diet privileges in prison, the bias will continue. May America never give into as much to Sharia persuasion as has happened in Europe.

    But likewise, I would like even less honor by the government of other religious preferences.

    But I am against prejudice treatment of a person just for their beliefs, unless those beliefs include that people who stop believing should be killed or women kept silent or gays killed or any number of horrible widespread belief in Islam. Even liberal Islam when judged by the standards that we judge Christianity, would end up extremely fundamentalist.

    I work with several Muslim physicians, in public they sound peaceful, but behind mosque doors, I don’t know what is said. I know many Christians that in public are delightful but teach their children that mine deserve to burn in hell. Ideas can be dangerous and don’t deserve our respect. When do we limit them? After the crime, or before. Tough questions.

    When muslims march against the sins of other dangerous or deadly muslims, then prejudice may wither. Until then, silence is support.

  32. associatedluke

    I was at an interfaith gathering last night and we spoke about this article. It was a great discussion which started off in the denial realm (instead focusing on how each group is targeted… even the biggest evangelical mega-church attempted) but as we kept talking, things shook out. Muslims are very much targeted in the area. From a recent arson, to stare downs. I did ask how they have publically spoken out about terrorism and they stated they hadn’t. I said exactly what Sabio said up there, “Silence is support.”

    As the conversation progressed the muslims stated they don’t like the Baha’i. And nobody but the Buddhist, Syrian Orthodox, and I like atheists. But something has started and the conversation was so fruitful, it’s on next month’s agenda. So I want to thank you both for helping make that real time conversation happen. Sorry for any clumsiness on my part. I think conversation and mutual respect is the best way forward.

    So to reiterate: trick is not a word of respect. Neither is saying children’s religion is just like regular religion. But we’ve covered that and arrived at a very new place… at least I feel.

    Now… on to racial, economic, and gender biases!

  33. Ian

    Thanks, I’m glad we came to a better place.

    A couple of thoughts.

    Firstly, I have sympathy for muslims who complain about being profiled. Do you think the muslims you spoke to would have been less stared at, feared, or abused if they had? Do you think they have a voice that would be heard by the people who are so abusing them? Do you think most people would listen even if they did hear? I suspect not. There are many more muslims here than there, and there are many imams who do speak out clearly and strongly against terrorism. But they aren’t, as far as I can see, targeted less than the more radical groups. So silence isn’t support, I don’t think. If you have the right color skin, and the right religion, you’re the bogeyman. There may be religious threads that have lead us to this, but blanketing the whole billion muslims with terrorism is no more sane than accusing you of being involved in Northern Irish terrorism.

    Secondly, though I’m willing to acknowledge that there are problems with the ‘trick’ term, I do still strongly think that children’s religion is a form of religion, because it uses the same mechanisms for its propagation. As I’ve said, there are differences, but it is important to consider the similarities even with religions we don’t want to be compared to. I’ve had a run of this recently with folks who are generally quite ecumenically minded suddenly taking umbrage at some particular comparison. A minister in the UK I am friends with was happy and contributing through a discussion of western buddhism, but suddenly took offence to discussing scientology in the same conversation. As I said before, I think it is important to understand why and how religion works. I don’t think there’s anything magic there, it is fundamentally a human process. And children’s religion uses the same processes in service of its own mythology. I don’t want that comparison to be insulting, but I also think it is important not to pretend it isn’t so.

  34. @ Luke,

    “Respect” is often a demand from those who don’t like what they hear. To pretend it is an objective measure is all part of that game.

    @ Ian,
    No one is “blanketing the whole billion muslims with terrorism” — can you show where I did that? I wasn’t sure who you were talking to. I disagree and still hold that “Silence is support.” But I don’t want to argue over a phrase. Instead:
    — if more Muslims marched, spoke in public or wrote against violent Islam, risked their lives to do so in this country, the perception that “silence is support” would be lessened.
    — whether you think that SHOULD be the case or not, I think it is. I think people inherently know this.

    I agree with you in countering Luke’s return to the two issues. He is still wrong — whether he perceives it as disrespect or not. That perception may be part of the impetus to change and thus, in the end, a good communication method. Nice is not always good.

    I see religious people offended all the time when they feel their religion is being explained in any way different than they’d like it explained. Any number of things are involved.
    (1) They want to feel their religion is different than others
    (2) They perceive it as a personal attack
    (3) “Religion” (and this is the biggest problem with religion in my view) banks on the idea of “sacred” which banks on “taboo” which banks on “damn it man, hands off — show some respect!” Religion is manipulative from the get-go (all fine and good) but claims not to be, and if challenged throws taboo at you.

