Thursday, August 28, 2008
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Philosophy 410, Philosophy of Religion
MWF 10:00-10:50 AM, Aug 27, 2008 - Dec 12, 2008, Sale Hall 107
Instructor: Dr. Nathan Nobis; firstname.lastname@example.org
Office hours: MWF 11-12, 1-1:30 and by appointment
Course blog: http://philosophy410.blogspot.com
Email announcement group: http://groups.google.com/group/morehouse-philosophy-of-religion/
Examination of philosophical questions involved in religion and religious beliefs. Prerequisite: PHI 201 or consent of the instructor.
Extended course description:
In a 2007 article published in the American Philosophical Association’s Newsletter on Philosophy and the Black Experience, the author claims that:
While religion has been at the center of the African-American experience, substantive philosophical questions and issues about theodicy, the epistemological nature of religious beliefs, and even creationism have been avoided.
The purpose of this course is to ensure that this author is mistaken. We will thereby inquire into the “epistemological nature” of religious beliefs, i.e., seek to understand whether religious beliefs – theistic and Christian beliefs, in particular – are supported by strong evidence, good reasons and sound arguments or not. We will evaluate “theodicies,” attempts to explain what (if anything) might justify an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good being in permitting certain kinds of evil, especially the evils of racism, slavery, lynchings, and discrimination: we will read many African American thinkers who address this issue and evaluate arguments for the view that the existence of evils like these give good reason to believe that God does not exist. We will discuss many other philosophical issues that arise from religious belief and practice, such as the existence of hell, the nature of reason and faith, surviving death, and how we should respond to religious diversity and disagreements, whether religious belief is “important” in various senses, and many other issues.
Throughout the course our main methods involve (A) getting very clear on what exact claims we are evaluating (e.g., what is meant by ‘God’?) and (B) patiently, carefully and thoroughly finding and evaluating the reasons given for and against the claim in question (as well as the reasons that might be given in response to those reasons). Philosophy courses require questioning assumptions, seeking reasons and evidence and demand intellectual responsibility, i.e., being careful with what you believe because you wish to believe the truth and effectively pursue it, even if this requires changing your own beliefs. This course offers the opportunity to develop these intellectual skills in identifying and evaluating arguments and cultivating an intellectually virtuous outlook based in the requirement for good reasons for belief and action that can be beneficial for everything you do and who you are.
Three required texts, all of which are available used, cheaper online (e.g., at Amazon, Abebooks.com, etc.):
1. Exploring Philosophy of Religion: An Introductory Anthology, edited by Steven M. Cahn (Oxford 2008). This book contains within it as an appendix a short, introductory text by Cahn entitled God, Reason, and Religion that was originally published by
2. Why Lord?: Suffering and Evil in Black Theology by Anthony Pinn (Continuum, 1999).
3. Writing Philosophy: A Student's Guide to Writing Philosophy Essays by Lewis Vaughn (Oxford 2005).
4. Optional, not ordered by bookstore: Is God a White Racist? A Preamble to Black Theology, 2nd ed., by William R. Jones (Beacon 1997).
To succeed in this class, you must be disciplined: are responsible to understand and meet the requirements outlined below and discussed in class:
- Attendance: Always come to class, as
policy requires. Sign the role sheet: if it is not passed to you, then you need to find it. Each unexcused absence will result in a 2% grade reduction to your final grade. An absence is excused only if you get the instructor an official Morehouse excuse in writing that he can keep. Morehouse College
- Punctuality: Come to class on time.
- After the add-drop period, no one will be admitted into class who is late. Tardiness is a disruption, so be on time. Assignments will be collected only at the beginning of class and at no other time, unless you have a documented, College-excused absence. Thus, no late work will be accepted.
- Preparation: Bring all your books, handouts and other materials – including materials that you must print off from the internet – and have them out on your desk and ready to discuss at the beginning of class.
- Students who do not bring their materials may be asked to leave, as they are not prepared for class.
- Doing the Reading: For every hour spent in class, spend at least two hours doing the reading and writing outlines, paraphrases &/or summaries of the readings (see Vaughn’s Writing Philosophy, Ch. 1).
