New Project: “Religion in San Antonio”

This summer, I’m teaching a class called “Religion in San Antonio”. Since I plan on teaching it every other summer, and because I think there needs to be a central resource dedicated to exploring the diversity of San Antonio’s religions, past and present, I’ve created an accompanying website:!

I’m not 100% sure what I’m going to do with it. It’ll have a blog where I’ll mention books on San Antonio history, share interesting fun facts, spotlight scholars of religion who live and study here, post some book reviews, etc. It’ll have pages dedicated to naming and exploring various religious communities by their broader religion-grouping (e.g. Buddhism; Islam). And then whatever else seems fitting.

Would it be unethical to simulate the universe?

The past few weeks, I’ve been teaching a unit on Indian cosmology (think Brahman, Samsara, Moksha, et al.) as I’ve been reading David J. Chalmers’ Reality +: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy while also watching a lot of Rick and Morty, so excuse the weirdness. Because of all this, I’ve been thinking a lot about Nick Bostrom‘s famous Are We Living in a Computer Simulation?” article (The Philosophical Quarterly, Volume 53, Issue 211, April 2003pp. 243-255). In that article, Bostom made the claim that “one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to become extinct before reaching a ‘posthuman’ stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of its evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation.” (If you don’t have time to read about this theory, there are plenty of YouTube videos that provide decent summaries.) As things are looking now, (1) seems extremely probable. We can’t figure out climate change and we still have weapons that could wipe us out in minutes. But if we are going to survive and slip through our “Great Filters,” then (2) would seem extremely improbable. We’re already making simulations and have been for a while now. If technology continues to develop at the pace it has since I was a teen, then I’d be shocked if it turned out that we humans would choose to not create advanced simulations. Except there’s one idea that has grabbed my attention: humans could choose to not create advanced simulations for ethical reasons.

Chalmers (p. 94) puts it this way: “populations advanced enough to create sims will know how to create intelligent sims that aren’t conscious (while nevertheless serving many practice purposes) and will have strong reasons—perhaps ethical reasons—to do this.” I mean, if I look at contemporary humanity, this seems unlikely. We humans seem to have no problems (collectively) with causing suffering, whether we’re inflicting it on fellow humans or other non-human animals. So, there’s little reason to believe that future humans would be morally superior to us…but there’s one I’ve been pondering.

As we look at the current state of our world, assuming it’s either (A) base reality or (B) a simulation of what base reality looked like in the early twenty-first century, then it appears clear that if humans are going to make it and make it so that we don’t launch our descendants into a dystopic age where they’d have little time to worry about anything other than creating technologies that help them stave off extinction, we’re going to have to experience an evolutionary leap in ethics. I mean, not just on the level of individuals recycling, buying electric vehicles, investing in renewable energies, and maybe going vegetarian, but at the international level and hopefully in a way that includes democratic societies. (Though, as the Pill Pod discussed in their 64th episode, “Democracy Dieth in Darkness,” political scientists/philosophers like Ross Mittiga are already asking if authoritarian power is ever a legitimate form of government, especially if climate catastrophe grows more probable: “Political Legitimacy, Authoritarianism, and Climate Change,” American Political Science Review [December 6, 2021], pp. 1-14).

This feels improbable right now but let’s assume it will happen (or happened, if this is a simulation that is based on base reality). What sort of collaboration would be demanded of humanity? What sort of transnational government structure would have to emerge? And if we were capable of these things, would we be moving more toward the Star Trek vision of the future than the Don’t Look Up one? And if that were to be the case, then doesn’t that raise the probability that humanity would become the type of species who knowing the suffering they’d cause by creating advanced simulations with sentient creatures (who would have to live through the era we’re living through now) would choose to avoid inflicting that type of pain on their potential digitized creations?