  35. Ian

    Well, perhaps it is fitting that I end up disagreeing with you both on one issue 🙂

    “Blanketing the whole billion muslims with terrorism” I think is a fair summary of the idea that your default assumption is that a particular muslim supports terrorism implicitly unless you see evidence to convince you otherwise. As I said in my comment, I am aware of many muslim groups who do speak out strongly against terrorism, but their voices are barely heard, and rarely listened to. It seems a variation of ‘why don’t progressive Christians speak out more against homophobic bigotry?’. Where, often the problem is not that they aren’t speaking out, but that you aren’t standing close enough to hear.

  36. Ian

    … (hit send too quickly) …

    Often the real criticism boils down to “why don’t minority religionists have a louder voice.” Which brings us nicely back to the issue of privilege.

    We could sit here and demand they yell at the top of their lungs, throw themselves under busses and force their way onto the news. “Risk their lives” (and presumably, therefore, the risk doesn’t pay off and they lose their lives, at least some of the time). All so they can meet some criteria you’ve set for whether they are sufficiently appalled at crimes that they never carried out and never wanted.

    But that strikes me as just plain unreasonable. Hey, you, I’ve decided to judge you, and the only way to convince me I’m wrong is if you’re willing to risk your life to prove I’m wrong. Nope, that’s just vile.

  37. associatedluke

    @Sabio: Yet one also goes much farther in not acting like a jerk. I couldn’t hear much of what you were saying in parts of this conversation because the implications cut too deep or were a little too general for me to try the shoe on. And I think your three assumptions are off target. Save for #2 a little. I was guilty of that. but being called a trickster will do that on anything. Just like you trick people into taking their medicine. You trickster you.

    Christianity really has no original things save for the incarnation and the Trinity. How old concepts are used… now that’s different. As for taboos, there are sensitivities; corporate and personal. I crossed a line up here on an issue of sensitivity. I was wrong to do so. And that was a taboo you have and have for good reason.

    @Ian: I think you’re right, “If you have the right color skin, and the right religion, you’re the bogeyman.” My question then becomes, how does one change hearts and minds? Often through personal relationship. You raise good points.

    Fact of the matter, we simply don’t hear the other voices and definitely don’t seek them out for a variety of reasons. I wouldn’t read your blogs if I didn’t feel some sense of connection, or the idea that I’m valued and respected. And I hope that goes the other way too. And there’s an idea of “They don’t gotta burn the books, they just remove them.” (RATM lyric). Just like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We don’t hear much of it in the US and the general perception is all Palestinians are terrorists and never use nonviolent resistance, when it turns out that this is simply false. We rest on unchallenged stereotypes until we’re challenged with connection and compassion for the other. At least, that’s my assumption.

  38. Ya know, Ian, exaggerting my positions (“blanketing all Muslims”, “throwing themselves under buses”) is not helpful. All I understand is that you are charged up enough about this issue to break your normal dialogue habits.

    When Gallup interviews Muslim views in the mid-east, Pakistan and more, the number of deady views are the vast majority. Deadly! ! These need to be fought. Who should fight them?

    Islam has a very different presence in Britain than here. I get that. I get that you are upset.

    It is interesting hearing Black speaking to Blacks (in this country) on how to get rid of stereotypes. Some say, “Whites must change”, some say “We must change”, some say “We must overpower the stereotypes with stronger images.” Lots of different strategies. But to make it all politically correct is not my tendency.

    I accept all my Muslim colleagues and treat them as equals at work and in social settings. Doing otherwise is vile. To hope for louder voices and actions in their community is not.

  39. @ Luke

    (1) “jerk” — oh yeah, much less subjective. now you have convinced me.

    (2) No one called YOU a trickster but certain methods were called “tricks” (or stratagem). To use these, one does not have to be consciously doing so. Thus escape the person-labelling as “trickster”. Which is a move you often make. I did the same when you said I lied. I jumped to “lier”, I should have just said, “I did not lie.” But here, I think you do pull of tricks and I really think you don’t get it. You may do them with best intents and for very good ends, but that is not the conversation.

    (3) Nothing is original about Incarnation or Trinity — where did that come from?

  40. associatedluke

    (1) Glad to! I knew with the right word I’d get there eventually. The internet is incredibly awesome for making people change their long held beliefs and correct their skewed worldviews…said no one ever.

    (2) You’re right! That is not the conversation. We can have a conversation of your tricks as well. But that wouldn’t be respectful or help either of us, now would it?

