Friday, September 25, 2020
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“All Men Are Born Free By Nature”: Theological Conceptions of Freedom : Strange Notions


The development of the concept of freedom as an
inalienable human right
is undoubtedly a hallmark of modernity and one of
Western civilization’s most deservedly celebrated achievements. John Milton
, the English poet and author of one of the masterpieces of the
English language Paradise Lost, regarded freedom as a God-given right
rather than as a privilege vouchsafed upon the subjects by their rulers at a
whim. Freedom “is not Caesar’s,” Milton wrote, “but is a birthday gift to us
from God himself.” In the same century, the great Jewish philosopher Baruch
Spinoza (1632-1677)
, whose unorthodox views on divinity and iconoclastic
writings on biblical criticism landed him in trouble with his community and
European surroundings, saw democracy as the best form of government particularly
because he believed it retained “that freedom which nature grants to every man.”

Contemporary with Milton and Spinoza was John Locke (1632-1704), known as the “philosopher of freedom”, who defined “liberty” (along with “life” and “property”) as a natural and God-given right. Should the state fail in safeguarding these three fundamental rights, Locke proposed, the subjects would then have the legitimacy to bring down their government and replace it with another that could perform its duties. Thomas Jefferson (died 1826), one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, echoed Locke’s ideas when he characterized “liberty” (in addition to “life” and the “pursuit of happiness”) as “inherent” and “inalienable.”

Despite the massive influence of these 17th-century philosophers on the evolution of the Western mind, did their writings really mark the advent of the idea of freedom as the natural and original condition of man? Or do the conceptual roots of freedom lie elsewhere, perhaps in ancient Greece or Rome, for example? Not exactly.

Though the truly stunning scientific, technological, and philosophical contributions of ancient Greece (600 BC-30 BC) constituted a quantum leap in the history of mankind, it should be remembered that freedom among the Greeks was the exception rather than the norm. The economic systems of Greek city-states were founded on slavery, and in many of these city-states, the number of slaves exceeded that of free men. Commenting on the social tensions in Athens in the period between 650 BC and 600 BC, Aristotle stated that “the majority were slaves of the few”, a consequence of debt-bondage. It is also noteworthy that Athenian democracy excluded both women and slaves. Moreover, when Melos rejected Athenian demands to become its colony in 416 BC, the Athenians besieged the island, and following its surrender, they not only put all men to the sword but also sold women and children into slavery.

This reality found echoes in the writings of several Greek philosophers. Plato (c. 427-347 BC), for example, posited the existence of “slavish people” who by nature lacked the capacity for virtue or culture. While warning against the mistreatment of slaves and opposing the enslavement of his fellow Greeks, Plato approved of enslaving foreigners, believing that “barbarian” (foreign) slaves were required to perform all labor. No wonder that when he died, his estate included five slaves. Plato’s student Aristotle (384-322 BC) held similar views, arguing that “from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.” For him the institution of slavery was necessary to enable enlightened men to have idle time and energy to seek wisdom and virtue. Upon his death, Aristotle had 14 slaves in his possession.

Few Greek philosophers did dissent from these prevailing views. The followers of Antisthenes (445 BC-365 BC), a disciple of Socrates and one of the founders of Cynicism, condemned slavery. Stoic philosopher Epictetus (50-130 AD) announced the equality of slaves and free men on the grounds that all were the children of God. These humane ideas, however, stopped short of prompting the abolition of slavery in antiquity.

Slavery continued to be a fundamental feature of social and economic life in the Roman Republic and its successor the empire. By the time of Emperor Augustus (r. 27 BC–AD 14), there were one million slaves out of a population of four million in Italy. According to other estimates, there were two million slaves out of six million. Biographer and essayist Plutarch (c. AD 46 – c. 120) estimated that the seven-year Roman conquest of Gaul resulted in the killing of one million people, adding that another million were sold into slavery. It is common knowledge that the legendary slave Spartacus (died 71 BC) led one of the greatest uprisings in ancient history until it was violently put down by the forces of M. Licinius Crassus, one of the wealthiest slave-owners in Rome. Furthermore, the Romans were familiar with water power but did not bother to exploit or harness it because they relied on slaves to perform manual tasks. Discussing the prevalence of slavery in the Roman era, historian Norman Davies in his authoritative Europe: A History writes the following:

Slavery was omnipresent in Roman society, and in some estimations the key institution of the economy. It provided the manpower for agriculture and industry, and underpinned the luxury of the cities. It involved the total physical, economic, and sexual exploitation of the slaves and their children. It was supported by the wars of the Republic, which brought in millions of captives, and in later centuries by systematic slave-raiding and slave-trading. Julius Caesar sold off 53,000 Galic prisoners after one battle alone, at Atuatia (Namia).

Did the arrival of Christianity change the situation? First it should be recalled that Christianity inherited, rather than originated, the institution of slavery. Thus, it appears that St Paul took its existence for granted, urging slaves to be obedient to their masters “as to Christ.”However, he tried to comfort them by pointing out that their situation did not influence their status in the sight of God:

Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave.

He also preached the basic unity and equality of free men
and slaves, Jews and Gentiles upon converting to the new faith:

For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

Possibly as a consequence of St Paul’s writings, a number of Christian theologians in the first few centuries seemed to accept the existence of slaves. In a letter to his fellow bishop Polycarp of Smyrna, Ignatius of Antioch (c. 35–c. 107) counseled that slaves be treated well but ruled out the use of church funds to help them buy their freedom. Probably wishing to preserve public order, the Synod of Gangra in the fourth century condemned anyone encouraging discontent among slaves. As for St Augustine (died 430), he viewed slavery as a product of original sin and punishment for evil:

The primary cause of slavery, then, is sin…and this can only be by a judgement of God, in whom there is no unrighteousness, and who knows how to assign divers punishments according to the deserts of the sinners.

These views were soon challenged by a growing number of theologians and church fathers who began to disapprove of slavery, seeing it as incongruent with the teachings of their religion. As early as the 4th century, Gregory of Nyssa (335 – c. 395), one of the Cappadocian Fathers, indignantly denounced slavery in a sermon on the Book of Ecclesiastes. Pope Gregory the Great (died 604) went one step further, proposing the manumission of slaves and referring to the original liberty human beings had enjoyed. A French missionary and bishop of Noyon by the name of Saint Eligius (c. 590-c. 660) single-handedly freed slaves, including men, women, Romans, Britons, Gauls, and Saxons. In a work dedicated to Charlemagne (r. 768-814), king of the Franks and Holy Roman Emperor, Benedictine monk Saint Smaragde of Saint-Mihiel (c. 760–c. 840), wrote: “Most merciful king, forbid that there should be any slave in your kingdom.” Slavery in Europe had virtually withered away by the end of the 10th century.  

Consequent to the disappearance of slavery was the medieval Europeans’ development of new and inventive methods of generating wind and water power to such an extent that medieval Europe is believed to have become “the first great civilization not to be run primarily by human muscle power.” Recall that ancient Rome had dispensed with the exploitation of natural energy due to its heavy reliance on slavery while the dwindling number of slaves in medieval Europe goaded Europeans into seeking out new technologies as a substitute. A manifestation of this change was the proliferation of water and wind mills across Western Europe. A 9th–century inventory reveals a third of the estates along the Seine River in the area around Paris had water mills. The Domesday Book, put together in 1086 at the behest of King of England William the Conqueror (r. 1066-1087), shows that no less than 5,624 water-powered mills were operating in England. This constituted a decidedly dramatic increase from less than 100 mills a century earlier. Between the 11th and 13th century, the number of water mills in the administrative division of Aube in northeast France grew from 14 to more than 200. Medieval Europeans used water power to “crush ores, manufacture iron, pound flax or hemp in preparation for the making of linen, turn saws and knives, and crush malt for beer, among other uses.”

