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Defending the Faith: Secularism offers little comfort

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  • John Marx Layton, UT
    Jan. 3, 2013 8:55 a.m.

    Yes, Religions offer comfort against mortality.
    I have a simple question Dan. How would you respond if a member of another religion claimed that their religious message was more comforting than Mormonism? Saying that people naturally preferred said religion over Mormonism because people found it more appealing? For the sake of the question, let's say that this religions message is indisputably more comforting.
    I think you would give the exact same response that the atheists would give to this column. That basically it doesn't matter what is more comforting. What matters is what is true.

  • Verdad Orem, UT
    Jan. 3, 2013 9:26 a.m.

    Having followed Peterson for a while, I strongly suspect that he would argue that Mormonism is true, as well. But that doesn't seem to have been the point of this short piece.

  • skeptic Phoenix, AZ
    Jan. 3, 2013 9:45 a.m.

    It is somewhat human nature to sugar coat the uncomfortable and aching aspects of human life, and it is usually the polite and comforting thing to do; but, it doesn't change the truth of the matter. It just makes it a little easier to deal with. However, it is probably best in the long run to learn to deal with the truth.

  • dtlenox Olympia, WA
    Jan. 3, 2013 10:14 a.m.

    "Truth" to me is that there is a purpose and a plan to our existence and that it didn't all just happen "by chance", and that our existence is eternal. In spite of that, I respect the opinions of atheists and can see some reasons why they believe the way they do. What's "true" to athiests is not "true" to me and others who believe that there is a purpose and a reason for the existence of all life on earth. The purpose of the article is not to ridicule or make light of atheism, but just to state the logical fact that a belief system that doesn't believe in a purpose to life, doesn't have much to offer in the way of comfort to those grieving over the loss of a loved one.

  • fkratz Portland, OR
    Jan. 3, 2013 10:35 a.m.

    Some years ago I lost my mother unexpectedly. We were very close. Although she had not requested a service, we decided to have one at the community church so that friends and family could meet and pay their respects. Among the many friends there, were her grand and great grand children by marriage; family who had been a meaningful part of her life.

    The local pastor, who didn't know her, offered some quite touching scriptures and did the best he could. But then, one by one, the family stood up, and recounted their fondest memories of mom in touching detail. Then, other people joined in, most I knew but some I didn't. Their touching stories continued and it was amazing.

    I'm not religious and neither were most of those that spoke that day. Yet, through their words came comfort. We all miss her and we have great stories to tell. For us, that is enough.

  • ulvegaard Medical Lake, Washington
    Jan. 3, 2013 10:47 a.m.

    A year ago, our family faced similar challenges. After a 13 year battle, my 40 year old sister finally succumbed to her cancer - she was a true role model, especially at the end. Six months later, a couple of weeks before Christmas, my father passed away.

    We grieved, but we also felt certain that there is a purpose to life; one that extends beyond the grave. It is one thing to read about death in the headlines; quite another to witness it first hand. The events which preceded the death of each of these family members, and countless others in our family, was a choice and sacred moment. The things which we experienced and felt and observed transcended skeptical explanation.

    Since I am aware that to share such special and sacred experiences here will only draw ridicule from the voices that frequent this site; and apparently for the sole purpose of tearing down faith and throwing barbs as belief systems. However, I know what I experienced, and my mother and my siblings. Ridicule it and equate it with wishful thinking if you will, but my personal experiences are sufficient for me.

  • Beowulf Portland, OR
    Jan. 3, 2013 10:52 a.m.

    Bertrand Russell was a charming fellow, wasn't he. ;)

    Reminds me of statements that Carl Sagan's widow (a renowned secular humanist in her own right) made after his death, about how annoyed she was at people who attempted to comfort her with "he's in a better place" comments. But she too got into hot water with other secular humanists when she once wrote in an essay that she and Carl had "hope" for the human race.

    This was apparently too "spiritual" for the outraged secular humanist audience.

  • Beowulf Portland, OR
    Jan. 3, 2013 11:00 a.m.