- You must set aside adequate time and find a solitary, quiet, distraction-free environment (no/little noise and music with words, no access to the internet, etc.) to do your work.
- The reading assignments should be done before you come to class. Many of the readings are challenging and take time and effort to understand. They need to be read at least three times. See the chapters on reading philosophy from Writing Philosophy.
- To better comprehend the readings, you should first skim the article or chapter, then you should read more carefully, taking notes, making an outline, underlining and highlighting, etc. Doing this kind of work is necessary for an adequate understanding of any challenging material. Your books should show evidence that they have been read: underlining, highlighting, marks, etc. See Writing Philosophy on how to read philosophy.
- Preparation for engaged, production discussion, not passive lectures:
is a liberal arts college, not a university. Classes are small and thus we are able to discuss issues and arguments and have a more interactive learning environment. The instructor, therefore, will rarely “lecture” in any traditional sense, since lecturing encourages student passivity, disengagement, and not doing the reading. Morehouse College
- You have excellent texts that are readable, you can learn a lot from, and learn even more from discussing; lecturing, if lecturing summarizes the reading, discourages you from getting the benefits from careful reading. Thus, again, you need to read to be prepared for class.
- We hope that our classroom discussions will go beyond what’s presented in the text: so you will gain a basic understanding of the issues, facts and arguments from the reading and then we will use class time to more deeply process and evaluate these arguments, consider new arguments and engage in other learning activities that you can’t get on your own. You can get these latter benefits only if you have carefully done the reading.
- For a critique of the educational value of lecturing see, “To Lecture or Not to Lecture, an Age-Old Question” at http://www.morehouse.edu/news/archives/001176.html
- Honesty: Any plagiarism or cheating on any assignment – including any extra credit assignments – will immediately result in failing the course: no exceptions, no excuses.
- “The Division of Humanities & Social Sciences at
endorses the highest standards and expectations of academic honesty and integrity. Plagiarism or any other form of academic dishonesty will not be tolerated. Sanctions for violation of these standards include possible suspension or dismissal from the College. It is each student’s responsibility to be familiar with the expected codes of conduct as outlined in the College Catalogue and Student Handbook.” Morehouse College
- Cheating and plagiarism are forms of lying (to the instructor, the school, future teachers and employers, and yourself, among others), theft (of other people’s ideas and words), unfairness (to other students who do the work as they should) and are grounds for failing the course. If you submit a plagiarized paper (e.g., a paper you took in whole or in part from the internet or some other illegitimate source, such as a peer who has had this course before), the instructor (with the help of Turnitin.com) will notice this and you will then fail this course immediately. Although we will discuss this, it is your responsibility to know what plagiarism is.
- Here are some suggestions to avoid plagiarism: do not check the internet for anything related to your papers: instead use the texts required for the course and think for yourself; do not take phrases from the texts; put all of your writings in your own words; do not cut and paste anything from the internet into your paper; do not visit Wikipedia, an extremely unreliable source for academic philosophy; do not take articles from online encyclopedias; do not visit online dictionaries; use an acceptable citation method (e.g., MLA, APA, etc.), which you learned to do in Introductory English courses. If you would like additional sources to learn more about a topic, see the instructor. See Writing Philosophy, Ch. 6, for additional guidance on avoiding plagiarism.
- Basic Manners:
- No phone / PDA / I-pod / Sidekick / computer use is permitted after the first 5 minutes of class when students might type assignments into a device. If you use such a device in class, you will be asked to leave as such use is distracting, is disrespectful, and reveals a lack of participation and interest in classroom activities.
- Computers cannot be used in class, even for note-taking, because too many students are unable to resist surfing the internet, checking email, chatting, etc. If you attempt to use a computer, you will be asked to leave.
- No newspapers, magazines or work for other classes: if you wish to work on other classes and do not wish to participate in our class, you will be asked to leave.
