1. Jon Lamotte

    A good bit of discussion while I have been silent.

    Jacques concisely summed up my views on tribalism and think that bec agrees to an extent, but I will say just one thing. Definitions and labels are useful, but any level of separation (us, them) is a tool to be potentially used for discrimination by those wishing for power; it tends to exclusion. Therefore the removal of the label helps for including all individuals in the previously separated groups, it tends to inclusion. If this is the case we must be extremely mindful of such divisive potential and in all cases practical, remove it.

    “that our perceptions of reason and rationality are always shaped by our culture and context.” Yes, but we can use rationality and reason to remove that cultural bias. We can use meditative or attentive techniques (which are rational) to create some awareness regarding many issues (e.g. Zen monks). We can use logical reasoning to query each of our cultural assumptions and create change (e.g. Socrates). Via these methods we “become less arrogant, less despairing, less helpless. i become more gracious, more forgiving, more loving.” I agree also, that this in no way proves the existence of God. From the above I therefore disagree that compassion, empathy and humility (all elements of love) are irrational.


  2. Jacques

    “that faith and science are different, that the questions offered by one can

  3. Cheryl

    i guess we’re at an impasse then. i say my faith does make a difference to me, even though i can’t prove it. you say it can’t make a difference unless i can prove it.

    i’m not sure where to go from here.

    obviously none of us are going to convince the other… and it seems like maybe the tone of conversation is changing, so it’s more about tripping each other up rather than finding out more about each other.

    though i could be reading that all wrong.

    i was thinking on the way home, as i listened to the last arcade fire cd, that music would be pretty terrible in a non-faith world. it would cut out most of the U2 playlist, there’d probably be one song left on the arcade fire cd, there goes half of jonny cash and radiohead… though we’d also be getting rid of most of enya, so that’s one for your side 🙂 .

    i still have a stack of questions to ask about all of the above… but maybe we need to decide first if it’s a conversation worth continuing… even if we’re not going to convince each other…

  4. Ben

    Cheryl, I would like to think that faith can be proved to a certain extent, after all faith is very similar to the words belief or trust. The way the Islam person is obedient to Allah reflects their trust in the afterlife

  5. Cheryl

    hi Ben – i’m not sure that belief and trust are the same as faith. there’s a connection between them, but i understand them to be quite different. i find it interesting that, biblically, an integral part of faith is knowing that nothing about god can be proven, but choosing to live that way anyway…

    i think what you describe from the bible might make sense to many christians, but there are plenty of other ways to read the old testament prophecies than to see them as being fulfilled in jesus… in fact many christian biblical scholars read them in another way. it’s interesting stuff though.

  6. Ben

    If Nothing about God can be proven, even though God made the world he did not leave any hint of his existence, he did not come to earth as the man Jesus, he did not speak through prophets, he did not give prophecies that came to fulfilment, thus making it very probable that Bible does not contain the words (thoughts, ideas, etc.) of God but of man.

    Would it be accurate to call your form of Christianity a kind of club or association in which your faith is a belief in the world becoming a better place if we all follow specific verses in the Bible. In this case you are trusting in what you have seen to be accurate, and having faith for something to happen in the future.

    I have not come across any alternatives to reading the OT prophecies about Jesus. Probably shows how narrow minded I have been in my investigation. Can you refer me to a website or give examples yourself.


  7. Cheryl

    Ben, christians might believe these things about God. … and the bible might be ‘proof’ of them for many christians, but it’s proof that is based firstly on having faith that the bible is a special /sacred / holy book. can you see how that’s a circular argument? at some point faith has to come into it.

    no, it would certainly not be accurate to describe ‘my’ form of christianity as a club or association!

    regarding the prophecies… some of Walter Brueggemann’s books also develop this theme a little. Christopher Seitz’s book in the Interpretation series of biblical commentaries outlines the arguments for and against. There would be others as well – the Oxford dictionary of the bible would also be a good source.

    i found this online article which could be helpful too:


  8. Michele

    In relation to the posts a few days ago:

    Thanks for your reply Bec. I think we agree, as you said, you do not just act on gut feelings, you think about your actions and consider your impact on the world. I hear your point that there are some other Christians who do the same.

