Upcoming lecture makes PSU professor subject of controversy

Written by | January 26, 2012

Professor Boghossian to give lecture on effects of faith

Dr. Peter Boghossian, in his view, is forgiven by most religious groups, embraced by realists and loathed by secular liberals. His most recent lecture, titled “Jesus, the Easter Bunny and Other Delusions: Just Say No!” will likely result in comments from all three factions.

Dr. Boghossian is a philosophy professor at PSU who lectures on controversial topics of faith.

Dr. Boghossian is a philosophy professor at PSU who lectures on controversial topics of faith.

On Friday, Jan. 27, Boghossian, a professor of philosophy at Portland State, will deliver—against complaints from his own peers—another talk in a series of lectures that seek to explain that not all ways of thinking about the world are the same. Boghossian said that some will take you farther from reality and some will take you closer.

“I’m advocating that there are certain processes that will more closely help [people] to align their beliefs with reality; faith is an unreliable process. It will not help you come to reliable conclusions. It will decrease the possibility you come to that,” Boghossian said.

Boghossian believes that faith has negatively influenced public policy and is not something to institutionalize in society (e.g. the hatred of homosexuals). His curt tenets about religion have offended and even outraged his listeners.

Dr. Vern Bissell, a community advisor for the PSU student group Basic English Bible Club, attended Boghossian’s lecture on Nov. 17, 2011, and while he refrained from preemptively commenting on the upcoming evemt, he offered a blunt response to Boghossian’s approach to the controversial topic of faith.

“It is difficult and likely unwise to reply to professor Boghossian before he has his say,” Bissell wrote in an email. “But there are certainly replies to the outrageous stuff professor Boghossian said in his November 17 seminar, which I did attend. That one in my view was absolutely—except to a philosopher—an embarrassment to PSU and to the physics department, and maybe—of course in a relative sort of way—to the philosophy department as well.”

Boghossian explained that he is constantly surprised by the reactions he gets to his talks.

“I want to be really clear about something. Every single religious person I have encountered in the past year as a result of the series of talks or articles has been unbelievably kind to me—shockingly so. They have invited me to dinner at their house or a restaurant. The secular liberals are the ones calling for my head on a stick—they want me to be fired,” he said.

The secular liberal base, according to Boghossian, would seemingly have no qualms with “a man who proposes a better life and society through reason,” but bellicose phrases such as “the Taliban are primitive, delusional, misogynistic cavemen” have left some scorned. Boghossian’s simple assertion that not all cultures are equal is what he believes runs counter to a secular liberal paradigm of multiculturalism and egalitarianism, both of which he attacks.

“They suffer from the same kind of myopia that they think their faith traditions are true. This is an attack on faith; the secular liberals can’t stand that idea. To them, that’s akin to the n-word. That’s akin to an attack on people,” said Boghossian. “Here’s what they don’t understand: Ideas do not require dignity. People require dignity. There’s a difference between attacking an idea and attacking a person. Attacks on faith are not like attacks on race—that’s what the liberals are trying to do to me.”

Recently, an unnamed PSU faculty member filed a complaint with PSU President Wim Wiewel citing the topic and title of Boghossian’s speech. “PSU’s mission statement calls for a ‘climate of mutual respect and reflection that supports different beliefs and points of view and the open exchange of ideas,’” the complaint read.

Ben Crockett, a member of Friday’s event host organization—Freethinkers of PSU—understood that the speech might draw controversy.

“The aim of the Freethinkers of PSU is not to anger or to offend, but at the same time we realize that such consequences are inevitable,” Crockett said.

While Crockett acknowledges that the intent is not to insult, he offers that the group is content with this knowledge. He asserts that calling concepts such as Jesus delusional is apposite.

“We want to show people that our lives are not governed by lingering Bronze Age mythologies or by New Age woo, but in fact that we are a part of a universe so wonderful and so spectacular and that provides a sense of awe that religious faith cannot hope to touch,” Crockett said.

Through all his talks Boghossian concedes that religious people have by far been the kindest. He says there are crazy people, but he has yet to meet someone of a faith tradition who has called for him not to give a talk. They pray for him and think that he is lost. Muslims, he says, are the nicest.

“The essence of this problem: people who come from a particular faith tradition, I don’t see them as bad people, I hope they don’t see me as a bad person. We each see each other as someone who systematically misperceives reality. That’s my bone of contention with people of religious faith,” Boghossian said.

Willy So, a communication major at PSU, believes that whether or not faith is a flawed way to perceive reality depends on life circumstances. “I think where the person finds their soul in comfort is what they should believe,” So said.

Boghossian relies on the “science of reason,” and notes that everyone has the possibility to live with that view. “If you want to make your life better, reason is the tool. Giving up your faith isn’t a matter of shame or blame; it’s simply a question of reaching a true conclusion and living a better life.”

“I’ve taught over 30,000 students over 20 years,” he said, “and I’ve never given up hope.”

The free lecture will be Jan. 27 at 7 p.m. in Hoffman Hall.

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