Friday, May 04, 2018

More troubling news concerning former friends in Cambodia:
British English Teacher Arrested After Being Homeless in Phnom Penh

...actually it's probably good news.  People have been trying to get him home for 2 years now, but he's refused.  Now that immigration is involved, hopefully he'll finally get sent home and get the help he needs.

Before he had his mental breakdown 2 years ago, he was actually a really charming and friendly guy.  He and I used to regularly exchanged banter around the staffroom office on a range of topics.

He also used to blog about Christianity and grace--here and here (and other places as well.)

He used to be very vocal around the office about his love for Jesus and for God's grace.
Some other people in the staffroom used to find it annoying, but as someone who enjoys debating religion, I always used to take the bait. 
If he would quote a passage from Paul, I'd try to trip him up by telling him that scholars didn't actually believe that Paul wrote that passage.  When he started talking about Christ's death and resurrection, I would start talking about all the contradictions in the Crucifixion and Resurrection narratives.

...I now realize what I should have realized long ago--that he really needed his faith in Jesus to keep his life from falling apart.

To be clear, I don't think I'm responsible for what happened to him--it was other factors that eventually brought him down. 
And further in my defense, I didn't go out of my way to badger him--he would always initiate the discussions, and I was always the one responding.  And we usually had a friendly banter going on most of the time.  (There were one or two times when I got under his skin, but he usually gave as good as he got, and about half the time he won the argument and left the conversation with a smile on his face.)
BUT... all that being said, I really wish now that I had just left him and his faith alone.
I just never realized how desperately he was hanging on to religion to keep off a complete breakdown.

I've been thinking about this a lot the past couple days, and have a number of half-formed thoughts jumping off from this--thoughts about the connection between religion, mental health, and how necessarily religion is for society to function.  As well as thoughts about religion and identity.

I may or may not come back and pick up some of these threads at a later date if I decide I want to dive deeper into this.  For now I'm just going to leave it here.


Whisky Prajer said...

I have had this very same experience several times. While I was finishing my undergraduate most of my buddies were in seminary, starting their graduate programs. I'd head over there for lunches and card games and dances, and there was one guy who was always getting in people's faces about their inauthentic Christianity (it was an Anglican seminary). We'd be munching sandwiches in the lunch room and cracking jokes, and he'd storm in. "Quiet! I'm saying the blessing!" People generally put up with it, but every once in a while a person would try to engage, making an effort to keep the volume down and maybe put a little larger perspective into play. Nothing seemed to have any effect. He left the scene, and a year later his parents came by to try to put the pieces together after their son had taken his own life.

That is just the most extreme example in my life. But there are others, as my wife continually reminds me whenever I wade into a FB slug-fest. She keeps telling me to back away as soon as my interlocutor stops making sense. Good advice, but these days people leap from one unfounded assertion to the next like chimps in a sparse forest. What's a born Protestant to do in this current environment?

Joel Swagman said...

My thoughts exactly!

Just as you, the example mentioned above is my most dramatic example. But I've encountered a number of people over the years that were using religion as a way to keep their life from falling apart.
And I've gradually come to realize it's not productive to argue with them about the intellectual merits of their faith.

...the problem comes when they try to impose their views onto others. Then what do you do?

Whisky Prajer said...

It's my God-given right to burn in Hell -- keep your preaching confined to the city gates, Jeremiah!

Joel Swagman said...

More things bouncing around my head (if you'll indulge me):

1) On a broader societal level, is it at all reasonable to aspire to a Sam Harris/ Richard Dawkins esque world in which everyone goes by reason and science alone? What percentage of human beings do you think need religion to keep their lives from falling apart?

2) I think you you can be an atheist, but still believe that religion is pre-programmed into the human psyche (as an evolutionary coping mechanism, or whatever). That is, the fact that people are pre-disposed to believe in God doesn't necessarily mean that there is a God.
...but, it does necessarily have sociological ramifications, which atheists would need to consider before they try to change the way people view religion.

Whisky Prajer said...

Asking a reader's indulgence on his own blog -- this is new! Must be Vietnamese influence on your character(?).