    On the problem of evil, we can proceed with logic, and not discuss the possibility of divine intervention. If god created people with free will, then god created beings with the capacity to do evil. So I do not believe god is all good because he created people with the capacity to do evil acts.

    I like David Hume’s quote on the problem of evil from ‘Dialogues concerning Natural Religion’ (1779)
    “Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

    Thanks for your reply Cheryl, it was good to hear what you have to say. Yes we do have some fundamental differences, I think we are getting to the bottom of where we disagree.

    I agree that we are influenced by our culture and context. We need to analyse and reflect on these limits. (Michel Foucault, who rejected the postmodernist label, suggest this is what criticism is all about) But we cannot just say god and intuition are a way out of these limits. We all use rationality (if rationality is concerned with explanations and understanding). In deciding how to live, we cannot just go on feelings, intuition and faith. I believe that we should have justifications and explanations for our actions based on an ethics that can be discussed through language and as Jacques says, assessing our experiences. We can still acknowledge our contexts and be aware of the limits of our thought processes.

    I agree with Noam Chomsky’s criticism of post-modernism (from wikipedia: postmodernism).

    Noam Chomsky has suggested that postmodernism is meaningless because it adds nothing to analytical or empirical knowledge. He asks why postmodernist intellectuals won’t respond as “people in physics, math, biology, linguistics, and other fields are happy to do when someone asks them, seriously, what are the principles of their theories, on what evidence are they based, what do they explain that wasn’t already obvious etc? These are fair requests for anyone to make. If they can’t be met, then I’d suggest recourse to Hume’s advice in similar circumstances: to the flames.”

    I do not think that Christianity speaks of a love that is irrational, as Jacques explained, there are reasons for loving people. I think there are good reasons for love, justice, hope and forgiveness.

    Thanks for the discussion 🙂

  9. Cheryl

    Hi Michele,

    i do think the concept of loving your enemies, doing good even to those who will hurt you, is pretty irrational – it’s certainly unreasonable. by irrational, i think i mean that it goes against our natural instinct. also i don’t think it’s exclusively christian.

    the culture argument bemuses me. the great mistake of modernity was to think that it had discovered pure knowledge and pure interpretation – that it had found truth. of course, now we’ve realised that much of that truth was from one perspective: the dominant male, educated, western, middle class, white perspective. it was, to use the cliched example, like a goldfish swimming in water – it has no idea what water is, but it’s still immersed in it. how is the removal of culture from knowledge, as you describe it, going to not make that same mistake.

    i’m sure the argument will come back that will say that science is pure truth… but do we say that all other things are false, except for those that can be proven absolutely? what about history? we know that each telling of history is from a particular perspective [at least i believe that, from a postmodern perspective], that it’s actually an interpretation. we have no idea any more what the truth is of history – we can’t prove it. does that mean it didn’t happen?

    if we want to argument the meaning / meaninglessness of postmodernity we could pit scholar against scholar for a good 500 comments. it’s just like the argument about proving god. i look at the world from a postmodern framework, you don’t… we’ll each critique the others’ argument from our own perspective, and that’s where they fall down.

    i’m not sure i’ve answered your question or comments – i’m pretty tired, and my head is full of other stuff… say it again in another way if i’ve not got it yet…

  10. Michele

    I agree, there is no pure truth. I criticise claims to absolute truth. Science is a tool not an answer. Nothing can be proven absolutely, no one is saying that. It’s just that you have to have some reasons or evidence for believing something. You can still be wrong.

    Yes, history is perspectives. We should look at the person who is telling the story (their interests, position, values).