- Any students who engage in disruptive and distracting behavior (e.g., non-class-related “private” chatting, etc.) will be asked to leave.
is committed to equal opportunity in education for all students, including those with documented disabilities. Students with disabilities or those who suspect they have a disability must register with the Office of Disability Services (“ODS”) in order to receive accommodations. Students currently registered with the ODS are required to present their Disability Services Accommodation Letter to faculty immediately upon receiving the accommodation. If you have any questions, contact the Office of Disability Services, 104 Morehouse College Hall Annex, Sale , Morehouse College , (404) 215-2636, FAX: (404) 215-2749. , 830 Westview Dr. S.W. , Atlanta GA 30314
- For students who use the services above, it is the students’ responsibility to remind the instructor of any special assistance, testing arrangements, etc. before an exam, assignment, etc.
- The instructor should be informed of medical, family, or other problems that necessitate missing class or that interfere with your work. In addition, students are encouraged to visit with the instructor during his office hours if they are having difficulty reading or understanding the materials presented in class. If you ever have any questions about anything, please just ask!
Assignments and grading:
- “OPS” (Outline, Paraphrase, &/or Summarize the Argument) writing assignments: 25% of grade
The absolute most important thing you can do to succeed in this class is to do the reading and do the reading well. A (tentative) schedule of readings is below and will be announced in class. To encourage you do the readings well and so be prepared for class discussion, you will be required to write 1-3 page outlines, paraphrases &/or summaries of the arguments of nearly all of the readings or selections of them. Vaughn’s Writing Philosophy, Ch. 1 provides instruction on how to do this. What most important for these assignments is that you (a) identify the author’s main conclusions, and (b) explain the reasons he or she gives in favor of these conclusions and (c) explain whether these reasons are a valid and sound argument for that conclusion or not. Merely copying a writing’s Introduction will result in a zero for the assignment, as will any other kind of plagiarism.
- “Lead the Discussion by Presenting the Arguments” assignments:
For the first weeks of the course, the instructor will be mainly in charge of presenting the arguments from the readings. After this, however, the students and the instructor will take turns presenting the main arguments from the readings and generating discussion about these arguments’ logical form (e.g., their validity or cogency) and whether their premises are true or not (i.e., the arguments soundness). In many ways, these presentations are just presentations of enhanced OPS assignments. They require thinking about how to teach the materials to others, so require that you show that you genuinely understand the material and the arguments’ strengths and weaknesses. To do an excellent presentation, handouts are encouraged; the instructor will photocopy them for you if given adequate time to make copies. 25% of grade
- Two Exams: 50% total grade, 25% each exam.
Either in class or take-home. All of lecture, discussion and reading content is testable. Study guides will be available with possible questions for each exam to help focus your studying. Exams will mostly be short answer and short essay questions. No electronic devices can be used or accessed during tests, nor can you have any books, bags, notes or hats near your desk: all such materials must be left at the front of the room. You are not permitted to leave the classroom and return to keep working on the test, so please plan accordingly (e.g., visit the restroom before the test).
- Argumentative Research Paper and Presentation 25% of grade
This provides an opportunity to pursue, in greater detail, a topic in philosophy of religion that you find interesting. Likely the most productive paper for most students will be focused “critical response paper.” This will involve you finding a (ideally recent) article(s) or writing(s) on an issue where an argument is presented and you present, explain and evaluate that argument as sound or unsound and why. 3000 words maximum length. Your topic must be approved by the instructor to ensure appropriateness for this course: failing to do so may result in a zero for the paper. The instructor can help you find topics and writings to evaluate, and you should check the various research tools on the blog. You must also give an organized, clear, and well-thought out presentation to the class on your paper.
Note: A syllabus is not a contract, but rather a guide to course procedures. The instructor reserves the right to alter the course requirements and/or assignments based on new materials, class discussions, or other legitimate pedagogical objectives.
· ONLINE ARTICLE or HANDOUT: Allen Stairs, “A Right To Be Wrong?” http://brindedcow.umd.edu/philosophy/opinions.html
- 37. The Ethics of Belief , W. K. Clifford , p. 195 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
- Preface , viii in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
- Introduction, 1 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
- ONLINE ARTICLE or HANDOUT: William Lane Craig, "God Is Not Dead Yet: How current philosophers argue for his existence," Christianity Today, July 2008. At http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/july/13.22.html
- Introduction. p. 327 in Cahn’s appendix book God, Reason, and Religion in his Exploring Philosophy of Religion: An Introductory Anthology
· Proving God's Existence? P. 328 in Cahn’s appendix book God, Reason, and Religion in his Exploring Philosophy of Religion: An Introductory Anthology
1, How to Read Philosophy; Ch.
