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October 23, 2005 4:30 PM   Subscribe

If You're a Christian, Muslim or Jew - You are Wrong - A rant over at the Huffington Post.
And let's be clear about this, it IS a rant, and a beaut at that. But it's a sentiment that's run through the head of everyone who isn't a member of the three mentioned groups. No one in the mainstream media says things like this, I wonder why?
The post is made. Let the emphatic agreements, and the vicious denials... begin!
posted by JHarris (259 comments total)

 
Amen.
posted by NeonSurge at 4:37 PM on October 23, 2005


Great rant. It's worth pointing out that Moses isn't just fictional, he's not even original fiction... the tale of Moses is a retelling of the (much older) Epic of Gilgamesh.

The Moses tale has him taking a pair of every animal in the world on ONE ship, built by him, and saving them all. And people actually believe this. Still.

It's really quite appalling.
posted by Malor at 4:40 PM on October 23, 2005


Epic.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:42 PM on October 23, 2005


The Moses tale has him taking a pair of every animal in the world on ONE ship, built by him, and saving them all. And people actually believe this. Still.

Actually, that would be Noah.
posted by unreason at 4:43 PM on October 23, 2005


Hey, everybody knows about Moses' Ark!
posted by Bugbread at 4:45 PM on October 23, 2005


The Moses tale has him taking a pair of every animal in the world on ONE ship, built by him, and saving them all.

I think you mean Noah. But yes, it's essentially a retelling of the story of Ziusudra (aka Utnapishtim) Gilgamesh.
posted by homunculus at 4:46 PM on October 23, 2005


Jesus was insane and the God he thought would rescue him did not exist. And he died on that cross like a fool.

Actually, he probably didn't.
posted by S.C. at 4:47 PM on October 23, 2005


...from Gilgamesh.
posted by homunculus at 4:47 PM on October 23, 2005


People who frown upon religion in this way (and "frown upon" is perhaps putting it lightly) are throwing out the baby with the bathwater. I think it's an arrogant belief that anything not explained completely by a rational humanist framework must be wrong. Plenty of scientists are able to reconcile their work with a belief in God, and a great many atheists are able to practice their beliefs without pissing all over everyone else's, just as there are plenty of Christians, Muslims and Jews who do the same.

As an agnostic, I don't really have an opinion either way on the big questions. But it sounds like the author is really angry at the side effects of organized religion, not the existence of religion itself. By failing to attack the real issues behind religious fundamentalism and using organized religion itself as a straw man, the author helps no one. On the other hand, I guess I shouldn't expect much more from the Huffington Post.
posted by chrominance at 4:49 PM on October 23, 2005


No one in the mainstream media says things like this, I wonder why?

Because there's nothing to discuss. The whole gist of the rant is "Religion is dumb because I say so, and because sometimes religious people get into wars with each other." It's not like some of the better athiestic arguments where real philosophy or moral principles get discussed. It's just some guy saying "I'm right and you're wrong, just because." Which is pretty much what the fundies say all the time.
posted by unreason at 4:51 PM on October 23, 2005


I've been thinking something like this for a long time. I doubt this approach will help, but I see where he is coming from. Religious people are a pain in the ass. It's too bad we are so conditioned to be polite that we don't ask them if they are out of their fucking minds for believing this horseshit.
posted by Rusty Iron at 4:51 PM on October 23, 2005


Whilst I agree with the sentiment, it wasn't really that good a rant and I kind of have the suspicion it was posted on MeFi so we could all agree and fete your wisdom in bringing it to our attention.
posted by longbaugh at 4:53 PM on October 23, 2005


Chrominance, I agree with you entirely.
posted by jrossi4r at 4:55 PM on October 23, 2005


Don't drink and blog!
posted by Captaintripps at 5:00 PM on October 23, 2005


No one in the mainstream media says things like this

But people on MetaFilter say it all the time. All the fucking time.
posted by languagehat at 5:00 PM on October 23, 2005


"Religion is dumb because I say so, and because sometimes religious people get into wars with each other."

And political zealots don't? Worse? Better? All the same to the person with the bullet in them, I imagine.
posted by jonmc at 5:01 PM on October 23, 2005


S.C.: It's not common for me to be arguing on the side of the Christians, but here I'll give it a shot.

We have no physical evidence of Jesus' existance. All we have on him is hearsay.

The same is true of Socrates. Anyone who never actually wrote could, technically, have never existed.

In fact, it's possible that those who DID write didn't actually write them, but were someone else pretending to be that person.

It's also possible we never went to the moon.

Okay maybe I went too far with that last one. It's true that we only have secondary accounts of Jesus. And it's likely that they're not even good secondary accounts; most scholars who seem to have actually thought about this in a non-kneejerk fashion seem to think that the Gospels were set down a century or two after Jesus' life, by authors who did not meet Jesus historically.

But there is enough there that is out of character for the age in which Jesus lived that it's not inconcievable that a figure of some genius lived around then.

So, with so much hearsay and confusion over what Jesus really said, what are we to do? Well there, it's really simple:

We take from it what we find to be wise. The Sermon of the Mount, especially. Throwing moneychangers out of the temple, yah. The exhortations towards good purpose and reason. We throw out the rest.

It may not be a good way to do religion, but it's great for being a rational human being.
posted by JHarris at 5:02 PM on October 23, 2005


The post is made. Let the emphatic agreements, and the vicious denials... begin!

Um, neither actually.

As an atheist, I think this guy is a screaming moron who can't see the forest for the trees.

Look, for the most part, religion is about culture. It's about taking on a set of values and ways of looking at the world. Many of these paradigms are big, scary, and hard to think about because they touch upon fundamentals of the human experience. For thousands of years, since the advent of what we term "culture", people have used religion as a means of codifying and transmitting some very complex things via very simple rules. Religion is, at heart, a paleolithic attempt at information compression.

These rules are, usually, completely ridiculous on the surface, which is where the FPP goes off the rails. The deeper meanings can be found by examining HOW the religious tenets are applied to society and the environment.

Christianity is about revolution, about personal transcendence over society. Islam is about obedience, about respect, about a vision of the divine permeating all things. Judaism is mostly about traditions, about heritage, and maintaining cultural distinctness while assimilating into the wider world.

Of course, all of these things tend to get wildly distorted one way or another, thanks to trying to apply the same old rules in a completely different context. And humans, being stubborn (which is actually a survival trait) keep on missing the point.

Religion is a means to an end. It's a way to gain some intuitive comprehension over the fundamentals of our lives, and a way to find meaning in the world around us. I'm way too left-brained for Jesus -- I trust rationality over intuition. However, as long as you wind up a happy, healthy, non-homicidal person, I don't think it matters much how you got there.
posted by xthlc at 5:02 PM on October 23, 2005


And political zealots don't?

Oh, they most certainly do. But the writer of this rant wouldn't like to remember the non-religious wars. Like the two World Wars. Or Vietnam. Or the War of 1812. Or the American Revolutionary War. Or the Hundred Years War. The list goes on and on. It sounds nice on paper when these folks say that war is caused by religion, but a few minutes with a history book shows that there have probably been more wars with secular causes than religious ones.
posted by unreason at 5:06 PM on October 23, 2005


to elaborate: going to war based on the Bible or based on The Communist Manifesto or The Wealth Of Nations, is there really much difference? Both are relying on some book that aims to reduce the incredibly complex and chaotic wotld full of complex and chaotic beings to a simple formula, which is a recipe for catastrophe.

This is not to disrespect those people of God, politics and science who espouse and promote their ideas without the nedd to violently shove those ideas down the throat of the rest of humanity. Bless them, really. But really, the minute anyone claims to have the world figured out is the minute I start distrusting and fearing them, cleric or politico.
posted by jonmc at 5:06 PM on October 23, 2005


I smell a fatwa!
posted by fungible at 5:10 PM on October 23, 2005


languagehat: But people on MetaFilter say it all the time. All the fucking time.

Yep. They do. Funny, that. I wonder why that is?

unreason: Because there's nothing to discuss. The whole gist of the rant is "Religion is dumb because I say so, and because sometimes religious people get into wars with each other."