    However, reasons for critiquing colonialism (a project related to modernity) and rejecting the ‘dominant male, educated, western, middle class, white perspective’ is by relying on certain values (connected with modernity) and universalising them – equality, freedom, rights – this time we really apply it to everyone. Yes these values are social constructions. However, with post-modernism you can’t universalise these notions. This leads to not being able to have an ethical stance. The problem with colonialism was that it evaluated different cultures and ideas as inferior. I disagree with colonialism that depended on the idea that all different cultures, people and ideas are inferior. But I do not think that all cultures and ideas are equally preferable. I don’t just respect all cultures and ideas. I believe women should not be genitally mutilated, some may say this is imposing my western values and there is no truth. I don’t think my values are just western, I apply it to everyone. I think some values of not causing harm and promoting people’s freedom should be encouraged, I’m not claiming it is absolute truth or some discoverable natural law. It is my construction of ethics. Also, if all beliefs (or truths) are equally valid you could also say all beliefs (or truths) are equally worthless. There are some beliefs that are preferable over others IMHO.

  11. Jacques

    I have been reading the comments with some interest, but I must say that now I feel like a fog has descended over the conversation. Cheryl, how can you say that you view the world through framework X and I through framework Y and that is just the way it is? Are we to be divided into mutually unintelligible camps by which intellectual framework we find most appealing? I don’t know which framework I would choose if I had to, but I don’t believe I do have to. Like all labels these serve only to divide where there is no real division – in this case I can’t see any difference in the intellectual process engaged by each of us in, say, buying our morning coffees (assuming you do), or using the computers we both obviously are. Where do we draw the line between things that are able to be viewed and discussed mutually and things that are not due to the clash of frameworks? When something is difficult or complex or just where we please?

    “do we say that all other things are false, except for those that can be proven absolutely?”
    Of course, nothing can be proven absolutely and I accept that as must anyone who gives it a bit of thought. And yet we have to live somehow and so we all manage to interact with the world on some terms. As Michele said, all beliefs are not equally valid – you must accept that or, as she said, they are equally worthless. Can you not criticise the beliefs of Hilali when he says western women are like uncovered meat? If you do that how can you consider that all beliefs are equal? So we must be able to have a dialogue about what we believe and there must be mutually acceptable standards of evidence and reasonableness to actually accept something. No, nothing is absolutely provable, but there are many things that it is unreasonable to believe and others that are unreasonable not to believe *given the evidence*.

    And given the evidence I believe that typing like this will eventually cause this message to be read by you and others. Surely you believe the same based on the same sort of thought process? Now where does it begin to fall apart so that I my cultural bias is *impossible* to overcome and so I must simply accept everything? I don’t think that point ever arrives. Genital mutilation is wrong, I can take that back to a principle of bodily integrity and empathy and obviously if someone doesn’t accept those then, and only then, we have an impasse. But if this hypothetical person has any consistency whatever then s/he must accept all torture, all murder, all suffering imposed for whatever reason this person thinks genital mutilation is acceptable because of. But, probably, that is not how this person would respond – they would say no, torture is not acceptable, are you mad? Which only shows that s/he is really believing only what s/he wants, not investigating these beliefs, not looking for a defensible and reasonable approach, just accepting what s/he inherited from his/her parents. And I don’t think that’s acceptable.

    I don’t see how you can criticise the oppression of women, colonialism, racism, capitalism, etc, etc, of those who have held power in our society until recently – those white, privileged males you mentioned – without holding that their beliefs are *wrong* in some way, and that there must be some way to figure out the validity of beliefs – i.e. why my criticsms of those beliefs are *right*.

    Everyone inherits beliefs from their society and parents and there must be a way to examine those beliefs. And it must be consistent between cultures. All of this does not privilege in any way western culture, unless one thinks that other cultures have never been intellectually rigorous and I’m pretty sure that’s not the case. When examining beliefs, one might find that more which are perceived as western (equality of the sexes for example) are justifiable, or one might not – but if you’re looking at things openly and searching just for the best position then who cares how they are perceived? And always the methods for figuring out which are justifiable and which are not is open to criticism, and always we must be aware of and *fight* our cultural biases.