Though slavery in Europe gave way to serfdom, European forces in Spain continued enslaving Muslims (and vice versa) in the battlefield. Also, northern Italian firms were involved in the slave trade until the 15th century, with wealthy Italians like the Medici family owning slaves. Prominent Christian theologians, however, maintained their rejection of slavery. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), arguably the greatest theologian of the European Middle Ages, judged that slavery ran counter to natural law. Dominican priest and Thomist theologian at the University of SalamancaFather Domingo de Soto (died 1560), ”a founder of the general theory of international law”, declared that “all men are born free by nature.” Spanish Jesuit priest and theologian Francisco Suarez (1548-1617) upheld freedom as the natural condition of man, stressing that “men are born free, and therefore none has political jurisdiction over another, just as no dominion.”

Admittedly, slavery re-emerged in the New World with a vengeance, but the brutal European practices against the natives triggered the indignation of several popes and theologians. For example, Pope Eugene IV in 1435 threatened to excommunicate those attempting to enslave the indigenous population of the Canary Islands. In 1537, Pope Paul III issued three pronouncements against the enslavement of Indians and Africans in the New World. Equally telling was a forceful 16th-century sermon entitled “I am a voice crying in the wilderness” by Antonio de Montesinos (died 1545). In the sermon, de Montesinos, a Spanish Dominican friar and missionary on the island of Hispaniola, decried Spanish “sins against the Indians,” proclaiming that the Spaniards were “in mortal sin” due to their “cruelty and tyranny” against “these innocent people.” He thundered:

Tell me, by what right or justice do you keep these Indians in such a cruel and horrible servitude? On what authority have you waged a detestable war against these people, who dwelt quietly and peacefully on their own land?…Why do you keep them so oppressed and weary, not giving them enough to eat nor taking care of them in their illness? For with excessive work you demand of them they fall ill and die, or rather you kill them with your desire to extract and acquire gold every day…Are these not men? Have they not rational souls? Are you not bound to love them as you love yourself?…Be certain that, in such a state as this, you can no more be saved than the Moors or Turks.

Francisco de Vitoria (1483–1546), Dominican theologian from the University
of Salamanca and “the founder of modern international law”,restated the
idea of man’s natural and original liberty. He defended the rights of the
natives in the New World, contending that “neither their princes nor private
persons could be despoiled of their property on the ground of their not being
true owners.” He further held that the natives were rational human beings with
their own laws, customs, and administration:

According to the truth of the matter they are not irrational, but they have the use of reason in their own way. This is clear because they have a certain order in their affairs, ordered cities, separate marriages, magistrates, rulers, laws…Also they do not err in things that are evident to others, which is evidence of the use of reason. Again, God and nature do not fail for a great part of a species in what is necessary. But the special quality in man is reason, and potency which is not actualized is in vain.

Like de Vitoria, Dominican friar Bartolomé de las Casas (died
affirmed the rational nature of the native Americans. He insisted
that they “be attracted gently, in accordance with Christ’s doctrine”, rejected
Aristotle’s views on natural slavery, and stressed that “we have in our favor
Christ’s mandate: love your neighbor as yourself.” He spoke out against the “wrongs
and injuries [against the natives] never before heard of or seen, received from
our Spaniards” and called “to restore them to the primitive liberty [my
italics] of which they were unjustly deprived.”

Free Will

Coupled with the idea of man’s natural and inborn freedom, Christian theologians (whether “orthodox” or “heretical”) by and large laid stress on freedom of choice and human capacity for free will. As sociologist Rodney Stark assesses, the Christian belief in free will “had remarkable behavioral consequences…it created a tendency for people not to be resigned to things as they are but rather to attempt to make the situation better.” Gregory of Nyssa conceived of human beings as the creators of their destiny and the shapers of their personalities:

…our spiritual birth is the result of a free choice, and we are in a certain way our own parents, creating ourselves as we ourselves wish to be, and through our will forming ourselves in accordance with the model we choose.

As he grew older Augustine became increasingly lukewarm
about the idea of free will, believing that man’s inherent sinfulness detracted
from the ability to act freely. Earlier in his life, however, Augustine
passionately defended free will, stating that “what each one chooses to pursue
and embrace is within the power of his will to determine.” He ruled out any
conflict between God’s foreknowledge and freedom of choice, asserting

both that God knows all things before they come to pass, and that we do by our free will whatsoever we know and feel to be done by us only because we will it. But that all things come from fate we do not say; nay we affirm that nothing comes to pass by fate.

In the 6th century, Boethius formulated a
reasoned solution
to the problem involving the apparent
contradiction between divine foreknowledge and human free choice, proposing
that ”God beholds as present those future events which happen because of free
will.” Aquinas believed that free will was an integral part of being
rational: “That man acts from free judgement follows necessarily from the fact
that he is rational.” In the same century, the English natural philosopher Roger
Bacon (died 1292)
passionately practiced astrology, but insisted:

What is true is that the influences of the stars implant certain tendencies to good or evil action, always at the same time leaving free scope to human will [my italics]… that climate affects character is obvious to everyone.

Numerous other medieval theologians pleaded for free will, including Duns Scotus (1266-1308), Peter Olivi (c. 1247-1298), Peter de Rivo, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494), Pietro Pomponazzi (1462-1525), and Erasmus (1466?-1536). The idea that free actions affected salvation in the afterlife suffered a certain setback with the Reformation in the 16th century. Likely influenced by Calvinism, Flemish bishop Cornelius Jansen (1585-1638) and his disciples endorsed predestination and held that human beings lacked the free will to reject grace. As part of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, however, the Council of Trent (1551-1552, 1562-1563) reaffirmed the doctrine of free will. Spanish Jesuit theologian and philosopher Luis de Molina (1535-1600) argued, in the words of professor of philosophy Jorge J. E. Gracia, that “although God has foreknowledge of what human beings will choose to do, neither that nor God’s grace determine human will.” Similarly, the magnitude of human will impressed the outstanding 17th century Catholic philosopher and scientist Rene Descartes (died 1650) who wrote: “The will, or freedom of choice, which I experience in myself is so great that the idea of any greater faculty is beyond my grasp.”

Limited Government, Resistance to Tyranny

Stark notes that the Christian belief in free will “called into question the legitimacy of social structures and customs that limited the individual’s ability to choose freely – especially slavery and tyranny.” I accept this assessment but it is important to add that it took centuries for this idea to evolve, come to fruition, and take effect in practice. Until roughly the 12th century, Christian political thought had ascribed divine origins to temporal authority in the sense that the ruler was in power because God had willed it so. St Paul enjoined Christians to obey and respect the ruling authority:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

Augustine condemned “kingdoms” as “great robberies” but
thought that their establishment was necessary to curb man’s innate proclivity
for evildoing. He thus warned that absent the restraining laws legislated by
the state, “men’s brazen capacity to do harm, their urge to self-indulgence
would rage to the full.” Despite his negative view of the state (or perhaps
because of his fear of the alternative), Augustine urged obedience, or at worse
passive resistance, to the earthly leader no matter how tyrannical, sinful, or
oppressive he was. Compliance with the will of the ruler, he thought, would enable
the believer to avoid the distractions of earthly existence and to focus on
attaining salvation.

