A Quick Question for the Hive

Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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55 Responses

  1. Kyle Cupp says:

    I say go for it!  And I wouldn’t call it navel-gazing, if for no other reason than I write a lot about faith myself. 😉Report

  2. Jonathan says:

    One thing that the wife and I have been thinking about in regards to our faith is concept of community, and how best to realize that. Consequently, I think taking this journey open and with others is a wonderful idea, Tod.Report

  3. Burt Likko says:

    I say that while the journey must be your own. As must be your decision about whether to share it with others. If you’re like me (and I know I am) then writing and offering writings about this will be a great aid to your focus and clarity of thought. The subject matter seems eminently appropriate for this site. No one whose opinion is worth consideration would use the vulnerability inherent in such an exercise maliciously.Report

  4. BlaiseP says:

    En una noche oscura,
    con ansias, en amores inflamada,
    ¡oh dichosa ventura!,
    salí sin ser notada,
    estando ya mi casa sosegada;

    a escuras y segura
    por la secreta escala, disfrazada,
    ¡oh dichosa ventura!,
    a escuras y encelada,
    estando ya mi casa sosegada;

    en la noche dichosa,
    en secreto, que nadie me veía
    ni yo miraba cisa,
    sin otra luz y guía
    sino la que en el corazón ardía.


    On a dark night,
    with yearnings, in burning love
    oh marvelous chance!
    I crept out, unseen,
    my household at rest.

    In the safety of darkness,
    On the secret ladder, disguised
    oh marvelous chance!
    Concealed in the darkness,
    my household still at rest.

    Into the merry night,
    In secret, nobody saw me,
    Nor saw I them
    With no other light or guide,
    Than that which burned in my heart.

    St John of the Cross, translation mineReport

  5. Jaybird says:

    Check out The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible from your local library (or pick it up from Amazon!) and give it a read at the same time.

    There are a lot of things that will be going on when you will be taking these classes. Many of them are good. I don’t know to what extent overthinking them will result in counter-acting these good things… and, me being me, I’m prone to think that overthinking is something that will help you get rid of the weeds rather than the wheat.

    Keep us posted!Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to Jaybird says:

      I’ve read that; it was a great read.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        What I gleaned from it is that there are a lot of things bubbling under the surface of our accumulated culture and something *IMMENSELY* powerful when it comes to engaging in a tradition that feels hundreds/thousands of years old with “your people”.

        You’ve heard the phrase “don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater”, I’d ask you to be mindful when it comes to what you take with you from these classes and this experience… that is, to make sure that your baby:bathwater ratio is appreciably high.Report

  6. Matty says:

    I strongly recommend this approach even if you don’t ‘come out on the side of faith’. I went through a stage of attending various ‘introduction to our beliefs’ type classes at friends churches and while at the end I was more convinced that I don’t believe a word of it I still found it very useful in clarifying what I do think about all sorts of issues.Report

  7. I’d love to follow along with this.Report

  8. Katherine says:

    I would be very glad to hear anything you have to say about your exploration of faith.  I only read this site off and on, but I’ll certainly participate in the discussion if I see your posts.Report

  9. Plinko says:

    I’d be quite interested in reading, should you decide to share. Catechism classes were what started to turn me away from the Church as a teen – some things taught caused me to question the doctrines and authority of the Vatican. From there I never looked back, but I’d be very interested to see the approach for an adult vs. a teen.Report

  10. James Hanley says:

    I am a non-believer that has always been drawn toward the idea of faith.  As I get longer in the tooth I find it harder and harder not to pick at this yearning.

    For myself, all is the inverse.  I was a believer who always struggled with the idea of faith, and as I get longer in the tooth I find it harder and harder to both to believe and to be interested in picking at the yearning.

    And yet I remember my belief and my struggle with it vividly; it is a fundamental part of who I am.  And so I take seriously, and am interested in, others’ picking at that yearning.  So long as troublesome folks like me don’t turn this into an argument about religion, and you’re comfortable discussing your exploration in a public forum, I say go for it.  I’m sure we’ll all learn something from it, and from others’ responses to it.Report

  11. wardsmith says:

    Viz getting longer in the tooth. There’s an old saw about why churches are full of old folks who are always praying and studying the bible. The young deacon asks the old minister why this is so and he replies, “They’re cramming for finals!”