I don’t know that answer to this is “yes” but it’s worth considering. But it also leads to theological/theodicy questions and invites us to consider antinatalist ethics as well. First, if I’m assuming morally advanced humans would never create this reality intentionally, what does that say about a god who would create this reality? Now, I’m not actually opposed to this reality. In fact, I’m unsure that I can be because it seems odd to use existence to argue against existence. And I guess questions around postmortem sentience and even multiverses muddy that waters here. But my underdeveloped line of thought does have me wondering: if I think that advanced humans wouldn’t inflict this suffering, what does that say about the idea of “god” or god if god exists?!

Also, back to afterlives: would it be ethically justifiable to run simulations like our world if you offered your digital creations an afterlife of bliss?

Finally, am I being too negative about our current state? If a global catastrophe is around the corner, would it be immoral to have children? Obviously, if humans had foreknowledge and knew with absolute certainty that everything was going to go to hell within the next half-century, then yes. But we don’t have that foreknowledge. So, it gets trickier.

And that takes me back to the question of simulation: what if this universe is an open-ended simulation? Our fate isn’t predetermined. Maybe there’s great joy in meeting the challenge of climate change and solving it? Maybe we actually do that or have the potential to do that? Then I guess we could leave the door open to the possibility that there’s nothing immoral about our universe being a simulation if indeed it is one!

Book Note: Octavia E. Butler’s “Parable of the Talents”

Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Talents (reprint. 2019; New York: Grand Central Publishing, 1998). (Amazon; Bookshop)

I’ve written about Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower already (see “Book Note: Octavia Butler’s ‘Parable of the Sower'”), so there’s not a lot I can say about Parable of the Talents without spoiling the book for future readers. So, let me say some things that are vague but hopefully cause intrigue for potential readers of a book I highly recommend:

  1. I think Lauren Oya Olamina is a fascinating character. But her narrative arch revealed something to me: I find it easy to identify with a character who is surviving and overcoming but Olamina became somewhat troublesome for me in her “successes”. All I can say is that I kept asking myself, “What’s the difference between a good religious leader and a poor one?” And do I demand that religious leaders must be far closer to St. Francis than Joel Osteen if I’m going to respect them? And are these feelings hypocritical or do they reveal my values?
  2. Like Olamina’s daughter, and some of the other characters in the book, I’m highly skeptical of a vision of salvation that includes space travel. There’s something in me that says if we can’t get it right here on earth first, there’s no way that space exploration doesn’t turn dystopic. I’m not a Trekkie but if I’m correct, the Star Trek narratives are set in a future where humanity sort of arrived at a utopia here on earth and then decided to turn to space. I’m fine with that. Otherwise, we get Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, et al., and space exploration begins to look a lot more like Don’t Look Up than Star Trek.
  3. If Sower was too dystopic to offer hope, then Talents takes us to rock bottom. But Butler ends on a hopeful note. And while I like the hopeful note, and we need the hopeful note, I wondered if her hopefulness doesn’t match the sort of hope we might need to face the crises we’re actually experiencing. In other words, hope is good but Butler’s final vision of hope may not be as on target as her dystopic “predictions”.

I hope this made you somewhat interested in this book if you weren’t already. It’s an excellent story. It’s breathed new interest in SciFi into me. And any of my discomforts with it are good because SciFi, at it’s best, functions sort of like philosophy.

Book Note: Pamela Paul’s “100 Things We’ve Lost to the Internet”

Pamela Paul, 100 Things We Lost to the Internet (New York: Crown, 2021). (Amazon; Bookshop)

Pamela Paul is the editor of the New York Times Book Review. Her book 100 Things We Lost to the Internet is a nostalgia trip for Gen Xers, Millennials, and I guess we can include Boomers too. It would make almost no sense to Gen Zers. To them, it would be a weird museum of outdated practices. But for those of us who remember the world before the Internet was in all of our homes, this book is a lot of fun.

Many of the topics Paul discusses are social, like experiencing boredom or losing track of ex-boyfriends; others are technological, like having your phone in the kitchen or having to use printed, paper maps. And many of them are a mixture of how our social and technological lives have changed since the Internet created our global hivemind.

