The Agony of Misplaced Ecstasy

Making sense of of Mother Teresa’s agonies of doubt.

Some people can juggle three tennis balls for minutes on end without dropping them. Most people can’t. Some people can whistle a happy tune beautifully, but most people can’t. It is obvious, is it not, that whether you can juggle or whistle has nothing at all to do with whether you are a good, honest, loving person. If only it were equally obvious that those who can manage the intellectual gymnastics required to keep alive a conviction that God exists in the face of all the grounds for doubting it have no moral superiority at all over those who find this proposition frankly incredible! In fact, there is good reason to believe that the varieties of self-admonition and self-blinding that people have to indulge in to gird their creedal loins may actually cost them something substantial in the moral agency department: a debilitating willingness to profess solemnly in the utter absence of conviction, a well-entrenched habit of deflecting their attention from evidence that is crying out for consideration, and plenty of experience biting their tongues and saying nothing when others around them make assumptions that they know in their hearts to be false.

Mother Teresa’s agonies of doubt are surely not all that unusual. What is unusual is that she put them in writing and now they are being revealed to the world, in spite of her explicit wish that they be destroyed. I get mail all the time from religious leaders who admit to me in private that they do not believe in God but think that the best way to continue their lives is to swallow hard and get on with their ministries, concentrating on bringing more good than evil into the lives of their parishioners and those for whom their churches provide care. I would never divulge their names without their consent, but I do wonder: How many millions of priests, pastors, rabbis, imams, nuns and monks around the world are living lives of similar duplicity? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the outing of Mother Teresa inspired a few thousand of them to come out of the closet and acknowledge their atheism! Then it might start being obvious not only that faith in God is not a requirement for morality, but that the loss of faith in God often goads people into living more strenuously helpful lives, as seems to be the case with Mother Teresa. Of course, such honesty carries a price: you have to change your mission in a way Mother Teresa never did. She could have devoted herself more single-mindedly to helping the poor instead of trying to convert them. Perhaps it was her guilt at being unable to convert herself that drove her to work so hard to convert others to take her place among the believers.

Photo courtesy of quinnanya.

Daniel C. Dennett
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  • TJ

    Great essay.The whole affair makes me think of the goofy ‘no atheists in foxholes’ argument. It follows, in my mind at least, that if this is so then the necessary corollary would be ‘there are no believers anywhere else’.I didn’t expect assistance with my corollary from Mother Theresa. That said, the only thing that surprises me about her help is her ability to be that honest with herself yet still indulge in, and propagate, her religious fantasy.

  • anonymous

    Everyone should read David B. Hart’s review of Dennet’s “breaking the spell.” It will cure anyone of the mistaken belief that Dennett has anything but the most lazy theological mind.

  • mtl

    Hypocrisy is one thing the Bible itself condemns soundly. “Judge not lest ye be judged” in context (Mat. 7) is not a warning against making any moral judgments, as some relativists have asserted, but a condemnation of hypocritical judging. Likewise, Isaiah 29 says, “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. [Therefore] all who have an eye for evil will be cut down.” Hardly is there a harsher word from Jesus than when he says, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”Yet, doubt is not an uncommon feature in the Bible itself either. Many characters suffered doubts, most famously Thomas the disciple. Jesus calls his contemporaries as a whole an “unbelieving generation”, and in the same context, an unnamed man cries out, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” Even those who “believed in [Jesus’] name when they saw the signs that he was doing” were found lacking since “Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them” (John 2).All this is to say, that from the Bible’s own perspective, hypocrites in the ministry should muster up the courage of their convictions and step down, but belief and doubt are also a much more complicated matter than you’ve expressed here.

  • yoyo

    Thanks for the great read Professor Dennett.

  • jay

    “Everyone should read David B. Hart’s review of Dennet’s “breaking the spell.” It will cure anyone of the mistaken belief that Dennett has anything but the most lazy theological mind.”Near as I can tell, Dennett does not have ANY “theological mind,” lazy or otherwise. I see that as a strength, since thinking “theologically” will only leave your brain tied in knots and with no more insight than you started with.

  • Thomas Baum

    Evil does exist only people with their heads buried in the sand so to speak would acknowledge otherwise. Jesus, Himself, told us that satan is the prince of this world. Mother Teresa had a calling within a calling to go to the poorest of the poor and do what she could, I think she did what God called her to do very well and despite feeling abandoned by God she carried on. I would say that could speak volumes if you have a heart to let it sink into. I have been chosen by God and in a dream I was told, “Only you can say it”, I had no idea what that could be. This happened after I had met God, the whole Trinity, and had met satan and had experienced hell and spiritual death but when I had the dream I had no idea what it was I was to say. These events happened in 2000 and since I know who I am and what my job is, I don’t know how to do it so I am just doing it. I use these posting as a tool to do what I have been chosen for. God is Love, Pure Love and Jesus is God Incarnate, as a matter of fact Jesus is the only person that has ever chosen to be a person. Jesus said that He would send the Holy Spirit to guide us into all Truth and I definitely am counting on the Holy Spirit to keep guiding me. God’s Plan is for all of His children to be with Him in the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Love, whatever you wish to call it, the names are interchangeable since “GOD IS LOVE” is a literal statement, He is a being of Love. Calling yourself a christian doesn’t mean you are one since God is a searcher of hearts and minds not of religious affiliations or lack thereof. They call this an on-faith site and I for one think that it takes a great deal of faith to believe that the whole universe is nothing but a fluke, a chance happening, that by pure chance everything fell into place and that ultimately it is totally meaningless, but I suppose you have to put your faith into something even if it adds up to nothing. Jesus said, “Judge not lest ye be judged”, He also said, “The measure you judge with will be the measure that you are judged with” very interesting statements considering some of the vile judgementalisms that appear on various sites on these postings. Jesus wasn’t kidding and some of the vilest have been sent in by people claiming to be christian. By the way: God wins, satan loses, a tie is unacceptable. The message is simple, living it is not always easy, the example of Mother Teresa’s inner life and life in Calcutta can be an example but that was her life to live. We all have our own life to live, so many people seem to want to tell others how to live rather than looking at how they are living their own lives. Be ready, take care. See you all in the Kingdom. Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • jay

    Good article. What is disturbing to me is, if MT had serious doubts for a long time about the very foundation of her religion, that she would continue to conduct her humanitarian mission in a way that was counter to her beliefs. Rather than emphasizing the afterlife as salvation (while de-emphasizing the actual physical suffering), she could have focused on the physical suffering and tried to alleviate more of that.It’s one thing to live a lie yourself, but it’s quite another to push that lie onto those who look to you for help.

  • Tracy Dowling

    Mother Teresa was not an evangelist — her order’s was dedicated primarily to the poorest of the poor dying on Calcutta streets — regardless of their religious persuasions.

  • MetricSU

    The case against the existence of God is so transparent for even the average intellect that Dennett’s assertion that many clergy must be atheists, or at least have strong doubts, rings true. But I don’t expect many preists, pastors, or rabbis to come out of the closet any time soon. Upton Sinclair once said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” Undoubtedly there are clergy who believe what they do is useless, but they need to earn a living, and likely they have little or no other skills.I’m intrigued by Thomas Baum’s entries. He writes “Calling yourself a christian doesn’t mean you are one since God is a searcher of hearts and minds not of religious affiliations or lack thereof.” Is Baum suggesting that a non-believer can enter heaven by being a good person? Yet Baum evidently believes in hell. I seem to remember that the main doctrine of Christianity is that belief in Jesus ensures a pleasant afterlife, and non-belief ensures eternal torture. But I’m happy to see that being a good person might get me in, even though my impulses are not driven by a desire to score points for the afterlife.

  • Thomas Baum

    To Jay and the rest of the world: She did focus on the people and she didn’t care what if any religion anyone had. Sad world isn’t it when someone reaches out and gives of themselves completely and gets bad-mouthed for it. I was told a story once by someone that visited Mother Teresa a couple of times and spent some time helping out. He was told that after you helped feeding them that he was to help them smoke, and he questioned her about this and she said that smoking for some of them was the only pleasure that they had and since some needed help in doing this, that is what he was to do. I have never met Mother Teresa myself but it seems to me that she had a heart, which is something that seems to be more and more missing in this world. Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • Mr Mark

    Indeed. Would that the clergy would come clean about their non-belief. Perhaps it would lead others to loose the shackles of religion.I have long believed that religious belief in America is a mile wide and an inch deep. That inch-deep belief would evaporate in short order if the non-believing clergy would come forward and be honest about their atheism.Of course, people need to draw a paycheck, even if they’re clergy. Fear and job security probably enter into the equation in large order. At least thinkers like Prof. Dennett are being read by more and more people.Hope springs eternal.

  • Don

    The good professor really missed the boat here. What Mother Teresa experienced is a spiritual phenomemon commonly called “the dark night of the soul.” There is a classic book which describes this experience by St John of the Cross. In a nutshell (by the way, I am not a theologian, just a normal Catholic Christian), it is a VERY heavy cross that our Lord Jesus gives to those souls who are especially close to him, as Mother Teresa most surely was (and is). This heavy doubt is given to purify the soul while it is on it’s journey to its eternal home in heaven. Mother Teresa and many other Saints who experienced this “dark night” are forced to rely on the virtue of hope as they have little or no consolation as they are enduring this. To view Mother Teresa’s doubts as evidence that she was not true to the Church founded by Jesus Christ Himself over 2000 years ago is really off the mark. She remained true the the Church, Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, as all Catholics are called to do. Hope this helps.

  • Don

    The good professor really missed the boat here. What Mother Teresa experienced is a spiritual phenomemon commonly called “the dark night of the soul.” There is a classic book which describes this experience by St John of the Cross. In a nutshell (by the way, I am not a theologian, just a normal Catholic Christian), it is a VERY heavy cross that our Lord Jesus gives to those souls who are especially close to him, as Mother Teresa most surely was (and is). This heavy doubt is given to purify the soul while it is on it’s journey to its eternal home in heaven. Mother Teresa and many other Saints who experienced this “dark night” are forced to rely on the virtue of hope as they have little or no consolation as they are enduring this. To view Mother Teresa’s doubts as evidence that she was not true to the Church founded by Jesus Christ Himself over 2000 years ago is really off the mark. She remained true the the Church, Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, as all Catholics are called to do. Hope this helps.

  • Fish Crow

    Dennett is correct that faith in God is not a requirement for morality, but he errs when he assumes that God is not a requirement. God is the only reason tings are moral or not. Atheists know there are moral absolutes, but differ from believers because they do not embark upon examination or thought as to why this is so; they are simply content to accept things without questioning them.

