I read an essay by George Santayana, The Absence of Religion in Shakespeare.  It expressed some things I'd felt about the lack of a religious mentality in Shakespeare. 

Shakespeare was nominally Christian, but I doubt he really was. 

He seems to have been almost entirely an artist, writing as an artist rather than as a religious person, or even as a person at all. 

Coleridge called him "myriad-minded", which is another way of expressing this.  As Santayana points out, there's little evidence of Christian beliefs framing his art or driving it. 

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Santayana might have been religious and biased.

For about ten years I've known a professional poet who achieved laureate status in his home county. I have college credit in both poetry and prose and we have spoken often about writing. I know that when he chooses words he uses far more care than prosaists (folks who do prose).

Santayana generalized; he didn't say the Song of Solomon and some secular poetry might be "identical in essence".

Or, Santayana might not have been religious and biased. He might have been secular and preparing readers for his next paragraph, putting them at ease before he shocks them with

...[religion's] pretension to be dealing with matters of fact.

No no, Santayana was not a religious believer. 

He apparently appreciated religion in the poetical sense he describes. 

Bertold, I'm glad I read this discussion on Shakespeare.

I too doubt any excellence of religion but wonder how subtle Santayana might have been.

Am I taking his "the excellence of religion” from its context ("an idealization of experience...." when I ask if he was by inference criticizing religions with little or no intellectual content, such as the Rollers, snake handlers and such?

Further, I'm working on an essay in which I assert more explicitly than Santayana the danger of crossing a boundary between religion and science:

1) when religious folk use scientific claims to strengthen their religious claims, and

2) when scientific folk use religious belief to strengthen their scientific claims.

I see relevance in Santayana's words:

It would naturally follow from this conception that religious doctrines would do well to withdraw their pretension to be dealing with matters of fact.  That pretension is not only the source of the conflicts of religion with science....

I'm referring to events during the 1920s:

1) the use by George LeMaitre, a Catholic priest who'd studied mathematics, of Edwin Hubble's redshift to support the Genesis creation myth, and

2) the use by cosmologists of America's religiosity to support a creation story which, due to the lack of evidence or any concern for evidence, can rightly be called a creation myth.

Here's a current example. Below is a post by Joan in the Does Obama Love America? string:

"Carson also defended his belief in creationism, telling host Chuck Todd, "I find a very good measure of correlation between my religious beliefs and my scientific beliefs. People say, 'How can you be a scientist, how can you be a surgeon if you don't believe in certain things?' Maybe those things aren't scientific, maybe it is just propaganda."
"Despite a career in medicine, Carson, a Seventh-day Adventist, is an outspoken creationist who openly questions evolutionary theory. He also denies that climate change is real, a view that puts him at odds with the vast majority of the scientific community."

This er, colorful notion, that scientists are systematically and intentionally lying or "propagandizing" is rampant in religionist sites. It seems like it's got to be a sign of desperation, but the numbers of subscribers to it are legion.

@ Tom - Just to cheer you on, here's a comment from the Rude Pundit about Phil Robertson speaking at CPAC:

The point here is not just to beat up on a rich man in redneck drag, a kind of cracker minstrel pushed out to dispense crazed backwoods wisdom. It's also to say that the crowd that embraced him (and right-wing websites were overjoyed with his speech) is never going to be won over by "logic" or "facts" or anything that we believe can be used to convince people. They are invested in a monolithic lie that some kind of Christian morality will make everything better.

Bertold, I hadn't read Santayana when I composed this haiku-like piece:

English, our language,

Has two excellent uses.

Poetry and fraud.

Gee, just two more syllables..., poetry and religion.

Nice haiku. Unfortunately the two aren't synonymous - all religion is fraud, but not all fraud is religion.

Santayana goes on to say

This theory can hardly hope for much commendation either from the apologists of theology or from its critics. The mass of (hu)mankind is divided into two classes, the Sancho Panzas who have a sense for reality, but no ideals, and the Don Quixotes with a sense for ideals, but mad.  The expedient of recognizing facts as facts and accepting ideals as ideals, - and this is all we propose, - although apparently simply enough, seems to elude the normal human power of discrimination. 

There certainly is such a division, although I doubt most atheists would own to "having no ideals".  Perhaps it would be better to say "having a sense of reality, but not a sense of the reality of ideals".  Santayana seems to be suggesting a kind of experiential Platonism. 

Most proponents of religion would be left with nothing to talk about under these conditions.

Maybe such proponents need to stop talking, because talking (falsely) about the world is the problem. 

Santayana described this division of the mass of humanity into Sancho Panzas and Don Quixotes ...

There are also two kinds of people who aren't either a "Sancho Panza" or a "Don Quixote":

- the people to whom both the world and ideals are real;

- and batty, non-idealistic people. 

Since college days I've been entranced by the words of Lord Henry in The Portrait of Dorian Gray: We in our madness have separated [body and soul] and invented a realism that is vulgar, an ideality that is void.

>Maybe such proponents need to stop talking, because talking (falsely) about the world is the problem. 

Convince THEM of that and you might save the world.

There are lots of agnostic Christians - for example, Spufford in this essay says flatly "I don't know that any of it is true". 

And that's much better than being convinced.  He isn't delusional, he just likes to think of the world in a religious way.

But does he say that in church?  Probably not. 

Probably there's a social standard in his church against saying one doesn't know. 

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