Not quite true. The gist is that lots of people die because of religion. The wars with each other are not always with each other, they affect even the non-religious. You can bet your bottom dollar that atheists are dying in Iraq, and you don't have to even look very hard to find ways that religion is causing grief for the irreligious these days. These things that are supposed to bring joy and wisdom into the world for everyone cause a great deal of stupid suffering. And maybe it's been said before, but the reverse has been spoken so many more times, and through much louder loudspeakers. Thus, I stand by my post.

longbaugh: Whilst I agree with the sentiment, it wasn't really that good a rant and I kind of have the suspicion it was posted on MeFi so we could all agree and fete your wisdom in bringing it to our attention.

Who knows? I sure don't, and I'm the one who wrote it! It's not always easy to discern a purpose behind the actions of one person even when he is yourself! But I thought there was enough language in my post, and the post title, to indicate that the true subject of my post is the impossibility of convincing anyone of anything on these matters. However, that does not mean we should not try. Hence, I posted.
posted by JHarris at 5:15 PM on October 23, 2005


The Jews and Christians believe that if a temple is built in Israel, the end times will come and a messiah will arrive. Just got to sacrifice a red calf there and God's your uncle. Unfortunately, there are two sacred muslim buildings on the soil where this temple must be built. Makes things a little tense.

Does anyone else lose sleep at night thinking that the President of the United States believes the messiah is coming, and that's why the USA backs mainly the Jews in the middle east? Think about it -- politics and diplomacy, entirely guided by religious doctrine. Guided by the hope that end times are coming.

Or to put it more bluntly -- those "Left Behind" books? Best sellers. And a lot of people believe they are an accurate description of what's coming. I bet Bush has read em. I bet he loves them.

Those who don't believe any of this shit are scared of those that do -- and with good reason.
posted by neek at 5:16 PM on October 23, 2005


How interesting that he claims that Jesus and Muhammad existed historically (albeit as psychos, apparently) and yet denies the existence of Abraham and Moses categorically. I'd like to hear his views regarding the existence/non-existence of Buddha, Socrates, Julius Caesar, Nostradamus, Shakespeare, Darwin and Elvis.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:17 PM on October 23, 2005


Yep. They do. Funny, that. I wonder why that is?

Because believing in God would distract them from their self-worship?

(if you're gonna feed me straight lines don't make it so easy, dude)

The Jews and Christians believe that if a temple is built in Israel, the end times will come and a messiah will arrive.

Some do. there are as many different interpretations of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism etc. as there are of capitalism, communism, anarchism and every other fuckingism. So, let's all cool our jets.
posted by jonmc at 5:19 PM on October 23, 2005


I'll chime in as another athiest who thinks the columnist is tilting at windmills. This quote summed it up nicely:

"I cannot, for the life of me, understand our motivations, thousands of years later, still following the conmen of yesteryear"

He's being rhetorical of course, but I'm sure if he stepped down from his pulpit for a moment he could come up with more than a few logical explanations for religious idealism, many of which xthic summarized nicely.

His main argument, that religion is gravely dangerous because it excuses war, is poorly supported, especially when the topic is hotly debated.
posted by Popular Ethics at 5:23 PM on October 23, 2005


Mm-hmm, because lowering yourself to the same level as a raving fundamentalist is really going to win over your audience. I think the saddest part is there are so many people with whom this kind of rant will resonate, and for the same reasons the followers of fundamentalist figureheads latch onto their leaders.
posted by nightchrome at 5:23 PM on October 23, 2005


Baby, say hello to Bathwater for me on the way out the window.
posted by alumshubby at 5:24 PM on October 23, 2005


[rambling]

In the long run, mainstream culture absorbs good, "beneficial" ideas, and rejects bad, "harmful" ideas. What this means for any successful, widespread religion is that as time passess, the only way for it to keep from fading away into history is to strongly assert the ideas that the mainstream culture refuses to absorb.

This is why successful religions so often end up developing small but powerful groups of unreasonable, literal-minded fundamentalists. This is also why they are so hard to stamp out; the fact that the fundamentalists successfully latch onto and shape the religion's distinct social identity makes it difficult for the moderates to stand up against them, not unlike denying one's family heritage.

So the fundamentalists continue to mooch off the moderates, and while the moderates don't like them, they fear that to stamp out the fundamentalists would end up damning their religion to a historical curiosity, like so many other religions.

[/rambling]
posted by PsychoKick at 5:26 PM on October 23, 2005


Actually, he probably didn't.

*sigh*

Unless, of course, you ask a historian. The "Jesus Puzzle" thing is the Aquatic Ape Theory of Roman history....

Also, rants like this are a dime a dozen, and just as worthwhile. No, atheists never think in religious terms, and to compare Enlightenment philosophy about the role of Reason (with a capital "R") to monotheistic messianic prophecies is completely uncalled for. I'm not saying who's right and who's wrong, I'm just pointing out it's the same story with different characters--so rants like this are completely hypocritical. We all have our mythologies, it's just a matter of whether our mythology is hung with facts or fictions.

Or are atheists a new and higher order of being, who are above such things as, "thinking like a human being"?

Here's a much more interesting thought: there has never been a war for religion. There have only been wars for resources, dressed up with religion as an excuse.
posted by jefgodesky at 5:27 PM on October 23, 2005


The Jews and Christians believe that if a temple is built in Israel,

Actually some of us believe the new temple is that of the human heart. We as the body of Christ ARE His temple.

It's all about His presence. It used to rest in the tabernacle of Moses, then the tabernacle of David, then the temple of Solomon....now He is in us.

But that would be getting into some pretty intense Christian theology and I don't think Mefi is into that.
posted by konolia at 5:28 PM on October 23, 2005


xthic: Ah, I agree with you on some of what you say, and I suspect we are of the same mind on a number of issues. But... he misses the forest for the trees? People are dying, those are some pretty big trees.

It's also important to note that the religious fanatics themselves also miss the forest for the trees, or they wouldn't be preaching about temporal issues and advocating petty murder. They would laugh in your face if you told them about their system of information compression.

And I don't remember any particular flavor of mnemonic that’s in any way disposed to flying aircraft into skyscrapers.
posted by JHarris at 5:28 PM on October 23, 2005


People who frown upon religion in this way (and "frown upon" is perhaps putting it lightly) are throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

For me, the issue is that religion becomes, as was stated in the article, "The 900lb gorilla that no one will talk about". Because it is so easy to dismiss any rational refutation of actions instigated by less than honest religious folk, the people who are indoctrinated into the belief systems have to go along. There is no choice. And that is fundamentally the problem with religion, organized or otherwise. Choice.

Once you sign up to believe, you can't question. You can't criticize others in your community, as you open your own beliefs up to criticism. Everyone applaudes the fact that their neighbor is of faith, but puts no test to what that faith practically means for them and the community. It is untouchable.

By removing religion from the realm of untouchable, we may get to a point that those who rely on what it offers will be less likely to be swayed by those who would subvert it for their own benefit. If Christians were really Christian, they would toss Bush out on his ear. But the fact that he says he is one of them makes him untouchable by the group. He's willing to live with the hypocrisy, and other Christians are willing to let him do it.

If people want to believe in fairy tales, they should be tales that the rest of us can critique without fear of reprisal. That's not the case in the world today.
posted by qwip at 5:29 PM on October 23, 2005


Utgur is just one more ignoramus. Jeez. This crap passes as an FPP?
posted by caddis at 5:36 PM on October 23, 2005


Sorry, "Uygur."
posted by caddis at 5:36 PM on October 23, 2005


Total fucking crap. Attacking other people's religious beliefs is never a good basis for anything worthwhile, good, important, constructive etc sigh.....
posted by fire&wings at 5:43 PM on October 23, 2005


Whether you agree or disagree with what was said in the post, the notion that mainstream media does not do this sort of thing is simply explained by the need to sell papers etc After all, 3/4 of those in the US believe in such stuff and they buy papers and magazines and watch tv shows.
Now go forth and sin no more
posted by Postroad at 5:44 PM on October 23, 2005


This Uygur guy... for the first time I think I might understand how non-crazy evangelicals must feel when Falwell or Robertson lets loose with a particularly nasty stream of hatred. I'd rather people didn't think of guys like Uygur when they think of liberal athiests.

On the upside, this is the Huffington Post, meaning that almost no one aside from us read his rant.
posted by gurple at 5:45 PM on October 23, 2005


It's worth pointing out that Moses isn't just fictional, he's not even original fiction... the tale of Moses is a retelling of the (much older) Epic of Gilgamesh.

