Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Different Ways of Touching (with Steve Johnson)

This is the fifth installment in an ongoing debate/dialogue on same-sex marriage in America. All installments in this debate are indexed in order and can be linked from here. The opening letter below, by Steve Johnson, is in reply to my closing letter posted in the fourth installment. Steve argues below in support of same-sex marriage.

Eric Mader

Steve's Letter of 01/19/14

Dear Eric:

Let me start by saying that I wasn't offended one iota by your reply. As a matter of fact, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I think we are doing important work here, and that our debate, as long as it remains civil, will echo throughout history and could be the basis for university courses in the future. Honestly, I loved your reply. Okay, so let me begin with some of the basics of your argument.

It is often argued in these kinds of debates that a "slippery slope" of change could lead to all kinds of abhorrent behavior or notions that would seem utterly repugnant to us in our time. Indeed, yes, that is a definite possibility. Change is scary, and every time our species makes a course correction in terms of human rights, there is the distinct possibility of the change being warped directly, or being used as a basis for other warped changes that are undesirable to our current culture exist.

So, let us not create possible "what if" scenarios that give us cause to not focus on the actual matter at hand. As of this moment, I am hard pressed to imagine a scenario where I, or those of us who support gay marriage, would find it okay to eat dead human beings on the notion that it is merely protein. I would even go so far as to state that just like pork was considered a meat not to be eaten at one time due to the lack of refrigeration, there may come a time where eating human beings may make sense, though for me, and for other gay marriage supporters, it would be an abomination.

That particular scenario is nothing but a straw man, and you know it. Let us pick up with your point that does have value in my eyes, which is the one about the baby that is not provided with a birth certificate.

It offers a very valuable and highly instructive example of my thinking, and can prove of tremendous use in making the point that I "feel" you are very close to arriving at.

When a child is born, it exists, it is alive and it has value. It is a human being. This value of life itself is a not a matter of debate in our culture. It is, in fact, irrelevant for our valuation of human life that a birth certificate be issued for the newborn human life. Its value is intrinsic to us as adult human beings, because if the baby has no value, how can a human adult have value? And you have no debate with me on that point.

However, this is where we need to focus specifically on the notion of "third-party verification". Third-party verification is the sole aspect of our legal framework that is essential to the legal framework working in any way.

I am sure you get what I mean, but just in case, I will take a moment to describe what I mean. Third-party verification is the idea that you are who you say you are. When a human being claims "a right" or a "privilege," or access, or a capability, third-party verification is required. It is required simply because it asserts by a secondary source that the claim one makes is indeed valid. If you claim to have a right to drive, you need to prove it. If you claim you are a citizen, an adult, a parent, a male, an electrician, a doctor, an expert in the field of comparative literature . . . our culture, and indeed, our legal frameworks all require third-party verification.

I can explain why this is true, but you already know the answer. There is nothing that can stop a person from coming forward and claiming they have spent thousands upon thousands of hours comparing literary works and have come to understand the values and differences of such things, and that they are therefore qualified to speak and hold opinions about them. However, our culture would not hold this person's claim with in same esteem as the individual who can show a Phd. in the subject. Why? Third-party verification. The same goes for the fishing license, the drivers license, etc.

If you have a fishing license, you are authorized to pull fish out of a specified body of water.

A birth certificate is no different. It provides third-party verification that a new birth was in fact registered to have occurred, and that birth itself provides to the owner of that certificate all sorts of legal rights and privileges under our legal framework.

So, when I think about the issue of a marriage, I think that sometimes people confuse the value of the marriage ceremony with the value of the legal framework. According to the long line of data we have at our finger tips, there were many reasons people took on the construct of marriage, reasons that, as you say, predate our modern governments and legal frameworks. And you have no argument from me on what their reasons were, or why they found it appropriate for their time, their circumstances, and their cultures.