There’s not a ton I can say about the book other than it’s enjoyable to read, most of the “chapters” are very short (almost like reading sort blog posts!), and the book is great for resurrecting old memories and creating conversation starters with your friends.

Book Note: Bryan Van Norden’s “Taking Back Philosophy”

Bryan Van Norden, Taking Back Philosophy: A Multicultural Manifesto (New York: CUP, 2017) (Amazon; Bookshop)

While this book wasn’t completely what I expected it was excellent nonetheless and I think I prefer what it is in actuality to what I imagined it would be. When I bought it, I was under the impression that the entire book would be a defense of the basic thesis: a thesis Bryan Van Norden and Jay Garfield put forth first in a May 11th, 2016 entry to “The Stone column of the New York Times blog” titled “If Philosophy Won’t Diversify, Let’s Call It What It Really Is” (p. xxiii). Van Norden and Garfield argued that philosophy departments should “rename themselves ‘departments of Anglo-European philosophy'” if they weren’t willing to expand their departments to include the study of philosophy from non-“western” perspectives (p. xxiii). As you can imagine, this provocative claim provoked many responses and those responses led to Van Norden writing Taking Back Philosophy.

The first couple chapters of the book are what I expected and I found them entirely convincing. In chapter 1, “A Manifesto for Multicultural Philosophy” he “names names” and “brings the receipts” as the kids say, showing how the assumption that philosophy is only a “western” thing is ethnocentric and structurally racist, even when unintended. He makes the case that if philosophy is to survive and not kill itself off, it needs to adapt to and embrace a diversifying and pluralistic world. But this isn’t just an attempt to be PC or cosmopolitan: it’s because Van Norden is right in that Indian and Chinese thought, to name two branches, are deeply philosophical! For example, I’ve been (slowly) reading Baruch Spinoza’s Ethics and as I encounter his monism I keep thinking, “Didn’t India reach these conclusions centuries, millennia prior to Spinoza?!” Now, they framed it differently but that doesn’t make it less philosophical.

Now, I’m prone to agree with Van Norden. As far back as the early 2010’s when I read Yoram Hazony’s The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture, I’ve been convinced that Jewish and Christian sacred texts can be read as rational, philosophical works just as easily as the Pre-Socratics or Plato. I teach them with an eye to their philosophical claims. For example, in past versions of my class “The Hebrew Scriptures” (when I covered a lot more ground pre-pandemic), I would juxtapose the political philosophy and ethical paradigms of the Book of Daniel over against the Book of Esther. I’m supervising independent research by a student right now who is investigating these matters and soon we’ll discuss topics like trauma in the Book of Lamentations and theodicy in the Book of Job. (For a great discussion on how this can work, listen to Dru Johnson’s interview with Van Norden on Johnson’s podcast.)

Chapter 2, “Traditions in Dialogue” was another chapter I expected. In this part of the book, Van Norden does what I imagined he’d do throughout: he juxtaposes Chinese philosophy (his expertise) with “western” counterparts (e.g. the metaphysics of Descartes and Nāgasena; the political philosophy of Hobbes and Kongzi and Mengzi). Anyone with an open mind should recognize not only that China has had philosophy (unless we assume some oddly misplaced concreteness that claims “philosophy” because of its etymological roots in Greek must be “European” or “western” only) but that Chinese philosophy stands its ground quite well!

Chapter 3, “Trump’s Philosophers” looks at the move by personalities like Donald J. Trump and Xi Jinping to build “walls” (metaphorical and literal) that divide. In a sense, this chapter serves as a mirror for those who want to keep philosophy ethnocentric and “western”. Van Norten doesn’t fall into the trap of denegrating “western” philosophy, culture, and traditions but instead advocates something like a “more is more” approach: let’s celebrate the thought that has come from places like Germany, France, England, and the United States but in doing so let’s not close ourselves off to what we can learn from China, India, Japan or from broader groupings like African and Indigenous forms of philosophy.