This did not mean that temporal authority wielded unlimited powers. As the centuries elapsed, theologians reminded Christian kings and princes that they were accountable to God and that they were not permitted to behave arbitrarily or to mistreat their subjects. Their responsibilities included protecting the church, aiding the weak and poor, administering justice, and leading a virtuous life. In a letter to King of Wessex Ethelred, English scholar Alcuin (c. 735–804) wrote:

But, above all, have the love of God in your hearts, and show that love by keeping his commandments. Love him as a father, that he may defend you as sons. Whether you will or not, you will have him as a judge. Pay heed to good works, that he may be propitious to you. ‘For the fashion of the world passeth away’; and all things are fleeting which are seen or possessed here. This alone from his labor can a man take with him, what he did in alms-giving and good works. We must stand before the judgement seat of Christ, and each must show all that he did, whether good or evil. Beware of the torments of hell, while they can be avoided; and acquire for yourselves the kingdom of God and eternal beatitude with Christ and his saints in eternal ages.

In the 8th century, Cathwulf sent a letter to
Charlemagne, advising him to

always remember, therefore, my king, with fear and love for God your king, that you are in his place to look after and rule over all his members and to give account on judgement day even for yourself. And a bishop is second in place; he is only in Christ’s place. Ponder, therefore, within yourself how diligently to establish God’s law over the people of God.

Gradually, Christian political thought began developing the idea that not only was the ruler not invested with absolute powers, but he was also at risk of being overthrown should his policies harm his subjects and violate the laws of the realm under his jurisdiction. His legitimacy and authority derived from the people and failure to carry out the subjects’ will merited rebellion. As early as the 10th century, an English abbot named Aelfric (died c. 1010) remarked:

No man can make himself king, but the people [have] the choice to choose a king whom they please [my italics]; but after he is consecrated as king, he then has dominion over the people, and they cannot shake his yoke from their necks.

Commenting on these groundbreaking words, British scholar Nick
Spencer writes in The Evolution of the West:

This was an extraordinary idea for the time, not so very far from the ideas of Thomas Hobbes or John Locke over six centuries later. It is not democracy in any recognizable format but it is not hard to see how democratic accountability could emerge from it.

In his Policraticus or Statesman’s Book (1159), “the
first complete political treatise of the Middle Ages”, the great 12th-century
English scholar John of Salisbury legitimized and justified the killing
of tyrants, stressing: ”It is not only permitted, but it is also equitable and
just to slay tyrants.” Relying on the Bible, Classical literature, and logic, he
defended the imposition of limits on royal power and offered support for a
limited and responsible monarchy. Exploring the difference between a tyrant and
a prince, he wrote that the latter

is obedient to law, and rules his people by a will that places itself at their service, and administers rewards and burdens within the republic under the guidance of law in a way favourable to the vindication of his eminent post.

Explicit in the passage above is the idea that even the king is
subject to law and is required to serve his subjects and promote their
interests, not the other way around. Aquinas articulated similar
opinions in the following century, giving sanction to the removal of tyrants:

If to provide itself with a king belongs to the right of a given multitude, it is not unjust that the king be deposed or have his power restricted by the same multitude if, becoming a tyrant, he abuses his royal power.

At the same time, Aquinas added caveats to his support for the
deposal of tyrants, fearing that the sanction to rebel against existing
authorities might inadvertently pave the way for the assassination of otherwise
just rulers by rebels with ill intentions.  

The concept of responsible and limited government enjoyed a major boost in 1215 when English nobles and churchmen forced King John (r. 1199-1216) to sign the Magna Carta or Great Charter. ”In the history of Western law,” writes Spencer, “it is one of the earliest – if not the very first – examples of a legal framework that held the monarchy to account for the fulfillment of its promises.” One of its clauses made it clear that the subjects’ obedience to the king was contingent upon the king’s compliance with the document. In fact, the king was now liable to the judgment of a group of 25 barons. The charter further prohibited arbitrary arrest, stipulated trial by jury, and stated that the king was forbidden from seizing the land of a debtor and from levying taxes without “the common consent of our kingdom.” The primary message of this revolutionary document was that the monarch could no longer rule as he pleased and that no one was above the law. It is important to note that the document did not emerge out of the blue but formed a continuum with the pioneering work of canon lawyers in the preceding century such as Gratian (author of Concordance of Discordant Canons), Pierre de Chanter, and Stephen Langton (Archbishop of Canterbury).

Medieval calls for limited government did not end with John of Salisbury, Aquinas, or the Magna Carta. Marsilius of Padua (1275-1342) wasanItalian political theorist of high caliber who challenged papal claims to supremacy over secular rulers, and as a result his works faced condemnation in Paris and Rome. Nonetheless, Marsilius is notable for rejecting religious persecution and emphasizing the necessity of toleration. He suggested that “heretics” ought to be dealt with in the afterlife rather than at the hands of existing religious or political authorities – a proposition that prefigured Locke’s statement centuries later that ”the care of each man’s salvation belongs only to himself.” More relevant to our discussion is Marsilius’ conception of the ruler as a servant of the people; should the ruler fall short of abiding by the will of his subjects, he ought to be deposed. Political power, as Marsilius conceived it, ultimately lies in the hands of the community which delegates it to the ruler. The latter’s authority, therefore, rests on the approval of his subjects. Marsilius’ contemporary William of Ockham (died 1347), an English Franciscan friar and scholastic philosopher,thought subjects had the right to disobey laws that violated natural law and that earthly government should enjoy the consent of the governed. He was one of those who had set the stage for the separation of secular and spiritual authorities by stating that “just as spiritual matters are controlled by priests and ecclesiastics, so are temporal matters by secular rulers and laymen as blessed Peter testifies.”

I am certain there will be those eager to point out that there were Catholic apologists for absolute authority. I willingly concede that Bishop Jean Bossuet (1627-1704), for example, opined that obedience to the ruler must be absolute and that in the absence of a strong government, “all is confusion and the state returns to anarchy,” an idea that runs remarkably close to Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679). One could also talk of French political philosopher Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821) who opposed the French Revolution, advocated an absolute monarchy, and urged unquestioning subservience to the king.

However, the ideas set forth by the likes of Bossuet and de Maistre would have been an anathema to John of Salisbury, Aquinas, as well as 16th-century Catholic theologians like Robert Bellarmine (1542 –1621), Suarez, and de Molina who continued devising arguments in favor of resisting tyrants. Suarez reiterated the notion that authority resided in the people, stressing that “all power comes from the community.” De Molina argued that tyrannicide was permitted to “any private person whatsoever who may wish to come to the aid of the commonwealth.” All these thinkers and their epoch-making work testify to the significant role of Christian thought in giving prominence to freedom and in formulating the defining features of the modern state: democratic, responsive, limited in its power, and subject to the rule of law.

Tamer Nashef

Written by

Tamer Nashef is an Arab freelance researcher and translator from Israel. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English literature from the University of Haifa. Nashef is interested in a broad range of topics, especially Western philosophy, intellectual history of civilizations, Christian and Islamic theology with particular emphasis on the relation between science/reason and faith, and English literature. He is planning to write a book on the intellectual, scientific, and legal developments in the Middle Ages that led to the scientific Revolution and the rise of the modern world, and on the status of reason in the Catholic tradition. Nashef speaks three languages: Arabic, Hebrew, and English.