Also worth pointing out that Virgil's Aeneid isn't just fictional, it's not even original fiction...the tale of the Aeneid is a retelling of the (much older) Homer's Odyssey.
posted by ori at 5:45 PM on October 23, 2005


"Have I offended you? That's too bad. Stop killing each other in the name of false and ridiculous Gods and I will stop ridiculing you."

A-fucking-men.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 5:46 PM on October 23, 2005


Popular Ethics: His main argument, that religion is gravely dangerous because it excuses war, is poorly supported, especially when the topic is hotly debated.

Is it? I shudder to tell you to remember 9-11 when so many other, obnoxious people are doing it, but....

But I think he's saying religion is gravely dangerous because it claims an ultimate override over reason, which doesn't necessarily require that anyone die. It just can, and sometimes does.

jefgodesky: I'm not saying who's right and who's wrong, I'm just pointing out it's the same story with different characters--so rants like this are completely hypocritical.

Except that:
1. Reason is not the opposite number of religion.
2. If you granted that it was so, well, what would the opposite criticism from the religious be? "Well, reason, uh, er, doesn't cause the deaths of thousands in its name."
3. And, even if one granted that it is hypocritical, it's still a long time in coming. If fundies get to spout their hairbrained opinions in the public arena, then by gum shouldn't those who think they're crackers get that same chance? I hope they do in fact (although I hope rather more that some sanity is returned to discourse before then -- but I'm not holding my breath for that).
posted by JHarris at 5:49 PM on October 23, 2005


Also worth pointing out that Virgil's Aeneid isn't just fictional, it's not even original fiction...the tale of the Aeneid is a retelling of the (much older) Homer's Odyssey.

I'm sure you just offended millions of Jupiterians.
posted by JHarris at 5:50 PM on October 23, 2005


"There is no fucking Easter Bunny."

Well. I'm glad we got that figured out.
posted by hopeless romantique at 5:51 PM on October 23, 2005


This entire genre of editorials are so embarassing: the guy who won't stand for it anymore and finally tells it like it is, which inevitably means high-fiving his readers and foaming with vitriolic bigotry.


"What's up with WOMEN? Listen, learn to pee with the seat up and THEN i'll stop ridiculing you. BOOYEAH! UNGH!"
posted by ori at 5:53 PM on October 23, 2005


Well of course, its a loving Easter Bunny, silly.
posted by caddis at 5:53 PM on October 23, 2005


...I propose the name "fratboy journalism".
posted by ori at 5:54 PM on October 23, 2005


caddis: Utgur is just one more ignoramus. Jeez. This crap passes as an FPP?

Since I posted it, I shall respond: yes. Because it is one side of an important, relevant argument, because it speaks plainly and forcefully of important matters, and because I thought the inevitable firestorm itself was important to observe. Which is why I titled the post what I did.
posted by JHarris at 5:55 PM on October 23, 2005


Total steaming pile of crap indeed.

"How long are we going to dance around the 800-pound gorilla in the room?" I mean, that alone smells of the worst rhetorical stink out there. Does he think there's been silence about this in the history of written civilization? I *almost* want to cut him some slack for clearly not having seriously examined faith or even philosophy, except for the fact that he's so damn dismissive and so sure nobody who believes has actually examined the material, all while *he* doesn't seem to display anything worthy of even kindergarten-level education in the topic. And he's still at the point where he thinks if he's going to be an evangelical athiest he needs to be an asshole.

Props to the athiests in this thread who realize differently.
posted by namespan at 6:02 PM on October 23, 2005


1. Reason is not the opposite number of religion.

Didn't say it was; I said that those individuals who believe all religion is BS and Science holds unvarnished truth of all the universe are hypocrites. Pure scientific fact is just a meaningless pile of numbers. Scientific theory is just a falsifiable prediction. Humans can't live on that alone. They can fit those predictions and data into a view of what the world is, who they are, and how those two relate, but that's a story--that's a mythology--no matter how you cut it. A prediction about human population dynamics over the next 100 years is a hypothesis; believing that humans are defined and ennobled by the very same faculty of reason that paves the eternal road of progress on which we march is mythology. Not in the sense that it isn't true, but in the sense that it is unfalsifiable, unscientific, and philosophical. In short, in that it is human.

Once we can acknowledge that we all have our own mythology, perhaps we can stop with the hypocritical assertion that only other people have mythology, and I'm the only one who's above such human things. Then we can have a much more meaningful discussion, about whose mythology has more facts to back it up.

2. If you granted that it was so, well, what would the opposite criticism from the religious be? "Well, reason, uh, er, doesn't cause the deaths of thousands in its name."

Neither does religion. The Catholic Church left Jerusalem to the Muslims for nearly a century--they launched a crusade only when it was advantageous to them in their fight with the Byzantine Empire. Religion was used to motivate the foot-soldiers, and it was used to candy-coat the truth, but religion was ultimately an excuse for the crusades--not a cause for them.

The expansion of the Dar al-Islam in its first several centuries was similarly excused by religion, and the foot-soldiers motivated by their reward. But the driving force was, again, resources. Religion was used as an excuse after the fact.

The Inquisition was invented during the Albigensian Crusade, which was a bid by the King of France to assert his control over the Toulouse region, which was drifting dangerously towards independence. The King of France needed to solidify his own base with a common enemy, and the loss of Toulouse would have seriously endangered his resource base. The Inquisition helped root out the king's political opponents. Religion was used as an excuse after the fact.

Without religion, we would simply find a different excuse. Philosophy, economics, whatever. We fight for resources, but that truth is too cold to accept. We need to believe we're fighting for something more than just resources, so we invent excuses. Religion is a favorite because it's something people believe in deeply. Take it away, and any warm, fuzzy concept will do. If not G-d, then country, or king, or democracy. The excuse can be anything, but ultimately saying that people "die for religion" is very short-sighted and naive. It mistakes the made-up excuse for the actual reason.

3. And, even if one granted that it is hypocritical, it's still a long time in coming. If fundies get to spout their hairbrained opinions in the public arena, then by gum shouldn't those who think they're crackers get that same chance? I hope they do in fact (although I hope rather more that some sanity is returned to discourse before then -- but I'm not holding my breath for that).

Indeed, and I have as much reason to call them insane as the fundies they emulate. There is no difference between them; they're just fundies for a different mythology.
posted by jefgodesky at 6:02 PM on October 23, 2005


There was an interesting interview with Salman Rushdie on the CBC this morning. Among other things, he said, "Religion is wrong. Not just morally wrong, but incorrect."
posted by 327.ca at 6:04 PM on October 23, 2005


On posting w/o preview: atheist. I know.

And:

use it is one side of an important, relevant argument, because it speaks plainly and forcefully of important matters,

I've seen important and relevant rationalist arguments, and this ain't it. This is a guy who thinks he knows something about religion having a mental diarrhea moment because he thinks he is an important blogger.
posted by namespan at 6:04 PM on October 23, 2005


War is a lot less about religion than it is about land, resources, and power. Where politics and religion intersect, religion* is simply a hook that politicians use to get the ignorant masses to support their war.


* some religions. Minority religions, if they have any opinion of politics at all, tend to be wary of being trodden on by their government.
posted by Foosnark at 6:05 PM on October 23, 2005


Among other things, he said, "Religion is wrong. Not just morally wrong, but incorrect."

Sorry, that should be "Religion is wrong. Nor morally wrong, just incorrect."
posted by 327.ca at 6:06 PM on October 23, 2005


This is the Metafilter I hate.
posted by ParisParamus at 6:07 PM on October 23, 2005


"This entire genre of editorials are so embarassing: the guy who won't stand for it anymore and finally tells it like it is, which inevitably means high-fiving his readers and foaming with vitriolic bigotry."

Ori nails it so hard that he split the whole damn board.

This is the same rhetorical tripe you see from the political shock jocks on a regular basis. Methinks he's been studying the work of Hannity, Coulter, Savage, and Limbaugh.

And apparently, Chairman Mao.
posted by namespan at 6:10 PM on October 23, 2005


This is the Metafilter I hate.

Please, MetaFilter, I beg you ... don't make me agree with Paris....
posted by jefgodesky at 6:11 PM on October 23, 2005


PP translated: KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!
posted by thewittyname at 6:12 PM on October 23, 2005


No one in the mainstream media says things like this, I wonder why?

Because it's all been said and done long since, generation upon generation since. Already been observed, considered, remarked, written about, analysed, and thoroughly thunk thru. Why do people think they're being original with stuff like this? None of it ever occured to them before? Good morning...