I take no issue with any of those notions. But we no longer live in those times. And our ways of making legal frameworks may come from the ground of those cultures, but particular reasons, particular social realities, that led to the earlier legal frameworks no longer get to define our current realities or the implications of our current realities.

I will make as ridiculous a point as I think the "cannibal" argument was to drive my point home. One could argue that the medicine was practiced long before there was modern medicine. And one could also argue that it was the ground for the creation of modern medicine. Additionally, one could continue to argue that many of the principles of modern medicine, many of the modern day cures, and many of the modalities of treatment all stem from ancient practices that are still held in esteem today. However, although those arguments are all verifiable and true, they are not helpful or even instructive when it comes to what we have learned in the last X number of years as it pertains to a specific treatment. Take the use of leeches or maggots. We have learned today that maggots if properly applied to specific kinds of rotting skin (gangrene) can effectively treat the problem.

However, we no longer use these particular treatments because they come with other kinds of risks that we have determined medically are more dangerous than the already known benefits that maggots can provide.

In short, we are grateful that our ancestors saw fit to practice medicine. We are grateful that they gave us frameworks, guidance, and notions that have guided and instructed our medical practices, for without them, we would not have reached the place we have reached in the practice of medicine. However, that does not mean that we must continue to honor many of their particular notions. Science itself, technology itself, knowledge itself has increased and expanded, and some if not many of the medical practices of old are now understood to be ineffective or simply incorrect.

So lets take quick look at Alan Liu's argument. It was a delight to read.

Here is the essence of his argument: whether God actually exists or not doesn't matter because "the majority of world cultures have come into existence, grown and developed along with their religious beliefs and practices. They have imbued nearly every aspect of their material and productive lives with religious meaning, to the point that their social organization, their laws, their ideas of birth and death and love--indeed, nearly everything that holds them together and defines them as a human culture--are tied in with their religion. So religious beliefs are factual things."

Let us first take a moment to understand how Christianity itself came to predominance in the world, to create his so called "factual" things.

In Western Europe, it is my full understanding, that history records that Christianity (the basis of our legal framework which is a factual thing) essentially murdered anyone that did not agree with their teachings. If you were a pagan, if you held a differing view, they tortured you, or killed you. They continued with this practice until what was declared to be "true" was accepted in all but the darkest of corners, hidden away from any actual debate.

It was not the merits of Christianity that stood in the marketplace of ideas and fought for and earned a deserved respect. It did not happen in the marketplace of thought, where all ideas could be fought and argued. It was rather that Christians, through power and might, murdered anyone that did not agree.

We could argue that by having the pure might to enforce their ideas, their ideas were stronger and of greater value, but we both know that intellectually speaking, any religious construct that informed our societies, that resorted to death to the non-adherents, simply is not sufficient today to hold sway or stand equal in a meritocracy of intellectual debate. Not in the marketplace of our ideas.

However, how or why our societies formed the notions they formed does tell us a lot about the notions themselves. It also tells us that the so-called factual realities, that Mr. Liu sees as real, are not actually a matter of making the unseen into the provable or factual. And cultural history does not in fact regularly make false beliefs into so-called "fact". As an example of this, we might consider the simple notion of human "touch".

When you use your keyboard to type a reply to me, you "feel" the touch of the keys on your fingers. So you know that you are touching the keys. This is undebatable, right? However, science has proven, without any doubt whatsoever, that you cannot actually touch anything. It is physically impossible. I will explain. We know for a fact that atoms are made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons. We also know for a fact they have huge amounts of space between them (on their scale). We also know for a fact that no two atoms ever touch. If they did, enormous explosions would occur, and great amounts of energy would be released.

We also know that as such, in the "material" world that we are able to observe around us, there is as much space between each atom as is necessary to prevent that world from collapsing and exploding.

Therefore, it is also a fact, that when your fingers "touch" the keyboard, you are in fact not actually touching the keyboard. It is not possible. However, your brain is informing you otherwise. So what is the actual fact? The actual fact is you are not touching the keyboard, but you are experiencing it as "touching".