  • Lawrence Buhler

    Well stated. Mother Teresa is among the penultimate religious figures who have doubted. Jesus faced the ultimate doubts. I wonder whether would Mother Teresa appreciate Rousseau’s ecumenical philosophy and not care as much about “denominations” or religions? Did she see all too well the dangers of the duplicitous users of religion to advance their very immoral personal agendas? Faith in God is not a requirement for morality. Faith in goodness may be. It appears far too many exploit religion for agendas unrelated to God or goodness.

  • Lawrence Buhler

    Is faithless following of a religion a necessary evil in the minds of some, like Mother Teresa, in order to achieve a greater good? I have wrestled with that question my whole life.

  • Anonymous

    “Perhaps it was her guilt at being unable to convert herself that drove her to work so hard to convert others to take her place among the believers.”Prof. Dennett, I pulled this sentence from your article because it reveals an important disconnect between Christians and atheists. From the exerpts I have read of the forthcoming book, MT should not be considered a failed convert. Her letters reveal that she stopped “feeling the presence” of god in her life once she moved to Calcutta. Nevertheless, she made a decision to belief in jesus, etc. by sheer force of will. In the sects of Christianity that I am familiar with, this very intentional decision to believe is really all that matters. Earlier in your article, you talked about religious apologists who perform all kinds of mental gymnastics to maintain a belief in god. But MT stands for the Christian doctrine that these gymnastics are not necessary. Christian belief isn’t about conquering doubt via rational debate or a dialectic – its about stubborn, single-minded faith even when there is no earthly justification for it – neither rational nor emotional. This is shocking and disturbing to atheists because it basically precludes discussion about belief between Christians and atheists – our notions of “belief” are completely different.

  • Fallen

    People, PLEASE hit “post” only once. It takes a good long for the system to process the post — keep track of the progress. The more you hit “post”, the more times your post will, well, post.”No one can discredit what she has done during her life time.”Oh, but people have — you haven’t been reading or watching all the info that’s out there. The broadcasters never aired (and will never air) several exposes here in America, for instance.”For us to change the way we see her because she had doubts just like every human being on this planet ….”If you’ve read these letters, you will see that these weren’t just “doubts”. She was indeed a very troubled, mentally ill person. Her fascination with suffering being “beautiful”, as evidenced by comments such as (I’m paraphrasing) “pain is Jesus kissing you” (response: “Can you tell your Jesus to *stop* kissing me?”) can’t by any stretch be considered “normal”.

  • Fallen

    Jacob Jozevz, your posts are fairly unintelligible. You may want someone with an objective eye to review before posting in future.

  • Mike

    Well put sir. I was just having a conversation with a friend about the same thing. How does belief in unbelievable things somehow make one morally superior? It doesn’t. All of these so-called true believers are no more moral than anyone else–they just have a label and convenient template to hang on their morality. Faith in the existence of a deity may have been normal and understandable in the days before Gallileo, Copernicus, Newton, Einstein, et al.–now, I don’t really think there is an excuse.And oh yeah–take the saddle off of the model dinosaur. It just makes you “creationists” look that much more idiotic.

  • Mike

    Well put sir. I was just having a conversation with a friend about the same thing. How does belief in unbelievable things somehow make one morally superior? It doesn’t. All of these so-called true believers are no more moral than anyone else–they just have a label and convenient template to hang on their morality. Faith in the existence of a deity may have been normal and understandable in the days before Gallileo, Copernicus, Newton, Einstein, et al.–now, I don’t really think there is an excuse.And oh yeah–take the saddle off of the model dinosaur. It just makes you “creationists” look that much more idiotic.

  • Mike

    Oh, god is the only thing that creates morality, Fish Crow? Love these conclusory statements with no support, and indeed, no logical basis. Morality comes from many things–parents, family, friends, criminal law, etc.–to assert that only God makes things moral or immoral is such a small-minded, stupid statement that I almost feel bad about replying. This type of smugness shows people like you to be exactly what you are–closed-minded, arrogant snobs without a mind of their own.

  • confused

    Dennett is an important philosopher, but he shows the degree to which when a particular belief turns to dogma, ones philosophic ability can wane. Here it can be seen in his assertion that the fact that Mother Theresa doubted means she lost her faith. But there does not seem to be any indication that she ever lost her faith. Even her doubt it put in the forms of railing against God, not in the form of disbelief in God.What we have here is a cartoon version of belief in which having faith precludes taking issues seriously enough to doubt. And then when the reality does not meet the straw man version, the believer is accused of not living up to standards that noone actually holds.

  • Edward Hoyt

    “Then it might start being obvious not only that faith in God is not a requirement for morality, but that the loss of faith in God often goads people into living more strenuously helpful lives, as seems to be the case with Mother Teresa.”This is where you lose me, claiming that it’s silly to assert that maintaining belief in God is a morally superior position, but credible to assert that forsaking such a belief is.

  • shoebeacon

    excellent post. What, by the way, is a “brilliant theological mind”? What brilliance does making things up require?

  • Pierre JC

    Bravo, Dr. Dennett!

  • victoria

    sorry, doctor dennet not mister dennet

  • victoria

    the line i lifted is attributed to YAHZI on mr harris’ post.

  • Chip

    The unappropriately named The Moderate writes “The whole Wittgenstein, Mach, and Hilbert enterprises failed miserably in the Twentieth Century. Mach, for example denied the existence of atoms throughout his life based on that kind of “thinking” because he had never seen one.But still you have pathetic figures like Sam Harris mouthing the stuff and thinking they are wise.”What’s unreasonable is to believe in something with absolute certainty when there is insufficient evidence available with which to draw the conclusion. You seem to believe that atheists are absolutists whose disbelief is the product of faith, rather than being an absence of belief due to insufficient evidence to support believing. The difference is quite profound. Certainly there are some atheists whose disbelief is a faith akin to religious belief, but they are few and far between in my experience. I don’t think Sam Harris falls into that category based on what I’ve read of his works. It also seems that both you and Victoria misunderstand what she quoted:”It is not _reasonable_ to hold a position that cannot be disconfirmed by any imaginable fact or process. By definition, that kind of thinking is unreasonable.”That simply means it’s unreasonable to believe anything with such conviction that you can’t imagine anything that could ever overturn that belief. Such certainty IS unreasonable, and I can’t imagine how you could refute the statement. To put it another way, doubt is entirely reasonable. As an atheist I can certainly imagine new facts or evidence that if they emerged could change my mind about the existence of a god or gods. In the absence of those facts there’s simply no reason to believe.

  • Jesse

    Greetings from Juneau, AKProfessor Dennett’s contribution represents a common equivocation concerning the verb “to exist” — As I understand existence (yours, mine, the keyboard in front of me) to exist consistently implies having a beginning, an ending, and undergoing constant change in the interim. In that rather clear and ordinary sense–which is the only sense I can make sense of–I do not believe that God exists; I mean, why would God want to exist??It may indeed be possible to have faith in God AND to have intellectual integrity. What seems unlikely, however, is the possibility that language will ever be beyond reproach, whether it is intended to refer to things that exist, or to things that don’t.

  • logicaldoubtaboutlogic

    Perhaps the greatest weakness of religion is the idea of rational logic. Religion is based on an abstract concept called faith, or in logical terms the belief in something that is not rational. To therefore tie rational logic with religion is foolhardy and self-defeating: all logical persons with faith know about this dilemma. Atheists are in a way logical purists. Afterall, if religion never even shoulders the burden of logical proof, why would anyone even bother in the idea of religion? Many religious believers who possess the ability to reason and some degree of intellect are constantly asking this question, and I doubt any of their answers are logical. I will confess that my reason of staying with my religion is without any basis of rationality or logic. Some call this irrational, some would call it faith. In my personal belief, the rationalization of every single human reality and the attempt to put cold logic upon all facets of life is too cold and calculating. I understand that most things happen in a logical, natural manner with no direct influence from a Supreme Being, but sometimes it is always healthy to believe that an unexpected bonus in life such as a marriage proposal or a dream job is a gift from God. At the very least it can make you a more positive individual, and perhaps give you more spiritual comfort in the time of need. I believe that there are many degrees of faith, from extremely shallow to deep. People with extremely shallow faith tend not to question the basic principle of religion, to believe in religious dogma to a zealous proportion, and to label doubt as a dangerous path to eternal damnation. Then, there is the higher levels of faith, with all its accompanying doubts. I believe Mother Theresa is of a higher level of faith, one that is full of instrospection, doubt, and question. Her daily livelihood is full of situations that would make anyone doubt the goodness of a Supreme Being and whether or not such a being actually exist; after all if such a being did exist why would so many terrible things happen? Her decision to stick to her faith may seem hypocritical or downright fascetious to some, especially to atheists and religious purists. I believe that neither are correct for their judgements against this woman. For the atheists: the choice for belief is based upon an irrational concept called faith, and therefore any attempt in dragging rational discourse into this abstract concept is… irrational. Mother Theresa may have self-doubts about her faith, but she believes in her work and in her duty. I believe she believes that if she continues spreading her work, she will eventually be able to see God without remorse even if she has current doubts about his existence. She perseveres in sticking to her religion despite having those doubts, which is the very definition of faith. For religious purists (and other derivatives of such individuals): Mother Theresa has done much more in her self doubts and many of you individuals out there. She has engaged truly in her faith, questioning the very foundation of her beliefs and attempting to reconcile her reality with her faith. Attempting to cheapen that effort with worthless platitudes of Bible quotes or to criticize her on her lack of faith is in my belief, wrong in the face of God and of other men. Overall I would just like to respond to the author: faith is perhaps duplicitous, especially for those people who continue to stick by their religion despite having self doubts. The very nature of believing for the pure sake of belief requires 2 types of people: one who is simpleton with no absolute intelligence, or one who is extremely intelligent but believes for the sake of belief. The former type is worse than having no faith at all for the simple fact that these individuals couch human reality in romantic religious dialogue with no regard to the harshness of what is happening to the real world. The latter type is more prone to doubts and tend to ask more questions about faith, life, and realty, and ultimately, have to choose between continue believing in something that is not rational or to abandon religion altogether. Mother Theresa is of the latter type, and even though she did not find her answer while she was alive, she still stuck to her religion and persevered. Did she believe in a God still? yes! Did she have doubts about the existence of God during her work? yes! Why did she continue sticking to her religion? faith! Faith that eventually, she will find God’s hope.