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You Don’t Have to Be Christian


we all make choices

As strange as it sounds today, it took me several years to realize that I did not have to be a Christian. I was raised Christian, told that I was Christian, and told repeatedly that the collective “we” were all Christian. This seemed to be true because everyone I met was Christian. I knew that not everyone was Christian, but everyone I came in contact was (or at least pretended to be). I didn’t question any of this because I had no reason to do so.

In our current information age, I have to think that very few children are growing up like I did not realizing that not being Christian (or whatever other religion they are being raised in) is an option. They are more likely than I was to hear about different religions, although I am sure that those living in areas with extremely low religious diversity have a similar experience of not knowing anyone who does not share their religion. Thanks to the Internet, modern children are learning about atheism, humanism, and Satanism in ways I did not have available. They are encountering terms like “ex-Christian” that I had never heard of.

Perhaps a post with a title like this one is no longer as necessary today as it once might have been. I wanted to write it anyway because even if it seems obvious to most of us, I’m not sure it seems as obvious to everyone as it should. If Christianity works for you and you can refrain from trying to impose it on others, great. But you don’t have to be a Christian just because you were raised by Christians or because most of the people in your life are Christian. You can decide at any time that it isn’t for you. You can try other things. Maybe you will discover that you miss Christianity and return to it someday. You always have that option. Or maybe you will discover that there is something else out there that makes more sense to you.

For an adult, “because I was raised that way” is a fairly poor reason to be a Christian. It suggests you haven’t bothered to give the matter much thought and cannot articulate even the basics about what appeals to you. Isn’t the matter more important than that would suggest? Imagine an adult telling you that they are voting for a political candidate because they were raised to be a Democrat or a Republican. That would be similarly unimpressive.

Many ex-Christians grew up as believing Christians because we did not seriously question much of what we had been taught and did not appreciate that we had options. This was certainly the case for me. For many of us, things changed once we started critically examining our beliefs and asking questions. We realized that some of what we believed did not make much sense. We looked for evidence and found it lacking. And with a bit more life experience under our belts, we discovered that some of what we had been taught turned out to be demonstrably false. We became ex-Christians.

I wonder sometimes what kind of difference it might have made in my life if someone had told me around the age of 13 that I did not have to be a Christian. I imagine them saying something like this:

You don’t have to be a Christian. You have many other options worth exploring and should not settle for one just because it is familiar. I know it seems like everyone is Christian, but that is not the case. You have met people who were not Christian without ever knowing it.

I can’t say for sure, but I think this would have been very helpful to me at the time.

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Church Leader Who Condemns Homosexuality Caught Trolling for Sex Through Grindr | Hemant Mehta | Friendly Atheist


The Kirksville Church of Christ in Missouri has a few “facts” that they would like you to know. The “Bible is the only creed,” for example. No surprise there.

If you visit their Facebook page, they get even more specific. Like this message saying you must not have sex outside of marriage, especially none of that gay stuff.

Same with this one saying “Flee Fornication!”

You would think Barry Poyner would know all this since he’s one of the church’s three elders in addition to being a professor at nearby Truman State University.

And yet Poyner was just arrested and you’ll never guess why.

Okay. I’ll give you one guess.

Barry Cole Poyner, 57, of Kirksville, has been charged with a class B misdemeanor count of patronizing prostitution.

According to court documents, Poyner faces up to six months in prison and/or a fine up to $1,000 if convicted.

Documents state the Truman State University Police Department received a tip that Poyner has been “harassing male Truman students for sexual contact as well as offering to pay for items for sexual favors by using the app Grindr.”

Poyner apparently reached out to an undercover cop posing as an 18-year-old. He offered to pay for the student’s gas in exchange for a sexual favor, adding that he “might throw in an Arby’s card LOL.” (Not exactly a good time to make a dad joke.)

We’ve said it before. We’ll say it again. No one thinks about gay sex as much as Christian leaders who speak out against gay sex.

This guy didn’t just commit a sin. He was trying to set some kind of personal record.

The school took quick action:

Truman State University issued a statement Friday evening saying Poyner has been placed on suspension.

“He has been placed on suspension and informed that he is not allowed on campus, cannot have contact with any student organizations or participate in any campus events or activities,” the statement said.

The church, on the other hand, hasn’t said anything publicly. But they did remove his name from the list of elders and took down his sermons from their website.

I don’t even care about this guy’s personal life, but the hypocrisy is appalling. While his church is actively demonizing gay people, one of its leaders thinks it’s okay to take advantage of guys on the side. The criminal aspect of this is one thing. But the ethics of this Christian leader are despicable.

(Thanks to Julie for the link)

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Millennials Are Leaving Religion And Not Coming Back


The ever-interesting FiveThirtyEight ave produced a piece on the deconversion of millennials that is worth a read. Some 40% of millennials (aged between 23 and 38) now state they are religiously unaffiliated. Is it a short-term decision or more of a permanent change, though? Statistics are now coming in. As the article points out:

Social science research has long suggested that Americans’ relationship with religion has a tidal quality — people who were raised religious find themselves drifting away as young adults, only to be drawn back in when they find spouses and begin to raise their own families. Some argued that young adults just hadn’t yet been pulled back into the fold of organized religion, especially since they were hitting major milestones like marriage and parenthood later on.

But now many millennials have spouses, children and mortgages — and there’s little evidence of a corresponding surge in religious interest. A new national survey from the American Enterprise Institute of more than 2,500 Americans found a few reasons why millennials may not return to the religious fold. (One of the authors of this article helped conduct the survey.)

  • For one thing, many millennials never had strong ties to religion to begin with, which means they were less likely to develop habits or associations that make it easier to return to a religious community.
  • Young adults are also increasingly likely to have a spouse who is nonreligious, which may help reinforce their secular worldview.
  • Changing views about the relationship between morality and religion also appear to have convinced many young parents that religious institutions are simply irrelevant or unnecessary for their children.

Millennials may be the symbols of a broader societal shift away from religion, but they didn’t start it on their own. Their parents are at least partly responsible for a widening generational gap in religious identity and beliefs; they were more likely than previous generations to raise their children without any connection to organized religion. According to the AEI survey, 17 percent of millennials said that they were not raised in any particular religion compared with only five percent of Baby Boomers. And fewer than one in three (32 percent) millennials say they attended weekly religious services with their family when they were young, compared with about half (49 percent) of Baby Boomers.

A parent’s religious identity (or lack thereof) can do a lot to shape a child’s religious habits and beliefs later in life. A 2016 Pew Research Center study found that regardless of the religion, those raised in households in which both parents shared the same religion still identified with that faith in adulthood. For instance, 84 percent of people raised by Protestant parents are still Protestant as adults. Similarly, people raised without religion are less apt to look for it as they grow older — that same Pew study found that 63 percent of people who grew up with two religiously unaffiliated parents were still nonreligious as adults.

But one finding in the survey signals that even millennials who grew up religious may be increasingly unlikely to return to religion. In the 1970s, most nonreligious Americans had a religious spouse and often, that partner would draw them back into regular religious practice. But now, a growing number of unaffiliated Americans are settling down with someone who isn’t religious — a process that may have been accelerated by the sheer number of secular romantic partners available, and the rise of online dating. Today, 74 percent of unaffiliated millennials have a nonreligious partner or spouse, while only 26 percent have a partner who is religious.

