Just Look It Up

Mark Vernon has done a very nice job of editing the new Chambers Dictionary of Belief and Religions. This is a really good thing to have around when you run into an unfamiliar word from the realm of religion or ethics. The definitions are long enough to be clear, but not so long as to be encyclopedic. Plus, there are many essays on "hot topics" and matters of perennial concern. Oh yeah, and I'm a contributor. I will not soon forget the long, long discussion that ensued back at Talking Philosophy when I solicited input about the word "atheist." If you want to know how it turned out, you'll just have to get the book.


Faust said...

Awww can't we have the original TP link?

Jean Kazez said...

I was going to include the link, but then I saw that the formatting is all askew because of the new design over there. But here it is--


Faust said...


Faust said...

Yeah interesting. I think that discussion just confirms my new directino on these matters. We should stop talking about atheists and theists. Typically when "theists" and "atheists" argue they aren't even arguing about "theism in general" anayway. Most theist invariably are REALLY talking about the God they are interested in (usually the Holy Trinity or Jesus in our melieu)...but it's true of even the liberal theology types (even MJ!), which is why they get huffy puffy.

SO. We simly must stop letting the conversation become hopelessly muddled. We would do much much better to simply start with supernaturalism vs naturalism. Instead of asking "do you believe in God?" We should ask:

Do you believe in forces/entities/intelligences which are distinct and seperate from the natural world, but neverthelsess act on it, either from time to time or at some point in the past? This gets us a nice initial fork that is precise and can be leveraged into fruitful discussions. It also produces more intersting lines in the sand philosophically speaking. There are plenty of people who don't "believe in God" but believe in astrology or spirits.

"Do you believe in God" gets us absolutely nowhere. It's a question I've refused for quite some time but now I can offer a better description of why I find the question so irritating. If nothing else MJ offered me a nice framework for thinking about the difficulties surrounding the naming of God.

I do think one of the intersting things to come out of the discussion over there was what you called the "softness of belief." I think you are quite right about this, and yet in common parlance that is not how the word is recieved. For the philosopher it is located on a continuum: the divided line or some decendent. For "the vulgar" to use Berkeley's taxonomy, it often means a view deeply held.