  • Chip

    logicaldoubtaboutlogic, “In my personal belief, the rationalization of every single human reality and the attempt to put cold logic upon all facets of life is too cold and calculating. I understand that most things happen in a logical, natural manner with no direct influence from a Supreme Being, but sometimes it is always healthy to believe that an unexpected bonus in life such as a marriage proposal or a dream job is a gift from God.”Wouldn’t it be more elevating to give yourself credit where credit is due, rather than to attribute your achievements to blind luck or divine intervention?I read a great quote once and wish I could remember the source so I could attribute it, but it said (paraphrasing) “highly intelligent people are adept at rationalizing things they came to believe for very unintelligent reasons.” I think that’s very true, and I also think that people who have a great deal of their life and energy invested in something are unlikely to give it up regardless of what new information they’re confronted with.

  • Ryan Haber

    Don, thank you for your post clarifying what is meant by the sort of doubt experienced by Mother Teresa.Those on this board, for the most part, are discussing as if Mother Teresa, in the face of poverty, lost her rational basis for belief in God, and persevered for some other reason. In reality, the exact opposite is true. There come times in the life of someone striving to imitate Our Lord, and to be joined to Him, where things get hard – real hard. There are times when all the “good feelings” that religion is supposed to provide simply aren’t there. What’s left is a firm intellectual conviction that the belief is true. So one continues to act accordingly, even when one’s heart is gone, one’s desire has dried up, one’s feelings of faith and confidence just aren’t there. One continues because one *knows* that one is on the right path, serving the Living God, even though it feels very dark out, and it is hard to feel His presence.”To view Mother Teresa’s doubts as evidence that she was not true to the Church founded by Jesus Christ Himself over 2000 years ago is really off the mark.”Right on, Don. In fact, it proves how true she was. She wasn’t in it for feelings, because of gratification, or popularity. She persisted when everything else had fallen away except conviction that she was doing God’s will.

  • yoyo

    That was my post above.

  • Nivedita

    Nice article!

  • daniel

    How do you arrive at the notion that God is not a requirement for morality? One of the purposes of the postulation of God is the postulation of an absolute notion of good toward which humanity aspires. Remove God and essentially you are saying no absolute notion of good exists–in fact we should not even hope for such. So what effect on morality will this have? The effect of removing God might not be catastrophic, but certainly we can expect some sort of effect on morality. I have yet to see an intelligent discussion of this problem. Just to point in a troubling direction, I have noticed that the belief in God is something of a method of enforcing a totalitarian society in the absence of more reliable, technological methods to “see into people’s minds”. Keeping people in order was effected for millenia by having people believe they were always being watched by God. Now remove God. Do you sincerely believe we can trust humanity to just intelligently develop without God? My belief is that most probably we will use technology to watch over people in place of a fading God because God never arose because of just one man or ruling elite, etc.–it was a human creation for among other things, preserving order. And far from people just being moral without God, they will seek to create alternative methods to God to oversee the public–it will in fact be asked for by the public, voted upon. We expect and put up with right now all sorts of technological methods to enforce order. Be careful what you ask for when you ask for the nonexistence of God.

  • Thomas Baum

    To METRICSU and the rest of humanity: We are all judged by what we do, it says that all over the place, one of which is, “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers, which incidentally means brothers and sisters, you do unto me” and if you notice it does not say good or bad, so what we do is important and why we do it. What you wrote “even though my impulses are not driven by a desire to score points for the afterlife” is exactly the right attitude, we do not earn heaven any more than knowing God’s Name is some kind of magic. A lot of people do the right thing for all the wrong reasons, instead of doing them because they are the right thing to do. Repenting is saying and meaning that I have done wrong and I know it and I am sorry for it, it is not looking at other people and saying well at least I am not that bad, actually Jesus did not have a sliding scale of wrongdoing, doing wrong is doing wrong, look at yourself, He said, don’t judge others, who are any of us to judge others, I sure can’t judge anyone but I have judged myself and I found myself guilty. Contrary to what anyone would think, listening to some of the garbage being spewed out in the Name of God on here, Christianity is part of God’d Plan for the salvation of ALL MANKIND, I have met God and God is a Trinity, He sure is not the crude bucket that so many people that know His Name think that He is. Jesus said a lot of things and a lot has been so twisted it is really sad. Actually I do not believe in hell, I know that it is real but contrary to what a lot of people think, it is not a monolithic place so to speak that either God or satan throws you into but it is built by the person that goes to it. Jesus, Himself, went to the uttermost depths of hell and I do not mean just visiting but the horror of it, He didn’t build His, He did it out of Love for all of us, we are all God’s children and God’s brothers and sisters, so many people look at the crucifixtion but don’t even realize what God actually went thru. God cares, He really does, one day we will all know. Remember it is God’s Plan and it is still unfolding and I repeat again: God wins, satan loses, a tie is unacceptable, the captives shall be released, those in hell, the dead shall rise, those in spiritual death. What is really sad is that a lot of people that call themselves christians of all or no denominations get upset at God’s Mercy, mighty christian of them. Remember, “Father forgive them” no asterick. Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • yoyo

    DanielWhen you talk of god,which god are you talking about?

  • The Moderate

    Dear Victoria,Regarding Sam Harris,”It is not _reasonable_ to hold a position that cannot be disconfirmed by any imaginable fact or process. By definition, that kind of thinking is unreasonable.”The logical positivism that this is based upon is now discredited. Take mathematics, for example. Godel showed that there are truths which cannot be proven in something as simple as arithmetic. The whole Wittgenstein, Mach, and Hilbert enterprises failed miserably in the Twentieth Century. Mach, for example denied the existence of atoms throughout his life based on that kind of “thinking” because he had never seen one.But still you have pathetic figures like Sam Harris mouthing the stuff and thinking they are wise.

  • Paganplace

    ” daniel:”How do you arrive at the notion that God is not a requirement for morality? One of the purposes of the postulation of God is the postulation of an absolute notion of good toward which humanity aspires.”And ‘absolutes’ help clarify ‘good’ *how?*”Remove God and essentially you are saying no absolute notion of good exists–in fact we should not even hope for such. So what effect on morality will this have?”Umm. Awareness? Pragmatism? Consideration? Asking people what’s good to them instead of telling them, and then pulling out pointy and bangey objects when they don’t agree with you?I’d say worrying about ‘absolutes’ is a problem for those who already got real life *down* and for some reason still don’t feel it’s ‘good’ enough.Funny thing about that is… Our capacity for good is limitless enough that one may never actually get round to needing ‘absolutes.’ You’re too busy. As for people who need ‘absolutes’ to be imposed before good even really *starts,* well…Any time now.

  • TJ

    Yes, Mother Teresa certainly had her doubts—serious doubts about herself and the existence of God. She was also most likely clinically depressed. However, if we read her full story, she says that she had some sort of vision of Jesus when she was 36 that led her to her devotion to the poor. It sounds like it might have been even more than just a “vision”—the Time magazine article quotes a source who uses the word “rapture” to describe it. She also stated that Jesus spoke to her in this vision from the cross. Later, in a letter to a friend, after taking her vows as a nun, she describes herself as “Jesus’ little bride” (Freudians would have field day with this). We will never know what really happened to her during this “vision”–but that does not take away from the fact that it meant something deeply profound to her. It seems reasonable that even if we don’t believe in God, we will have to come to grips with what she did in light of her non-beliefs. Some will take her writings as “proof” that even a soon-to-be Saint didn’t believe in God. Others, will take it to mean that even in the absence of God, we can still try to do our best and help others less fortunate. I,for one, am fascinated at her resolve amidst her uncertainty. It must have driven her close to madness. But, as Kierkegaard once stated (and I paraphrase) “true faith begins at the point of infinite resignation”. If we had direct proof of God’s existence, there would not be such a thing as faith. Maybe if we stopped arguing so much about God’s existence, we would have more time to marvel at the wonders of our world and our respective roles in it. As Carl Sagan so eloquently said “We ourselves are made of stardust….we are a way for the universe to know itself”.

  • Ja Joz

    I wrote: “Clergy Who lost their G-d(s) but are in a State of “DENIAL”.Correction: About “Closet-Clery Who G-t their G-D Dilussion popped, like popping the Cherry, so to speaketh, yet are still in DENIAL! Tonka Shame!

  • Anon

    I’ve noted that the subject of science and the scientific method crop up here, often with reference to atheistic thinking. While few come out and say it, the connotation seems to be that science somehow refutes the existence of a supernatural god, and that isn’t really the case.Science, ether by conception or definition, take your pick, deals only with things that can be directly observed or inferred from actual observations. It does not not deal with purely intellectual inferences, it always demands “outside proof” at some point. This requirement runs entirely counter to the concept of religious “faith,” sure enough, but all that says is that the two subjects have no overlap.Anonymous (no relation) got it right in his or her post. Religion only values belief in the absence of proof. Science only values belief in the presence of proof. But science is NOT a value system, it is simply a type of orderly process. It is pointless to apply this process to topics covered by religion, pretty much by definition. It is simply the wrong tool for the job.If a person points to science to explain their atheism, all they are saying, essentially, is that are personally more comfortable with the logic of science (i.e. the demand for proof) and the scientific method (the demand for skepticism) than they are with a religious mode of thought. I bring this up because it bugs me when people imply that science somehow supports the concept of atheism. That is a bum rap. It has nothing to say on the matter.

  • Dane

    Dr. Dennett,I have just finished Breaking the Spell, and realize why most of the religious have decided to avoid confronting you. You are a brilliant professor, and I wish I had had the opportunity to study under you as an undergraduate (Unfortunately, I was stuck with Dr. Plantinga at the University of Notre Dame). You have made it difficult for believers to face themselves, simply by living and thinking on a vastly superior scale to many of these people…Another great article.

  • Jack

    Mr. Dennett – I have every respect for your intellectual prowess – having read your take on “What About Mary” but on faith and religion you are a novice – ever heard of the terms consolation and desolation – in those gifted souls that wish to do what is good – sometimes the sense of their accomplishment and all other gratification is removed in order to purify that which they do. Such a notion has its origin in the Book of Job where God allows the devil to punish Job intensely but still Job holds onto his love of God. Everyone around Job accuses Job of being a sinner – either God doesn’t exist or Job is a sinner – turns out neither is true. God exists and Job is one of God’s most beloved creatures.

  • Andrea

    Victoria,”what untrustworthy person could it have been that she confided this matter to, who then betrayed that trust by disregarding her alleged “wish”?I believe it was a priest to whom she confided these letters to, as he was the recipient, and requested they be destroyed. As to why we should believe such an unreliable person as he, I have no idea.

  • Frank Bloss

    Perhaps Mother Theresa’s compassionate heart knew something her questioning intellect was unable to confirm – that every suffering being she encountered was in fact the Jesus her mind sought but could not find.

  • Jonathan S.