Luke Olliff, a 30-year-old man living in Atlanta, says that he and his wife gradually shed their religious affiliations together. “My family thinks she convinced me to stop going to church and her family thinks I was the one who convinced her,” he said. “But really it was mutual. We moved to a city and talked a lot about how we came to see all of this negativity from people who were highly religious and increasingly didn’t want a part in it.” This view is common among young people. A majority (57 percent) of millennials agree that religious people are generally less tolerant of others, compared to only 37 percent of Baby Boomers.

Young adults like Olliff are also less likely to be drawn back to religion by another important life event — having children. For much of the country’s history, religion was seen as an obvious resource for children’s moral and ethical development. But many young adults no longer see religion as a necessary or even desirable component of parenting. Less than half (46 percent) of millennials believe it is necessary to believe in God to be moral. They’re also much less likely than Baby Boomers to say that it’s important for children to be brought up in a religion so they can learn good values (57 percent vs. 75 percent).

These attitudes are reflected in decisions about how young adults are raising their children. 45 percent of millennial parents say they take them to religious services and 39 percent say they send them to Sunday school or a religious education program. Baby Boomers, by contrast, were significantly more likely to send their children to Sunday school (61 percent) and to take them to church regularly (58 percent).

This is important stuff because parental religious affiliation is vital in determining the religiosity of people as they become adults. As the article concludes: “And if millennials don’t return to religion and instead begin raising a new generation with no religious background, the gulf between religious and secular America may grow even deeper.” What this means is that we can be fairly certain that this trend towards nonreligion looks set to continue.

Check out the book of deconversion accounts I edited: Beyond an Absence of Faith (UK), and submit your own story to add to the series I have run here.


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“Nones” Are Growing And They’re Not Civically Engaged


Ryan Burge, an associate professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University and opinion writer for the Religion News Service is fearful for the future of civic engagement in the US because the rising “nones” (those with no religious preference), are the least likely to volunteer.

In his recent OP-ED, he created the following treemap of the religious composition in the US as of 2018 taken from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study:

Protestants, once a dominant majority, now are only 39% of the US population, followed by the “nothing in particular” nones at 20%. Further down the list, atheists and agnostics make up a combined 12%. So the percentage of atheists, agnostics, and nones according to this study would be 32%, a third of the US.

This worries Burge, as those with nothing in particular are less likely to volunteer or engage politically, he writes:

No matter how one feels about religion, it’s undeniable that religious traditions have spent decades building networks that operate behind the scenes to support those who are most vulnerable in our society. As the number of socially detached people grows, the ability of faith groups to fill in the gaps will be diminished, and once these ministries disappear, it seems highly unlikely that they can be quickly or easily replaced.

Finding ways to get these individuals to reintegrate into their communities might lead to benefits not only for these individuals but also for towns and cities in their fight to re-create social capital.

Should those who promote secularism be worried if this is true? Unintended consequences have a nasty tendency of rearing their ugly heads in unexpected places. It seems to me that those who are “nothing in particular” are nothing in particular because they are less likely to be socially and civically engaged. Religion is just one more thing they are disengaged from. If that’s the case, it may be impossible (or at least very hard) to get them to participate in the areas traditionally done and cultivated by religious communities and institutions. And while secular organizations have made some inroads in promoting volunteerism in recent decades, the bulk of the future civic engagement might indeed by at the hands of a shrinking population.

Interestingly, Burge separates the nones from atheists and agnostics in his piece and argues that educational level is the main factor of decreased civic engagement. The nones have the lowest levels of educational achievement while atheists have some of the highest. So while all this news looks bad on the nones, it doesn’t necessarily look bad on atheists.

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#035: American Intolerance of Immigrants is Not New


The history of America’s treatment of the “poor and huddled masses” tells a very different story than the one we’re often accustomed to hearing, one of hostility and exclusion toward outsiders who looked to America to live up to its promise. Contrary to popular belief, the poor and huddled masses were never welcome in America.

On this episode, we discuss America’s dark history of demonizing and excluding immigrants, and how the current xenophobia and racism exhibited by the Trump administration toward Mexican and Muslim immigrants and refugees is only the latest chapter in a long series of immigrant panics. Included in our survey is the anti-Catholic conspiracy theories of the nineteenth century, the discrimination and harassment experienced by German-Americans during WWI, the mass internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, and the unfounded fear of Jewish immigrants and refugees from Nazi Germany. We also discuss why the concept of race has no validity in science and use statistics and evidence to debunk present-day fears of Muslim “terrorists.”

Joining me as my special guest for this uncomfortable but hugely relevant and important discussion is Robert E. Bartholomew, one of the two authors of the book “American Intolerance: Our Dark History of Demonizing Immigrants” (Prometheus Books, 2018). Bartholomew is an American-born medical sociologist, journalist, and human rights advocate who currently serves as a history instructor at Botany College, in Auckland, New Zealand. He has written 15 books and published more than 60 articles in a number of professional journals. According to his website, Dr. Bartholomew “has written on an array of topics ranging from human social and cultural diversity, to mass hysteria, social delusions, moral panics, fads, collective behavior, the history of tabloid journalism, history of the paranormal, popular myths and folklore.”


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Author Details

I am a freelance writer and podcaster. I attended Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Oregon, where I majored in Journalism. My interests are many and diverse; they include investigative reporting, science, philosophy, history, and pop culture analysis. My motivation in writing and podcasting is to contribute what I can to the promotion of critical thinking among the public. My goal is to use my journalism training to be active in the secular humanist movement, helping more people come to an appreciation of philosophy and history, and analyzing dubious but popularly-believed claims involving the supernatural, the paranormal and religion.

  • #035: American Intolerance of Immigrants is Not New

    In this episode, we are doubting the historical existence of a man you may have heard about: Jesus of Nazareth. Ever since critical biblical scholarship began in the eighteenth century, largely a product of the Enlightenment, the consensus among mainstream historians and religious scholars has been that a man named Jesus did historically exist in Palestine and was crucified by the Romans in the first decades of the Common Era. Although these biblical critics did doubt and challenge the reality of the New Testament’s portrait of Jesus as a miracle worker and divinely appointed savior, they did think – or, more precisely, assume – that there was a real man named Jesus upon whom theological legends were later based. But there has always been another school of thought. The mythicists argued that not only was the Christ of faith a theological fantasy, but the Jesus of history was also a fiction. Jesus, said the mythicist scholars, never even existed historically.

  • #034: Did Jesus Exist? (w/ David Fitzgerald)

    In this episode, we are doubting the historical existence of a man you may have heard about: Jesus of Nazareth. Ever since critical biblical scholarship began in the eighteenth century, largely a product of the Enlightenment, the consensus among mainstream historians and religious scholars has been that a man named Jesus did historically exist in Palestine and was crucified by the Romans in the first decades of the Common Era. Although these biblical critics did doubt and challenge the reality of the New Testament’s portrait of Jesus as a miracle worker and divinely appointed savior, they did think – or, more precisely, assume – that there was a real man named Jesus upon whom theological legends were later based. But there has always been another school of thought. The mythicists argued that not only was the Christ of faith a theological fantasy, but the Jesus of history was also a fiction. Jesus, said the mythicist scholars, never even existed historically.

