The service on February 2nd of 2020 took note of the NTCOF's very first service on the 5th of February of 1995, completing 25 years of uninterrupted monthly service. We sang ourselves “Happy Birthday” and enjoyed some delicious carrot-birthday cake.
In discussing the original process and thinking behind the creation of the first (to our knowledge) serious atheist church anywhere in the world, it was said that:
“We had deeper concerns. What is religion for? What does it do? How can something good be made of it? How could it be made better than it ever has been before? We wanted nothing less than to begin religion over again. Because skeptical atheists – Freethinkers seemed to be a great self-descriptive term! – really do have a distinctive approach to religious questions. And I thought – and still think – that I could see the outlines of what a religion of Freethought could or should be. To my mind it would involve an approach like that of science. But it really couldn't be science as Richard Dawkins and other popularizers of atheism seem to think, because so much of the subject material is not inter-subjective like that of science. Religion just doesn't seem to address things that two people could reliably and easily agree on. But everything having to do with religion and its concerns is still something people can discuss. They can still apply the method of doubt and critical thinking. They could still try to solve the problems and puzzles while maintaining an attitude of humility, a sense of cautious uncertainty and an openness to exchanging any ideas, any beliefs, for better ones or even to hold an awareness of possible answers in mind without committing to any one conclusion.”
We discussed the dramatization of “Huxley's Letter to Kingsley” at the very first NTCOF service and how TH Huxley, the 19th Century British anthropologist and anatomist came to write it. For it was in response to the Anglican cleric Charles Kingsley's letter to Huxley on the occasion of the death of Huxley's 4-year-old son Noel in 1860. Although much of the appeal of Huxley's letter is his passionate defense of agnostic atheism (Huxley was to coin the term “agnostic 9 years later), a portion of it pulls much more at the heartstrings, esp for anyone who is a parent:
“As I stood behind the coffin of my little son the other day, with my mind bent on anything but disputation, the officiating minister read, as a part of his duty, the words, 'If the dead rise not again, let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.' I cannot tell you how inexpressibly they shocked me. Paul had neither wife nor child, or he must have known that his alternative involved a blasphemy against all that was best and noblest in human nature. I could have laughed with scorn. What! because I am face to face with irreparable loss, because I have given back to the source from whence it came, the cause of a great happiness, still retaining through all my life the blessings which have sprung and will spring from that cause, I am to renounce my manhood, and, howling, grovel in bestiality? Why, the very apes know better, and if you shoot their young, the poor brutes grieve their grief out and do not immediately seek distraction in a gorge.”
It highlights not just Huxley's principled rejection of supernaturalism on moral grounds, but also his experience of thoughtless believers. And both of these, of course, are things we are ourselves well familiar with over 150 years later.
Our Moment of Science featured a musical video on the neuroscience of romantic love.
The remainder of the service expanded on the subject of romantic love and love generally, understood as emotional connections to others. We know that we humans have this ability, and are subject to its trials and tribulations, because of our unique mode of existence as an extremely social species. That is, our capacity for love was selected for among our ancestors during the process of biological evolution. Love, whatever it feels like in a wide variety of circumstances and whatever the neuroscience that underlies it, serves a purpose for us.
Finally, we turned to a consideration of what it may be like to be a member of a species that is almost not socially-inclined at all and for the members of which love would serve lttle or no purpose. The example chosen was the sea turtle:
“They get together only to breed. When they hatch out of their eggs they make a dash for the safety of the ocean where, for the most part, they live a solitary existence. They are not social animals because they don't need social connections. It's not part of their mode of being. And even if one of them did miraculously develop a need for friendship, what would they do about it? Would they make friends with the sponges they eat or the trematode parasites that they commonly have?
Now consider how like an omnipotent, omniscient, eternally-existing superbeing a sea turtle is. Like this alleged 'God,' they are sufficient unto themselves. Love simply doesn't do anything for them. There is nothing in it for them. Survival – continued existence – is their only concern. So what about this 'God' that believers prattle on about? What need has this being for love? Where would such a need come from? What would be the benefit or purpose of it? It is mind-bogglingly illogical in any case since a perfect 'God' could not have an imperfection like a longing for friends when there are none beside him. At least the Greek and Roman and Norse deities had each other.
And what sort of a friend to 'God' could created humans or even angels be anyway, with or without 'free will?' They are far further beneath this 'God' than even a sponge or flatworm is beneath a sea turtle. Jonathan Edwards, the famous British colonial Congregationalist Protestant cleric, widely considered one of America's most important and original theologians, acknowledged this and more in his famous 1741 sermon, Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God in which he assured his listeners that:
'The God that holds you over the Pit of Hell, much as one holds a Spider, or some loathsome Insect, over the Fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; his Wrath towards you burns like Fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the Fire; he is of purer Eyes than to bear to have you in his Sight; you are ten thousand Times so abominable in his Eyes as the most hateful venomous Serpent is in ours.'
THAT is the 'love' that Paul extols in 1 Corinthians 13 (again, mentioned in the bulletin). How can any Bible-believer deny it? But even of this 'love' we may ask: where did it come from? Why does 'God' have these feelings and what are the benefits to 'God?' What is its purpose? And would the most foolish human we can think of, or at least one also intelligent enough to be capable of doing it, deliberately make loathsome spiders and serpents that they knew beforehand that they would abhor and think deserving of nothing more than to be cast into eternal fire? Or perhaps it will be said by some devout believers – who would actually, incredibly, expect it to be taken seriously! – that Jonathan Edwards was 'not a true Christian.' “
We had a very lively Q&A following this in which it was brought up that liking and loving may be different things, the one depending on various things and the other being unconditional. Others thought "liking" was just a lot less intense and serious than "loving." There was some disagreement abut this. There were also differing views as to whether there is a “breaking point” when we can no longer love someone whom we once did feel love for or whether just about everyone is deserving of love. Part of this turned on the idea that we become upset by someone else's behavior that we ourselves bear a certain responsibility for how how we react and even how we “choose” to feel about it.
Postings about each monthly service includes topics discussed and an open forum to further discuss those topics.
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