2, How to Read an Argument; Ch.
5, Avoiding Fallacious Reasoning Ch.
o Basic Logic handout: http://aphilosopher.googlepages.com/arguments.pdf
Part I: The Concept of God: If God exists, then what is God like?
1. God and Goodness , James Rachels, p. 5, in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
2. God's Omnipotence , George Mavrodes , p. 8 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
3. God's Foreknowledge and Free Will , Augustine , p. 11 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
4. God's Omniscience and Contingent Events , Levi Gersonides , p. 13 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
5. Does God Know the Future? , Steven M. Cahn , p. 16 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
6. Does God Change? , William Hacker , p. 20 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
8. God and the Concept of Worship , James Rachels , p. 38 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
Part II: The Existence of God: The Classical Arguments for and against God’s Existence
Arguments for God’s existence:
Re-read 1. Proving God's Existence? P. 328 in Cahn’s appendix book God, Reason, and Religion in his Exploring Philosophy of Religion: An Introductory Anthology
13. The Five Ways , Thomas Aquinas , p. 59 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
14. The Cosmological Argument , Richard Taylor , p. 62 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
15. The Cosmological Argument: An Assessment , John H. Hick , p. 71 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
16. The Argument to Design , William Paley , p. 74 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
17. The Argument to Design and the Problem of Evil , David Hume , p. 78 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
9. The Ontological Argument , Anselm and Gaunilo , p. 47 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
10. The Ontological Argument : A Restatement , Rene Déscartes , p. 51 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
11. The Ontological Argument: A Critique , Immanuel Kant , p. 53 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
12. The Ontological Argument: An Assessment , John H. Hick , p. 55 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
Vaughn, Writing Philosophy
Re-read earlier assignment from Vaughn
3. Rules of Style and Content for Philosophical Writing
4. Defending a Thesis in an Argumentative Essay
6. Using, Quoting, and Citing Sources
7. Writing Effective Sentences
8. Choosing the Right Words
Appendix A: Formatting Your Philosophy Paper
Appendix B: Documenting Your Sources
Arguments against God’s existence, i.e., for the conclusion that God does not exist or probably, God does not exist:
2. The Problem of Evil. P. 331 in Cahn’s appendix book God, Reason, and Religion in his Exploring Philosophy of Religion: An Introductory Anthology
3. The Problem of Goodness. P. 333 in Cahn’s appendix book God, Reason, and Religion in his Exploring Philosophy of Religion: An Introductory Anthology
4. The Moriarty Hypothesis. P. 335 in Cahn’s appendix book God, Reason, and Religion in his Exploring Philosophy of Religion: An Introductory Anthology
5. Dummy Hypotheses. P. 336 in Cahn’s appendix book God, Reason, and Religion in his Exploring Philosophy of Religion: An Introductory Anthology
18. The Problem of Evil , John H. Hick , p. 97 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
19. A Defense of Atheism , Ernest Nagel , p. 103 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
20. Why God Allows Evil , Richard Swinburne , p. 109 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
21. Suffering and Evil , George Schlesinger , p. 120 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
22. A Reply to Schlesinger , Jeremy Gwiazda , p. 123 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
ONLINE ARTICLE or HANDOUT: Mark Vuletic, The Tale of the Twelve Officers
23. Theism and Modern Science , Nicholas Everitt , p. 124 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
ONLINE ARTICLE or HANDOUT: Karl Marx, "The Opium of the Masses"
ONLINE ARTICLE or HANDOUT: Sigmund Freud, "The Future of an Illusion"
ONLINE ARTICLE or HANDOUT: Stephen C. Ferguson, II, “Teaching Hurricane Katrina: Understanding Divine Racism and Theodicy,” Newsletter on Philosophy and the Black Experience, Fall 2007Volume 07, Number 1, at http://www.apaonline.org/publications/newsletters/v07n1_Black_02.aspx
Why Lord?: Suffering and Evil in Black Theology by Anthony Pinn
1. Spirituals as an Early Reflection on Suffering
2. Nineteenth Century Black Thought on Suffering
3. Black Suffering in the Twentieth Century
4. Alternative Theological Views on Suffering
5. Blues, Rap and Nitty-Gritty Hermeneutics
6. Black Humanism and Black Religion
45. The Hiddenness of God , Robert McKim , p. 248 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