Here's what I always ask people who advocate just tossing religion out: What exactly would you like to replace it with? (And sorry but answering 'nothing' is the same as not having an answer.)
posted by scheptech at 6:14 PM on October 23, 2005


Total fucking crap. Attacking other people's religious beliefs is never a good basis for anything worthwhile...

I think that one of the points of the linked article is that it is nonsensical to privilege religious beliefs in such a way simply because they are religious.

That said, people do hold pretty tightly to religious beliefs so the author of the article should expect to be called a total fucking craphead.

That doesn't mean that the core of his article - the comparison of empirical reason to myth and how human society differs in its treatmeant of them - is any less compelling. I'd rather like it if we could understand the 900lb gorilla enough to lead it out of the room by its own accord.
posted by paperpete at 6:14 PM on October 23, 2005


...I propose the name "fratboy journalism".

Fantastic. Consider it in play.
posted by nightchrome at 6:15 PM on October 23, 2005


Didn't say it was; I said that those individuals who believe all religion is BS and Science holds unvarnished truth of all the universe are hypocrites. Pure scientific fact is just a meaningless pile of numbers. Scientific theory is just a falsifiable prediction.

But that's the point, isn't it? Scienific theories are important because it IS falsifiable. It is possible to disprove it, so go do that if you disagree with it. Falsifying a scientific theory, in fact, is a POSITIVE act towards science itself. Religion is not falsifiable because it gives itself outs in every area that could challenge it. That is how you tell a belief is fishy everywhere else in human experience, when by its nature it says nothing that it has no exception for.

believing that humans are defined and ennobled by the very same faculty of reason that paves the eternal road of progress on which we march is mythology.

Science cares nothing for how humans are ennobled, and it defines them in a very dry, materialist manner. You're confusing science with humanism; there is no particle that carries nobility, and ultimately the measure of man is also outside of the realm of science, as it should be, for of man, we do not yet know what will come of him.

Neither does religion. The Catholic Church left Jerusalem to the Muslims for nearly a century--they launched a crusade only when it was advantageous to them in their fight with the Byzantine Empire.

Ah, but "religion" is often so destructive because the men who organize it, to whom are granted the favors of its eternal trump over reason, are still men. And it was a cause in that the crusades would not have occured if it were not for it. Also, remember that religions are not eternal things themselves but are also mutated by men, that Christianity in particular looks very different today than it did in the past, and indeed that the rant talks about how their creation was exactly the sort of thing you just described. I think the rant's author would be thrilled with your statement.

Indeed, and I have as much reason to call them insane as the fundies they emulate. There is no difference between them; they're just fundies for a different mythology.

Except I said, IF YOU GRANTED THAT. Nyaah.
posted by JHarris at 6:17 PM on October 23, 2005


I agree with qwip. Religion has the perfect defence mechanism, and that's what makes it so inherently difficult to escape from. If you question your beliefs, you can't come back, so you don't question them. In a sense, anyone who strays from religion is taking a risk in doing so.

It reminds me of the scene in the original Matrix where they offer Neo a chance to find out the truth, but there's no going back. It is really a question of whether it is better to know the truth entirely or to settle with an "ignorance is bliss" mentality. Except that raises the question of how many people actually choose religion over science of their own accord in order to escape reality.
posted by Acey at 6:18 PM on October 23, 2005


Here's what I always ask people who advocate just tossing religion out: What exactly would you like to replace it with? (And sorry but answering 'nothing' is the same as not having an answer.)

How so, sport? Zero is not the same thing as null.
posted by JHarris at 6:19 PM on October 23, 2005


What an Origional Thinker!
posted by delmoi at 6:20 PM on October 23, 2005


This is the Metafilter I hate.

Not enough vitriol for you, paris?

Here's what I always ask people who advocate just tossing religion out: What exactly would you like to replace it with? (And sorry but answering 'nothing' is the same as not having an answer.)

Here's what I always ask people who advocate just tossing Marijuana use out: What exactly would you like to replace it with? (And sorry but answering 'nothing' is the same as not having an answer.)

Here's what I always ask people who advocate just tossing Racism out: What exactly would you like to replace it with? (And sorry but answering 'nothing' is the same as not having an answer.)

Here's what I always ask people who advocate just tossing Terrorism out: What exactly would you like to replace it with? (And sorry but answering 'nothing' is the same as not having an answer.)

And so on.
posted by delmoi at 6:27 PM on October 23, 2005


I pretty much allow anyone to believe whatever they want to believe, as long as they don't kill me for it. But there are many times where it seems like religion is just one mass-induced, society sanctioned obsessive/compulsive disorder.

Ever seen a Catholic do the rosary? Ever seen Hasidic Jews refuse to take an elevator on the sabbath? Etc. etc. Nice people, all of them - but I swear it's like watching your crazy uncle who has to knock on the wall ten times before entering a room. How do these rituals get started, and who really thinks they were God's idea?
posted by fungible at 6:27 PM on October 23, 2005


i love it when people set up their little tin demons and start kicking them around like cans, don't you?
posted by pyramid termite at 6:29 PM on October 23, 2005


fungible, crazy uncles usually have a better, more immediate reason for what they do--say, a demon will kill them if they don't. The religious can't give an exact reason, just that they're getting browny points.
posted by Citizen Premier at 6:31 PM on October 23, 2005


Something I always wondered about--why does Mr. God need prayer to tell him the right thing to do? Isn't it extremely insulting to try to reason with an omnipotent god?
posted by Citizen Premier at 6:33 PM on October 23, 2005


It is possible to disprove it, so go do that if you disagree with it.

I don't disagree with it. It's not science I have a problem with. It's the very unscientific faith in science that so many atheists display. It's their inability to understand that such faith is, itself, mythological. That myth cannot be falsified, just as religion cannot be falsified. So the measure of a mythology--whether the mythology is positivism or Christianity--cannot be whether or not it is actually a mythology, or whether it is falsifiable. We need to accept that part of being human is having our own mythology, so the measure of one mythology versus another is its effects--not whether or not it's a mythology. "By their fruits ye shall know them," as a particularly popular mythology put it.

That is how you tell a belief is fishy everywhere else in human experience, when by its nature it says nothing that it has no exception for.

That only works for claims about the observable world, though. How do we figure out what we think about human nature, or our place in the universe? What life is for? These things cannot be falsified, and these are statements science can never say a damn thing about. Science has its place, but not as the sole font of all knowledge. Positivists need to accept the fact that positivism is, itself, as mythological as any of the mythologies they so harshly critique--and understand that, as such, their critiques are the same kind of "only I'm enlightened enough to be above such mythology" bullshit that they've so noted amongst monotheists.

(Polytheists tend to get along splendidly; "You worship Ra? Whaddya say, I worship Apollo! All the same sun, right? Let's go get drunk!")

You're confusing science with humanism...

No confusion at all; I said nothing of science, only of what people believe of science. But you're wrong about science yourself: science doesn't "defines [humans] in a very dry, materialist manner." It just lists a series of facts about humans. If you interpret that to be dry and materialist, that's your own mythology, with a set of data to back it up. The contention that it's dry and materialist is another mythology.

And it was a cause in that the crusades would not have occured if it were not for it.

Sure it would have. The pressures of East vs. West in Europe at the time would not have changed; the need for war would not have been alleviated. The opportunity of the West to exploit the momentary weakness of the East would not have changed, nor their own need for the East's resources. Had there been no religion, the crusades would still have happened, only by another name, and it would have been excused by a different cause.

Also, remember that religions are not eternal things themselves but are also mutated by men, that Christianity in particular looks very different today than it did in the past...

I actually wrote a piece recently about the historical Jesus (someone does raise the "Jesus Puzzle" thing in the comments, which I refuted), and how Christianity is very nearly the opposite of everything the movement began as. But I fail to see the relevance of this. The mythology itself changes, of course. Christian fundamentalism invents new things to be outraged about every decade, and the "worst sin" is never the same from generation to generation. But there is always some kind of mythology, because humans need some kind of mythology to understand the world. It's what our brains do. Science provides data points; we fit those data points into a story, we string them into a narrative that ultimately gives meaning and significance to what would otherwise be meaningless data points and numbers. We can't understand just a list of numbers; we need them to tell a story. A graph tells a story from the numbers, for example: "Oh look, it's going up!" or "Oh look, it's going down!" Those are stories; the numbers themselves say nothing about such trends. They're just dots.
posted by jefgodesky at 6:33 PM on October 23, 2005


Although this guy is obviously belligerant, I agree with him in essence. It is scary that the most powerful person in the world thinks that there's going to be an "end of the world." Doesn't this bother anybody else?