So let me bring this full circle now. If you are willing to assent that from a legal framework that same-sex folks should have full protections under the law, and that there should be no differences legally between that and a marriage contract, you are 90% of the way to seeing it my way.

The 10% of you that viscerally reacts against same-sex marriage comes from culture, history, and a deeper sense of what is true or right. And these things deserve greater recognition than my offhand brushing them aside. And I hear you, brother Mader. But, I think that if you carefully walk through how our culture was informed, and how history show these notions came to be, you will eventually realize that the basis for this difference comes from a "feeling". A feeling, no different than the absolutely clear feeling you have when you touch the keyboard, that cannot be denied. However, that feeling is insufficient to me, it is insufficient as reason to maintain a "separate but equal" status in the legal framework for the concept of marriage.

Every marriage has two components that need to be separated and kept distinct. The first is the idea of a legal framework that provides contractual benefits and rights is one of the two components. That component is all the state and our governing bodies can deal with. The second component comes from the ceremony of the marriage ritual, the marriage's deeper notions, which are derived from things that may or may not have merit in any one person's eyes, and which in any case are not the purview of the state. That component, as Mr. Liu would argue, is as real as the first component. And although I may not see it his way, I do understand how he gets there. And I am not without empathy for his view. But I do feel that view is no longer sufficient to have the legal framework remain restricted simply because of the meaning of a word.

Keep in mind, I do believe that regardless of your arguments which are anti-statist, such as the notion that a government might declare things like "freedom is slavery" or the like, or "war is peace," as a long-term result of giving a minority its fair due in the legal framework--I do believe it is still worth the risk. And I simply do not think that using our culture as a guidepost for determining what is right or good is, on balance, the best method for informing our species how to proceed in the future.

It was a pleasure writing this, Eric. Maybe we can get through this and find a third path for the world.


Different Ways of Touching: 01/21/14

Again, Steve, I'm grateful you're still willing to pursue this dialogue. This time, however, I must admit that your reply has disappointed me. I don't think you're yet really engaging the points I raise--the problem of the depth level of human culture regardless of current technological or social development.

I really shouldn't complain I suppose. Mostly I should be grateful for your thoughtful formulations and your engagement in this debate. These days most people will just text their thinking, and this time, after so much back and forth already, you could have written me something like:
Still dont agree w you here dude. Really your getting too religious for me. Finally who r we to judge?
But you don't do things this way. You're a thinking person, willing to address issues at length. What's more: I know very well I'm not the only one who gets to set the terms of the debate here. Your points are valid, I've gotten much from them, and intend to address some of them directly. Your analogy built on the question of whether I actually "touch" my keyboard, for instance--I think it does pertain to our debate. I'm just convinced that it's more useful in support of my position than yours!

But before going into atoms and keyboards, Steve, I will have to voice my complaints. I'll do it because, simply put, it's more interesting to go after you, old friend. Besides, it may prove useful in the end, who knows? We may come to common ground; doing so, we may glimpse a way out of this cultural impasse. That our remarks will eventually become classroom material--well, I kind of doubt it.

And so . . . First, I must say that your remarks on how Christianity was spread around the world are totally inadequate. Why don't you look into these things before you begin to expatiate? Really, you should have suspected I'd smirk, if not laugh outright, at your "Rise of Christianity" spiel. Think about it, Steve, for you to lecture me on Christian history is kind of like me presuming to lecture you on futures trading or sales. How about this? "You really could be making more sales, Steve. I think the problem is that you're forgetting fundamentals. Try to remember: The successful salesman must convey an impression of messiness. In the customer's eyes, you want to seem unprepared, kind of strung out. It especially helps to have a mustard stain on your tie. This way, the customer, especially if it's a woman, will begin to feel sympathy for you. She'll want to help you in your career. This will help you you cinch the deal. Remember: Sloppy, unprepared."

