The Holy of Holies: 
On the Constituents of Emptiness 

Mitchell Stephens     Professor of Journalism     New York University

This page contains a running transcript of all conversations taking place inside "The Holy of Holies." Click through the table of comments to view comments for individual sections. For any comment you can click its icon to go back into the paper in the exact place where that comment was made.

Dave says:

And those cherubim were to depicted in a passionate embrace.

“growing imperceptible” is really nice, yet also somewhat misleading. For example the prophets regularly declare “this is the word of YHWH” both tendencies are present in the literature…

Jesse Wilbur says:

In response to the notion that this format has little to offer vs. paper-based editorial practice, I disagree. What is missing from paper is simultaneity. I can read your comment at the same time as a hundred others. And we can all contribute independently, without coordination between parties.

This format does still battle against shotgunning comments before the full argument is made. This treatment grows out of another experiment in which only a single paragraph was presented at a time, which faced the shotgunning issue to the extreme. We’re still working out ways to weave a conversation out of individual comments and threads. Thanks for your insight.

Matthew Battles says:

content note: The Whitehead quote troubles at first, but its implications are compelling, and I hope you explore them elsewhere. Progress (nb: as distinct from evolution) always offers trouble; things do seem to fluctuate along a mono-poly continuum–cults do rise and fall. But behind the notion Whitehead articulates, there’s the prospect of an ecology of belief–the unfolding or evolution of the frameworks of disbelief that all religions must fabricate. A picture of how *this* process occurs may well provide an historiographic scheme for any account of atheism.

Put more directly, is Atheism a species of the disbelieving that any religion must cultivate, or is it sui generis?

interface note: I’m not sure what I think of this commenting format, as it encourages shotgun blasts of commentary before the whole essay has been digested. You may well have elsewhere disposed of the question I offer above, in which case I’ve added little value to the work. Of course, I could exercise some restraint, and read the whole thing before returning to comment–but if used in that way, this interface has little to offer in comparison with paper-based editorial practice.

Shashi says:

Hi How is it possible to have multiple threads in one line?

David Sewell says:

The phrase “became atheists with respect to” here is a legitimate usage, I’d say. It’s certainly a common rhetorical tack, e.g. Richard Dawkins’s “We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.”

William Bailey says:

I think Deuteronomy may protest too much, as the impulse toward syncretism, I suspect, was natural and ongoing. Polytheism doesn’t just give way to radical monotheism without a protracted, ongoing struggle.

William Bailey says:

Is God “growing imperceptible” or has Jewish theology become more sophisticated?

I just couldn’t resist commenting – what a fantastic feature.

[...] Well the folks over at Future of the Book are working on it. Check out this text by Mitchell Stephens where, after selecting a section from the left hand margin, you are basically able to click into a specific part of the post and offer feedback. (Here’s a particularly interesting back and forth on one section.) Pretty cool, I’d say. Even cooler is that they’re planning to release this as a WordPress plugin at some point. Talk about being able to debate certain points within the whole. [...]

James says:

The Romans considered the early Christians atheists because they didn’t worship their ancient gods. They weren’t really concerned with belief, though. It was about practice. They were especially concerned with the worship of the genius of the emperor. Atheist seems to be the right term, but its meaning probably needs some unpacking.

mitch says:

I do think this movement — these denunciations — lead away from certain kinds of gods. Such losses tend not to get computed.

mitch says:

I love the sound of this, but you are probably right. Disbelievers?

Arthur S. Hayes says:

Okay. Is your point that the Jewish understanding of God as “not,” the developing notion of God as imperceptible, eventual leads to God as nothing?
–A. S. Hayes

Arthur S. Hayes says:

My understanding ot the meaning of atheism dictates that it is incorrect to use it to describe disbelief in all gods but one. Am I being too literal?
–A.S. Hayes

MT says:

“Nyeti nyeti” (not this, not this) sayeth the Vedas or some such Sanskrit liturgy. Atman and God are that of which we can have no experience and hence no refutation. So much is uncertain in this world, we desire something irrrefutable. You posit It, and It exists. Your neighbors do the same, get the same result, back you up and become more cooperative. C’est voila: Society.

MT says:

It’s the apotheosis of plausible deniability.The perfection of the institutional lie.

mitch says:

A couple of sources: Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, and, for background on Josiah and Deuteronomy, Finkelstein and Silberman, The Bible Unearthed.