    First of all, welcome back to On Faith, Professor Dennett. I have been eagerly anticipating your latest blog post, and I look forward to the next.I was raised Catholic up until my mid-teens, when my brother convinced me to convert to Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Prior to the latter event, I had a great interest in science and mathematics, both as a career field and as a hobby. I enjoyed algebra, I constantly disassembled anything and everything electronic, and I wholeheartedly embraced the concept of evolution.Unfortunately, becoming Orthodox required that I throw all common sense out the window. As you said, it became increasingly easy through my later high school days to ignore scientific, philosophical, and even purely logical arguments against religious belief. It infuriated me when someone disagreed with any statement I made about God or the spiritual realm. I became a creationistic thinker, and I could not bear to think that I had descended from a “lower” group of animals.Slowly but surely, I came to my senses and started asking hard questions about what I truly believed, due in no small part to the example of a few atheist friends of mine. As it turns out, I had little more than a strong emotional attachment to my former religion, an attachment that was swept away quickly in the face of honest argumentation. I am now 20 years old, I have since let go entirely of my irrational faith in God, and I am now finally committed to a worthy ideology: atheism. My interest in intellectual pursuit has been thankfully restored, and my social life, which was all but eliminated due to my religious zeal, has been much more productive. Perhaps more religious people would admit their doubts if they had positive examples to follow as I did.

  • Tom

    Victoria,Mother Teresa’s writings were, in fact, preserved against her wishes–she was overruled by her church. Dr. Dennett isn’t just pulling this statement out of thin air. A book based on her writings is on the horizon, and there is an article about it in this week’s Time magazine.Please destroy any letters or anything I have written.–Mother Teresa To Rev. Lawrence Picachy, April 1959

  • Jim Carlson

    While not a believer myself, I have long admired Mother Theresa and others like her who live lives of sacrifice in service to others. That she doubted her faith made her human; that she continued to do what she did makes her a saint.

  • Ba’al

    Professor Dennett, this is one of the best comments I have ever read.

  • harikumar melutu

    faith i.e. belief in the existence of god is non-existent as far as Hinduism is concerned. there is no ambugity. it is very simple. KARMA and the results of KARMA (action) is all that matters. faith in a personal god has nothing to do with what ever is happening in your personal life but KARMA has. perform good KARMA and you have nothing to worry or bother.if not tomorrow, then day after people will realize the absurdity of the existence of the personal god and then there will be good all around and no evil any where to be seenharikumar

  • Germanprof

    Sorry, but David Hart–for all his brilliance–did not lay a glove on Prof. Dennett. His criticisms mostly involved style and a certain naivete in Dennett’s faith in science. But there is a long way from skepticism about science, which itself in fact is scientific, to any sort of belief in the traditional God.That said, I have never admired Mother Teresa more than I do after learning about her doubts and misery. Her public propagation of the faith sounds to me not like dishonesty, but like her policy of giving cigarettes to dying people. If monotheism is your only pleasure, then smoke it; but it will kill you in the long run.Thank you, Daniel Dennett.

  • juan bernal

    Whether you believe in God or not is not all that important. The way you deal with your fellow human beings is important. We will have progressed as a culture when one’s belief or lack of belief in a deity is just a personal quirk or curiosity, like preferring tea over coffee, and the significant quality is people’s respect for the rights and dignity of other people. Maybe this goes along with some of what Professor Dennett expresses.

  • juan bernal

    Whether you believe in God or not is not all that important. The way you deal with your fellow human beings is important. We will have progressed as a culture when one’s belief or lack of belief in a deity is just a personal quirk or curiosity, like preferring tea over coffee, and the significant quality is people’s respect for the rights and dignity of other people. Maybe this goes along with some of what Professor Dennett expresses.

  • Fallen

    “She could have devoted herself more single-mindedly to helping the poor instead of trying to convert them.”Amen!As I posted in a response to Cal Thomas’s commentary, the release of these letters made me curious about someone I’d never known a thing about. It appears her sole focus was to recruit Catholics and the MC is indeed not spending the astronomical amounts of money it reaps to help the poor, as almost everyone believes. Talk about believing the hype. While one might forgive her decisions as those of a truly disturbed human being, I think the Church would do well to return all of the money it’s sitting on, and the MC as well. From what I’ve learned, it seems there are many hundreds of millions of dollars sitting in banks while all the people whom the donations were meant to help aren’t receiving aid worth more than the smallest fraction of one percent. I mean, how much can aspirin and some food for soup kitchens to bring in the masses for conversion possibly cost? That’s all these folks appear to be receiving.

  • Ed

    Mother Teresa was seen by all as a great humanitarian by both people of faith and non-believers alike. No one can discredit what she has done during her life time. The question of doubting the presence of God in her life is another story. Everyone who believes in God will have their doubts because satan does not want us to believe. Satan would much rather us believe that God does not exist so he can have another in his control. For us to change the way we see her because she had doubts just like every human being on this planet would be unfair to her. Was she a God fearing person who believed in salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Only God will know the true answer because He is the only one that knows her heart. We are weak creatures that are tempted constantly to focus on things that will not draw us close to God. But faith in God is believing in Him even when you can not feel Him close. Faith is defined as a allegiance to duty or a person. Through out the Bible, God has shown His faithfulness to His people. It was always the people who would have the doubts, but God was always faithful. Moses is a figure that most people know had his doubts but he still was part of the great plan that God had. I do not believe that God left Mother Teresa to suffer or to fend for herself or to do the work that she did on her own. I believe that God was with her and that like most if not all who do His will, make mistakes and stumble because we are human and thus not perfect.Belief comes from the heart not the intellect. If you try to make everything logical until you start to believe then it will never happen. God uses some of the most illogical methods to make his point. The Bible has stories of an army that brought down the walls of a great city with trumpets. An army of 300 destroying an army so vast it was like trying to count the grains of sand in the desert. That a person was able to separate a great sea so that the people he was leading could pass on dry ground. Lastly that Jesus Christ, born to a blue collard man could be raised from the dead to complete a promise that God made so long ago.

  • Sam Revusky

    I am sure Dennet is right that plenty of theologians do not believe in a supernatural God. Rabbi Gershon Cohen, Chancellor of the Jewish TheologicalSeminary once opined that very nearly the prime value in Judaism was “derekh eretz”, the dignified moral life that in no important way deviates from the dignified life of a Muslim worthy. Significantly, he did not mention a supernatural god. Abraham Halkin, onetime professor of Bible at the Jewish Theological Seminary did not believe in God. But these men were very devoted to Jewish tradition. I am not sure Judaism or Christianity would long survive without supernaturalism, but they might and would be better in that form.

  • Sam Revusky

    I am sure Dennet is right that plenty of theologians do not believe in a supernatural God. Rabbi Gershon Cohen, Chancellor of the Jewish TheologicalSeminary once opined that very nearly the prime value in Judaism was “derekh eretz”, the dignified moral life that in no important way deviates from the dignified life of a Muslim worthy. Significantly, he did not mention a supernatural god. Abraham Halkin, onetime professor of Bible at the Jewish Theological Seminary did not believe in God. But these men were very devoted to Jewish tradition. I am not sure Judaism or Christianity would long survive without supernaturalism, but they might and would be better in that form.

  • Tim

    I have no doubt that there are believers who harbor doubts about the existence of God. And many of them are surely clergy. I also have no doubt that there are many athiests who exemplify the highest ideals of many religious traditions.I’m just flabbergasted that folks like Dr. Dennett feel as if they’re telling those of us who believe something we don’t already know.

  • Tim

    I have no doubt that there are believers who harbor doubts about the existence of God. And many of them are surely clergy. I also have no doubt that there are many athiests who exemplify the highest ideals of many religious traditions.I’m just flabbergasted that folks like Dr. Dennett feel as if they’re telling those of us who believe something we don’t already know.

  • Ja Joz

    Situational Lying is same As Situationaly Denying, Vis a vis. Ya Ya!We need more “Church-Gates” like Water Gates! Where are “Deep Throat’s” when the public needs them? Shame Shame. P.S. I puffed, but did not inhale when smoking “Napali Hashish Balls” in a clay “Chillum” when I was in Calcutta ! Wow. Talking about Hioly Karma! ya Ya.Important: Calcutta Today, includes most of India is a different Economy and yet for the better today. But this does not include Ceylon (Sri-Lanka).

  • Fallen

    Er, Victoria, she wrote the letters to *other people*. You can’t destroy stuff you send out to others, unless you ask them to return the stuff after they read it (but they could still make copies).Thomas Baum, you say she went out to “do what she could”. Problem is, that if you actually read up about her, you will find that she indeed only did what she could in terms of recruiting new Catholics. She wasn’t there to ease their suffering; in fact, she appeared to be obsessed-infatuated with the notion of suffering being “beautiful”. It seems she was as mentally ill as just about anyone you’ve ever heard of, and none of these people to whom she wrote evidently urged her to get help.I want the Church to give back all the money it’s sitting on that it isn’t using to actually *help* the poor. She evidently sent them many hundreds of millions, if not billions, over the decades. Hundreds of millions more seem to be sitting in bank accounts unused by the Missionaries of Charity (except for nominal amounts on food, aspirin and sparse medical supplies, it appears … and creating convents and nunneries around the world).

  • Ryan Haber

    Paganplace and Daniel,At least one absolute IS required for an understanding of good: the Good.If we say that a thing is good, we might mean that it is useful, nice, pretty, or whatever. So be it. But by virtue of calling a thing good, and another thing better, we imply that there is a common scale along which each of those things is finding a place, whether the common scale is usefulness, niceness, prettiness, or what have you. Such a scale can either go on infinitely or not. If it goes on infinitely, then we will have a concept of an Infinite Good, compared to which everything is not-as-good. If the goes on to a finite good, at which point the scale ends, we still have a point at which there is a Greatest Good, of which there might be numerous instances, but better than which nothing is.It does no good to say, “Yes, well, something might be good IN A DIFFERENT WAY.” Of course, while one thing is good in being pretty, and another in being useful, we have begun to introduce a second scale altogether.Precisely because we have any number of WAYS a thing might be good (prettiness, niceness, etc.) we have any number of scales of goodness. The question then arises, “What has each of these things (prettiness, niceness, etc.) that somehow makes them an instance of goodness, or a scale of goodness?” A subsequent question arises, “Can we order these scales in a rational way, in a not entirely subjective way, about which way of being good has more goodness in it? Can we make a scale of scales of goodness, as it were?”The answer is yes. Goodness that is transitory will not be good for as long as goodness that is permanent, all other things being equal. Goodness that is superficial is not as deeply good as goodness that is profound, all other things being equal. As with each scale, this scale of scales might be definite and limited, with a Highest Good, or it might be unlimited and always aspiring to an Infinite Good.We might for some philosophical reason argue that nothing is nicer, or prettier, or longer-lasting, or sweeter, or more of any other way of being good than anything else is. This is a sort of metaphysical/ontological skepticism. But in fact, none of us actually believes that. We our car dies after 35,000 miles, no one says, “My, next time I’ll buy a car that is more preferable to me in its mileage.” We say, “Man, next time, I’m gonna get a better car, one that lasts longer.” When our child misbehaves in public, we don’t say, “It’s personally preferable to me, dear child, that you behave in this other way instead.” We say something like, “I’ld like you to behave better.”These ways of speaking aren’t just conventions for people who share our automotive standards, or standards for child conduct. We use them even with people who presumably DON’T share our (otherwise personal) standards. When someone does damage to us and is not properly punished by the legal system, we don’t say, “He wasn’t dealt the punishment I would have preferred.” In fact, we might argue before the judge that he should, “Get justice,” implying that some possible punishments might be less than fair, and others too much for fairness.We can deny these things as philosophical principles, but as matters of fact, they are how we live our lives – by standards, both shared and individual, and both arbitrary and built-into-the-structure-of-the-universe. And I would rather have my philosophical principles reflect real life than a bunch of nice ideas that are fun to play games with.