    Bertrand Russell was a charming fellow, wasn't he. ;)

    Reminds me of Carl Sagan's widow (who is a renowned secular humanist in her own right) who once said that she was annoyed by persons attempting to comfort her with "he's in a better place" comments. But even she got into hot water with other secular humanists when she wrote in an essay that she and Carl had "hope" for the human race.

    This was apparently too "spiritual" for the outraged secular humanists.

  • bored Lindon, UT
    Jan. 3, 2013 11:28 a.m.

    I love his last comment: "It's not just the packaging. The message is intrinsically unattractive." It is essentially the absence of Hope. As we know, Hope and Faith are inseparably connected, and without either, well, it's pretty bleak.

    How utterly hopeless is the opinion of the man he quoted? "Brief and powerless is Man's life." This is precisely why there will be no shortage of the incidents like the one in question. No amount of legislation can fix it. Without purpose, and the hope in what comes next, there is little reason for many people to behave in a civil manner...and there is plenty of reason for them to completely lose control.

  • christoph Brigham City, UT
    Jan. 3, 2013 11:37 a.m.

    Religion is more exciting than politics; no new ideas from either party in Washington D.C. It is common people who dance, marry and have children that makes the world go around.

  • John Marx Layton, UT
    Jan. 3, 2013 11:45 a.m.

    dtlenox you wrote
    "The purpose of the article is not to ridicule or make light of atheism, but just to state the logical fact that a belief system that doesn't believe in a purpose to life, doesn't have much to offer in the way of comfort to those grieving over the loss of a loved one."

    I guess to me it's just a pretty meaningless critique of atheism.
    Just as meaningless as it would be for a member of another religion to state that their beliefs are more comforting than those of Mormonism. What about that would be a meaningful or useful critique?
    Is that we Mormons have a more comforting message the point? Heck if that's the case, why don't we just believe in Santa Claus and fairy tales? It's comforting after all.

  • Gracie Boise, ID
    Jan. 3, 2013 11:49 a.m.

    To John Marx: When a person already knows the truth--within himself, without need to explain it to anyone else in order to justify one's faith--then basking in the loveliness of its comforting principles is the next step. There are many comforting philosophies. As you say, it's truth that's the most important thing. And again, once one knows it, even in sure ways one cannot adequately explain to you, enjoying the blessings of it is a response of gratitude for the Giver of that gift. It doesn't negate truth at all to discuss the comfort. If you wanted to know the truth of Mormonism, you could, taking the same steps laid out by ancient prophets as those of us who do know it have taken. It means giving up everything else, if necessary, to have that truth deeply revealed to you; but for those of us who've done that and haven't left it behind for whatever reason, the best response to you is to go learn for yourself. No one outside of yourself is stopping you.

  • John Marx Layton, UT
    Jan. 3, 2013 12:43 p.m.

    @Gracie

    I am a Mormon already.
    I think using the wake of a tragedy to tell a group of people that their worldview isn't comforting is in poor taste. So what if it isn't comforting? What matters is what is true. Not what is comforting.

  • patriot Cedar Hills, UT
    Jan. 3, 2013 1:34 p.m.

    Atheism offers no comfort - it can't because atheism is all based on the world and what man and government can do which isn't much. Much of the time, folks turn to suicide because life offers no escape routes for their problems. What a shame. What a waste. To the secular world the things of God are foolishness - sort of like trying to explain nuclear atomic theory to a 5 year old. Lots of blank stares. Comfort from faith doesn't come from some shallow belief system. Real faith based on true religion is a power - a power that changes, restores, invigorates, and motivates. The secular mind can't comprehend faith - never has and never will. Faith is an eternal principle that must first be practiced and lived before any result is seen (the trial of your faith). Most won't make the effort but that doesn't explain away the reality of faith. Secularism == Liberal ideology and is the foundation of all Godless Marxist societies. Sadly, America is turning away from faith and toward secularism as evidence from the election of Barack Obama.