    (3) Oops! not incarnation: trinity is indeed unique. I know of no other religion which claims, “one God in three persons.” And it came from your #1.

  41. Ian


    Don’t mistake holding a reasonable position for being upset. 😉 When you’ve got radical delusions, then the voice of reason and calm can often seem like frothing incohate rage! Its a common tactic, but a rather transparent one, to accuse someone who disagrees with you of being emotional. [I really hope you hear the playful tone in that paragraph.]

    I wasn’t exaggerating your position, I don’t think. You think silence is support, and you suggested they should risk their lives to break that silence. If the phrases I used to discuss those views are unpalatable, I can do without out them. It is the underlying idea I find unhelpful.

    I have no doubt that large amounts of sentiment in certain parts of the world is violently anti-west. I’m not sure why that is relevant to the issue of whether silence for American muslims is a reasonable indicator of support. The burden of assumption seems wrong there.

    I also hope for louder voices. But I think we can better do that buy giving non-white non-Christians a louder voice. By reporting moderate muslims in the media, for example. Muslim peace marches are more common in the UK that jihadist protests, but the latter are those that get reported. I got stuck in London last year behind a huge muslim peace march, the road was closed for over an hour as they passed. I couldn’t find any mention of it on british news sites. Yet a few dozen jihadists turn up with violent banners to a stop-the-war march and it is the lead on the news, and the news returns to the blow-by-blow coverage of their trial and conviction.

    Again, I’m neither upset, nor trying to be a dick towards you. Just trying to figure out which way is up. These feels more like an issue of racism than actual substance to me. That you feel differently is interesting, but you’ve not convinced me yet!

  42. Ian

    @Luke – on the trinity – off the top of my head Brahman as Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva (creator, sustainer, destroyer); the goddess as Maiden, Mother, Crone (beginning, creator, end); God as Soul, Spirit and Body in Ayyavazhi.

    Identifying both functions and qualities of God with different ‘personas’, ‘deities’, ‘avatars’ and so on, seems to be a fairly common response to a theology of a God that encompasses characteristics we are uncomfortable to assigning the same character. So seeing an essentially polytheistic conception as a representation of an underlying single divinity seems pretty logical. Then three is just a really satisfying number for us. I’d guess there are probably hundreds of religions with some form of trinitarian understanding of one-god, three-persons.

    Of course, none of them would have the exact same theological structure as Christianity. Which comes back to the level-of-generality problem. You can always look at things in a specific enough way so that nothing is comparable. The trinity, the incarnation, even the Christian God is unlike any other religion. But if we’re speaking generally enough to see religions as comparable, then it would amaze me if the trinity weren’t a fairly common concept of God.

  43. associatedluke

    Oohh.. good catch on Maiden, Mother, Crone. I think that’d be almost exact on the three in one… the difference being the issue of “modelism” and how those can be divided and distinct parts, whereas the “orthodoxy” Trinity states that’d be a heresy. But who cares, that’s pretty exact. So nevermind, nothing in Christianity is unique, just in how old things are used in the general sense. Of course, when it comes to level of specifics, that’d be another layer and another conversation.

    I think I’m with ya on all fronts, Ian.

  44. Ian

    @Luke – yes, and in fact that’s where I can feel this sense of geeky excitement grow. Because one of the things I love about Christianity is the amount we know about how those things grew up, and the gaps we don’t. We know a fair bit about the personal and political struggles behind making Sabellianism (modalism) a heresy, and the ways in which the binitry became three. But precious little about how the one became two.

    From as far back as we can go with the Aramaic hymn in Phil 2, the Jesus movement thought of and worshipped Jesus as divine. And that must have caused real theological distress for a group so strongly routed in a Judaic monotheistic confession (we’re very likely talking well before the gentile expansion of the Jesus movement). So which gives? We can’t bring ourselves to drop the confessions of our forefathers, we can’t turn our back on who we’ve come to see Jesus as. What is the solution? It is binitarianism: Jesus and God are one. I often think what it would have been like to make that leap, or be there to see it. Who did it first? How did it spread? Was there resistance to it, or was it enthusiastically adopted as a way out of the theological contradiction? Did it happen as a kind of theological exercise, or was it experienced as a revelation? Was the theological contradiction even acknowledged, or was it just an underlying theological tension? Yeah, definitely one of my favourite things to geek out about!

  45. OK Ian,

    [interesting exchange here]
    Time to slow down perhaps. To clarify my fogged views, could you exactly quote me (the shorter, the better), my “got radical delusions”.