  • E favorite

    Adrian, I found the book review you linked to very rough going. Sorry, comparing Dennett’s book to Lewis Carroll’s “The Hunting of the Snark” was hard to figure out and didn’t seem like the work of one of our greatest theological minds.Don – The phenomenon known in the Catholic church as “the Dark night of the soul” is known in the mental health field as “depression” and there is treatment for it.TJ, regarding MT calling herself “Jesus’ little bride” – Nuns are referred to “brides of Christ” – they even wear bridal veils when taking their final vows. Freud would have a ball with that too.

  • StephenC

    Hi – interesting discussion. Great posts by TJ, Jack, and others. Thanks.Though PaganPlace responds to Daniel a few comments up it sounds that PP is exercising some unwarranted faith in things like ‘awareness, pragnmatism, and consideration’ (and Daniel’s post remains unrefuted). The outworking of MT’s ‘doubt’ in God (for yoyo I’ll clarify that MT ‘doubted’ in the God of the Bible manifest in Jesus who died on the Cross and then rose again and calls all of us to repent and believe for forgiveness of sins and salvation – you and me, too) is one the most beautifully lived, noble lives in our history. This life of ‘doubt’ continues to elicit more faith in the object of her ‘doubt’ (this moral God of the Bible) than one might expect the outworkings of faith in awareness, pragmatism, and consideration as bases for morality to elicit in ‘God-free’ moral standards.MT is deeper than we get, I suspect. Her God is deeper, too.

  • Bill

    TJ says “Maybe if we stopped arguing so much about God’s existence, we would have more time to marvel at the wonders of our world and our respective roles in it.”Maybe if we stopped believing in God’s existence (and that includes all gods, including personality cults and “isms” such as Communism, we would get on with making the world a much better place.To many believers, the world is just an anteroom, a little front hallway into eternal life. To non-believers, it is the only abode of all of humanity, and eternal life is attained only through our children. If most people sincerely believed the latter, and acted upon it, without taking shortcuts offered by despots, then our race would have finally reached a mature phase, and we would finally address the multitude of problems in the world with appropriate seriousness.

  • St. Nick

    Daniel Dennett,You have confirmed my faith not only in God, but in Santa Claus. Can my daughter send you a list for what she wants for Christmas? It’s funny because you look like santa claus, susan jacoby looks like Froto (those ears) and Sam Harris looks like Skylar from Heroes. It seems that the atheists argue that believing in God is the same in believing in santa claus, elves, and superheroes. What a coincidence. Now that I’ve seen what all three of you and what you look like, I can believe in them all and have reason! Thanks atheists.

  • Bill

    One thing I’ve observed almost without exception is that believers take the utilitarian view that we need religion, since without it there would be no morality, while non-believers say that regardless of this, reality is what it is. They also don’t believe that morality requires a celestial parental figure as an enforcer. These views will never overlap.

  • Dan

    Someone said somewhere here How much do we know about the authenticity of the book? Or if Job actually existed? Was it based on historical fact or was it just a parable?

  • JohnJames

    I wish I could embrace her for one moment.

  • Paganplace

    To keep it simple:” Ryan Haber:”Paganplace and Daniel, At least one absolute IS required for an understanding of good: the Good”I disagree. I think that when people substitute a *need to define absolute Good* for the *process of doing good,* they’re just a further step removed from real compassion and awareness. Too often, what happens is people are sold on *a desire for absolutes,* then that said desire for absolutes is needed for good, then that This Absolute Is All That Is Good.Life just doesn’t work that way. The folks that actually get out there and *do* good, aren’t the ones trying to impose absolutes so that ‘Good’ may then happen…Whatever they believe, they get out there and do the next thing. “Good” is *not that Mother-lovin hard,* people. Half the battle is showing up. Really… *showing up.*Being there. With all your senses and awareness and heart, not… “defining” the situation, then “sacrificing” to fit some book of expectations. What we *feel* is good, *know* is good, *express* as good, is part of our natures. Every child knows it. Defining absolutes is where things get conflicted, so often.Too often those who demand “Absolute Good Is Defined By This Thing In My Mind” just cede the field of our natures, even as animals, to things labeled ‘Bad.’ To label others ‘Bad’ for not seeing ‘Good’ in their indirect, mentally-struggling way, if at all. “Good” is only as hard as you *make* it. So, yeah, I trust my awareness and feelings. I see the Gods as my allies in this, not mere ‘judges’ of how I live up to ‘absolutes’ we came up with ourselves, and which absolutes lead to so much pain and…Stuff that ain’t good.

  • jay

    When you compare faith in existing religious dogma with the reason of science, one simple way to assess the effectiveness of either is to look at the products. Has faith-based thinking produced anything new in the last two thousand years? By comparison, what new products have come from science-based reasoning, which is entirely naturalistic? How different is our world today based on science compared to just a century or two ago?

  • Chip

    PaganPlace, great comments. I’ve always felt that the only thing necessary to underpin a common sense grasp of morality is empathy. That’s all. It’s not any more complicated than that. Further, I’ve always felt that people who over complicate morality by asserting that it has its roots in some outside supernatural force are obfuscating for the purpose of subverting, creating exceptions and loopholes, and attaching conditions. Is “be nice to each other” really such a complex notion that anyone honestly believes it took a magical being to think of it? That’s why the adulation of Jesus seems bizarre to me, as if it would never have occurred to anyone to not be a predatory jerk before he came along. If his message was neither profound nor unique then all he really did was attach a list of exceptions and conditions to what was common sense to begin with, such as “the only way is through me.” That’s a subversion of morality, not an invention of it. In that sense he appeals more to people’s tribal sense than to their sense of decency.

  • E favorite

    Dan – Your question about how many religious leaders are closet atheists is an excellent one that I’m sure deserves further and intensive research. It’s also fascinating that they are willingly writing to you, acknowledging their lack of faith and their reasons for soldiering on. Please, please do research on this. These good people are actively perpetuating myths and falsehoods, thinking this behavior is somehow helping society. How do they work this out in their heads? How do they learn about the myths of the Bible (and they do learn about them in divinity school) in such a way that they can then justify teaching them as “truth” to their congregations. What kind of double-think and double-speech allows this? What price do they pay and what price are we all paying? How ingrained is this and how can they get out of it?Psychotherapists are taught to meet their clients where they are, then to move them forward and help them grow, while being careful not to break down their defenses too quickly. In contrast, many well-meaning clergy meet parishioners where they are and leave them there, keep them there, or attempt to move them backwards, urging people to have faith in concepts that clergy themselves have lost. Is this the best religious leaders think they can do for humanity?

  • Bubba

    Adrian / Anonymous: “David B. Hart … one of the best theological minds of our age”.That may well be, but he could take some lessons in brevity and actually making a point! The review of Dennett’s book that you link to is a waffling 7126 words which do little to challenge the lucid, rational arguments put forward by Daniel.In fact, I’m sure he is a great theological mind … he exhibits that rare ability shared by them all to talk for hours and not say anything useful.P.S. Next time just post as one person, instead of pretending that two people think Mr Hart is going to save the Great Religious Delusion from further ridicule.

  • me455

    Mr Dennett said, “Of course, such honesty carries a price: you have to change your mission in a way Mother Teresa never did. She could have devoted herself more single-mindedly to helping the poor instead of trying to convert them. Perhaps it was her guilt at being unable to convert herself that drove her to work so hard to convert others to take her place among the believers.”You may know something that I don’t but my impression is that Mother Teresa’s main focus was administering to the sick and poor and not in proselytizing. Her life of total service to others makes her a saint worth remembering in a godless universe. Long live her example of service.

  • Jonathan Owens

    I find your argument logically sound and quite reasonable.Would it be fair to assume that the higher up you go in any religious organization, the less likely you are to find true believers? What if this has always been the case!What if religion is a necessary counterpoint to inborn human instinct for the contination of the nation state and civilized society at large?…and what if all the lowly converts who actually believe in god suddenly stopped believing?I don’t believe in god. However, I do not attempt to proscribe belief in others. At some point in their lives maybe they will come to the conclusion on their own – but hopefully only after realizing the benefit of religion (and god) for society at large.Anyhow, good article. You’re much nicer than dawkins.

  • LUCAS GIAMBO

    IN KEEPING WITH THE SPIRIT OF YOUR INSIGHTFUL ESSAY, I RELATE THE FOLLOWING STORY.

  • Gabor

    While I found your essay to be informative and enjoyable, I am a little dumbfounded by the naive question you put to the waivering priests and imams out there… Why don’t they admit that they are atheists?Here are a few options:1. They would be killed, despised and stoned. Not necessarily in that order.2. They have no profession, and would starve or quickly get on welfare for lack of income. They would lose free tuition, free lodging, and who knows what else.3. They would have to pay taxes like everyone else.You get the picture…Oh, and about taxes. Isn’t it intensely funny for the Pope to criticise corporations for otimizing their taxes when he is at the top of one that fails to pay any at all? Shouldn’t we start taxing religious organizations like everything else? Of course we should.

  • Skeptic

    The irony is killing me. Dr. Dennett, who is a member of a political movement initiated by his good friend, Dr. Dawkins, tells us that he gets “mail all the time from religious leaders who admit to me in private that they do not believe in God.” Are we supposed to take this On Faith? On Faith?! Give us the numbers, Dr. Dennett. And doesn’t Dr. Dennett realize that the population of priests, pastors, rabbis, imams, nuns and monks who both know of Dr. Dennett and seek him out to make confessions do not likely constitute a representative sample of the larger population of such people? I expected much better from someone of Dennett’s standing.