In chapter 4, “Welders and Philosophers,” Van Norten challenges people like Marco Rubio who use rhetoric that (being generous here) may intend to dignify the working class (“We need more welders and less philosophers.”) at the expense of the academic “elites” but instead is disparaging toward both the welder who could and should want to read philosophy, the philosophy major who can actually do quite well for themselves with their humanities degree, and all citizens of a democracy who have the right to be informed and develop their thinking as members of society. This chapter defends the value of the humanities and the usefulness of a college education. My only complaint is that while showing how an undergraduate degree can raise someone’s earning power, Van Norten doesn’t deal with higher ed’s cost inflation that essentially saddles college graduates with a “tax” (student loan repayment) for getting that education.

Finally, in chapter 5, “The Way of Confucius and Socrates,” Van Norten reminds us of why philosophy is valuable, for everyone. His definition of philosophy is similar to the one I’ve shared with my students and members of our school’s “Philosophy Club” (p. 151): “philosophy is a dialogue about problems that we agree are important, but don’t agree about the method of solving, where ‘importance’ ultimately gets its sense from the question of the way one should live.” The target isn’t just Rubio or others like Ted Cruz, who while allowing themselves to receive a liberal arts education speak to others as if its a waste of their time, but also to members of the cult of scientism, like Neil deGrasse Tyson or the late Stephen Hawking, who think that philosophy is outdated just because certain branches of the sciences have developed a method that helps them solve or begin to solve important questions. Van Norten reminds readers that prior to a field’s emergence, it must be created by philosophy. Once a field has a generally shared methodology, it “grows up” and can go out on its own as “astronomy, biology, chemistry, mathematics, and physics,” to name a few examples (p. 143). Hawking and deGrasse Tyson wouldn’t have their fields of study if it weren’t for the “natural philosophers” who preceded them!

The broader defense of philosophy wasn’t what I expected when I bought to book but it didn’t detract from the book at all. It made it better. It reminded philosophers that what they’re doing is important but that it philosophy can be improved by expanding the conversation to include the many voices that are often ignored.

Book Note: Slavoj Žižek’s “Heaven In Disorder”

Slavoj Žižek, Heaven in Disorder (New York: OR Books, 2021). (Amazon; OR Books)

I’ve started reading Žižek. But I started at the end with (what I believe is) his most recent book: Heaven in Disorder. According to a friend who is familiar with Žižek, this is one of his most readable and easy-to-understand books, so I think I made a good decision!

Mostly, it’s a collection of very short essays. Often, his essays are blog post size: three-four pages. There are a few longer essays but even those are less than twenty pages long.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is what ties together this collection. Žižek has a lot to say about American presidential politics as well, seeing that several essays reflect on the end of the previous administration and the election of Joe Biden.

As to the name of the book: Žižek talks about how “One of Mao Zedong’s best-known sayings is: ‘There is a great disorder under heaven; the situation is excellent.'” I don’t know if this refers to the Chinese view of the “mandate of heaven,” but that’s secondary to how Žižek uses it. He comments (p. 1), “Mao speaks about disorder under heaven, wherein ‘heaven’, or the big Other in whatever form—the inexorable logic of historical processes, the laws of social development—still exists and discreetly regulates social chaos. Today we should talk about heaven itself as being in disorder.” For Žižek this means that even the symbolic universes that held countries and cultures together are divided. The turmoil isn’t just “on the ground,” if you will but in the fact that “heaven is divided into two spheres” in a way that is similar to the Cold War, except that there’s one major difference (p. 2). He says, “The divisions of heaven today appear increasingly drawn within each particular country. In the United States, for instance, there is an ideological and political civil war between the alt-Right and the liberal-democratic establishment, while in the United Kingdom there are similarly deep divisions, as were recently expressed in the opposition between Brexiteers and anti-Brexiteers…Spaces for common ground are ever diminishing, mirroring the ongoing enclosure of physical public space, and this is happening at a time when multiple intersecting crises mean that global solidarity and international cooperation are more needed than ever.” (p. 2) In other words, the pandemic demanded global unity but even within nations, there’s no unity: “heaven” is torn in two.