    May your yearnings be fulfilled. 🙂Report

  12. I’d be interested in reading it and following along.Report

  13. J.L. Wall says:

    If you want to, I’d say to go ahead — I’d certainly like to follow along and, possibly, pop into the discussions.  If nothing else, it would be informative for me — I’m always interested to see how others, and other traditions of belief, position themselves.Report

  14. CL Meier says:

    As a friend of Jason Kuznicki and now an ordained minister, I would totally love to be in conversation with you in this process.  Now that being said, I went to a very non-religious university and have a very open mind about matters of faith and religion.  It may be a very interesting conversation from a variety of perspectives, not that I need to have a “pony in this race.”Report

  15. Patrick Cahalan says:

    As long as you accept the probability that in addition to interesting and poignant commentary you’re going to have to occasionally read snarky or dismissive commentary (not to mention all of us occasionally trying to be funny and blowing it completely), I think this is a great idea.

    Bob must feel like he died and went to heaven.Report

  16. Michael Drew says:

    I’d certainly be interested in following your explorations.  I promise never to be snarky about them (probably won’t comment at all tbh).  I’ll be interested to see where you end up.Report

  17. Robert Cheeks says:

    No snark from me on this one. I am truly touched by Tod’s forthrightness. In a sense you’ve rejected or are rejecting the intellectual and spiritual disruptions that define modernity. It is rather amazing since you’ve lived your entire life surrounded/consumed by these distortions (although you’ve mentioned you’ve had some churchin’ up, which may be the memory/anamnetic experience that begins the metaleptic process and thus leads to salvation and redemption?)

    The most difficult part is not a belief in Jesus, but the surrender of the self to
    God in love and freedom. Modernity worships the self.Report

  18. Jason Kuznicki says:

    I view religion essentially as a way of hacking the mind.  Sort of like psychiatry, but with teeth.

    Which is to say that it can be very, very effective at accomplishing all kinds of goals — when you can hack a mind, you can do amazing things.  But there is of course a dark side to it as well.

    As to the supernatural, there’s no there there. Still, hack away.


    • Sam M in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      “As to the supernatural, there’s no there there…”

      This is an interesting question to me. I often think about it in libertarian terms. Is there a god? I dunno. If there is, is his name Steve? Mitch? Does he wear a robe and a crown? If that’s how we define “there,” I suspect there is not one.

      But can we think of it more broadly? Like a market? No, there’s not some guy named Adam Smith or Jesus Christ setting prices for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But the prices aren’t randomly assigned, either. There’s an actual thing. or maybe a process, that makes this happen. It’s an important force worth studying. Sometimes, we even humanize the force (Invisible Hand) to make it more comprehensible.

      Perhaps the difference between atheism and deism is similar to the difference between science and literature?Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Sam M says:

        HIgher-order levels of organization aren’t supernatural.  That might be what God is, but in that case God isn’t supernatural.Report

        • Murali in reply to Michael Drew says:

          But it is not merely natural either. Once we start talking about higher levels of organisation, I think it is difficult to say that the kinds of things we are talking about are ntural fcts like length, or charge or something and like mathemathics be part of some set of non-natural set of properties (i.e. the same kind of thing as hypotheticals, counterfactuals and universals) Our common notions of supernaturals of course may still be wrong, but collapsing everything into the natural oversimplifies things to the extent that we leave out certain important nuances in our description.Report

          • Michael Drew in reply to Murali says:

            Wrong. Nature can only be a simple quantity like length or charge?  Sorry, no.

            Higher levels of organization in nature, or even human society, are natural, inasmuch as they arise out of material reality through natural processes.  Increasing complexity in nature does not itself comprise an extra-natural fact.  It’s just the way that nature is organizing itself.  We can certainly posit a supernatural realm, but it’s beyond nature (that’s what the word says), not just the emergent behavior of what we would agree are purely natural-material elements of the composition of the world.  Maybe there is a little bit of supernatural in every starling, or maybe somehow something supernatural is being created apart from the actual flock when the starlings swarm, but the purely material fact of the higher-order organization of the starlings over and above the evolved bio-chemical order that makes up each starling – that emergent higher-level order itself within nature – does not not itself comprise the supernatural.  To say that the astounding and beautiful things in nature are really “supernatural,” and that nature can only be, by definition, dull and simple matters like length or charge is to, all at once, define terms simply to get the result you want, to deny nature’s evident ability to astound with beauty and complex order, and to set the bar for what is supernatural so low as to make it something no one has any reason to be interested in it to begin with. Complexity and order are things that nature does all on its own – if the supernatural exists, it exists as an additional dimension to what nature itself is fundamentally and manifestly capable of creating, or else exists simply beyond the natural world.  To say that the beauty or complexity is nature just simply is the supernatural is to engage in first degree intellectual larceny.Report

            • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

              Oh yeah: what starlings?  These starlings.


            • Murali in reply to Michael Drew says:

              I’m not saying its supernatural, only that its non-natural, nor am I saying something which is beautiful must contain within itself a bit of the supernatural (except in a poetic sense).

              For example, that some object is a basketball is not a natural fact (simply because basketball-hood is not a natural category). A better example is mathematics. That 2+2=4 is not a fact about the world. Its truth would not change no matter the configuration the world took.