  • #033: Reviewing “Wild Wild Country” (w/ Chris Watson)

    Eastern mysticism clashes with rural America in this episode, as we recount a tale of religious bigotry, government paranoia, bombings, wiretapping, poisonings, assassination attempts, and airplane chases. I am joined by my good friend and patron the show Chris Watson, host of The Podunk Polymath Podcast, to review and discuss the six-part Netflix documentary series Wild Wild Country. The series chronicles the rise and fall of Rajneeshpuram, the once-thriving city established in 1981 in central Oregon by the Indian guru and mystic Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his followers.

  • #032: The Satanic Panic, Fantasy Games, and Religion (w/ Joseph Laycock, PhD)

    In this episode, we explore the topic of fantasy role-playing games (RPGs) within the context of the moral panic and cultural stigmatization that surrounded games like Dungeons & Dragons and Vampire: The Masquerade during the Satanic Panic of the 1980s and 1990s. My special guest is Joseph Laycock, PhD, assistant professor of religious studies at Texas State University and the author of three books, including Dangerous Games: What the Moral Panic over Role-Playing Games Says about Play, Religion, and Imagined Worlds. He has also written a book about vampire mythology and the communities that form around them and several journal articles on subjects which include Otherkin, parody religions, and paranormal beliefs.

  • #031: How Evangelicalism Fosters Sexual Abuse (w/ Carly Gelsinger)

    My guest for this episode is Carly Gelsinger, author, writing teacher, and freelance editor. She holds a bachelor’s in psychology from William Jessup University and a master’s in journalism from Boston University. Her work has appeared in local, regional, and national publications. Her first book, which was released this month, is called Once You Go In: A Memoir of Radical Faith, a book about her life inside a fundamentalist Pentecostal church, where she was on fire for the Lord, as they say, until she found the courage to leave and forge her own path free of the toxicity and fear that fundamentalist religion so often breeds.

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Atheists Tell New Jersey to End Religious Exemptions from Vaccination Requirements


Trenton, NJ—Today, American Atheists’ President Nick Fish delivered testimony urging the NJ Senate Committee on Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens to amend a bill (S2173) to remove religious exemptions from public school immunization requirements.

“When parents refuse to vaccinate their children, they endanger their lives and the lives of their classmates, particularly those who are unable to receive vaccinations for medical reasons,” said Fish. “No young person should be subjected to preventable and potentially debilitating infectious diseases due to the personal religious beliefs of their caretakers or classmates.”

The use of religious exemptions is on the rise in New Jersey. During the 2017/18 school year, the number of these exemptions increased to more than 12,000—up from just 1,600 a decade ago.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 86% of the more than 1,200 plus cases of measles reported this year were associated with “under-immunized, close-knit communities including two outbreaks in New York Orthodox Jewish communities,” which resulted from religious exemptions.

“Before New Jersey experiences a measles outbreak and is forced to declare a state of emergency, legislators should enact common-sense legislation to eliminate these dangerous religious exemptions right now,” said Fish. “Not only is it pressing that we accomplish this, it is perfectly constitutional.”

Indeed, the U.S. Supreme Court made it clear in Prince v. Massachusetts (1944) that “the right to practice religion freely does not include liberty to expose the community or children to communicable disease, or the latter to ill health or death.” In addition, neither New Jersey’s constitution nor laws require that public health and safety be subordinated by religious beliefs, no matter how sincerely held.

“I urge the New Jersey Senate to follow the example of their colleagues in the General Assembly and remove these religious exemptions, joining Maine and New York in putting the lives of young people first,” added Fish.

The companion bill to S2173 in the General Assembly, A3818, was amended in January 2019 to remove religious exemptions.

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Materialism’s Failures: Hylemorphism’s Vindication : Strange Notions


Scientific materialists propose certain epistemological and ontological claims, allegedly in the name of natural science, that conflict with man’s common sense experience of the world. This article will show (1)  that such claims are not based on sound natural science, but the assumed philosophy of materialism, (2) that the materialist/atomist worldview is fundamentally flawed, and (3) that hylemorphism offers scientifically-compatible alternatives that align with reality.

Materialism’s Epistemological Blunder

Human knowledge begins with sense experience, including that of immediately-given extramental  physical reality. Scientists make observations and take measurements of this world and stoutly maintain that a vast physical cosmos exists.

Yet, sensation’s scientific description begins with external
physical objects, which impact external sense organs (in vision’s case, the
eyes), causing chain reaction impulses through the retina and optic nerve, resulting
in changes in the brain’s occipital lobe.
This leads many to think that all we really know through sensation is some sort
of neural pattern, image, representation, or even “hallucination” inside the
– a representation, but not a
direct experience, of external physical reality itself.

To save natural science from epistemological idealism, many scientific
materialists argue that science remains objective, because the brain rather
accurately represents external objects. They will cite many scientific tests which
appear to confirm that the internal image quite perfectly represents external
reality — so that scientific measurements can be taken as accurate and our
depiction of physical reality is “scientifically correct.”

Still, if literally all we know are internal neural patterns
or images of external reality, how can we verify their conformity to external
reality at all? Even by millions of experiments?

To determine whether A conforms to B entails knowing both A
and B. Just to know A, but not B – and still make any judgment at all about A
conforming to B – is obviously impossible.

The irresolvable problem is that to judge the conformity of internal experience to extramental reality absolutely
requires some direct experience of external reality
– even as the basis for
all further observations and testing of exactly how the physiology works as
well as it does.

Materialism’s Encroachment on Science

Scientific materialists often fail to distinguish between (1) the neural changes in the brain and (2) the subjective experience of sensing. The former are physically observable neural patterns; the latter are subjective experiences that cannot be subject to physical observation.

Science traces physiological phenomena from the external
world into the brain. Science can say the physical sequence terminates inside
the brain. But science cannot say that
knowledge takes place inside the brain, because knowledge is not itself an
observable phenomenon
. Science can look at neural patterns “from the
outside,” but it cannot look at subjective sense experience “from the inside.”

Sensory neural activity is
located inside the brain. But, the only way to infer from that fact that all
knowledge is located inside the brain is by illicitly adding the assumption that sense knowledge is a purely material
phenomenon, which can be spatially located. Such an assumption does not come
from natural science, but from the philosophy of materialism.

metaphysical materialism’s philosophical claims are gratuitously added to the
findings of natural science, they turn scientists into bad philosophers and
make their proclamations the conclusions of bad philosophy, rather than good

The Immateriality of Sense Experience

If sense knowledge is claimed to take place solely in the brain, this means that (1) the act of knowing and (2) the object known must be physically located inside the brain. And yet, as I have shown elsewhere, sense experience itself cannot be a purely physical entity.

While material things are extended and located in space,
sense experience is immaterial in that it is neither extended in space nor
physically located. This does not mean that sense experience is spiritual in
nature, since spiritual entities are not
only not extended in space but also are existentially independent of anything
that is extended in space
. Still, sense experience depends on material
organs for its operation.

Sense experience must not be confused with a sense image. Sense experience begins with direct apprehension of an extramental object, such as a menacing lion. But, a sense image is merely an internal representation of some previously experienced sensed object. The present discussion is primarily about sense experience of extramental things, not images – although both are immaterial entities as evinced by them not being extended in space.