It’s a great collection. It’s thought-provoking as always and easy to read, as my friend noted, and as I’m recognizing as I’ve dived into The Sublime Object of Ideology, which takes a lot more work!

Shameful workaholic

This weekend I became one of the newest members of the “omicron club”. My symptoms were almost indistinguishable from my allergic reactions to the cedar and juniper that sometimes tortures me down here in south Texas. But I’m home from work for the next few days because of CDC protocols and probable contagiousness. On the one hand, I’m glad that I’m not spreading this virus to anyone today. I know there are people out there who may be hit harder by it than I’m experiencing. On the other hand, I feel guilty for being home and that seems wrong. I feel guilty for feeling guilty. In my mind, I can justify being home from work only if I’m feeling not just sick but sick enough to prevent me from teaching my classes. This isn’t right.

In part, there’s a more honorable, if not prideful, rationale: I’m confident in my teaching and I believe that when I miss a class, my students lose an opportunity to learn and think with me. It’s a little arrogant, admittedly. But I do think of myself as being good at my job. That said, students miss all the time—for sickness, for team sports, because they’re exhausted. So, it’s not like a day without me teaching them is something that’s completely disruptive to their learning experience. In fact, if I’m honest, while I must believe that my teaching has a real impact on their lives over the course of a semester or a year, a few days means almost nothing.

So, if I know this, why do I feel guilty? Why am I home thinking thoughts like, “My symptoms should be worse to justify being home from work”? I think I’m a workaholic. It seems that the “Protestant Work Ethic,” or whatever we call our enculturation and indoctrination into capitalism, is something I can’t shake. And it reveals to me that ideas around “purpose” are buried deep in my psyche, determining my self-worth, and preventing me from enjoying rest and leisure, even when my body needs it (just because Covid doesn’t feel terrible doesn’t mean my body doesn’t need rest when dealing with it).

I’m better at rejecting this mindset when it comes to my students. When I’ve had students out because they’re sick (whether Covid or something else), I exempt them from the classwork/homework that would’ve been due. I know that some of my colleagues don’t do this and sometimes it may be justifiable. For example, if you miss a few days of advanced mathematics, your deficit may begin to snowball as you fall behind the pace of the rest of the class. But religious studies isn’t advanced mathematics (or learning another language like Latin or Spanish). In fact, religious studies is one of those fields where teachers like myself must consistently resist the efforts of administrators, parents, college admissions offices, etc., to quantify what we teach. As Johannes A. Niederhauser says in his YouTube Short about teaching philosophy:

Instead, we must provide students with a map that helps them discover new and fresh ideas. We teach them “how to think” more than “what to think”. We teach them how to “travel” with their minds rather than where they “must go” with them. This isn’t to say that there isn’t a syllabus, or lessons, etc. My classes are quite detailed. Sometimes, I estimate down to how many minutes a given part of a lesson should take. (Though if we go somewhere offroad, and the discussion is fruitful, the outline must be abandoned, even if temporarily.) But that’s not the same thing as saying “Students must learn A, B, C, and D to have really learned!” And because there are many things students can learn—some that I might have anticipated; others that I didn’t—I can be flexible with them when it comes to helping them find a life-school balance. I can try to teach them the very important lesson that they’re not their work or their “doings” or their vocational “purpose”.

That said, I don’t know that I’ve taught this to myself. As teachers, we must learn to care about our health as much as we try to care about our students. We must model self-care; we must model work-life balance. So, while I have no say in the manner, I’ll do my best to not fret about being quarantined at home. I won’t spend all my time trying to get ahead on grading or lesson planning. Maybe I’ll go sit in the sun and read a book. Maybe I’ll take a couple naps. Because what I need to learn is what I try to teach my students when I tell them “don’t worry about this week’s assignments; get some rest and we’ll see you soon”.