  • Gracie Boise, ID
    Jan. 3, 2013 1:37 p.m.

    Mormons usually find comfort at times of tragedy within the gospel they claim to uphold, as do members of other religions where faith is the key. The news of the *fullness* of the gospel is often a great blessing to those who are grieving. You've probably heard that it's a definite draw at such times, to hear the truth of life as it is or can be beyond the veil. Comparing it to philosophies that don't deliver much comfort, that don't promise an afterlife at all, even if they do give truth, rings pretty hollow at those moments. Why find fault with Peterson's supportive-of-the-gospel comments? There are many great points of truth, not only basic facts.

  • fkratz Portland, OR
    Jan. 3, 2013 2:37 p.m.

    Patriot- Your attitude and obvious surety regarding how others should live their lives, based on what you believe as truth, may be one reason why people are leaving organized religion.

    With such a statement, you are inferring that nearly a billion people on the planet, who do not believe as you believe, are somehow missing a truth which you possess. Many people, and hopefully you realize this, live meaningful lives filled with joy, love and good works. And they live such lives without religion. And when they are gone, they will be remembered by their families and friends and those they touched during their lifetimes. Some, could care not one whit, about floating around in some eternal cosmic realm for all eternity and are unwilling to spend their lives propitiating away their time for a hopeful promise offered by an organized religion.

  • Trand Washington, DC
    Jan. 3, 2013 2:57 p.m.

    I'm confused... Is it secularism, humanism, or secular humanism that offers little hope? If it's secular humanism, you seem to be picking a very narrow viewpoint. That's fine if that's what you want to do. But I don't see how anything you wrote in the article lines up with your assertion in the title that "secularism" offers little hope. Further, using one quote from one commenter to make your point about a narrow viewpoint, only makes your point more obscure, even if some might find it cogent.

    That said, I do see why most would find hope in what religion teaches. Doesn't make it true or false. I was glad to see that you see that humanism has ideas that work well with religious ideas.

  • Trand Washington, DC
    Jan. 3, 2013 3:18 p.m.

    @Bored--Is religion really the only place purpose and hope can come from?? No way. =) That hasn't been my experience. Religion has ways of talking about tough subjects that we don't know a whole lot about that nonreligious people also use to understand those subjects. Religion may have been the original champions of some of those ideas, I guess. But religion doesn't own the ideas they teach, and there are plenty of ideas religions generally reject that bring purpose. For example a belief that this is my only chance to be more than dust, along with an innate compassion for other humans can make serving others the most important purpose of my life. If I live in that way and can see a spark of the same compassion in the human beings around me, that could give me hope that my efforts to cultivate that hope and purpose in others makes a real difference for centuries to come, even when I am no more. If that's the kind of person I was after I pass on, then I've left more comfort on this planet than might be taken when I pass on.

  • sharrona layton, UT
    Jan. 3, 2013 7:19 p.m.

    RE: Historically, many humanists have been believers: Erasmus of Rotterdam, for instance, is often described as a "Renaissance humanist," even though, among other things, he was an ordained priest and an important New Testament scholar.

    Erasmus was no theologian. Theology did not interest him, he had sickened of Aquinas and J. D. Scotus for he had seen the barren intellectualism. His reforming ideas were based undogmatic Christianity Christianity without Christ at the deepest level.

    His first edition of the Greek N.T. appeared in 1516,The next year Luther nailed 95 propositions on the door of the church in Wittenburg. And the nails in the door of the church were like nails in the coffin of an Erasmus reform.

    Erasmus did not see abuses were supported by a whole theology ,Luther thought the Church needed to return to the N.T. teaching of grace, faith and salvation could be gained without the power of the keys and indulgences (temple worthiness).

  • The Skeptical Chymist SALT LAKE CITY, UT
    Jan. 3, 2013 7:46 p.m.