    If I had said, “risk their standing in their Muslims community” with their protests, would that have seemed almost tolerable, as compared to “risk their lives”? Or would you have objected further?

    I imagine you and I are probably very close in temperament in how we deal with Muslims in public. But I may be wrong. I wonder if you feel “liberal” Muslims need to do anything different to fight the horrific attitudes of the majority of their fellow believers. Yes, non-white, non-Christians a louder voice is great. There is a recent movement of Atheists Muslims in England which is fantastic — may they prosper. They are risking their lives. I agree to supporting liberal muslims to some extent, but I am not sure about moderates, but it is all a matter of “support what” and definitions of terms.

    I am glad for peaceful marches in England. I rarely hear of them here — I wonder if it is a media thing too though our media is largely liberal.

    BTW, you are welcome to be upset and even a dick — as long as we make progress to understanding differences, similarities and question marks. 🙂

  46. PS, Ian, I was late coming — good take-down on Luke’s attempt at “Christianity is unique in …” . Such efforts are inherent in religion and all human efforts. Attitudes toward countries, races, species, languages and more. Because if we can feel uniquely special, we feel more secure — it is a deep reflex of mind.

  47. The politics behind it were amazing, so were the theological gymnastics and some would say marketing tactics to both Jewish and Pagan alike. Look we’re mono-polytheists just like you, yet Jesus is divine! I would love to have all the answers to your questions, as they are endlessly fascinating. And given that a form of Jewish mysticism was also taking off at the time that stated that “you are not Ian, you are God ‘Ianing'” which has found a renaissance in Reform Judaism and was been around in kabbalah and Jewish mystical circles since the First Century, I wonder how much cross-pollination was going on between these circles and the early Christian ones. I’m guessing “far more than we know.”

    To go futher off the subject and onto this one: I’ve also been kicking around an idea of the “participatory Trinity” based on Borg and Crossan’s participatory eschatology. In a nutshell, it’d be, “God and the Holy Spirit are, and we’re called to be Christ.” Not just worship the Trinity but to participate, put on the mind of Christ, these things he did, we can do and greater than these. But I’m still working out the hypothesis, not sure if this unique to me, but it follows in the tradition of the Jewish Mystics and maybe into Trinitarian thinking.

    I do geek out about this. In fact, a new book on the Trinity is The Holy Trinity and the Law Of Three: Discovering the Radical Truth at the Heart of Christianity by Cynthia Bourgeault who covers the history and formation of the doctrine, and then moves to the metaphysical as I am doing. Looking forward to reading it.

  48. @Sabio: Oh the violence and malintent in your words. No wonder I get so defensive around you. You’re always jabbing.

  49. Ian

    If I had said, “risk their standing in their Muslims community” with their protests, would that have seemed almost tolerable

    Hmmm… It still presupposes the communities are basically terrorist supporters. And I think that is what I’m concerned about.

    There are nasty complexities around the issue that make any kind of statement about ‘muslims’ problematic, I think. Here I’m switching to a UK perspective. We have overlays of both racial and religious divisions. Muslims aren’t one thing. Bangladeshi muslims, Pakistani muslims, Indonesian muslims are all quite different in community, association, integration and politics. They have different cultural levels of integration, different dress. We have smaller numbers of Arabs, though we also have Arab christian communities, and sometimes the communities align on racial grounds, not religious ones. There are also huge differences between muslims of different ages and even then, among different generations. So second generation Pakistani young men tend to be the group from which more radicalised individuals come. But they are also the group which has the most westernised individuals. Bangladshi immigrants, particularly first generation, tend to be more ghettoised, less affluent, but also produce fewer (if any) jihadists. There is very little jihadist issue with first-generation immigrants, perhaps because they are self-selecting to want to come here. But there is a second-generation identity crisis. On the other had we have multicultural issues around first-generation. We have a small problem with honour killings of (particularly) second-generation girls who westernise. But again though that is often portrayed as being a ‘muslim’ problem in the right-wing media here, it actually cross cuts religion: there are similar cases among hindu immigrants, for example.

    So the idea that muslims should speak for all those communities seems unfair to me. I would expect them to condemn terrorism, as I would any moral person. But I wouldn’t expect a Bangladeshi muslim to be morally compelled to be shouting their condemnation of Pakistani second-generation men. It seems inherently racist.

    As for you not hearing about marches. That was my point. I’ve no idea whether they take place there. But I only found out about them here when I found myself behind one. The BBC is pretty liberal too, but doesn’t talk much about that. The story of muslim = terrorist is really well embedded.

  50. @ Luke, Sorry, you’d have to quote my horrible “violence and malintent” for me to understand of what you speak.