Now go forth and make a killing, old friend! You can trust me on this. I'm an English teacher after all!

I've read a few good stacks of scholarly books on Christian history and how the faith spread globally. Believe me: The "history" you think you know is based on specific historical periods that have been blown up into little more than a trite caricature.

This is not to deny that violence and oppression occurred in different times and places. And sometimes the violence continued over centuries. But how is it that you've forgotten that for the entire first three centuries of Christian history the faith was often vigorously persecuted by pagan rulers from the Emperor on down to local potentates? Starting in Palestine, through its own vigor alone, the faith spread north into Syria, west through Asia Minor, Greece, Italy, and up into Gaul, reaching the British Isles in the 4th century; it spread southward and westward across the north of Africa; eastward to the Arabian Peninsula and Persia as well as north into Armenia. None of this growth was a matter of conquest--quite the contrary: Christians were often viciously persecuted, often had to meet in secret, often were denied by family and neighbor. For centuries the faith was spread largely by itinerant preachers and small tradespeople ("free marketplace of ideas" anyone?) and women played a major role in its early growth. Before any swords were raised in its name, Christianity already had a strong following all across the Empire and in many other places besides. The Christians were not persecutors but victims. Have you forgotten--or perhaps you never learned?--the majority of saints from those early centuries died as martyrs. Christian men and women were tortured and executed by the pagan powers of the day, often as mere entertainment, those same pagans you're rooting for.

It wasn't until the conversion of the emperor Constantine to the faith in 312 that the dynamic began to change. Once Christianity became the official religion of the Empire, the ranks of the faithful were swelled by all sorts of powerful folk who wouldn't normally have been attracted to the Gospel message. The consolidation of the faith in the Empire is a very complex story, but yes, following it there began to occur the persecution of pagans. And the persecution, besides, of fellow Christians whose beliefs differed from what the bishops allied to the Emperor deemed to be orthodoxy.

Starting in this period, Christian history, as a matter of political and religious oppression, is mixed. In some places, the orthodoxy sanctioned by the emperors oppressed pagan cultures; in others, especially in the East, Christians continued to be martyred at the hands of non-Christian rulers (by Zoroastrian rulers in Persia for instance). This mixed character of the Christian record (Christians either committing or being victims of injustice and violence) continued over subsequent centuries, through the medieval period, the early modern period and up until the present. Christian culture has undergirded monarchs and dictators, but it has also been a force of liberation and revolution. The ethical universalism of the Enlightenment (our "unalienable rights") would have been unthinkable without Christianity. Slavery would never have ended.

Your caricature, preferred by contemporary PC Americans of recent decades, is totally inadequate to the actual history. It has a tendentious shallowness equal to that of, say, Fox News reporting on Barack Obama's youth. Really it is that one-sided. I expected better of a guy like you, especially given where you were educated. But I'm not mainly disappointed by this. By now I'm used to hearing this so-called "history of Christianity": half-educated young liberals and Hollywood movies have been promulgating it for decades. And what is America if not Hollywood movies and half-educated, opinionated shills?