              As I’ve said it does not therefore count as supernatural. .It and other abstractions however do pose a problem for a purely materialist wourld view. And I wish to emphasise, it is possible to have a non-materialist world view without thereby positing the supernatural (or at least anything which has tradionally been called the supernatural). Chris can probably do a better job of explaining this than me.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Murali says:

                Sorry to whatever extent I misunderstood you.

                That a basketball is matter arranges as it is (whatever we call it) is indeed a natural fact, and that our word for basketball is basketball is another natural fact, which doesn’t change the fact of what a given basketball physically is once it’s been made and is sitting in our driveway. (Though our ideas about what a basketball should be did in the event affect what basketballs, including this basketball, turned out to be like.  That’s a contingent fact; however; our ideas didn’t affect what a starling turned out to be.)  It’s not a non-natural fact that we have words for things, and in the sense that you mean it, nothing “is” the word we have for it; it’s just the matter that it is, arranged as it is.  The fact that a “basketball” is a “basketball” is also a natural fact; it is electrochemical activity in our brain. And the notion that a basketball (rubber ‘n stuff) is a “basketball” is not a non-natural fact: it’s just not a fact; it’s not the case.

                Would two and two be four if we had never come up with the ideas of two and four?  I can’t say, but two and four and their relation are ideas we came up with (relating to reality or otherwise); they exist as electrochemical impulses in our head; they are natural facts as well in that sense.  Whether two marbles sitting on a table constitute a real instantiation in nature of the concept of two, or whether they don’t because that idea is only a projection of our minds onto the world, whatever the fact of the matter is, that, too, is a natural fact. Either there’s really some twoness on the table there, or there isn’t – whatever the fact there being a natural fact – but either way there is electrochemical activity in our brains that feels like the idea of two (or two marbles, or whatever it feels like that we’re contemplating), and that activity is also a natural fact.

                Point being, you’re selling the bounds of what is natural vastly short, absent an argument that I don’t see you making.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

                …’setting’ the bounds would probably have been closer to the idiomatic phrase there. 😉Report

              • Murali in reply to Michael Drew says:

                it’s just the matter that it is, arranged as it is

                Its more than that. There are possible worlds where the atoms could be arranged the same way, but that wouldnt be a basketball. Maybe because the game of basketball is not played in that world. Or maybe because the game of basketball would use a different ball.

                But agreed, basketball is a bad example.

                With respect to maths, the answer to the question of whether 2+2=4 or there are finite primes would be the same even if there was no one to think about it.

                As to whether I have set the bounds of what constitutes a natural fact too narrowly, I dont think so. There are important differences between the kind of fact about whether there are finite primes and the kind of fact about whether I am 6 ft 3″ And treating them like the same kind of facts does not do justice to their differences.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Murali says:

                One can say they are both natural facts while still saying they are different kinds of facts.  If you are saying that one is a natural fact and another is not, then that is what you are saying, but if you are merely saying that they are different kinds of facts, then my saying that they are both natural facts needn’t be inconsistent with that.  They could be different kinds of facts in another respect while both being natural facts.Report

              • Murali in reply to Michael Drew says:

                Let me put this another way. When we think and talk about the natural world, the way we often use the word natural conjures up a picture in our head that in such a  way that facts about math or morality doesnt fit easily with (if the fit at all). One way of cashing out the difference is that natural facts are appehended perceptually (i.e. we perceive them with our senses).

                At the bottom, I may just be following philosophical convention when it comes to how I use natural and non-natural. But I do think that using the term natural to describe maths begs the question against a certain kind of platonic intuition. (This would be the case even if the intuition is ultimately unfounded)

                The reason abstractions arent natural is because we commonly think natural facts are facts about things. But an abstraction is not a thing per se. Rather, an abstraction is very obviously a non-thing.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

                Yes, I’m with you here.  I guess I think that either maths are true in a material way in the world (and, actually that they are something of a special case), or else maths aren’t constituted by facts at all, beyond their being electrochemical impulses in our brain.  And I think it’s the latter – that maths aren’t facts except in that latter sense; that the facts are things that, we think, behave in ways that resemble the maths we’ve developed; there’s the stuff in the world, and we have our ideas, and those are all material things, but that mathematical “truths” aren’t facts as I understand facts, except just inasmuch as they are a patter of actual things behaving a certain way.  “x=x” isn’t a fact; it’s just an idea that makes sense to us.  So to the extent we have a semantic problem, I actually think it’s more around the word fact than natural.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

                So my distinction would be that facts necessarily have a degree of contingency, and indeed are necessarily material, whereas truths are simply true, whether because they are contingent but happen to be the case, or are necessary truths.  My position is that I am agnostic about whether correct maths are true beyond the systems in which they’ve been developed, but that the abstract part of them are not “facts.”Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