    To true believers, religion offers hope for a future beyond this world. But its claims are so unbelievable and bizarre that I can't find a way to become a believer. It is not a matter of wanting to believe or not wanting to believe. It is being incapable of believing, because it all seems so phony. Does this mean that there is nothing to live for - certainly not! There are wondrous things to experience in this world, and important work to be done - working for peace, for intellectual enlightenment, for passing on knowledge to posterity, and to insure a happy and productive future for humanity. All this is far more than enough to live for.

  • pmccombs Orem, UT
    Jan. 4, 2013 8:51 a.m.

    "I dislike the way Freedman uses the term 'humanist' as a synonym for 'atheist,' since I've always considered myself very much a humanist — just not a secular one. In my view, Mormonism is a profoundly humanistic faith."

    Amen to that.

    I found Russell's eloquent nihilism to be more attractive than Dr. Peterson can imagine. What is the hope in such an outlook? Only that the moments we have together in life are immutable facts, etched eternally in the fabric of space and time. Though our experience of time leads us to worry about beginnings and endings, there is a sense in which we are always living in these moments. If they are all that we have, then how much ought we make the best of them? Not only for ourselves, but for all those whom we know.

    Just as humanism is not synonymous with secularism, neither is atheism. Among my acquaintances, one of the most benevolent and engaged of all is an atheist. To him is given the understanding of how precious and fleeting is life, and therefore how well it should be preserved in all who have it.

  • Craig Clark Boulder, CO
    Jan. 4, 2013 10:23 a.m.

    I’m not disturbed that secular humanism seems ill-equipped to offer comfort in the aftermath of a tragedy like Newtown. Being based on reason and rejecting religious dogma, it doesn’t pretend to have easy answers to the unanswerable. How does one make sense of madness that leads one to murder small children for no apparent reason?

    Religion, on the other hand has glib answers at the ready. They’re in a better place now, we’ll be reunited with them someday, or it was the will of God, etc. But that essentially blames God for the sins of man, not a satisfying answer whether we’re talking about the mass murder of six million Jews or the killing of twenty children and six adults in Newtown.

    Secular humanists wish they had the easy answer. So do I. But reason often has a more difficult task than faith.

  • Millsap fan Taylorsville, UT
    Jan. 4, 2013 10:59 a.m.

    One of the LDS apostles (I forget which one) gave the analogy of the big bang theory as blowing up a printing press and out of it coming a printed book.

    I choose to believe that a Higher Power created us, knows us, and loves us.

  • Bill Haines Charlottesville, VA
    Jan. 4, 2013 11:01 a.m.

    "In my view, Mormonism is a profoundly humanistic faith."

    'Humanistic' generally refers to any attitude centered on purely human interests and values, and especially to any philosophy or life-stance that rejects supernaturalism and stresses community with individual dignity, worth and capacity for self-realization through reason. Mormonism is not humanistic.

    "The message is intrinsically unattractive."

    Humanism is a way of thinking and living, rather than a 'message' -- and since attractiveness is in the mind of the beholder, 'intrinsically unattractive' is an oxymoron. I personally find the Christian 'message' both ludicrous and horrifying. Greta Christina's article in the first 2013 issue of The Humanist magazine may give you some perspective.

    I summarize...
    Humanists find comfort in the knowledge that we're all extremely lucky to have born in the first place, that non-existence is non-existence whether before birth or after death, that death is necessary for life and change to be possible, that it's a deadline which helps us focus our wills and treasure our experiences, that life doesn’t have to be permanent to be meaningful, and that our genes and ideas can and do survive us.
    ...but you should read her words, easily Googled.

    Peace. :)

  • kargirl Sacramento, CA
    Jan. 4, 2013 4:09 p.m.

    If comfort is all we're concerned about, and if the most comforting belief is what we are looking for, does this mean that those with that belief are never grief-stricken, lonely, or heartbroken in times of loss? No, and I have seen more heartbreak among some people who are active LDS members than not, at times. On the other hand, I have known others who believed in God but also "ashes to ashes, dust to dust" and did not seem to be overly concerned after the deaths of those I would have thought they would miss deeply. Either they didn't care to discuss it or they really thought they had simply gone for good to wherever? I can't say. I know exactly where the person I cared most about went, but that didn't stop me from wishing he could take an earthly vacation. Is there any comfort we will actually know until we really are where we can see for ourselves what happened? I really don't think so. Remember, those who pass first have a better fix on the hereafter than we do. They are there in person. All we can do is guess.