  • James McGwire

    >>Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the outing of Mother Teresa inspired a few thousand of them to come out of the closet and acknowledge their atheism! Then it might start being obvious not only that faith in God is not a requirement for morality, but that the loss of faith in God often goads people into living more strenuously helpful lives, as seems to be the case with Mother Teresa.<<Congratulations, Daniel. You've got it exactly wrong.It's the struggle with faith that informs its purpose and reminds us how small we are in God's plan.Ours is ^not^ to question or quit. Ours is to carry our mission in spite of our questions.That Mother Teresa saw this, and that you did not, is evidence of the paucity of your worldview.The people that released these private thoughts- against her wishes- did so knowing full well that they would become fodder for those who wish to destroy the lives and work of people of faith.Shame on you- and shame on them.

  • luthafa

    ok, so I did read the David Hart review. What a self-indulgent gasbag! He’s guilty of everything he complains about, x10! I never read the Dennett book, but of course Dennett has to make a living just like the religionists. Neither wrong makes a right or vice versa. You can believe whatever you want.You can’t prove it.You can’t make me believe it.I did think that MT was about more than just converting folks. Was all the chronicling of her work over the years simply mythology? I mean, wasn’t she somehow taking care of sick and dying people? You can’t just sit around preaching conversion with that much horror and work to do. I’m pretty sure she’d be busy with daily reality.

  • Skeptic

    The more I think about it, the more it becomes clear this is a horrible and sloppy article. Why does Dr. Dennett frame his case with mail that he “gets all the time”? If he was receiving hundreds of letters, you would think that he would cite such a number. My guess is that the number of letters he gets is actually quite small, but spread out across time (like one every month for a total of a dozen). But ‘I have received a dozen letters’ does not sound as rhetorically persuasive as ‘all the time.’ Furthermore, I would assume that most of these letters are e-mails. Did Dr. Dennett fact check any of these letters? It is well known there are many pranksters and hoaxters on the internet who like to impersonate or invent identities. Unless Dr. Dennett provides the numbers and evidence, his claim about the secret letters should be dismissed. As a scientist and philosopher, I am sure Dr. Dennett would be obliged to agree. As for Mother Teresa, why does Dr. Dennett describe this as “the outing of Mother Teresa”? If someone ever found some private writings of Dr. Dennett where, at some point in his life, he doubted his Atheism, would that mean it was okay for the religious fundamentalists to co-opt him as a fellow closet believer? The choice of the unsupported political word ‘outing’ conveniently complements the current Out Campaign that is being promoted on Dr. Dawkins activist web page. I’d say this whole article is political propaganda. Finally, this sentence strikes me as a cheap-shot: “She could have devoted herself more single-mindedly to helping the poor instead of trying to convert them”. Is this something else we are supposed to accept On Faith? Does a Co-Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies and recipient of so many book royalties really have the moral authority to preach to someone who devoted her humble life to serving the poor?

  • Greg

    I don’t buy the idea that faith is a technical term to Christians, distinct from its common usage. Too many apologetics turn on the claim that everyone must have faith in something. Atheists often make a distinction between belief and knowledge, between blind faith and being convinced by evidence. The religious don’t usually like this.It isn’t clear that belief is something that can be willed. Something is either credible or it isn’t. Trying to make yourself believe something opposed to your knowledge or experience seems like self-hypnosis or delusion. Everyone can recognize that this is wrong in cases like doublethink in Orwell’s 1984, brainwashing, and the programming of cults like Scientology. What is a doubt? A question that arises in the mind naturally? I thought Christians classed this as a sin. To the extent that Christians admit that doubts may emerge spontaneously from the subconscious, they seem to claim that it is a duty to squelch them. Entertaining them is sin. By contrast, doubt is cultivated in philosophy and science, because they offer new ways to test theories thus gaining greater confidence in their soundness. Faiths don’t encourage this. You aren’t supposed to test God’s existence or his revelation. This is the true difference in the character of doubt between the two world views.Try asking critical questions in a Bible study group. You’ll at least get dirty looks. In a BBC special I saw the actor Tom Baker of “Dr. Who” recount, as a child, being knocked down and having his lip bloodied because he asked whether eating the body of Christ in communion made him a cannibal.To teach what you do not believe, to claim the certainty of that about which you have doubts, is to be untruthful. No sophistry about the meaning of doubt and belief will help that.

  • Anonymous

    Bloviate much?

  • John

    I just finished reading the David Hart review of Dennett’s “Breaking the Spell”, a book that I read upon its publication. To be brief, Mr. Hart’s review was very silly. So silly in fact that I wasn’t sure that I could continue finish reading it. But I slogged on to the end. (I recommend Thomas Nagel’s review of Dennett’s book, which is a much more interesting and intelligent review that that of Mr. Hart).

  • chris

    Somehow i doubt you even read the intro to Mother Teresa’s book. Nowhere was there a mention that she was an Atheist. She always believed in God, but at time didnt think that he was there for her. Thats a big difference. Get your facts straight

  • chris

    Somehow i doubt you even read the intro to Mother Teresa’s book. Nowhere was there a mention that she was an Atheist. She always believed in God, but at time didnt think that he was there for her. Thats a big difference. Get your facts straight

  • E favorite

    Correction – my last sentence above should read: “Teachers who know they don’t really grasp their subject, but still go on teaching it.”

  • They should become Unitarian Universalists

    Suggest to such non-believing clergy that they become Unitarian Universalists. That way they can work for the betterment of mankind while openly questioning or even denying the existence of an invisible man at the top pulling all the strings. It’s absurd for them to keep living a double-life of lies and duplicity because they think “god” is needed to supply morality or personal betterment.Or they should just quit religion altogether and join some good charitable organizations.

  • anono

    i know some atheists that tell me they pray to God in times of distress…ha ha we win there is a God…my advice to atheists: stick to trying to prove there is no God from a scientific standpoint…focusing on people with weak faith, religious wars, and old interpretations of religious texts won’t work…trust me…you know why? because there are weak atheists, and there have been atheist, anti-religion wars, and last time i checked there was no consensus on atheist principles.

  • daniel

    To Duus from Daniel on whether God is necessary for human morality (the email you sent on a point of mine).We will grant for a moment to atheists that God is indeed an error of thought. Furthermore we will overlook how intelligence, consciousness, goodness, etc. are possible if existence is an “accident” and there is no first mover, etc.What atheists need to do is demonstrate how we could have morally developed without the postulation of God when virtually all of human history has been coterminous with the conception of God (or our having descended from a first source, etc.). If atheists cannot do this and still want to consider God an error of thought, then much of morality–if not all–is correlated with an error of thought and we have to wonder if perhaps even grave errors of thought will be necessary for human development in the future (a thought which should not be too radical for atheists if all is “accident” anyway, but then again of course atheists are the exemplars of pure reason, right? So of course morality born of an error of thought is unacceptable).But morality can be born of an error of thought: Has anyone heard of anthropomorphism? I mean assigning human characteristics to what is not human. Imagine a tribe in antiquity with its succession of leaders. Now imagine the people gradually coming to believe their leader can see them even when he is absent. Next imagine them postulating an all seeing God. That will not have an effect on human action? Morality born of an error of reason! And perhaps in Eurasia and the middle east especially such an error was necessary because of constant conflict, migration, invasion, etc. Just look at the Bible and especially the Koran with the constant “God is watching over you”. Either God is true or an error of thought. But if an error of thought atheists have to demonstrate how human morality could have occurred without God. This should be interesting because what in fact occurred is the belief in God and morality–they were coterminous. Or perhaps atheists can show the real human moral development occurred in parallel but separate from the error of God…But if a clear line cannot be developed by atheists we have perhaps an error of thought having been necessary for human moral development–an error of thought which perhaps will persist into using technology to watch over citizens. Furthermore, and once again, if morality is born of an error of thought perhaps even grave errors of thought will be necessary in the future for human development. This once again, should not be too radical a thought for atheists if life is to be taken as “accident”, but then once again, atheists are so locked into reason that everything must be explained reasonably. Never mind that the edifice of reason we are told lies in a world of accident.

  • Anonymous

    Old homo with dingle-berry beard

  • Ryan Haber

    Paganplace,Thought provoking comments. But still, I think you have made my point without taking it, if you follow.My statement to which you took exception:”Paganplace and Daniel, At least one absolute IS required for an understanding of good: the Good”You wrote that we ought not replace “the process of doing good” with a “need to define absolute Good.” Not to split hairs, but if you read my post, I never said that I would define absolute good. I only said that there needs TO BE an absolute Good if we are going to call anything else “good” at all. I didn’t write that we could define Absolute Good because we cannot define it. We cannot define it for two reasons:1) It is absolute. Therefore it is infinite. It has no boundaries or limits in its nature. We do. We cannot think as big as the Good is. It’s not in our brain power, so to speak, to go through and identify every instance of goodness that would be a sort of reflection of The Good.2) Because the absolute Good transcends us, our language lacks the ability to define it. In what terms would we define The Good? Only in terms of goodness, which is circular, and tells us nothing.But what I did say was that we must admit there BE an Absolute Good, if we are going to speak in terms of goodness at all. This is the point you’ve made for me.For instance you argue that DOING the good is BETTER than MERELY KNOWING the good. I agree with you wholeheartedly. But this comparison implies a scale against which both DOING-goodness and MERELY-KNOWING-goodness can be measured and compared. There is, of course. The scale is actualization. MERELY-KNOWING-goodness has a certain level of goodness, it is a real good idea in our brains; DOING-goodness contains that level of goodness, but is made more actual by playing out in the exterior world rather than remaining only in our minds. So it is that whatever it is that makes both KNOWING-goodness and DOING-goodness good, the latter has more of it than the former, and is thus a better thing.You’re right. Some things ARE better than others because they have more goodness.I think what you object to is probably the idea that there is a rulebook for life somewhere, and if we would all just follow those rules, everything would be perfect.Of course that idea is ridiculous. It is an idea peculiar to Jews of the Post-exilic period, resurrected by the Pelagians in the late Terminal Roman period, and again by the Puritans in the Glorious Revolution period of Britain, thence brought to the US in their pilgrimage.Life isn’t about following a bunch of rules, and moreover, life never works out as clean and simple as those with pat answers would have us think.None of that has any bearing on whether some things are in fact better than others in some way, and whether there is a scale of goodness culminating in an Absolute Good.***Whatever they believe, they get out there and do the next thing.***Ah, you see – what we believe is exactly what determines what we believe will be the next thing to do. Margaret Sanger thought that contraception and abortion was the solution to grinding poverty; Mother Teresa has begged to differ about the best solution. What they believed has very much determined what they have done.***”Good” is *not that Mother-lovin hard,* people.***Not at first. But as we lose sight of it, it can become very, very difficult. A habitual liar might need a lot of pats on the back for having finally confessed that he went to bed at 9:30 pm rather than at 10:30 pm. He might even lose sight of the fact owing to all his lies. While this seems trivially easy to someone unaccustomed to lying, truth-telling becomes difficult for someone who fabricates an story to fit his every need. This sort of situation is exactly the commonplace corruption that makes Good VERY hard for some people, ESPECIALLY when it requires sacrifice, as truth-telling sometimes does.***What we *feel* is good, *know* is good, *express* as good, is part of our natures. Every child knows it.***I agree that we have a sort of innate compass pointing toward goodness. Even a murderous thief, mistreated, shouts not “That’s not to my liking!” but rather, “That’s not fair!” Alas, in my experience of myself and of others and of reading the newspaper, we all too easily lose sight of the Good.***So, yeah, I trust my awareness and feelings.***For someone with a sound conscience, this isn’t an a bad way to go about things. Plenty of people have in their own minds skewed “Good” into “Good for me,” without even realizing it. In such cases, the conscience becomes deformed because it doesn’t recognize goodness greater than its own individual benefits.***I see the Gods as my allies in this, not mere ‘judges’ of how I live up to***That’s GREAT. That is very much what Jesus Christ has promised to be to His people. A judge, perhaps at the end of time. But in the meantime, he has insisted over and over that he is much more interested in helping people become better and do good, than in setting arbitrary standards impossibly high so he can sneer when they fall.No, that’s not how Jesus is presented in the Bible. He is very harsh with the Pharisees “who set heavy burdens on men’s shoulders and lift not a finger to help bear the load,” while he is very careful “never to damage a bruised reed”.Paganplace, though I don’t know you, my sense is that you’ve got a better heart than I do. Thanks for your insights.