14. Heaven and Hell. P. 357 in Cahn’s appendix book God, Reason, and Religion in his Exploring Philosophy of Religion: An Introductory Anthology
ONLINE ARTICLE or HANDOUT: Stephen T. Davis, "Universalism, Hell, and the Fate of the Ignorant"
ONLINE ARTICLE or HANDOUT Marilyn McCord Adams, "The Problem of Hell: A Problem of Evil for Christians"
Part IV: Miracles and Mysticism
9. Miracles. P. 345 in Cahn’s appendix book God, Reason, and Religion in his Exploring Philosophy of Religion: An Introductory Anthology
30. Of Miracles , David Hume , p. 151 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
31. On Miracles , Paul J. Dietl , p. 157 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
32. Mysticism , William James , p. 162 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
33. Perceiving God , William Alston , p. 174 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
34. Perceiving God: A Critique , William L. Rowe , p. 183 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
Part V: Belief in God
11. Playing the Odds. P. 350 in Cahn’s appendix book God, Reason, and Religion in his Exploring Philosophy of Religion: An Introductory Anthology
35. The Wager , Blaise Pascal , p. 191 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
36. Pascal's Wager: A Critique , Simon Blackburn , p. 193 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
37. The Ethics of Belief , W. K. Clifford , p. 195 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
40. Belief Without Argument , Alvin Plantinga, p. 218 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
41. Belief Without Argument: A Critique , Michael Martin , p. 227 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
6. The Appeal to Faith. P. 339 in Cahn’s appendix book God, Reason, and Religion in his Exploring Philosophy of Religion: An Introductory Anthology
7. Skepticism about Faith. P. 340 in Cahn’s appendix book God, Reason, and Religion in his Exploring Philosophy of Religion: An Introductory Anthology
42. Faith , Richard Taylor , p. 230 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
43. Faith and Reason , Michael Scriven , p. 234 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
8. The Problem of Meaning. P. 343 in Cahn’s appendix book God, Reason, and Religion in his Exploring Philosophy of Religion: An Introductory Anthology
44. Theology and Falsification , Anthony Flew, R. M. Hare, and Basil Mitchell , p. 238 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
Part VI: Resurrection and Immortality
46. Resurrection , John H. Hick , p. 257 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
47. Life After Death , Terence Penelhum , p. 259 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
48. Do We Need Immortality? , Grace M. Jantzen , p. 270 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
Part VII: Religious Pluralism
49. The Dimensions of Religion , Ninian Smart , p. 285 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
50. Religious Pluralism and Salvation , John H. Hick , p. 292 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
51. A Defense of Religious Exclusivism , Alvin Plantinga , p. 304 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
52. Religion Versus the Religious , John Dewey , p. 311 in Cahn’s Exploring Philosophy of Religion
10. God Without Religion. P. 348 in Cahn’s appendix book God, Reason, and Religion in his Exploring Philosophy of Religion: An Introductory Anthology
12. Religions. P. 351 in Cahn’s appendix book God, Reason, and Religion in his Exploring Philosophy of Religion: An Introductory Anthology
13. Religion Without God. P. 353 in Cahn’s appendix book God, Reason, and Religion in his Exploring Philosophy of Religion: An Introductory Anthology
15. Life Without God. P. 359 in Cahn’s appendix book God, Reason, and Religion in his Exploring Philosophy of Religion: An Introductory Anthology
16. A Religious Life. P. 363 in Cahn’s appendix book God, Reason, and Religion in his Exploring Philosophy of Religion: An Introductory Anthology
 Stephen Ferguson, II, “Teaching Hurricane Katrina: Understanding Divine Racism and Theodicy,” Newsletter on Philosophy and the Black Experience, Fall 2007, Volume 07, Number 1, at http://www.apaonline.org/publications/newsletters/v07n1_Black_02.aspx
Friday, August 15, 2008
1. Steven Cahn, Exploring Philosophy of Religion: An Introductory Anthology
2. Anthony Pinn, Why Lord?: Suffering and Evil in Black Theology
3. Lewis Vaughn , Writing Philosophy: A Student's Guide to Writing Philosophy Essays
By Rich Barlow | December 16, 2006
Where would African-Americans be without black churches? Many chained by slavery were sustained by belief in a better world awaiting God's people. A century later, gentle armies of the churched, led by a Christian minister named Martin Luther King Jr., forced the national conscience to confront the gap between its ideals and the reality of segregation.