Religious fundamentalists do not fear the end of the world. What they fear is the opposite - a world without end.

Think about it. If God wasn't going to come down and end the world, giving you and your folk a "get out of damnation free card," think about all the nasty things you would have to do. Things like getting along with other cultures, and not fucking up the environment.

It's strange that people distust atheists and agnostics so much. There was a study a few years back, and people were given a list of minorities, and told to rank which ones they would rather vote for. The resuts? Agnostics and Athiest were consistantly at the bottom of peoples' lists.
posted by afroblanca at 6:34 PM on October 23, 2005


I'm sure no one thought that a thread on this topic would shed any light on the topic. Heat would be expected, of course.

Let me just add a personal story, in fifty words or less. I used to be in a cult. Its beliefs were actually way less weird than those of the Top Three Monotheistic Religions.

Nevertheless, I was a nut. Everybody else was "normal."

In fact, they were downright admirable. Go figure.
posted by kozad at 6:36 PM on October 23, 2005


jefgodesky ... very well done ... thank you
posted by pyramid termite at 6:37 PM on October 23, 2005


Ever seen a Catholic do the rosary? Ever seen Hasidic Jews refuse to take an elevator on the sabbath? Etc. etc. Nice people, all of them - but I swear it's like watching your crazy uncle who has to knock on the wall ten times before entering a room. How do these rituals get started, and who really thinks they were God's idea?

Suffice to say, you're generalizing to "religion" something that's characteristic of only some religions. Rather than argue this again, I'll just quote the introduction of a piece I did last week about shamanism:
Imagine, for a moment, what the world might be like if there was only one religion. Not a dogmatic creed you were forced to comply with, but a sort of "open source" interplay of visions and ideas that not only encouraged, but demanded your active participation in creating an organic, evolving vision of the world. Imagine what such a religion might be like, if you were forbidden to simply take another's word for it, and you were required to experience the divine for yourself--a religion that required no faith in anything but your own experience of it. Imagine a religion based on dreams and visions, a religion that saw a world that was simultaneously sacred and profane but above all, alive. Imagine a world where you were not just an empty elite separated from your domain by the aloofness of power, but irrevocably enmeshed in a network screaming with life, a world where every stone and stick and blade of grass pulsed with a sacred spirit all its own. Imagine what such a religion might be like.

We don't need to use too much imagination to conjure up such an image, because not only did it once exist, it is humanity's natural state. That religion is today often called "shamanism," for the Tungus word for their most religious individuals. It is the root of all our modern religions--all of them are the descendants of the shaman's vision. It is the genesis of art, music, theater, philosophy, mathematics, science, and all those abstract things that we so often look to as the very best of our species' achievements.
posted by jefgodesky at 6:38 PM on October 23, 2005


jefgodesky: "Reality is that which refuses to go away when I stop believing in it." --Phillip K. Dick
That is what seperates religion and mysticism from science.
posted by Citizen Premier at 6:38 PM on October 23, 2005


MeTa.
posted by namespan at 6:39 PM on October 23, 2005


jefgodesky: "Reality is that which refuses to go away when I stop believing in it." --Phillip K. Dick
That is what seperates religion and mysticism from science.


Indeed. Except, the beliefs that humanists, atheists and others espouse about science and reason "go away" then as surely as Jesus, Buddha, space aliens, and the Easter Bunny.

I'm not talking about science--I'm talking about the faith in science. The beliefs about science. Science as Messiah; Reason as Salvation. This is mythology, just like all the others. We need to acknowledge it as such.
posted by jefgodesky at 6:43 PM on October 23, 2005


Orson Scott Card, dickhead though he may be, had this great passage in one of the Ender series (don't remember which one any more) where this OCD Asian girl ponders why all religion's gods tend to be such selfish, power-hungry, jealous, mad bastards who spent most of their time urging followers to kill heretics and enemies, and why there couldn't be religions where the gods just told people to be nice to each other as the key concept.
posted by NucleophilicAttack at 6:44 PM on October 23, 2005


I agree that this rant misses the point. Sure religion has it's good points and it's bad points, and the line is easy to draw. If it has to rely on the supernatural for you to be able to believe it, then it is bad.

The point is that the supernatural does not exist, and if you base decisions on supernatural considerations (called superstitions) you are making a grave mistake. Breaking a mirror won't give you seven years bad luck, and thinking lustfully won't send you to hell.

Does that sufficiently separate the baby and the bath water for everyone?
posted by betaray at 6:47 PM on October 23, 2005


Scientists have never denied the existence of values. Yes, values determine how science is used. But science is a means, and religion never will be.
posted by Citizen Premier at 6:48 PM on October 23, 2005


Values have nothing to do with it. We're humans; we can only understand data in a narrative. But as real as the data may be, the narrative is always up for debate. The same data can say any number of things. We can't limit our beliefs only to what we can prove, after all. Everything beyond that is mythology--and we all have one. For example, the myth that all religious people are insane. You can't prove that. You can't prove your mythology is any better. It's unfalsifiable; it's mythology, and we all have one.
posted by jefgodesky at 6:55 PM on October 23, 2005


"Reality is that which refuses to go away when I stop believing in it." --Phillip K. Dick

except that he was never sure whether the rest of it was just playing hide and seek with him ... considering the heavy influence gnostic christianity had on him and some of the stories he's written, i wouldn't be quoting him in defence of your reality
posted by pyramid termite at 6:56 PM on October 23, 2005


I don't disagree with it. It's not science I have a problem with. It's the very unscientific faith in science that so many atheists display. It's their inability to understand that such faith is, itself, mythological.


Right. Atheists just don't grasp that they actually are religious because they're just not as smart as you.

Congrats, you're smarter then the majority of scientists. That's pretty impressive.
posted by delmoi at 6:59 PM on October 23, 2005


I tried for a long time to understand how educated people can still be religious, and the only answer I'm comfortable with is that they choose to push their doubts to their subconcious because of religion's cultural and community-based benefits. For many people, being open about the truth of such abstract concepts as the nature of the universe is of trivial importance compared to an easy life with as little friction and as few tricky questions as possible. Life is complicated enough as it is, and when these pre-scientifically-enlightened civilisations have all the answers wrapped up in a book, why not just relax and take it on faith? Clearly, the mental dischordance between faith and rationality is something that some people can ignore easily as it hums away in the background, and others cannot.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 7:00 PM on October 23, 2005


How so, sport? Zero is not the same thing as null.

Here's what I always ask people who advocate just tossing Marijuana use out: ...

Non-answers... saying no answer is needed is the same net thing as not providing one.

Agnostics and Athiest were consistantly at the bottom of peoples' lists.


Not to beat it to death but maybe because they have no answers? Believe in nothing but themselves? Who would you rather trust, someone with a shared, coherent, stated vision of how the world works and what matters or someone making it up for themselves as they go along? Assuming they weren't homicidal maniacs per the posts blanket assertion, I'd trust a jewish, muslim, or sikh leader any day over a vocal atheist. I'd just assume they were better connected to an actual community and were consistently guided by some kind of value system I could check out and understand. Does this help indicate at a practical, social organizational level what I mean by 'answers' or 'replacing with something'?
posted by scheptech at 7:00 PM on October 23, 2005


Apologies, I'm on a stolen Wi-Fi connection. Which Commandment is that again?
posted by Pretty_Generic at 7:01 PM on October 23, 2005


pyramid termite, I don't even know who the guy was. He might have been Hitler's right-hand-man; regardless what he said right there is true. I just did the right thing and quoted him.

And jefgodesky, the unfalsifiablility of everything is old, old news. But the fact is you can prove things when you get together and decide on a definition of "proof."

And also, many people have the same definitions of "better" but different "mythologies" as you call them; which means by long term study the effects of a mythology on a society can be shown to be more beneficial or harmful.
posted by Citizen Premier at 7:03 PM on October 23, 2005


Values have nothing to do with it. We're humans; we can only understand data in a narrative.

