Saintmatthew

I'll respond tomorrow, but this reader couldn't wait:

Harris wrote:

So why not take these books less seriously still? Why not admit that they are just books, written by fallible human beings like ourselves?

Religious books are not "just" books. Rather they are books that try to guide human beings, and their conduct, through the mystery that is human life.  And when I say "mystery" I don't mean it in the sense of "Wow, that's cool!"  I mean it in the sense that we don't know where we came from, or where we are going, or how, on the one hand, we can have a profound sense of self, but, then, on the other hand, must live with the unease that our entire sense of self - without religion - will somehow some day cease to exist.

Religion, and religious books are designed to help us with these problems of human existence.  They are designed to show us - based on very old traditions - about the proper courses of conduct to lead one to the eventual pride in having lived to the full and to the good the one life that one was granted. They make us glad to be alive.

Other books do not help. Even philosophers are of little use for these areas of life, and most will gladly acknowledge it. Perhaps some people don't need religion. But most of us do, even if our religious devotions are tinged with more or less worldly skepticism.

It is absurd to claim that whoever - one or many - who wrote, among others, the Dhammapada, the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, or the Tao te Ching were just regular guys writing regular books.  The only person who can say that is the person who has no sense to appreciate the ecstatic frame of mind that is a core element in the religious life, and which in turn presupposes a voice driving such authors that, in the poor words we humans use, is described a Holy Spirit. And, absolutely, the same applies to the New Testament, which of course was written by real people in real time.

But to say that the New Testament expresses the Holy Spirit is not to be understood either to mean that some kind of vapor descended from on high and penetrated the fingertips of Luke or St Paul. Rather it also means that these are texts that were written by Christians, for communities of Christian believers, and that these communities, over the course of now two millennia, consider them, and their companions, true reflections, in words, of the states of Christian belief and life.

Now, the issue has been phrased as a religious issue but it could also be phrased as an esthetic one.  Artistic experiences, poetry, music, visual arts, will sometimes convey a kind of supernatural and ever-renewing power.  For reasons we cannot put into words, we feel at times - after a Beethoven quartet or a Shakespeare play - that we have been touched by something so special, that it could not be the mere  product of "just some guy." Artists themselves will not infrequently stand in amazement at their own creations. "How did I manage to create something so good?" Here, too, the suspicion arises that the artist is but a medium for something else, indefinable.

I am in sympathy with much of this, but perhaps for the sake of coherence, we shouldn't ask Sam to address all the readers' comments as well. I'll focus tomorrow. Today has been somewhat full.

(Painting: Rembrandt's "The Evangelist Matthew Inspired by an Angel.")