Is Lauren Oya Olamina an anti-Jim Jones?

Octavia E. Butler was born on June 22, 1947. She would’ve been thirty-one years old when Jim Jones led the mass murder of members of The Peoples Temple on November 18th, 1978, in Guyana. She would’ve known that The People Temple started in Indiana before moving first to California and then Guyana. She would’ve known that when Jim Jones arrived in California in 1965, he brought 140 members to his new commune in Redwood Valley, California, which is located in Mendocino County. Then Jones spread The Peoples Temple to San Francisco and Los Angeles, Los Angeles being near where Butler was born in Pasadena. In other words, Jones moved west then south, then further south.

A few years ago, when I read Jeff Guin’s The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and The Peoples Temple, I was struck by how committed the members were. Subsequently, I’ve read and watched interviews with former members who knowing in retrospect how horrible everything was, still felt a sense of loss and purpose, as if their times as part of The Peoples Temple was the most exciting, adventurous part of their lives—a part of their lives they’d never recover. The sense of belonging, and the meaning that that sense of belonging provided, almost made people nostalgic for something they knew was more bad than good for them. (For a great online resource, see UC San Diego’s “Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and The Peoples Temple”.) This isn’t a phenomenon that’s limited to The Peoples Temple either. I’ve seen it from survivors of Heaven’s Gate and other religious movements with similar dynamics (what people often call “cults” pejoratively).

All of this came to mind as I’ve been reading Parable of the Talents. The main character, continuing from the previous book in the series, Parable of the Sower, is Lauren Oya Olamina. I won’t get too far into it because my inquiry only makes sense if you’re familiar with these books, but Olamina is a young woman who as she matures into an adult in the climate apocalypse that is a future California, begins to create (or discover) a religion called “Earthseed”. Earthseed is apocalyptic, for good reasons, and communal, in order to survive. Ultimately, at the end of Sower and where I’m at in Talents, Earthseed settles in Humboldt County. For visual reference, note on the map that Humboldt is just north of Mendocino along the northern California coast and that’s where Jones originally settled The Peoples Temple.

Similarly, in Talents, part of the book reads as Olamina’s daughter’s reflection on her mother and her mother’s religion. She says the following (see the underlined from Talents, p. 60):

Doesn’t that sound a little like, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of time” as we hear from survivors of certain religious groups?

Now, I’m not saying Butler created a “cult-leader” type character. Maybe Olamina is the anti-Jim Jones or Jim Jones was the anti-Olamina? But I’m struck by the common setting of an apocalyptic California (imagined for Jones; “real” [as something can be in a fictional universe] for Olamina). Both lead religious movements that seem to spin out from Christianity with other influences (Jones: some sort of Communism; Olamina: some Buddhist; Daoist; Yoruban ideas). Both migrate their communities, though in opposite directions. Both are connected to rural, coastal counties in Northern California though their relationships to urban centers are the polar opposite as Jones and his group moved toward San Francisco and Los Angeles while Olamina and her group moved away from Los Angeles and past San Francisco.

It may be a coincidence. I can’t seem to find anyone who has made a clear connection. But I can’t shake the geographical link.

A non-confessional alternative to BibleProject

This morning a news article was shared in my Facebook feed that provided yet another example of why so many public schools avoid promoting/offering religious studies courses in spite of the obvious danger that religious illiteracy presents. It’s titled “‘How to Torture a Jew’: Chattanooga mother raises concerns with Bible class taught in public school”. In short, in public schools you can teach about the Bible, contrary to the imagination of some, but you can’t teach the Bible from a religious perspective or with the intent to proselytize. The teacher mentioned in this article appears to be doing the latter.