Huh. You've got a refrence for that I'm sure.
posted by delmoi at 7:05 PM on October 23, 2005


scheptech, the ideals of atheists are often more easy to understand because they explain them themselves; whereas a religious leader might just point to a vague book and say they're doing what's written in it.
posted by Citizen Premier at 7:07 PM on October 23, 2005


pyramid termite, I don't even know who the guy was.

that's what i thought ... and unfortunately, a lot of the people who argue against religion are as well informed on it as you are on phillip k dick

But the fact is you can prove things when you get together and decide on a definition of "proof."

solipsism works so much better when you share, doesn't it? ... "we" are the only minds has a much more reasonable ring to it, doesn't it?
posted by pyramid termite at 7:07 PM on October 23, 2005


Nothing like a thread on religion to bring out the jerk in most people.
posted by nightchrome at 7:08 PM on October 23, 2005


Who built the ark?
Moses, Moses!

posted by Pretty_Generic at 7:09 PM on October 23, 2005


Science as Messiah; Reason as Salvation.

How about just Science/Technology as the most useful tool for improving our lot here on earth, and Reason as the best tool we have for making good decisions.

It doesn't have to be myth to be a useful philosophy. (And an order of magnitude better than religion)
posted by bashos_frog at 7:11 PM on October 23, 2005


God bless us, everyone.
posted by Citizen Premier at 7:12 PM on October 23, 2005


betaray: Sure religion has it's good points and it's bad points, and the line is easy to draw.

I absolutely do not agree with this statement. I don't think we can even know whether we would have been better off without religion in the long run.

But anything that asks people devote time, money, even their whole lives to it that may not actually be true... I'll admit, that's a big problem for me.

NucleophilicAttack: and why there couldn't be religions where the gods just told people to be nice to each other as the key concept.

There are, indeed this was the basic point of Jesus' ministry, as pointed out by Douglas Adams. But adherents of these things still use it as justification for perpetrating all manner of horror.

How is this possible? I think the answer is obvious: psychosis.

jefgodesky (again): I'm not talking about science--I'm talking about the faith in science. The beliefs about science. Science as Messiah; Reason as Salvation. This is mythology, just like all the others. We need to acknowledge it as such.

Don't lump your groups together. Science is distinct from humanism, which is distinct from atheism. Someone can have any value of all three, and the first two are can be found in (traditionally) religious people.

Scientists absolutely should not be described in the same terms as religious people. Atheists, also, are not the same thing *at all*.

Humanists are closer, it is true, but it is worth nothing that there is no bible of humanism, it has no real dogma other than "people are great," and that people are not killed in its name. (And since it has few dogmas to dispute, it's a lot less afraid of what science might say about it, interesting that.)
posted by JHarris at 7:12 PM on October 23, 2005


Religious people: do you have difficulty in understanding why other people such as myself do not believe? Why do you think it is? When we say it's because we've weighed up the evidence and have found it to be overwhelmingly negative, do you accept that we're being genuine, or do you think there's some hidden motive?
posted by Pretty_Generic at 7:14 PM on October 23, 2005


Non-answers... saying no answer is needed is the same net thing as not providing one.

No, it's not.

Look, If I give the formula 1 - 1 = x, and I answer "x is in the set of Natural Numbers" that's a non-answer. If I say "x is Zero" that's an answer.

"Nothing" is a legitimate answer to many (an infinite number of, actually) questions.

Rape, Cancer, Murder, do you really believe that would be necessary to find some 'replacement' for these things if it were possible to get rid of them? Why is religion diffrent?

Can you answer those questions? If not, why do you even bother asking questions if you don't listen too or think about the answers people give you?

I don't personably believe that religion is as bad as any of those (and by the way, I am definitely pro-marijuana!) but the point is that there is no principled reason that I can think of that it would need to be replaced if taken away.
posted by delmoi at 7:15 PM on October 23, 2005


You know, I used to wonder what the Vulcan's reason for doing anything was. After all, there's no logic to wanting anything, so why is it that the Vulcans wanted and desired to do things?
I think it turned out that IDIC (Infinite Diversty in Infinite Combinations) was their driving value, but the lesson I learned was that logic is only a means to an end. If that end should happen to be feeling good about yourself and pretending to have superpowers, then religion is the logical course of action; but logic itself is the underlying mechanism to acheive, not religion or any other thing.

Why am I saying this? To get out of the mayhem in a remotely graceful manner.
posted by Citizen Premier at 7:17 PM on October 23, 2005


How about just Science/Technology as the most useful tool for improving our lot here on earth, and Reason as the best tool we have for making good decisions.

that's fine ... that's what they're supposed to be used for ... they are useless when trying to figure out the meaning and purpose of it all ...
posted by pyramid termite at 7:17 PM on October 23, 2005


I'm beginning to worry I'm posting too much....

scheptech: Non-answers... saying no answer is needed is the same net thing as not providing one.

I guess the problem I have with that is, you haven't proven that religion fills an essential role in society, so I don't see a problem with saying that nothing should replace it.

But if something HAS to replace it, then I say this: not taking what people say as arbitrarily true; keeping an open, yet critical, mind in life; and thinking for your own damn self for a change. We don't need an institutionalized guilt club in our civilization any more than we need the Grand Exalted Order of Water Buffalos.
posted by JHarris at 7:18 PM on October 23, 2005


I don't think we can even know whether we would have been better off without religion in the long run.

Indeed, I don't think that's a useful line of inquiry. I think that believing in a supernatural force that made the crops grow and the lightening strike and took the soul out of the dying man's body was once a perfectly reasonable conclusion. The question is, should we be so tied to tradition that, now times have changed and we have 24h access to Wikipedia, we should not doubt the assumptions of our mostly well-meaning but undoubtedly less-educated ancestors?

In most religious discussions, the religious side quickly starts defending faith because of its lifestyle benefits. In a discussion of whether something is true or not, this is a total irrelevancy.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 7:21 PM on October 23, 2005


You know, I used to wonder what the Vulcan's reason for doing anything was. After all, there's no logic to wanting anything, so why is it that the Vulcans wanted and desired to do things?

Vulcans do have emotions, it's just that they try to suppress them as much as possible, for cultural reasons.
posted by delmoi at 7:23 PM on October 23, 2005


If that end should happen to be feeling good about yourself and pretending to have superpowers, then religion is the logical course of action

This implies that un-knowing things is a choice.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 7:23 PM on October 23, 2005


This implies that un-knowing things is a choice.

Well, it probably is. It's just that for some people un-knowing things is more painful then anything that knowledge could bring.
posted by delmoi at 7:25 PM on October 23, 2005


This implies that un-knowing things is a choice.

I don't see how that's implied, but isn't it?
posted by Citizen Premier at 7:26 PM on October 23, 2005


I guess so.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 7:27 PM on October 23, 2005


Pretty_Generic, that's perhaps the most interesting thing about the debate. Religion these days is evaluated almost completely in terms of its lifestyle benefits by both sides. There is zero question on the truth of religious doctrine. This is what should change. Arguments should be made for and against the truth value of various religious doctrines. This is the real 900lb guerilla in the room. Not religion itself, but the absurd idea that religious stories are somehow true in any meaningful sense.
posted by nixerman at 7:27 PM on October 23, 2005


I guess so.

You're starting to un-know already.
posted by Citizen Premier at 7:28 PM on October 23, 2005


This guy is as stupid, loud, and hateful as any fundy. A rant is only good when the underlying argument is well founded and presented, and this didn't cut it.
posted by Krrrlson at 7:30 PM on October 23, 2005


What I meant was, using logic to say

1) God almost certainly doesn't exist
2) Therefore my only goal should be my own wellbeing
3) Believing god exists makes me happy
4) Therefore I should forget that I used logic to accept 1)
5) ???
6) PROPHET!!

is something I couldn't choose to do.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 7:30 PM on October 23, 2005


Most interesting, lemme parse fwiw:

they choose to push their doubts

yes...

to their subconcious

some do, some don't and continue to conciously doubt some things just fine, the history of religious thought is full of doubt about lots of things

because of religion's cultural and community-based benefits.

Mostly a secondary and pleasant side-effect - here's the key: belief itself is the starting point - if I may respectfully suggest, you have cause and effect backward for actual believers, I'd agree your analysis stands for hangers-on, which yes certainly do exist.

Allow me to grant this point: these cozy communities that new believers find themselves in are almost always a great deal more pleasant and affirming than wherever they were before and this they may take as evidence in itself that their belief is justified.
posted by scheptech at 7:32 PM on October 23, 2005


You're starting to un-know already.