  • sharrona layton, UT
    Jan. 4, 2013 4:11 p.m.

    RE: Pmccombs, In my view, Mormonism is a profoundly humanistic faith”( Exalted man centered).

    Versus Christian Theism(God centered, Aseity). The Cosmos exists to glorify God and to promote the good of God’s creatures especially man. Human history has a purpose and can be seen as a struggle between good and evil ,the kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness, which move towards the vindication of God, justice, righteousness, and a reward of those who have trusted in Christ and lived in accord with the dictates of morality(which come from God).

    Humans are creations(ex nihlio) of God, they have value in that they bear his (spiritual) image , they are objects of God’s love ,and there is life after death. Values exists they come from God, they can be known through intuition in the natural law and through the Bible. My motive for being moral should come because I love God, Morality is grounded in God’s nature. I recognize him as my) creator.

  • Verdad Orem, UT
    Jan. 5, 2013 1:39 a.m.

    "'Humanistic' generally refers to any attitude centered on purely human interests and values, and especially to any philosophy or life-stance that rejects supernaturalism and stresses community with individual dignity, worth and capacity for self-realization through reason."

    So, Bill Haines, you simply define the historical movement of "Christian humanism" (that Peterson mentions) out of existence, and dismiss Thomas More, Erasmus, Pico della Mirandola, Boccaccio, Petrarch, and all of the other Christian humanists (cited by Peterson) as if he never referred to them in his article?

    On what basis?

  • A Scientist Provo, UT
    Jan. 5, 2013 8:04 a.m.

    Mr. Peterson obviously has no clue what is or is not "comforting" about atheism, secularism, or any other "-ism" than Mormonism. He distorts and misrepresents the actions of others in an embarrassingly feeble attempt at denigrating those others.

    The original NYTimes article was trying to make the point that, beyond theology, people ARE "the presence of God" to one another. Why do we diminish the genuine presence of real human beings by ascribing their virtues to an abstract fiction we call god? Why do we need a god to "enter our lives" when we have one another to enter our lives, especially when this god is so subtly impotent as to be unable or unwilling to enter our lives directly and unequivocally in his own right, but instead hides behind the faces of others? And is less powerful and willing to prevent evil than we are!

  • A Scientist Provo, UT
    Jan. 5, 2013 8:11 a.m.

    Believers invoke god, but the existence and attributes of god fail to give any reasonable explanation why innocent, good people suffered and died, and even if it did, it will never bring them back. "Yet the many ways that people reach out to us lets us know that we are not alone." So why can't those people be the presence of themselves instead of the presence of God?

    Ockham's razor would suggest we dispense with the superfluous hypothetical construct of god. But beyond the loss of epistemological integrity, by invoking god, we create a loss of human and moral integrity. We attribute to god not only the good that we do to and for one another - god acting through others, who become mere "instruments of god" - but we even dilute the very presence of one another by making their presence a muddled admixture of god's confusing, other worldly, but impotent presence.

    Secularists, atheists, nonbelievers have friends, family and loved ones, too. But we comfort one another directly and authentically without diluting either reality or presence with incoherent notions of god. The fact that no families of victims chose secular funerals does not mean no comfort in secularism.

  • Free Agency Salt Lake City, UT
    Jan. 5, 2013 10:27 a.m.

    Yes, it's wonderful that different faiths get together in crises to help out. And I agree that Bertrand Russell's view of the human experience is bleak--and, to me, unbelievable.

    We all need community and a sense that our lives are more meaningful than outer circumstances might show.