Re: 1) Have you seen any Babylon Berlin footage yet? Liv Lisa Fries probably doesn't weigh more the 105 lbs, but she does this little shoulder-hop and out comes an explosive, gutteral snort that blows through the entire nasal cavity and splutters incredulity, amusement, contempt, all-of-the-above, as need be. Anyway, that is what you have provoked in me with this thought-experiment. I don't know who gave these two white-cloak clerics the keys to the Cathedral (use of alt-right nomenclature consciously appropriated), but the thought that these two soppy-stern moralists just might in any way possess the singular insight needed to improve the lives of all who reside on this troubled orb is ... well, it's a little much. They may agree on the definitions of "reason" and "science," but neither of them seems to have read any Nietzsche -- at least not with any seriousness of attention. And that is just a criticism from a Western perspective. You're in Vietnam -- surely you are aware of just how fraught such definitions become?

BTW, I can handle Harris better than Dawkins. Harris at least demonstrates some breadth of curiosity, albeit of a scope that precludes any curiosity in one's own intellectual limitations.

Second point to 1): you seem to suggest the human value of religion boils down to its ability to "keep lives from falling apart" -- that has some potential as a criticism, but it would depend very much on your further definition of the problem.

2) I've been sharing these two links quite a bit, and hope to throw some blog-thoughts together (so, word of warning: I probably won't expand much on them here). But Gray, who has read Nietzsche seriously, proposes seven types of atheist, at least one of which might encompass what you propose.

Joel Swagman said...

Sorry for the late response on this. There is a lot in here and I was taking some time to chew it over. (I guess it's my fault for opening up this pandora's box.)

First of all, you're right that Harris is better than Dawkins.
Dawkins has really had a falling from public favor over the last few years. He used to be the darling of the new atheists, but he's said such stupid things that now not even most secularists I know like him.
That being said, this might be an unpopular opinion, but I don't hate everything about Dawkins. I thought his book "The God Delusion" had a very interesting section when he attempted to explain from a Darwinian perspective how we ended up with religion in the first place. I thought he had some interesting ideas.

>>> hope to throw some blog-thoughts together (so, word of warning: I probably won't expand much on them here)

I'm very much looking forward to that.
He believes that religion itself isn't in our DNA, but a combination of impulses that have enabled our survival combine to enable religion. (It probably doesn't make much sense when I summarize it like that, but in his book, the discussion was interesting).
...but, I'm now wondering if Dawkins maybe might have missed the mark. Maybe religion is in our DNA. How else to explain all the people that need religion to keep their lives from falling apart?

>>>You're in Vietnam -- surely you are aware of just how fraught such definitions become?

Yeah, good point. Despite living in Asia, I often forget to include the Buddhist perspective, and usually just view the debate as Deist versus Atheist. But that whole Deist versus atheist is completely a Western Debate.

>>>>Second point to 1): you seem to suggest the human value of religion boils down to its ability to "keep lives from falling apart" -- that has some potential as a criticism, but it would depend very much on your further definition of the problem.

Yeah, you're right. The whole premise of the question (the way I framed it) pre-supposes an atheist worldview.
I guess the point is, even assuming an atheist worldview, it might not be productive or realistic to try to fight against religion. It could just be that people need religion. Regardless of its inherent truth value, people just need it. So atheists might need to take this into account when planning how they want to reform society.

Whisky Prajer said...

I recently tripped across someone describing René Girard as a "devout Catholic atheist." I thought, "'Atheist'? Really?" But I suppose the description could fit. For one thing, as keen as I am on his riff on mimetic theory, I really am not that well-versed in who he was and what he wrote. For all I know, mebbe he concluded an essay with, "Ya know what I am? A devout..."

For another thing, I usually default to thinking of the atheist argument in the terms I first encountered it when I was a kid in my 20s, via other pissed-off kids in their 20s, who had a bone to pick with their virago Sunday School teachers (or their dominant parent, more likely). "We're just carbon-based bags of water! There can be no God!" It's taken years of dialogue with more than one patient atheist friend for me to understand that the better argument is, "There can be no god as you describe this entity." Which is similar to what Eagleton asserts, though he takes a very different tack from that launching point. ANYWAY: the Girard I have read, or heard, never makes any sort of case for a deity, but has a great deal to say about the narrative threads that reoccur through thousands of years. He makes the case for revelation, I'd say, which is a much different enterprise than, say, Evidence That Demands A Verdict or anything from the Strobel woodshed.

Well, that's it then. No need for me to go blogging now. :)