Yet in the month when Christians of all colors celebrate the birth of the man whose teachings inspired King, a professor of religion argued, counterintuitively, to a Harvard audience that blacks who don't believe in God offer his fellow African-Americans a more realistic worldview.
Anthony B. Pinn of Rice University in Texas has been on both sides of the is-there-a-God divide. Once an ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, he now evangelizes for African-American humanism (atheism to those outside the ivory tower).
"Religion is not confined to the institutional structures that dot the landscape," he told a crowd of 30 last week in a talk sponsored by Harvard's humanist chaplaincy. Humanism, in his view, is a religious system that, while rejecting supernatural agency in the universe, nonetheless offers a "thick and robust existence" through an appreciation of the connections between all living things with ritual rooted in the mundane pleasures of life such as sharing a meal or walking in the woods.
Pinn's belief in the divine foundered on a reef that has shipwrecked many a believer's faith, an inability to reconcile human misery with the existence of a loving God. He felt a call to ministry very early in life and preached for the first time when he was just 10. Ordained after college, he served an African Methodist Episcopal church in Brooklyn. But his religious certainty bled away in the light of what he could see out his window in his drug-riddled neighborhood.
"It became increasingly difficult to preach 'Jesus saves' when young men across the street were dying in the park over a vial of crack," he said. "The theology didn't work for me. . . . I was willing to be a lot of things, but I was not going to be a hypocrite."
His streetwise disillusionment blossomed into an intellectual critique of religion after he earned a degree at Harvard Divinity School. In constructing this critique, Pinn acknowledged a debt, ironically, to the late Howard Thurman, the Christian theologian and Boston University dean, as well as to author Richard Wright, who rejected religion in some of his work.
Pinn's theology parts ways with the black church over such issues as the latter's view of the human body. White racists historically mocked black bodies, saying, for instance, that they naturally smelled bad, Pinn said. The black church rescued the body from this condemnation, regarding it as "a vessel for the divine" and practicing a physical, ecstatic form of worship. Pinn recalled from his ministry days that church mothers didn't consider him to have really preached on a Sunday unless his shirt was soaked with sweat.
Rejecting supernatural explanations and the body-soul divide, Pinn said humanists like himself see salvation as "a means to a fuller sense of self in relationship to others and the larger world," in a word, community.
An African Methodist Episcopal minister and friend of Pinn's in the audience applauded his intellectual performance.
"In an imperfect world -- for me, with a perfect God -- I love to hear viewpoints that provoke honest thought, and he certainly did that," said the woman, who requested anonymity because her comments had not been approved by her bishop.
Pinn made clear that he's not attempting a hostile takeover of America's dominant religious mindset. "I am not trying to close down churches," he assured the audience.
Questioned by a young woman as to why black people would accept religion, which she denigrated as a system handed to them by white people, Pinn replied that "black churches have done a wonderful job of helping African-Americans survive in an absurd world," providing psychological support against such torments as slavery. "That is a very good thing," he said.
The appeal of black churches is not a relic of antebellum history, he added, as the last two decades saw middle-class American blacks, disillusioned with secular life, migrating back to church. Moreover, in get-ahead America, the so-called megachurches, whether you love or loathe them, have a pitch-perfect message, which he summed up as, "Jesus wants you to be successful."
"That's appealing," Pinn said. "It's better than a lottery ticket."