  • llewelly

    Beautiful, short, and sweet. Thank you.

  • Annonymous

    1. God is the Unknowable Essence- we cannot say that God is love, that God is the All-Powerful. God is way above anything humans can describe of Him or think of Him. Therefore, for the athiets I must agree that I also don’t believe in the God that you’ve heard of.2. If there is creation there is a creator. 3. If relativity exists absolute must also exist, the Absolute is God, everything else is relative.4. The fact that we do not see electricity doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, but we can see its manifestations. The fact we don’t see gravity doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.I am a religious person, but there is one thing that I love about some athiests and that is that they seek the truth. Congratulations to the athiests who seek for truth withought trying to prove they are right. we must be seekers of truth just to find the truth and not for any other purpose. Note for us religious people, we must also be seekers of truth and not to blindly believe everything they tell us, that’s why God has sent His Messengers: Krishna, Zoroaster, Mohammad, Baha’u’llah, The Bab, Crist, Buddha, and others, to give us clear guidance.Since God is the Unknowablable Essence and He wished humans to know Him and to worship Him He sent these Luminous Beings to guide us in His path and to know our purpose of life. There is no way that our limited mind can comprehend the inconceivable, that is why we have the Messengers of God. I like this phrase from a phylosopher that said: “all I know is that I know nothing” and it’s true, the more we know, the more we come to understand that we know nothing! If our mind had the capacity to clearly understand what is right or wrong, then the keenest minds in the world would have all agreed to the same truths. We cannot have a peaceful world if each person has their own understanding of what is right or wrong, we need unity. “So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole world” We must all have one common faith in order to achieve this exalted purpose. “The betterment of the world can be achieved through pure and goodly deeds” Unity is so important, that if religion is the cause of disunity it is better not to have religion and to have unity! But what do we religious people do? we are so dumb that we have prejudices against other religions withought remembering that there is only one God and all religions agree. “the world is but one country and mankind it’s citizens:These are only my personal thoughts on God and life. Whoever read up to here thank you very much, and the most important thing I want to express is that we should elimiante any kind of prejudice in order to attain unity. (us religious people should not have prejudices toward athiests, and vice versa, or any other kind of prejudice)

  • Anonymous

    1. God is the Unknowable Essence- we cannot say that God is love, that God is the All-Powerful. God is way above anything humans can describe of Him or think of Him. Therefore, for the athiets I must agree that I also don’t believe in the God that you’ve heard of.2. If there is creation there is a creator. 3. If relativity exists absolute must also exist, the Absolute is God, everything else is relative.4. The fact that we do not see electricity doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, but we can see its manifestations. The fact we don’t see gravity doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.I am a religious person, but there is one thing that I love about some athiests and that is that they seek the truth. Congratulations to the athiests who seek for truth withought trying to prove they are right. we must be seekers of truth just to find the truth and not for any other purpose. Note for us religious people, we must also be seekers of truth and not to blindly believe everything they tell us, that’s why God has sent His Messengers: Krishna, Zoroaster, Mohammad, Baha’u’llah, The Bab, Crist, Buddha, and others, to give us clear guidance.Since God is the Unknowablable Essence and He wished humans to know Him and to worship Him He sent these Luminous Beings to guide us in His path and to know our purpose of life. There is no way that our limited mind can comprehend the inconceivable, that is why we have the Messengers of God. I like this phrase from a phylosopher that said: “all I know is that I know nothing” and it’s true, the more we know, the more we come to understand that we know nothing! If our mind had the capacity to clearly understand what is right or wrong, then the keenest minds in the world would have all agreed to the same truths. We cannot have a peaceful world if each person has their own understanding of what is right or wrong, we need unity. “So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole world” We must all have one common faith in order to achieve this exalted purpose. “The betterment of the world can be achieved through pure and goodly deeds” Unity is so important, that if religion is the cause of disunity it is better not to have religion and to have unity! But what do we religious people do? we are so dumb that we have prejudices against other religions withought remembering that there is only one God and all religions agree. “the world is but one country and mankind it’s citizens:These are only my personal thoughts on God and life. Whoever read up to here thank you very much, and the most important thing I want to express is that we should elimiante any kind of prejudice in order to attain unity. (us religious people should not have prejudices toward athiests, and vice versa, or any other kind of prejudice)

  • God and Unity

    1. God is the Unknowable Essence- we cannot say that God is love, that God is the All-Powerful. God is way above anything humans can describe of Him or think of Him. Therefore, for the athiets I must agree that I also don’t believe in the God that you’ve heard of.2. If there is creation there is a creator. 3. If relativity exists absolute must also exist, the Absolute is God, everything else is relative.4. The fact that we do not see electricity doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, but we can see its manifestations. The fact we don’t see gravity doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.I am a religious person, but there is one thing that I love about some athiests and that is that they seek the truth. Congratulations to the athiests who seek for truth withought trying to prove they are right. we must be seekers of truth just to find the truth and not for any other purpose. Note for us religious people, we must also be seekers of truth and not to blindly believe everything they tell us, that’s why God has sent His Messengers: Krishna, Zoroaster, Mohammad, Baha’u’llah, The Bab, Crist, Buddha, and others, to give us clear guidance.Since God is the Unknowablable Essence and He wished humans to know Him and to worship Him He sent these Luminous Beings to guide us in His path and to know our purpose of life. There is no way that our limited mind can comprehend the inconceivable, that is why we have the Messengers of God. I like this phrase from a phylosopher that said: “all I know is that I know nothing” and it’s true, the more we know, the more we come to understand that we know nothing! If our mind had the capacity to clearly understand what is right or wrong, then the keenest minds in the world would have all agreed to the same truths. We cannot have a peaceful world if each person has their own understanding of what is right or wrong, we need unity. “So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole world” We must all have one common faith in order to achieve this exalted purpose. “The betterment of the world can be achieved through pure and goodly deeds” Unity is so important, that if religion is the cause of disunity it is better not to have religion and to have unity! But what do we religious people do? we are so dumb that we have prejudices against other religions withought remembering that there is only one God and all religions agree. “the world is but one country and mankind it’s citizens:These are only my personal thoughts on God and life. Whoever read up to here thank you very much, and the most important thing I want to express is that we should elimiante any kind of prejudice in order to attain unity. (us religious people should not have prejudices toward athiests, and vice versa, or any other kind of prejudice)

  • Who is God any way?

    1. God is the Unknowable Essence- we cannot say that God is love, that God is the All-Powerful. God is way above anything humans can describe of Him or think of Him. Therefore, for the athiets I must agree that I also don’t believe in the God that you’ve heard of.2. If there is creation there is a creator. 3. If relativity exists absolute must also exist, the Absolute is God, everything else is relative.4. The fact that we do not see electricity doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, but we can see its manifestations. The fact we don’t see gravity doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.I am a religious person, but there is one thing that I love about some athiests and that is that they seek the truth. Congratulations to the athiests who seek for truth withought trying to prove they are right. we must be seekers of truth just to find the truth and not for any other purpose. Note for us religious people, we must also be seekers of truth and not to blindly believe everything they tell us, that’s why God has sent His Messengers: Krishna, Zoroaster, Mohammad, Baha’u’llah, The Bab, Crist, Buddha, and others, to give us clear guidance.Since God is the Unknowablable Essence and He wished humans to know Him and to worship Him He sent these Luminous Beings to guide us in His path and to know our purpose of life. There is no way that our limited mind can comprehend the inconceivable, that is why we have the Messengers of God. I like this phrase from a phylosopher that said: “all I know is that I know nothing” and it’s true, the more we know, the more we come to understand that we know nothing! If our mind had the capacity to clearly understand what is right or wrong, then the keenest minds in the world would have all agreed to the same truths. We cannot have a peaceful world if each person has their own understanding of what is right or wrong, we need unity. “So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole world” We must all have one common faith in order to achieve this exalted purpose. “The betterment of the world can be achieved through pure and goodly deeds” Unity is so important, that if religion is the cause of disunity it is better not to have religion and to have unity! But what do we religious people do? we are so dumb that we have prejudices against other religions withought remembering that there is only one God and all religions agree. “the world is but one country and mankind it’s citizens:These are only my personal thoughts on God and life. Whoever read up to here thank you very much, and the most important thing I want to express is that we should elimiante any kind of prejudice in order to attain unity. (us religious people should not have prejudices toward athiests, and vice versa, or any other kind of prejudice)

  • duus

    “Daniel” wrote:”How do you arrive at the notion that God is not a requirement for morality? One of the purposes of the postulation of God is the postulation of an absolute notion of good toward which humanity aspires. Remove God and essentially you are saying no absolute notion of good exists–in fact we should not even hope for such. So what effect on morality will this have? The effect of removing God might not be catastrophic, but certainly we can expect some sort of effect on morality.”There are two distinct things going on here: there is the effect of ‘removing God’ on morality per se, i.e. the effect of ‘removing God’ on the set of behaviors called “moral.” The measuring stick. I claim that removing God does nothing to the measuring stick. But I don’t think this is what you meant. I think you *meant* the effect of ‘removing God’ (or, more specifically, convincing people there is no God) on the prevalence of moral behavior. Then you propose a thought experiment about how the fear of God is the what keeps people moral.I think this is not a theoretical issue. That is an empirical issue: what the effect of religiousity on moral behavior? Are the religious more or less likely to exhibit behavior we describe as ‘moral’? To some, the answer might be self-evident, but I don’t think so. I have seen very few scientific studies about this–save a recent study that showed that religiousity among doctors is unrelated to providing free care for the poor. (

  • John

    This is a reply to Chris. It seems that his claim/post:”Somehow i doubt you even read the intro to Mother Teresa’s book. Nowhere was there a mention that she was an Atheist. She always believed in God, but at time didnt think that he was there for her. Thats a big difference. Get your facts straight”was directed at my recent post (Sept. 4). If so, Chris has misunderstood. My “book written by an atheist” line was a reference to Dennett’s “Breaking the Spell”. There was no mention of Mother Teresa in my post, let alone any claim that she is or is not an atheist. Talk about needing to get your facts straight?