In a Facebook post by the mother, she mentions that the teacher uses BibleProject videos. This got my attention because I use BibleProject videos in my classes as well. For those who aren’t familiar with BibleProject, they are videos about the Bible made by Evangelical Christians mostly for Evangelicals though maybe with a less stated goal of proselytizing. My main concern with BibleProject, which admittedly makes excellent videos, is that they’re clearly supersessionist. Often they talk about how the whole Bible is a “unified story that leads to Jesus” which is a fine thing to say in the Evangelical bubble but very problematic outside of it, for the basic reason that you have to apply that meta-hermeneutic to the Bible. The very existence of Jewish hermeneutics indicates that there are other ways of reading the Bible that don’t point to Jesus as the central figure of the canon, not to mention that Judaism doesn’t recognize the Christian New Testament as authoritative. Likewise, critical scholarship from the past few centuries strongly pushes against the idea that the Bible is unified. It takes a special kind of confessional hermeneutic—like “inerrancy” or “infallibility”—to arrive at that conclusion.

Now, I teach at an Episcopal school, so the legal questions related to using these videos (i.e. basically violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment) don’t apply to me but (!) I do try to teach from a non-confessional; non-sectarian perspective. I have students who are Christian but also students from a wide array of religious and non-religious persuasions. I’m proud of the fact that my students constantly recognize my classes as a confessional neutral space. Some of them may be bothered by the critical scholarship that’s employed but I don’t try to make my Evangelical kids give up their identity any more than I do my Muslim kids. The goal is to introduce them to the Bible as a cultural item that continues to influence civil discourse. I want them to be biblical literate not because I’m concerned with influencing their religious identity but because I want them to be informed citizens in a society where political and legislatures still quote and appeal to the Bible.

One thing that’s nearly essential when teaching a generation shaped by Instagram and TikTok is that you use visuals. I use plenty of YouTube videos. As I said, I use BibleProject. I’ve tried to balance it by using Unpacked’s videos which provide a Jewish perspective (works for Hebrew Bible but not Christian New Testament). Unfortunately, the only really good resource that consistently creates videos from a non-confessional perspective is Andrew Henry’s “Religion for Breakfast” project which is excellent but needs more financial resources if it were to offer a non-confessional alternative.

So, what’s to be done? Can AAR and SBL members take up the task of finding something like this? We have Bible Odyssey which is great and provides us all with resources. I know some members of SBL wouldn’t be interested in creating a Religion for Breakfast alternative to BibleProject because BibleProject fits their hermeneutic and pedagogy but what about the rest of us.

As Gen Z continues to enter college and grad school, I’m convinced that teachers at that level will want high-quality resources like what Henry produces. I know as whatever-is-after-Gen Z arrives, I’ll continue to need videos to supplement my teaching. How can we make this happen? How can we create a BibleProject-alternative? How can we help Religion for Breakfast become that alternative?

[If you’ve benefitted from Henry’s Religion for Breakfast, or if you agree with what I’m saying in this post, here’s his Patreon.]

Is Bitcoin a religion?

Joseph P. Laycock tackles the question of whether we should think of Bitcoin as a religion in his article “Why are people calling Bitcoin a religion?” Semi-spoiler: Laycock reminds some of us and informs others that:

The dirty secret of religious studies is that there is no universal definition of what religion is. Traditions such as Christianity, Islam and Buddhism certainly exist and have similarities, but the idea that these are all examples of religion is relatively new.

The word “religion” as it’s used today – a vague category that includes certain cultural ideas and practices related to God, the afterlife or morality – arose in Europe around the 16th century. Before this, many Europeans understood that there were only three types of people in the world: Christians, Jews and heathens.

So, quoting Russell McCutcheon, the real interesting question “is not what religion is or is not, but ‘the making of it’ process itself – whether that manufacturing activity takes place in a courtroom or is a claim made by a group about their own behaviors and institutions.” In other words, why would someone suggest Bitcoin is or isn’t a religion? What’s the point/objective?