What really disappoints me, Steve, is the following: NONE OF THIS DISCUSSION OF CHRISTIAN HISTORY IS EVEN REMOTELY RELEVANT TO OUR DEBATE. Because, as you apparently haven't yet noticed, my argument against same-sex marriage is not based on Christianity. Rather--AND PLEASE GET THIS--my argument is based on the strictures against same-sex marriage found in Christianity AND Judaism, Islam, all Buddhist cultures, Hinduism, Sikhism, all cultures of the Indian subcontinent, all known Asian and Austronesian cultures, all African cultures (except for one exception: the Dahomey, which allowed a specific kind of marriage between women), most Amerindian cultures (with exceptions, in North American tribes, of "Two-Spirit Marriages", in which a male couple marry and adopt the gender roles of husband and wife), ancient Greek and Roman cultures (except for some notable, actually notorious, Roman exceptions: the emperors Nero, Elagabalus), the ancient Sumerian, Babylonian, Akkadian and Assyrian cultures, the Phoenicians, secular Soviet bloc and Chinese-allied communist cultures, all known nomadic cultures, whether in the Eurasian steppe or Africa--and of course the list isn't complete. When you and other Americans, understandably sick of the hypocritical antics of the Christian right, argue in favor of gay marriage, you're not arguing against Christianity so much as against the collective wisdom of humanity; you are rejecting, based on a twenty-year-old liberal social movement, one of the few universal human insights. The local cultural instances where gay marriage was practiced historically are minuscule compared to the counter-evidence. What's more, in none of those instances were the couples understood to be composed of "husband and husband" or "wife and wife". Rather, the married individuals took up distinct gender roles: "husband and wife".

I have to say, Steve, it's almost maddening how you refuse to address this point. Refuse to address it except via banalities like "Times change", or "People get married for many reasons nowadays". It's as if you believed there was something unique about modern capitalist culture that allowed it to become, shall we say, post-human. That because of our iPhones and medical technology and the Discovery Channel we are okay as a civilization ignoring what all major civilizations before us have discovered and maintained--often independently of each another.

Finally, regarding my "cannibalism" story, that you find it ridiculous and irrelevant suggests, again, that I'm not really getting my point across. I'm not at all suggesting a connection between same-sex marriage and cannibalism! Or that same-sex marriage might lead to that future city-state. I'm only and very specifically making a point about the force of taboos and how you are also, very likely, recognisant of that binding force, if only in this instance of cannibalism. Believe me, it was hard to come up with a good example to make my point. But I'll rephrase things, and we'll see if I'm successful this time.

From a certain rational and materialist point of view, Steve, there really is nothing wrong with eating human flesh. If I offered you a piece of one of your relatives to chew, and you refused it in disgust--first, because it's human meat, and, second, because it used to be part of your aunt--you would be basing your refusal upon what is a mere "feeling" stemming from a primal taboo. I mean it very sincerely, Steve, when I say that in this case you have no rational argument for your refusal. Meat is meat. Remember that we are not hunting and killing people, only making best use of the flesh they leave behind. Now please think about this clearly. If you can accept the value of your ultimately irrational prohibition against eating deceased relatives, and I believe you do, then you've just legitimized what you and many secular Americans now like to describe as "magical thinking". And if you admit that this taboo about eating the dead is morally right, suddenly your whole argument against me in terms of "it's just a feeling" becomes fatally weak. Your argument collapses because, in fact, you yourself recognize the value of a purely "feeling-based" universal taboo. The gist: If you are right to refuse human flesh on such grounds, you should be willing to admit that opponents of same-sex marriage may be right, on such grounds, to refuse to recognize a husband-husband pair as actually married. This is important for the viability of the whole gay marriage movement, because, as I've argued before, marriage is not simply a status or agreement between two individuals: it is a status of two individuals that is recognized by society as a whole. In America we are now recognizing marriages that half the society doesn't recognize. And they have every right to refuse this recognition.

I hope now the point of my "cannibalism" story is clear. It was, as I said, very hard to come up with a suitable thought experiment that might compel someone like yourself to acknowledge the kind of primal and irrational weight a taboo can have. And to acknowledge that you too are under the sway of such taboos. In fact you acknowledged as much in your reply, but didn't see how my thought experiment applied to our debate. I hope you now do.

Personally I believe such taboos, especially to the extent they are universal, have something deeply right about them. And this is why, regardless of practical or "progressive" concerns, the widespread taboo against same-sex marriage must not be ignored. Not even in our postmodern, fragmented social order.