  • E favorite

    SKEPTIC – could it be that you think it’s pretty scary that clergy tell Dennett they don’t believe in God? If, so, I agree – but perhaps for reasons different from yours. I heard from some clergy like that too and would like to know how they deal with it and how to get them to reconsider preaching things they themselves don’t believe. I’d like Dennett to give us the numbers too and to interview these people and find out what is going on.“UNITARIAN” – good idea about the non-believing clergy becoming Unitarian ministers. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough jobs to go around. I think many former ministers do go on to charitable organizations, but again, opportunity is limited and I think the pay is not as good. I wonder how many clergy leave parish ministry because they lack faith – and how many stay even though they don’t believe. Would we put them in the same category as Mother Teresa? Somehow more admirable because they don’t believe? I’m trying to think of other fields where this would be so. Doctors and nurses who don’t like sick people or don’t believe in medicine? Auto mechanics who question the ability of motors to run a car? Teachers who don’t know they don’t grasp their subject but still go on teaching it?

  • Kyle Vincent

    The word god doesn’t describe the higher power in any understandable way. All around people say oh god this or thank god that. These liar priests, paying the hypocrisy forward. Mother Teresa struggled with some inner demons. Wrote it down. At least she wasn’t apathetic. The higher power is you. You are a soul: descendant from heaven. Some more ancient indeed. You are a body: mother earth. Connection to earth is connection to the universe. And the universe is God. If you don’t understand this or have never felt truly spiritual/energized then you can either practise various forms of yoga or chi kung or meditation until you know God, which will take most of us 20 years, or, to open your mind further, intoxicate (yes), your “self”, with pcilocybin containing mushrooms. Ancient they are. I am roman catholic by birth. Blaspheming, truth telling, Shaman by nature.

  • Ryan Haber

    Gerry,I can only speak for my own religion – I am a Catholic – in saying that I do not think you understand what we believe about pretty much anything. You clearly have a great deal of animosity toward religion, though – or at least priests – and so are not likely to carry on a cool-headed discussion of the matter.This board is dying down, so if you want to discuss further, you can email me at withouthavingseen at gmail.God bless.

  • Paganplace

    Hi, Ryan. Fair enough. I don’t, however, agree that there needs to exist a *standard* of Ultimate Good, certainly not an authority. Not sure that’s what you mean, now. But it’s what a lot of people say when they feel it’s necessary to impose control over others. And this is flattering:”Paganplace, though I don’t know you, my sense is that you’ve got a better heart than I do.”This is one idea I’m not prepared to live with.

  • Gerry

    Ryan Haber,I don’t need anybody to tell me what is good, especially not an fantasized entity made up as a scapegoat by superstitious forefathers and current power grabbing priests. The brain, through mirror neurons, has the possibility of “mirroring” the feeling of others, as has been found by neurophysiological research in humans and even chimps. (I take the risk that you hate the word research together with what it describes).Then, the word “good” has to be subsumed into the category of fuzzy logic: The winning team thinks that what the losing team thinks is good – is bad, and vice versa.Moral behavior doesn’t need any god. The principle is an a priori feeling. However, it needs human consensus as for the details. That consensus changes through the ages and varies in different societies (slaves, homo, polygamy, drugs, death penalty, corporal punishment etc.).Judge: Stauffenberg was executed by judges, he is now regarded as a hero. So was he a patriot or a traitor? How would “God” judge him?Lying can be the most moral behavior in the face of otherwise having to betray your friends. Are you then judged for lying or for saving your friends?The religious world view is so simplistic and one-dimensional that one really faces desperation – if one doesn’t have enough moral to stem and face – and fight – it.I think the only laudable action Adam and Eve, to talk about them symbolically, have done, is eating from the tree of knowledge! But that, of course, was the “original” sin for priests from the beginning of known history.

  • Ryan Haber

    Paganplace,You’re right that people might invoke a standard (usually without clearly specifying it) when trying to impose control; how else ought they impose control.Bad behavior needs to be curtailed (controlled by an outside agent when the agent of bad behavior will not control himself), I think we all agree. That’s what most laws are for.We also agree that the curtailment ought not be arbitrary, but ought to follow an agreed upon standard.We disagree on what the standard(s) is/are, though. But to deny that there are standards at all – that nothing is better than anything else, nothing worse than anything else – well, that is the road to folly.All the 20th century dictators have (and continue) to employ a “logic of no standards”. The modern Chinese government says that “human rights” are an alien Western standard and thus having excused themselves, treat dissenters however they will. Hitler refused to submit to what he called (after Nietzsche) “Jewish morality” and then, operating under (presumably) his own standards, he then did whatever he would with whomever he could.In a standardless world we will have only power, and the law of the jungle will prevail, and the most powerful will lord it over the rest of us.And as a philsophical point, while we might not agree on what the Best (Absolute Good) is, if we will not at least concede that one exists, to be consistent we must stop speaking about good and better, which are approximations of the Best (Absolute Good). It’s like saying “This house is a better house” while denying that we have any idea of what our ideal house would be like. On what basis can we then compare?Of course, reality being very complicated, there are different standards for different sorts of things. A computer contains both a keyboard and a monitor, and goodness will manifest in keyboards one way and monitors another, and in computers as a composite of the two. This sort of composition yields the complexity wherein we can say “this computer is better for typing, and that for video games.” But again, to deny standards at all, on the basis that they are complex and interact in varying ways, and that most goods are relative, is senseless and counterproductive.I take it as a compliment that you won’t be thought of as better natured than myself. It’s very kind. I only wrote what I did because you seem to have a very good sense of what goodness is (at least by my standards, lol). I do not. I have had to learn the hard way.Here’s to learning, one way or the other!

  • Michael W. Jones

    This is a very well-reasoned and beautifully written piece. Even though we have become used to this sort of high quality thought from Mr. Dennett, we should not forget to thank him for writing them.Thanks!

  • Peter Jackson

    Mother Teresa Was Indeed Acknowledged and Favored by God But Through Her Lack of Understanding She Could Not Recognize It.

  • Robert Bigger

    How can anyone have absolute belief in something that cannot be proven? Accepting a statement on faith I can understand as an educated guess but only if the source has been proven correct on previous occasions. True belief in the unprovable and dementia seem like the same thing to me. Isn’t it obvious that human beings have evolved with conflicting instincts. As individuals we are selfish and rightly so. As members of a social species we also have an instinct towards co operation which is responsible for many of the great achievements of our species. Individuals possess these instincts in various ratios. People who possess selfishness but almost no empathy are the monsters of the world, capable of commiting any crime without compassion. True believers in religion deny unbelievers the ability to tell good from evil but isn’t the conviction that they are right and only they understand the truth basically a selfish manifestation?

  • Robert Bigger

    How can anyone have absolute belief in something that cannot be proven? Accepting a statement on faith I can understand as an educated guess but only if the source has been proven correct on previous occasions. True belief in the unprovable and dementia seem like the same thing to me. Isn’t it obvious that human beings have evolved with conflicting instincts. As individuals we are selfish and rightly so. As members of a social species we also have an instinct towards co operation which is responsible for many of the great achievements of our species. Individuals possess these instincts in various ratios. People who possess selfishness but almost no empathy are the monsters of the world, capable of commiting any crime without compassion. True believers in religion deny unbelievers the ability to tell good from evil but isn’t the conviction that they are right and only they understand the truth basically a selfish manifestation?

  • jqb

    ” Peter Jackson:Mother Teresa Was Indeed Acknowledged and Favored by God But Through Her Lack of Understanding She Could Not Recognize It.”Does capitalizing the words make them more true?”This is a mistake easily made today in our era. The explanation starts in the working of the brain. Let me explain.Why are so many Christians so arrogant? Oh, I guess Dan Dennett explained that.

  • Joyce Singha

    If any of us could actually live the life of Mother Teresa for just one day – perhaps we could think of putting our two bit in about trying to analyze this great soul. Her faith was her own, – the goodness and the darkness. The good that came out of it was immeasurable.

  • Edward Belaga

    Mr. Dennett proposes: “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the outing of Mother Teresa inspired a few thousand of them [priests, pastors, rabbis, imams, nuns and monks] to come out of the closet and acknowledge their atheism!”

  • Michael Bindner

    The problem of spiritual darkness is an old one. Recovered alcoholics solve it by working with other alcoholics. In community, they seem to find the pressence of God in a palpable way.For others, the experience of spiritual darkness is seen as a test.I consider the soul a nexus of the physical and spiritual. If the physical part is not taken care of, however, then a spiritual part sufferes. Diet and amino deficiencies or bad blood sugar can lead to anhedonia. I wonder how many of the spiritually dark actually needed to switch to a higher protein diet – or to a personal regimine that includes more sexual expression (since denying this can also lead to anhedonia).

  • sweeta-pd

    Sorry, but what is kimerikas?Jane.

  • sweeta-pd

    Sorry, but what is kimerikas?Jane.

  • Idon’tknowandyoudon’teither

    It amazes me that people like Mr. Dennett, Sam Harris, and the ringleader, Richard Dawkins, are so convinced there is no God with the same certainty that billions of believers have that there is a God or gods or whatever. Actually, I find it the height of intellectual arrogance to not be able to admit that there are certain things in life that can never be answered in any linear, logical, or any other way. As my surname suggests, to all of you intellectually self-satisfied know-it-alls, you really don’t know and I don’t either.