That's more like "changing my mind" :)
Also it was directed at delmoi
posted by Pretty_Generic at 7:33 PM on October 23, 2005


PG, yes, but obviously some people can do just such a thing.
posted by delmoi at 7:33 PM on October 23, 2005


pg, I was referring to your 6-stop path to prophet above.
posted by delmoi at 7:35 PM on October 23, 2005



Religious people: do you have difficulty in understanding why other people such as myself do not believe? Why do you think it is? When we say it's because we've weighed up the evidence and have found it to be overwhelmingly negative, do you accept that we're being genuine, or do you think there's some hidden motive?

I know that many religious people will say that you're scared of the truth because then you'll have to be moral and unselfish. I wouldn't; I believe in God, but I don't think there's any reason for my believe that should be convincing to everyone else.
posted by Jeanne at 7:37 PM on October 23, 2005


is something I couldn't choose to do.

I prescribe drugs and alcohol. Or maybe a few years being forced into a mystic way of thinking by someone who has absolute control over your life.
posted by Citizen Premier at 7:37 PM on October 23, 2005


these cozy communities that new believers find themselves in are almost always a great deal more pleasant and affirming than wherever they were before and this they may take as evidence in itself that their belief is justified.

Absolute 100% nail-on-the-head. You'll accept too that, in fact, it isn't evidence, just as finding Tolkien more pleasant and affirming than A History Of Medieval Europe isn't evidence.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 7:37 PM on October 23, 2005


Religion is a memetic disease.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:47 PM on October 23, 2005


But that would be getting into some pretty intense Christian theology and I don't think Mefi is into that.
posted by konolia at 5:28 PM PST on October 23


Why don't you explain the Christian theology that supports a needless, bloody war, konolia? Please enlighten all of us heretics and heathens as to why you feel that murder is the True Path to Fulfilling God's Glory. Tell us of God's great plan for those dead husbands and wives, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters.

It's true: the vast, vast majority of Jews, Christians, and Muslims are bloodthirsty madmen, irrational fucking dimwits, and immoral, greedy hypocrites who would rather burn money than give it to the poor and needy.

If Jesus did come back to Earth, I think he would take one look at what his worshippers have done to his message of universal love and peace and never stop vomiting.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:47 PM on October 23, 2005


Gah, missed this one.

I don't disagree with it. It's not science I have a problem with. It's the very unscientific faith in science that so many atheists display. It's their inability to understand that such faith is, itself, mythological.

Oh for the....

Their inability to understand that doesn't come up to them if they don't see it as faith.

Which presumes they even HAVE such faith!

That myth cannot be falsified, just as religion cannot be falsified.

Oh? Since they don't have a magic book telling them what to think of the world, I imagine they are challenged in it every time they watch the nightly news.

That only works for claims about the observable world, though. How do we figure out what we think about human nature, or our place in the universe? What life is for? These things cannot be falsified, and these are statements science can never say a damn thing about.

Which is why it's SO important to not jump on the first explanation of them someone tells us concerning them! What's wrong with doubt? Why can't we admit to people we don't know something? Honestly.

But you're wrong about science yourself: science doesn't "defines [humans] in a very dry, materialist manner." It just lists a series of facts about humans. If you interpret that to be dry and materialist, that's your own mythology, with a set of data to back it up. The contention that it's dry and materialist is another mythology.

Oy, when people take my attempts to liven up my writing and attempt to find fault with them....

Yes, I KNOW science lists facts, that was my POINT. Sheesh.

Sure it would have. The pressures of East vs. West in Europe at the time would not have changed; the need for war would not have been alleviated.

Not quite. Pressures are not always acted upon. Sometimes they go away without a fight. Religion certainly gave a lot of people an awfully big excuse, though. And for some of those fighters, it was indeed the only reason to fight, was it not?

But there is always some kind of mythology, because humans need some kind of mythology to understand the world. It's what our brains do. Science provides data points; we fit those data points into a story, we string them into a narrative that ultimately gives meaning and significance to what would otherwise be meaningless data points and numbers.

I hate to say this to you, since you've obviously put some thought into this and I really don't like confrontation, but the way I understand the word "mythology" is not necessarily the same thing as "narrative." Coming up with a theory on the genetics of peas based on painstakenly acquired data is not the same thing as praying to Jesus every night because Da Bibble tells you to. The difference is: how do you react when you are refuted? Do you examine the refutation and try to come up with a synthesis before rejecting either your own idea or that offered, or do you blindly reject the challenge out of hand? Is your focus an honest search for truth, or do you just want what you believe now to be right?

A graph tells a story from the numbers, for example: "Oh look, it's going up!" or "Oh look, it's going down!" Those are stories; the numbers themselves say nothing about such trends. They're just dots.

(Hm, I guess I don't look at graphs very credulously....)

Oh, well for that matter, the dots themselves are also human inventions! So are the axes of the graph, or the fact that they're arranged in a rectangle! So are the numerals, and even the numbers themselves! For numbers are measurements, and for all the energy that goes into obtaining them they are still only measurements, only pale shadows of what they measure. But I will ask this: how many decimal points of accuracy has that spot in Genesis where it --says-- a rainbow is God's bow set into the clouds?

Whatever stories are told are always in the beholder's eye, but is the one understood of an accurate view of the world, or of a con artist storyteller? Theoretically, both may pale in comparsion with what is really in the world, but pragmatically, it does make a great deal of difference.
posted by JHarris at 7:49 PM on October 23, 2005


"Why don't you explain the Christian theology that supports a needless, bloody war, konolia?"

Deuteronomy 5:17 - Thou shalt not kill.

Oops, my bad.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:50 PM on October 23, 2005


Jefgodesky: You make an eloquent argument that "faith in reason" is no less dogmatic than faith in god, but I think it's a straw-man. Though it seems fairly widespread, I disagree that "humans need some kind of mythology to understand the world". To me, that sounds like begging the question, as in:
"I can't imagine living without my faith; you must use science in its place. But science can't provide a belief system, so you're just as misguided as me, and arrogant besides!"

sheptech - oh my .. um... not god. You're the first person to make me understand why people don't trust athiests.
posted by Popular Ethics at 7:53 PM on October 23, 2005


Civil authorities are allowed to bear the sword, so to speak. It's in the New Testament.

For those that wonder what one such as myself would make of someone who doesn't believe in God-well, it is called spiritual blindness. As in you really can't see it. I don't throw rocks at blind people, but I could wish for-and pray that-they would get their sight.

But again, even the demons believe-and tremble. So what matters is not belief or nonbelief, but whether you would choose to serve Him. That is something each of you has to determine for him or herself. And even then faith is a gift from God.
posted by konolia at 8:13 PM on October 23, 2005


You'll accept too that, in fact, it isn't evidence

In a sense sure, it could just be people being clubby.

It could be taken as direct evidence that they believe what they say, but only circumstantial evidence that what they believe is correct.

Thou shalt not kill.


This is the King James version of the statement. Later translations of the hebrew such as the NIV have it as "You shall not murder". The obvious implication being there is such a thing as legal killing... heh, not sure where else that might take the conversation (maybe right back to Mr. Uygur's rant) but will note that for hundreds of years people agonized over whether killing in defense of a loved one for example meant breaking this commandment, something I take as evidence that religious people do indeed need to continue thinking for themselves.
posted by scheptech at 8:15 PM on October 23, 2005


How about just Science/Technology as the most useful tool for improving our lot here on earth, and Reason as the best tool we have for making good decisions.

A difference of word choice, but still mythology. Are either of those statements provable? Are either falsifiable? Or are they statements of faith--beliefs into which you fit the data, so that the data has some semblance of meaning more than just a big pile of data points?

It doesn't have to be myth to be a useful philosophy. (And an order of magnitude better than religion)

Again, myth does not mean it isn't true. A "useful philosophy" is a mythology. It's a story we tell ourselves of how the world is. Christianity is a mythology. So is Kant, and Wittgenstein. They aren't falsifiable hypotheses, they're not data, they're interpretations, they're stories, they're narratives that try to make sense of that data.

But anything that asks people devote time, money, even their whole lives to it that may not actually be true... I'll admit, that's a big problem for me.

You mean like the pursuit of the Enlightenment's project of the ennoblement of humanity by Reason?

Don't lump your groups together. Science is distinct from humanism, which is distinct from atheism. Someone can have any value of all three, and the first two are can be found in (traditionally) religious people.