In conclusion, I want to repeat that I've much appreciated our debate. In this round, as I said, I was disgruntled by the fact that your arguments didn't actually relate to my own arguments, disgruntled besides by your bogus Christian history, which was in any case hardly relevant to the issue; but still, wrangling with you is always a great pleasure. If you have the time, I hope you will finally deign to tell me why you think modern capitalist cultures can safely ignore strong taboos rooted in our human, rather than simply Christian, past. Why is it that in terms of marriage our times are somehow different from all the past human times we have studied? I hope you really try to get to the bottom of this, and let me know. "Times change" is not an adequate response in my view, neither is the argument that past "reasons" no longer hold sway for us. What's more, I don't need to hear any more shallow Christian-bashing! So take off the PC bifocals. I'm doing you the decency of carefully not arguing from a Christian point of view, you should maybe do me the decency of addressing my actual arguments. How about you pretend, for the time being, that we're both committed secularists? My arguments, after all, could just as viably be offered by someone who doesn't believe in God. This is the deeper point of my quoting Alan Liu, a notional ball I think you had your hands on, but quickly dropped.


P.S.-- Having eating lunch, I'll now add at least a few words on the application of Alan Liu's thinking here. Just to get it over with. I want you to pretend as you're reading these sentences that it is not a religious person writing them, alright? That will help you get the point. As follows: The strictures upheld by religions across the globe against same-sex marriage were not imposed from above by a corrupt and hypocritical priestly caste. These rules were rather formed over generations of the culture's experience of being together--through good times and bad. They were formed collectively. Thus such rules were deeply informed by generations of practical observation as to how different kinds of relationships functioned in and affected communities. That these insights were finally given authority by being put in the mouth of the God or gods is secondary. The insights themselves were probably prior to this "religious step". Given that that is the case, the universality of such strictures against gay marriage is nothing short of stunning. And it should be deeply respected if only as a weighty anthropological fact about human communities as such. That we are technologically or scientifically advanced beyond these earlier communities is not really relevant. Being human, we are still within the purview of anthropological insights. We still live within communities that must function over generations.

Please take the trouble to understand why, in my view, the strictures of previous human communities, on such a primal matter as marriage, are still binding on us.

P.P.S-- It is now a couple hours later and I've just come back from a walk round my Taipei neighborhood. I love this city, although presently, being January, there is a cold front come down from Mainland China, and as usual when the cold arrives, it has brought with it some of that now world-famous Chinese air pollution. The pollution is a compound of Inner Mongolian dust, coal from factories, other noxious things, and without a doubt Taipei's air will only continue to get worse and worse each winter, until . . . when? In short, signs of the times.

I've returned to my computer because before actually posting this rebuttal to you, I might as well address your "touching the keyboard" analogy. In fact I do not really agree that your atomic physics explanation means that I'm not now "touching" my keyboard. Let me explain. What I think you've done in essence is merely added another layer to the definition of what we mean by "touch". You've shown a second, theoretical level on which the phenomenon can be explained. Knowing the structure of atoms doesn't, however, make any difference to the phenomenon of touch itself, or even to the semantic sense of the word, because, of course, the atomic structure you evoke is well below the threshold of the visual or tactile. Knowing some of the facts of atomic physics does not change daily realities. It will not help you improve your operation of a keyboard. If I were to push the analogy a bit, I might say, somewhat archly, that knowing these facts neither gives you the ability nor the "right" to change the realities of touch as we live them.