                I’d love to hear more views on this, however, in particular, Pat C.’s.Report

              • wardsmith in reply to Michael Drew says:

                Michael, just read up on Godel. That should answer your questions about maths.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:


                If all we do is read up on this or that, then there’s hardly any fun or interesting stuff to do here, is there?  Let’s not be monks; let’s not even be scholars; let’s be bullshitters. Gödel had some ideas, but his aren’t the only ideas. What are your thoughts?Report

        • Sam M in reply to Michael Drew says:

          “HIgher-order levels of organization aren’t supernatural.  That might be what God is, but in that case God isn’t supernatural.”

          Maybe. But that depends on how we define supernatural. Again, if you are taking it to mean a dude in a robe and a crown, agreed. But it’s quite possible that some of these higher levels of organization are so complex as to be beyond human understanding and/or control. The reaction to that might be to create a field of study at a university to explore the limits. Another reaction might be to approach it from a literary point of view and name things differently.

          I don’t believe in Zeus. But I think that Homer did a much better job of explaining and even predicting human behavior than many modern psychology textbooks do.

          You might say, well, OK, but the idea that some god swept in and forced Achilles to do this is preposterous. There is no such thing as Mt. Olympus. As the basic premise is false, there is no there there.

          I could counter, well, the basic assumptions of economics simplify to a preposterous degree. There is no such thing as the free market. As such, economics is false and there is no there there.

          Of course, most basic econ courses begin with the demand for a leap of faith: Assumue the free market.

          Assume the…

          It’s the basic premise of any attempt to explain complex things.Report

          • Matty in reply to Sam M says:

            There is no such thing as Mt. Olympus.

            Then why does a google search give me tourist guides to it?

            Yes I know what you mean but I’m in a particularly pedantic moodReport

    • Murali in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      Hacking the mind…

      Actually that does seem like a good reason to take up religion. Of course we have to be careful about which religion we want to take up. We want to hack our minds in just the right kinds of ways.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Murali says:

        I wouldn’t say religion can hack the mind.  At best, religion just a framework upon which we can hang other important considerations.   A person can be religious with no faith in God.

        The mind is an illusion.  It’s like pointing to the flame as if it didn’t emerge from the oxidation chemistry of the coals below.  The sage points at the moon, the idiot looks at his finger.   The mind is just a working construct, terribly imprecise, a sort of dashboard with terse symbols derived from staggering amounts of sensory input.  If the mind is anything, it’s a set of bandpass filters to assist our decision making process, most of which happens below the level of conscious thought.

        If you were a dog, say, with an olfactory sense roughly 100 times better than what you have now, your mind would reflect that additional input.  Not only does the mind throw out most of the sensory input it’s given, there’s loads more information of which we’re unaware and can only approach through scientific instruments.

        Our belief in God is an admission we’re a species in its infancy.   What we’d consider human beings emerged a hundred thousand years ago.   Five thousand years ago, we started in on culture and a thousand years ago, most people didn’t live long enough to know their grandchildren.   A hundred years ago we worked out the theory of continental drift, ten years ago the International Criminal Court was established.  Moore’s Law seems to apply to more than computers:  it applies to this species.   We’re progressing exponentially, not linearly.

        And we still don’t know much about ourselves.

        The search for God starts within yourself.  Belief in God doesn’t mean you have to believe in spooks or the Big Guy Hurling Thunderbolts, Roasting the Asses of the Wicked in the Lake o’ Fire.   Nature is super enough without the supernatural.   As we have no explanations for ourselves, least of all our minds and their limitations, it seems a bit childish to carry on about religion as if it’s a disassembler for the programs of the brain.  There are no programs beyond the active sites in our DNA and those seem to be a bit perverse, what with evolution and all that.Report

    • “I view religion essentially as a way of hacking the mind.  Sort of like psychiatry, but with teeth.”

      I really like this description, btw.Report

    • Renee in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      Oakland = No There there = The Supernatural

      Calling Harold Camping, Calling Harold Camping . . .Report

  19. Simon K says:

    I’d be very interested in this. I sort of feel similarly, in that I wish I had faith  but don’t. I should say, though, that I’m one of those people who had some kind of religious belief until he started attending confirmation classes. By the time it came to the end of the course, what there had been was gone.Report

  20. Tod, I’d say you have your answer by this point. I’m looking forward to your posts on the topic of religion.Report

    • CC – I’m actually working on it now.  My hope is to do them on Saturdays, after having thought about what I learned the previous Sunday, and post them late Saturday or Sunday morning.  I can’t tell you why, but having these be weekend posts seems important.Report