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The Nature of Religion

Hello Mr. Marshall!

I have been a reader of your blog for quite a while now, and I decided it's time to try to connect with you. I am very impressed by the quality of your blog posts and I enjoy reading them daily. And I am aware that you don't have much time for reading emails lately (which is good, people reach out to you and they should reach out. It is great that you offer yourself like this!), so I'll try to keep my first email brief.

I am starting to grow an interest in existentialism, religious and spiritual philosophy. Since I'm just starting this field I would like to start off with the right material, so I was wondering if you could recommend me some books or other material on these subjects?

Of course I completely understand if you don't have time for it, or if this email flies right into the trash folder - some things are not meant to be.

In any case, I wish you kind regards. S

Metaphors on the Humanist Shore: Upstairs Downstairs.

On XXploring the humanist shore

This post is something I wrote in 2010 for another audience, but it really got started in a meaningful way in 2005. That's when Sam Harris's book The End of Faith challenged me to re-consider questions that I hadn't worried about for nearly twenty years -- since Darwin, speaking through the witty little sermons of Stephen Jay Gould, had taught me a new way of thinking about the world.

What I learned from Harris was that, although it had been a great relief in my early thirties to lay aside my religious preoccupations, I could no longer afford the luxury of ignoring religion and its adherents. That kind of ignorance was a sort of intellectual cowardice. And worse, religious ignorance was dangerous -- to everyone.

So from 2005 to 2010 I read (of course!) a hundred or more books, moving from religion to philosophy to brain science and evolutionary theory (some of those books "belonged" to more than one discipline). I took a few courses, and talked to lots of people with different viewpoints -- all in the service of making sense of religion. And, oh yeah. The oddest result of reading Harris's book was, I ended up a Buddhist.

A second point of origin, in creative tension with the first, is a comment by Ron on an earlier discussion. According to Ron and others, Buddhism isn't really a religion, but a philosophy. That led me to ask myself: What the heck is philosophy? (That is, what does it DO that lets it outcompete other kinds of thought we might engage in?)

Sometimes considering two questions is a lot more productive than considering only one of them! I'd like to offer some answers to these questions (and to a related question, what is science?) and let you guys kick holes in my ideas. Cause that's the way I roll, lol.

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