Now how does all this apply to our debate? As follows: Just as we exist within a set boundary of physicality, exist on a certain scale, so, I would say, we exist within human societies. These are complex structures of interrelation that we are bounded by. If in medieval Florence everyone believed that same-sex marriage was an impossibility because God had forbidden it, then that stricture stood as part of the bounded structure Florentine society lived within. That many scholars of medieval society no longer believe God exists does not prove that the medieval model was fundamentally incorrect as a practical matter. The medieval Florentines merely expressed in religious terms a practical reality that was part of how their culture held together. And it did hold together. Again, even if their stricture about marriage didn't come from God but came rather from their ancestors' experience, this didn't matter as regards the viability of their being together. Just as our knowing some of the facts of atomic physics doesn't matter as regards the viability of keyboards or the use of our hands. It would be wrong, then, and immature besides, for a modern scholar to believe that if he could only go back to those Florentines in a time machine, and demonstrate to them that it was likely their God didn't exist--then they would "wake up" from their illusions and would subsequently remove their strictures as to what constituted a marriage. Do you see this point? The naive time traveler might believe he was teaching the Florentines about human rights and bringing "progress" to their backward and oppressive culture. But almost certainly, if they followed his instructions, their culture would be undermined, it would begin to unravel, just as in recent centuries many tribal cultures have been fatally undermined by contact with our "more advanced" Western societies. Anthropologists are in agreement on this: the Florentines would likely be left worse off than they were before that modern do-gooder appeared. Their unique culture, after all, functioned as a very complex mesh of many factors, so complex that even we, with all our modern knowledge, cannot really account for all these factors.

Just like the material universe we live in and touch every day, so our cultural universe is bounded. For very many cultures, the great majority of them, the term God or gods has held an important place in the economy of their functioning as a people--it has played a crucial role in demarcating and maintaining the "boundaries". Modern secularists may argue that God is a myth and we needn't believe in Him, but nonetheless our own cultural economies still retain this concept God in much its same place, since our culture and its ideas of human freedom, justice and right were developed under its aegis. In other words, in large measure we are talking about structures in which we still live--even if we think we are largely secular-minded. Alan Liu made this same point in relation to Scandinavian cultures, which are more "secularized" than ours.

Understanding the facts of atoms doesn't alter how we need to deal with material things. Likewise, a scientist's ideas about the likely non-existence of God doesn't alter the facts of our being together. An important part of these facts has been the institution of marriage. As I've clearly shown, this stricture against gay marriage hasn't just been handed down to us by European Christians, but by all our ancestors. In this it is similar to the taboo on consumption of human flesh. And I would insist: Regardless of the specific features of our modern society--satellite transmissions, Sex and the City, nuclear weapons, the insufferably idiotic Sean Hannity--regardless of all these, we still exist as pretty much the same beings we have been for millennia. We have the same genetic makeup, emit the same pheromones, communicate through the same array of facial expressions, and reproduce in the same way. We have similar hopes for the continuation of our individual tribes into the future. It stands to reason that strictures that have been universal previously would remain so, because we are largely the same beings.

Your "facts" about touch, then, seem to offer a better analogy for my way of thinking than for yours. After all, while typing these last paragraphs, I've managed to forget about atomic physics at least a hundred times. Just like I regularly manage to forget what tone-deaf thinkers like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins have to say about God. These thinkers don't even bother to study the theologians who actually represent modern Christian thought. It's easier to attack straw men. There are in fact many ways of approaching the concept God that do not involve the kind of simplistic belief Harris and Co. take for granted as the default religious position. You may want to look into the theologian Paul Tillich, for instance, as regards his theory of God as the "ground of Being Itself". Or what he calls "the God above God". Or look into process theology, which frames the problems in strikingly subtle ways.

I hesitate to add these remarks because I don't want to distract you from my main points in the body of my letter. I hope, if you want to answer me in any way, you try to wrestle with these issues more and better understand where I'm coming from.

But all this is just the way I think about the relative value of our different ways of knowing. I'd much rather learn to use my hands to play the saxophone than learn that my hands are made of atoms composed of particles and wide empty space. But you, Steve, what about you? How has your knowledge of atomic physics impacted your way of being in the world? Does it change your way of typing or your way of moving about? Or when you are together with a beautiful woman, and you have your hand between her thighs, are you thinking about the necessary space maintained between atomic particles and that you are thus not actually "touching" her? For your sake, friend, I hope not. Really I hope not.


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