Sense experience is of the whole object seen (in the case of
vision). When we see a tree, we see the whole tree – top and bottom, left and
right side – all at once in a single act of sensing. The only way any physical
entity can represent the whole of any other physical entity is by one part
representing one part and another diverse part representing a different part. Thus
recording devices store images of objects by using many thousands of diverse
bits, each representing a different part of, say, a tree. TV screens and computer
monitors do the same, because hundreds of thousands of bits are needed to fully
present a screen image.

The old electron gun televisions sweep the screen rapidly
with electrons, creating an image composed of illuminated phosphors. While we see
the whole picture all at once, the only way to unify the whole image on the
screen itself is to collapse the deflection current of the vertical and
horizontal output stages, thus making all the electrons hit the same central
point on the screen – thereby, creating a single point of light. The image is
destroyed. (This phenomenon occurs briefly when you turn off these sets.)  Such a result is unavoidable, since any
extended image can be represented on any extended medium solely by having
diverse parts of the medium representing diverse parts of the image. Otherwise,
all data converges into an indecipherable mass. “Unity” destroys the “image” in
purely physical media.

This is because any
physically extended image or extramental data must be composed of distinct
parts, since all material entities are composed of distinct parts in space. But,
if sense experience is of the whole, and yet simple and completely unified,
this requires that all such distinct parts be conjoined onto a single “receiving
material point” (if that is even possible). But, to do that, all the distinct
parts of the data must be so conjoined as to cancel each other’s distinct
content, which would make the single “receiving point” totally lacking in any
distinct parts, and hence, absolutely incapable of representing the image or
data at all. In a word, all data would be so overlayed upon itself as to lose
all intelligible or decipherable content. Such analysis would apply even to the
most infinitesimally-small physical particles, since whatever is material is
extended in space and, as such, has distinct parts.

What this means is that
sense experience of an external physical entity is not itself extended in
space, whereas any physical entity is always extended in space. Thus, the sense experience of a physically real
entity must not itself be a physical entity!
And if the sense
experience is not a physical entity, this also means that the subjective
sense experience cannot be identical with physical brain activity!

Thus, materialism’s central claim that to be is
to be physical is dead wrong

Materialism can be easily tested in our own experience. We
see the physical world around us all at once – in a single act that somehow
unifies its entire content. We know that material things — extended in space
— can never unify experience without placing its content on top of itself so as
to render its parts indistinguishable and unintelligible. Therefore, we have
immediate experience (seeing a whole in a unified act) taking place in a way
that contradicts materialism’s basic tenet that all reality is extended and
located in space (even energy or force fields).

Moreover, since what
is not extended in space is also not located in space, this means that the inference that sense experience is
located inside the brain cannot be true
Sense experience of
extramentally-given objects simply cannot be located at all, even though it is associated with neural patterns located
inside the brain.

Only Partially Dependent on Brain Activity

While sense experience is dependent upon sense organs for its actualization, it is not physically identical to those bodily organs or to the neural activity taking place in them. If brain or end organ activity ceases or is damaged, sense experience ceases or is impaired, which shows some form of dependence of sense experience on brain activity.

But, sense experience actually does something
that no purely material entity can do
, namely, the immaterial act of
unifying the experience of external physical reality, or the internal image,
into a simple whole. Therefore, its immaterial nature – precisely because it is
immaterial and unitive — must be superior to that of any purely material organ
or neural activity. Now, an inferior cause cannot produce a superior effect,
that is, materiality cannot account for immateriality. Thus, while it cannot
exist without brain activity, sense
experience must get its immateriality from some other source than material
brain activity

Since sense experience is neither located nor extended in
space, the fact that it is associated with neural activity that is limited to
the inside of the brain offers no reason to assume that experiential content
itself must be limited to the inside of the brain – especially given that our
immediate experience is primarily of an extramental physical world. But the
real question is how can such direct experience of the world take place in
spite of being associated with intracranial brain activity? Is there an
ontological basis for saying that our senses somehow enable us to directly
apprehend extramental reality? To answer this question, we must recognize that
materialism misses a central immaterial component of all reality, a component
that helps explain how the senses allow the sentient knower to know to its
physical environment directly.

What has thus far been discovered is an immaterial act of
sense experience, somehow existing “within” us, but not identical with the
neural brain activity that scientific materialism mistakenly confuses with
sense experience. The question now is how can this immaterial sense experience directly
reach an extramental physical world, when the brain activity associated with it is
located inside the brain?

Another Materialist Fiasco: No Substantial Forms

As explained elsewhere on Strange Notions, scientific materialism’s “twin sister,” atomism (the claim that all reality is nothing but tiny physical particles) fails to explain a reality that few want to give up, namely, their own existence as living substantial unities. In a video on atheistic materialism I showed that, according to the logic inherent in their own basic claims, atomists, such as Richard Dawkins, do not really exist. Atomism exists as a philosophy, but atomists don’t!

Combine oxygen and hydrogen and you get water. But are water
molecules substantial unities, or not? Are they single things, distinct from
everything else – or, are they still just oxygen and hydrogen atoms,
temporarily sharing outer orbit electrons? If you say they are still separate
atoms — just sharing electrons, that is what atomism implies.

Atomism maintains that nothing really exists above atomic
level (whatever ultimate physical particles these “atoms” may really be). That
means that no macroscopic, substantially-unified things exist – not
cockroaches, not kangaroos, not horses, and not human beings (including Dr. Dawkins).
There may be amazingly-complex chemical bonding found in dynamic functional
unities based on DNA rules (organisms), but none
of it constitutes a substantial unity — a real being distinct from other
things: just countless infinitesimal particles doing a cosmic dance with
different sets of temporary partners

But what if those hydrogen and oxygen atoms really form an
existential bond creating a single substantial unity? What if sequoias and
zebras and Dr. Dawkins really do exist? Then, what makes them one being?

Here Aristotle’s hylemorphism rescues materialists from the
irrational consequences of their doctrine.

Hylemorphism recognizes the necessity of some unifying
principle in macroscopic things. This necessary principle is called “substantial
form” — an immaterial co-principle of material beings that makes them
substantially one, puts them into a species, and accounts for how they act. Being
one substance means that every bodily part shares the same substantial form. For human beings, the form of one’s stomach is
not “stomach-ness,” but “humanness.” The form of one’s big toe is not “big toe-ness,”
but “humanness.” The human substantial form, or soul (life principle), makes us
one being by pervading every iota of our being that is truly “us.”

Some “parts” are not us, such as one’s intestinal flora or
the hydrochloric acid in our stomachs. But,
if one excluded every part of us reductively, there would be no “us” left to be
. So, whatever in us that is human shares the same immaterial
substantial form (soul). If we lose a hand or foot, we are not less human, but there
is a little less of us (quantitatively) to be human. Thus, form is present everywhere,
and yet, physically is nowhere, since it is immaterial. Substantial form acts throughout the whole substance to make it be one
single being of the same nature throughout its whole reality.

How does the substantial form’s immateriality enable
sentient beings to directly experience extramental reality? Just as sense
experience is not locatable in space, neither is the soul. The soul operates
through its faculties, such as sense faculties that enable us to directly know
extramental things – as they are given to the end organs of the
. (Thus, we do not know Alpha Centauri as 4.3 light years away,
but as its light is now externally present to the eyes.)