    But Peterson's argument is unreasonable. "Secular humanists" aren't organized, so there's no institution of them to step forward in times of crises. Who's to say that there weren't some--perhaps many--secular humanists among those helping during the Newtown tragedy.

    The price many religions demand for being part of their community is to accept their theology as "the One and Only Truth." I often wonder how many of their adherents bite their tongues over that, just so they can enjoy the sense of community.

    The answer isn't to couch things in "the religious vs. the secular" but to encourage the instinct to do good in nearly all of us, without any commercials about which system of beliefs is "the right one." In fact, without any commercials about religion--or secularism--altogether.

  • Verdad Orem, UT
    Jan. 5, 2013 11:38 a.m.

    Maybe I'm misreading him, but Peterson doesn't seem to me to be really saying much if anything at all about who did or didn't deliver relief services or material aid to the families of the Newtown victims. He's talking about which message is most comforting, a religious one or a non-religious one, in such situations.

    But he's also not arguing that the fact that a message is more comforting makes it more TRUE.

    I'm always surprised at how much people here read into what Peterson writes that just isn't there, and, in equal measure, at how often they seem (like Bill Haines, above) to simply ignore or lightly dismiss what he actually HAS written.

  • TimBehrend Auckland NZ, 00
    Jan. 6, 2013 2:03 a.m.

    Those who believe in gods, ghosts, magic/invisible forces and so forth are only comforted by explanations of death that invoke gods, ghosts and magic. For those who view Homo sapiens without supernaturalism, there are endless ways of finding comfort when faced with tragedy and sadness; believing that "everything happens for a reason" -- as hominins appear to have done since before the emergence of our particular species of Homo -- isn't one of them. It's hard for many people to accept that humans are not the centre of everything. Peterson is one such, but he goes a step further when he declares his own culturally and historically limited horizons of meaning to be universal and his personal aesthetic of what is or is not attractive to be "intrinsic" to the species. Overlaying patterns on experience is one thing that all humans certainly do. Sometimes they do it with annoying smugness.

  • A Scientist Provo, UT
    Jan. 6, 2013 9:54 a.m.

    G'day Tim. Good comment.

    Peterson's trite and snarky criticism of secularism seems to boil down to this: religion has houses of worship and ritual ceremonies that provide "community" and "comfort", but secularists do not.

    Nothing could be further from the truth. The "houses of worship" for secularists permeate our society: our private homes where we gather to remember loved ones; the local cemeteries where we erect memorials just as do believers; our workplaces, restaurants, country clubs, social clubs, bars, sports stadiums, or even the canyons, forests, or lakes where we gather with loved ones, comfort one another, and toast the valuable contributions deceased friends and family made to our lives and society, which we will strive to keep alive.

    Peterson errs in arguing that because our "community" is not the same as his, it is lacking, and because our "substance" is not his, it is inadequate. Nothing could be further from the truth... except maybe the religious fictions themselves.

  • Verdad Orem, UT
    Jan. 8, 2013 10:41 a.m.

    "Sometimes they do it with annoying smugness."

    Nice irony, TimBehrend, coming at the end of your cleverlyl-crafted comment! I think it passed "A Scientist" right by.

  • Kenngo1969 Tooele, UT
    Jan. 28, 2013 5:42 a.m.

    I'm a tad bit annoyed that there's no "Reply" option, but several posters have raised the question to Dr. Peterson, "What if someone finds more comfort in another religion than in Mormonism?" I cannot speak for Dan, but my response to that, as a devout Latter-day Saint, is, "What if, indeed! And?" What matters to them is what brings them the most comfort.

    Personally, Mormonism brings me and many of those I know and love the most comfort as we consider our mortality. If Roman Catholicism, or Greek Orthodoxy, or Anglicanism, or Methodism, or the tenets of the Baptist faith bring(s) them the most comfort as they consider their mortality, more power to them! What matters to them is how they can find peace at a time when they most need it. Christ said, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth (Atheism, anyone?) give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." There's no religious qualification (that is, no limitation) on those words. Peace is where one finds it.