    But to say that we have cultural bias so there is no way to judge beliefs and they are all ok? Well for one, I don’t think anyone actually believes that, it’s just not possible to really accept all beliefs and live in accordance with them. But for another it’s just not good enough, it’s a cop out intellectually.

  12. Cheryl

    michele – i don’t disagree with you about this. i don’t think that i have ever said that all beliefs are equal. my questions about postmodernity were coming from the perspective that i heard Jon and Jacques say that culture could be removed in the pursuit of knowledge, and i still don’t see how it can. for me, liberation is an ultimate value. for an indigenous person in central australia, i suspect they would choose something else. we all prioritise. we interpret according to our backgrounds and perspectives. from a faith perspective for me – and this comes back to the article – i’ve chosen to believe that if it’s not on the side of life and its fulfilment, then i think it’s wrong. and i would – like you – want to hold all cultures to that. but i also have to recognise that not every culture will understand fulfilment in the way that i do. not everybody understands liberation the way i do. not everyone understands love the way i do. which is the tricky bit. i think i’m right, but i have to at least recognise that there is another perspective, and be willing to listen to it.

    jacques… i do feel like we’re in a fog. and i was wondering, when i made the comment about postmodernity / modernity in response to michele, whether that was why. i wasn’t saying we shouldn’t talk about it, it had just occurred to me that we were saying the same words and talking a different language. which might be the reason for the fog. i don’t know.

    i’m offline for most of the weekend, if things go silent… i’m sure there’s much you want to say in return! i do have to say that this would be much easier over a glass of wine than in a comments box on a blog…

  13. Michele

    Hi Cheryl

    Yes it does get tricky. It would be nice to have a chat about this over a glass of wine, but I live in Perth! 🙂 The Age is far better than any WA newspaper 🙂

    Best wishes to you,

  14. Cheryl

    Michele, i spent some time in WA in January – the beaches are wonderful, the newspapers are, indeed, not…

    i wasn’t trying to stop conversation… just not sure where to go from here…


  15. Jacques

    Hi all, I too am in WA and so until work sends me over to Melbourne (please, please, please) again this is my only medium 😉 But if you are over in WA again you should let us know, we have a dinner every Tuesday where there is plenty lively discussion, over plenty of wine 😉

    Just one more small and possibly uncontroversial comment: when Jon and I said that “culture could be removed in the pursuit of knowledge,” I think we are more saying that one should strive as much as possible to remove one’s cultural bias. Perhaps it is impossible to truly be without biases (in the same way I will probably always notice the colour of people’s skin, no matter how intellectually un-racist I am), but I think it’s possible to intellectually discuss things without, and always be critical of, such biases.

    P.S. I read with interest the Leunig article on Sunday as well, though my reaction was predictably dissimilar to yours 😉 I wrote a letter, but they never print mine (bastards) – but basically I thought old Leunig was feeling as though the Dawkins crowd were arguing against his god when the god he described bared no resemblance whatever to the god of the mainstream religions which we argue against. Which lead me to thinking about things from another perspective – why would Leunig et al. not see that they are obviously not under attack when Dawkins et al. always specify the type of religion they are attacking?

    P.P.S. Do you remember the Leunig article on ANZAC day, published two days before, about three years ago? Probably the best and bravest article I’ve ever seen in the age, so no lack of respect for Leunig.

  16. Cheryl

    thanks for the invitation – i seem to only get to perth when work send me there too, and they seem more intent on sending me to london at the moment. damn.

    i’m going to think more about the bias comment…

    i’m not sure where dawkins leaves space for any version of God, including Leunig’s, and including mine – that’s been my argument with him all along.

    i do remember that article. he is indeed a brave and fearless man… who receives much hate mail [and i’ve had a tiny taste of the vitriol that exists ‘out there’ when one dares to speak publicly, so i’m filled with even more admiration!]

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