Once materialism’s “located in space” spell is broken, the
immaterial soul and its immaterial faculties enable us to interact as a whole
with extramental physical things – without having to specify the location of
the sense faculties any more than one must physically locate the soul in one’s
big toe. The soul and its powers are present in the organism and to extramental
reality through its activities, but without us being able to “empirically
verify” its exact location, because it
has none

There is no “mechanism” by which sentient organisms directly
experience extramental things, since sense experience is not a mechanistic
physical thing. Yet, clearly, sense experience exists, is immaterial in nature,
and gives direct experience of bodies – as they are extramentally-given to the
end organs of the senses.

Materialism’s Evident Falsity

While materialism is hugely wrong elsewhere, including its denial of the human soul’s spirituality and its denial of God’s existence, I presently focus on points where materialism’s falsity is most manifest: (1) its failure to recognize that sense experience must be immaterial, and (2) its failure to recognize that substantial forms are real and absolutely needed to explain how real things can exist above the submicroscopic level.

Elsewhere on Strange Notions, I have offered proofs for the human soul’s spirituality and immortality as well as proofs for God’s existence. But those topics have a long history of contentious debate, which can confuse those who do not understand them thoroughly. The present article’s advantage is that it employs phenomena anyone can immediate experience.

No one can honestly deny the unity and wholeness of his
sense experience, and no sane person denies his own substantial existence.
These immediately-evident experiences, when combined with a little thought
about the nature of matter and atomism as explained above, lead to a powerful
conclusion that purely physical matter is not all that is real.

We do not live in
a world of complex piles of atoms in which nothing has any substantial unity.
Rather, substantial forms enable macroscopic things to be real and to be
classified according to internal principles of unity and common activity. We do live in a world in which the human
intellect can penetrate and classify reality based on whole,
substantially-unified beings – from atoms to atomists — whose natures are
revealed through their activities.

Hylemorphism provides realistic solutions to the mistakes of
materialism. Materialism traps the materialist inside his own brain from which
hylemorphism frees him by pointing out that immaterial sense experience is not
spatially located. The human immaterial soul explains the substantial unity of
man in which his immaterial sense faculties can be present to the whole body
and to extramental reality.

Hylemorphism rescues atomists’ personal existence by affirming
the reality of substantial forms, which make them substantially-unified macroscopic

Materialism is empirically contradicted (1) by our ability
to sense wholes and (2) by our immediate experience of our own substantial unity
– which phenomena are easily explained respectively by (1) immaterial cognitive
faculties,  and (2) immaterial substantial
forms. Materialism’s failures are remedied by the hylemorphic worldview.

Why would anyone want to be a materialist when materialism cannot even explain how a whole (substantially unified) dog can see and chase a whole (perceptually unified) cat?

Dr. Dennis Bonnette

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Dr. Dennis Bonnette retired as a Full Professor of Philosophy in 2003 from Niagara University in Lewiston, New York. He taught philosophy there for thirty-six years and served as Chairman of the Philosophy Department from 1992 to 2002. He lives in Youngstown, New York, with his wife, Lois. They have seven adult children and twenty-five grandchildren. He received his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Notre Dame in 1970. Dr. Bonnette taught philosophy at the college level for 40 years, and is now teaching free courses at the Aquinas School of Philosophy in Lewiston, New York. He is the author of two books, Aquinas’ Proofs for God’s Existence (The Hague: Martinus-Nijhoff, 1972) and Origin of the Human Species (Ave Maria, FL: Sapientia Press, third edition, 2014), and many scholarly articles.

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Any President Will Be Hated By Half the Country


storm clouds

In the United States today, it is almost impossible to imagine anyone being elected president with more than a slight majority of the popular vote. This is not a new phenomenon, but there does seem to be something new about it. Specifically, it is also almost impossible to imagine anyone being elected president without close to half the country hating them and everybody who voted for them. This does not strike me as healthy. At least, I have difficulty seeing it as a sign of a well-functioning democracy. It sounds like more and more Americans are beginning to recognize that this is a problem.

It would be extremely easy to point the finger, as there are many places where we might place blame. The news media, especially the increasingly partisan cable news shows, have probably made things worse. The political parties and elected officials at every level of government have certainly contributed. Public education may deserve a look. We could go on and on. But ultimately, I think that most of the blame belongs to us. This is not one of those cases where I mean that we’ve sit back and let it happen (which we have); far too many of us have actively participated in making the problem worse.

Those who have been part of #TheResistance are to blame, and those who have been part of #MAGA are to blame. By embracing tribalism, we enable it to spread and intensify. We have now reached the point where those who hold different political views are our enemies. We even brag about blocking and reporting them on Twitter as if that was something to be proud of!

Freethought should provide us with a way out of this mess, but too few are willing to do the hard work associated with it. We call ourselves freethinkers because we recognize that it is the sort of thing we should be, but we then exempt most of our own views from critical inquiry and blast those who dare to question them. We agree that free speech is vital unless it is their speech, and we champion the free exchange of ideas only insofar as such an exchange does not include ideas we find objectionable. In short, we eagerly adopt the freethinker label while neglecting its meaning.

If freethought is not a viable escape, what is? I’m not sure. For a while, I thought that a major catastrophe might be required. I don’t mean something like a terrorist attack of the magnitude of 9/11, though I suppose one on a much larger scale could suffice. I also don’t mean a major natural disaster because those occur regularly and change little. I think it would have to be something far worse than anything that has happened in the last 100 years. I used to think that the climate crisis might get us there eventually, but I no longer think that’s likely because it is too slow-moving. and the more I think about it, increasingly scarce resources would probably not bring us together.

I’m not sure how we get to the point where we no longer hate our ideological opponents. I’m becoming increasingly pessimistic about our chances of doing so, although I am somewhat encouraged to hear that large numbers of people recognize that it is a problem. It is almost impossible to imagine finding solutions to something that is not widely recognized as a problem. But now that we’re beginning to see this as a problem, what we do about it still isn’t clear.

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Racist GA Mayor Who Said City Wasn’t “Ready” for Black Official Finally Resigns | Hemant Mehta | Friendly Atheist


Just days after a racist city council member from Hoschton, Georgia resigned, the mayor is following suit.

Earlier this year, when there was a job opening for city administrator, Mayor Theresa Kenerly reported removed the application of Keith Henry from among the final candidates because “he is black, and the city isn’t ready for this.”

She said this to other city council members more than once. Most of them were rightfully appalled by it and spoke about it with the city’s attorney. Kenerly later denied making the statement.

The whole situation got even worse when one of the other city council members, Jim Cleveland, defended the mayor’s racism by saying he opposed interracial marriage because he was a Christian.

What did interracial marriage have to do with anything? It didn’t. But racist logic never makes any sense.

In response to those actions, citizens managed to get a recall election approved for both him and the mayor. That election is set to take place next month, which is why Cleveland decided last week that he would resign. He wanted to quit before residents could fire him.

Now Kenerly is doing the same thing.

Hoschton Mayor Theresa Kenerly resigned Saturday during a special called meeting in the Jackson County town.

The City Council accepted her resignation effective 1 p.m. Sunday.

Kenerly has not commented on her future plans, but had appealed the recall campaign with the Georgia Supreme Court.

The court declined to hear her petition.

So she wasn’t going to resign… until she, too, realized she would go down in a recall election. Rather than face the music, she quit.

Hey, whatever works. It’s the coward’s way out, but at least her racism won’t have a position of power in that city. It’ll be up to the citizens who pushed for the recall to run for those seats and replace Kenerly and Cleveland with some decent human beings instead.

(Screenshot via YouTube. Thanks to Arin for the link)

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