  51. Ian

    @Sabio – my “take-down” of Luke, presumably.

    @Luke – have you come across David Haywood’s Z-theory? Not participatory, but another way of reinterpreting the trinity in an immanent rather than an ontological way.

    I can follow you, but I find it tough. Part of me loves forming those kinds of connections, but I’m inventing, not discovering stuff. I’d suggest, if it were me, that the Holy Spirit is the more natural model for participation, referencing both Sophia and the Pneumatic animation of our life. Jesus is ultimately ontological: a historical event – both as exemplar and incarnation. But God the Father loses me a bit on that. But as I say, I’m really not the best person on this, because it feels transparently a creative endevour with only narrative constraints.

    I personally have a dualist view of reality, which I’ve spoken of before. Which I could, but don’t personify / mythologize (except in as much as making the model is a form of mythology, of course), but which doesn’t map nicely on to the trinity.

  52. @Ian: I’ll check out Z-Theory and thanks for the feedback. Very helpful.

  53. @ Ian,
    Again, the same move. I said, “good take-down on Luke’s attempt”, not of Luke. The sport’s analogy was judged as “violence and malintent”? I think he was triggered by more than just that (since he is not replying), but by the implication again of the analysis of his faith moves (tricks, stratagems) to appear common. It is offensive to some to be accused of being ordinary.

    Pray tell, briefly, Ian, what does “dualist view of reality” mean for you?


    It still presupposes the communities are basically terrorist supporters.

    Hmmmmmmm not sure how you got there — certainly in nothing I said, unless you have a quote. My take: you are reacting to a phrase and what you think any user must mean by it. I was afraid it was just that, just my earlier caution of “I don’t want to argue about a phrase.” But I think we have covered enough ground. Seems like a stall.

  54. Ian

    @Sabio –

    If you assume that, to speak out against terrorism, would endanger a person’s standing in their community. Doesn’t that assume that terrorism is de-facto supported by the community?

    Dualist – all reality is subjectively experienced, there is an objective reality independent of subjective experience of it. Any phenomenon can be seen as either a function of subjectivity or of objectivity. The two descriptions are what I’ve called ‘mutually supervenient’. Given that we can’t escape our experience, neither are more ‘real’. To focus on either is a problem. To focus on subjective reality is narcissistic and selfish. To focus on the objective is to deny the value of qualia. To the extent that I have a ‘spiritual goal’ it is to hold the two in tension, both in terms of what I value, and how I live.

  55. Ian

    I wrote briefly on the dualism in this post, but I promised to come back on it, and I can’t see I ever did. I just remembered I had!

  56. Ah, I see Ian,
    No, I did not think that. Instead, Those on the edge on what they feel about this would be alienated, those against would bad mouth and those who prefer silence would be uncomfortable, then it would not imply at all that I thought the whole Muslim community supported terrorism. But now I see the jump you made.

    Ah, epistemological dualism, not ontological. “Dualism” has to always be highly qualified.

  57. Ian

    @Sabio – Ah, okay, gotya. Sorry if I consistently heard the worst.

  58. Ian, I know you think decorating a blog with pics is a cheap trick to get meaningless stats, but I found this pic that I thought was great for this post:
    Evolution of Superstition

  59. Ian

    I don’t think images are a cheap trick, I just include them when I have one that is relevant. That is a good one, but its use is reserved, so I couldn’t attach it.

  60. I didn’t think you should attach it, but thought you’d like it.
    Can’t you give credit to a flicker account and use the pic? Just curious?

  61. You’ve studied this stuff (copyright stuff), is this site off limits too:
    if I credit them, isn’t that enough?

  62. Ian

    The flickr image explicitly said all rights reserved. Flickr does allow people to be clear about the rights they allow, so it is fairly easy to see what you’re doing with flickr. You can also search only for images with creative commons attribution licenses.

    For the coloring book, the page only says who owns it. It isn’t clear what rights they give or withhold, which is odd for coloring pages, since they are usually (almost by definition) designed to be copied. So on the face of it, no.

    You can use an image if you intend to provide commentary on the image, where the image does not make up a significant portion of the work. But the definitions are tricky. Using an image to illustrate your post doesn’t count, but exactly where the line is drawn is difficult to be sure of.

    If there’s an image I really wanted to use, I’d probably just email the owner. I’ve done that with images in my day job from time to time, and usually folks are pretty good at playing along, if there’s no money involved.

  63. thanx mate — actually before reading this, I just e-mailed a guy about a good buddhist hell image.

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