I never lumped them together, others did. I have no problem with science; I never said a word about science. I said that the way many people invoke science--as with positivism, as with humanism, as with the Enlightenment--is a mythology. I said that everyone has some kind of mythology. But everyone--including atheists and agnostics--believes that they're the only people who don't. It's called ethnocentrism. It's universally found, and universally false.

Scientists absolutely should not be described in the same terms as religious people. Atheists, also, are not the same thing *at all*.

That is not so. Scientists as scientists are not religious, true. In their role as scientist, there is nothing religious to it. As human beings, they are most definitely religious. All humans are. That, too, is universal. Even if that religion is simply the mythology of, "Reason is sufficient to understand the universe." That is, itself, an unfalsifiable statement--a statement of faith, if you will. Atheists, too, have some worldview. They have some overarching view of what the world is, a story, a narrative, into which they place the data they find. For example, "all religious people are insane." That's a story into which you fit data points, like the crusades, or the Inquisition.

Humanists are closer, it is true, but it is worth nothing that there is no bible of humanism, it has no real dogma other than "people are great," and that people are not killed in its name.

Neither does shamanism, or animism, or Gnostic Christianity ... are they not religions, either? If a religion is, "something that has a dogma," then we're going to cut the number of religions in half, at least. And if it's whether or not it is invoked in the killing of people, we'll need to add to the list capitalism, Communism, democracy, freedom, king, country, et cetera ad infinitum.

Religious people: do you have difficulty in understanding why other people such as myself do not believe? Why do you think it is? When we say it's because we've weighed up the evidence and have found it to be overwhelmingly negative, do you accept that we're being genuine, or do you think there's some hidden motive?

Not that I'm terribly religious, but no, I definitely believe you are sincere. Just as I believe Christians are sincere. I believe we all need some framework to understanding the data that pours into our brain every day. That's why I think it's so pointless and hypocritical to shout down somebody for having such a framework. Of course they do; they're human. We all do. You do, too. So what?

Can we also accept that many religious people do believe because they've weighed up the evidence and have found it to be overwhelmingly positive, do you accept that they're being genuine, or do you think there's some hidden motive? Like some kind of mental disorder? Or is it unthinkable that rational people could ever possibly come up with differing ways of viewing the same data?

I think that believing in a supernatural force that made the crops grow and the lightening strike and took the soul out of the dying man's body was once a perfectly reasonable conclusion. The question is, should we be so tied to tradition that, now times have changed and we have 24h access to Wikipedia, we should not doubt the assumptions of our mostly well-meaning but undoubtedly less-educated ancestors?

Absolutely! But there are lots of supernatural beliefs that aren't religious, and lots of religious beliefs that aren't supernatural. A common conflation, to be sure, but the two are not the same.

Of all the atheists I've met, I'd estimate somewhere between 1% - 5% ever raised an argument that was pertinent to religion in general, and not to Christianity, specifically. Christianity is not the only religion in the world; not even monotheism is the only alternative. Religion is a wide, wide umbrella--it's not just the supernatural, and it's not just religious conflict. And of those atheists I know who did appreciate that, none of them were of the militant "we must rid ourselves of the scourge of religion!" stripe.

Religion is a memetic disease.

Then so is the Enlightenment, and every human on earth is infected to one degree or another.

It's true: the vast, vast majority of Jews, Christians, and Muslims are bloodthirsty madmen, irrational fucking dimwits, and immoral, greedy hypocrites who would rather burn money than give it to the poor and needy.

Only because it's a representative sample of humanity in general.

If Jesus did come back to Earth, I think he would take one look at what his worshippers have done to his message of universal love and peace and never stop vomiting.

Amen to that, at least.

Their inability to understand that doesn't come up to them if they don't see it as faith.

Which presumes they even HAVE such faith!


Just because we know science is real, and we don't know if gods or demons or angels are real, doesn't mean that we can believe anything about it and it's solid truth. If I believe that technology will save humanity from all the problems it faces, that's faith. If I believe that reason is the only useful way of knowing or understanding the world, that is faith.

Or, for that matter, prove logic. Many things can be proven inside the rules of logic, but can we prove the syllogism itself? The idea that reason and logic is sufficient is unfalsifiable and unprovable. It's a statement of faith. No worse and no better than a Christian who believes Jesus came back from the dead, flew into outer space where he is currently gathering power to return at the end of time, leading a horde of zombies to eat the brains of all the living. Neither statement is falsifiable. You may apply Okham's Razor if you like, but the truth of Okham's Razor is just another part of the logical system that we're both accepting on faith. It's like proving Jesus is the Son of G-d by looking up the appropriate Bible verse. You can't prove a system of thought true by reference to itself.

Which is why it's SO important to not jump on the first explanation of them someone tells us concerning them! What's wrong with doubt? Why can't we admit to people we don't know something? Honestly.

Nothing. I love doubt. I doubt everything, including myself. It would seem that I'm the one asking people to doubt themselves and how sure they are of their own beliefs here.

Yes, I KNOW science lists facts, that was my POINT. Sheesh.

And who can live their lives with just a list of facts? We need to fit those facts into a story, and that story is the mythology.

Not quite. Pressures are not always acted upon. Sometimes they go away without a fight. Religion certainly gave a lot of people an awfully big excuse, though. And for some of those fighters, it was indeed the only reason to fight, was it not?

For something less than 1%. Nearly all crusaders left for very different reasons, and almost always economic reasons. The second sons of lords in a primogeniture system, for example.

Pressures are acted upon when they must be acted upon. Then you cook up an excuse (like religion) to cover up the fact that you just butchered a shitload of people for resources.

Coming up with a theory on the genetics of peas based on painstakenly acquired data is not the same thing as praying to Jesus every night because Da Bibble tells you to. The difference is: how do you react when you are refuted? Do you examine the refutation and try to come up with a synthesis before rejecting either your own idea or that offered, or do you blindly reject the challenge out of hand? Is your focus an honest search for truth, or do you just want what you believe now to be right?

Then your beef is not with religion, but dogmatism. This is only characteristic of some religions. To other religions, this attitude is anathema. There are many religions that are willing to change their beliefs based on new data: pantheism, animism, shamanism, Gnostic Christianity, etc.

But I will ask this: how many decimal points of accuracy has that spot in Genesis where it --says-- a rainbow is God's bow set into the clouds?

Now you're getting into a much more constructive discussion--not whether or not someone has a way of understanding the world, but whose understanding matches up more accurately with the data.

You make an eloquent argument that "faith in reason" is no less dogmatic than faith in god, but I think it's a straw-man. Though it seems fairly widespread, I disagree that "humans need some kind of mythology to understand the world". To me, that sounds like begging the question, as in:
"I can't imagine living without my faith; you must use science in its place. But science can't provide a belief system, so you're just as misguided as me, and arrogant besides!"


Actually, there's a lot of cognition studies to back me up. Humans think in stories. Comes from hunting. A track tells you nothing; put them together into a story, and you can tell where the animal is, its health and condition, etc.

Let me put it this way: I can't imagine how somebody could operate with just a bunch of data points in his head, and no interpretation of what those data points mean. How could such a person even cross the street? He knows there are cars, he knows their velocity and color and mass, but without some interpretive framework to say, "Hey, those will probably kill me," such a person is going to die very rapidly. He knows he's hungry, but he has no way of expanding that into thinking, "I should eat," etc.

Nor have I ever met someone who didn't have some worldview. I've met people whose worldviews easily adapted to changing evidence, and others whose worldviews were rigid and ossified. I've met some with worldviews that I found very compelling, and others which were downright absurd. And I've met representatives of all these camps from among monotheists, polytheists, pantheists and yes, even atheists. None of them have any monopoly on any of them.

(P.S. -- As a rule, I do tend to get along much better with atheists than Christians. I tend to agree with them more often.)
posted by jefgodesky at 8:19 PM on October 23, 2005


Lots of atrocities have been committed in the name of religion, but please, let's not forget about racism and capitalist expansion.
posted by Laugh_track at 8:20 PM on October 23, 2005


I don't personably believe that religion is as bad as any of those (and by the way, I am definitely pro-marijuana!) but the point is that there is no principled reason that I can think of that it would need to be replaced if taken away.

Oops, missed this one. Yes I'm assuming based on history as I imperfectly know it, that many people do apparently 'need religion', although I suppose we may not be referring to exactly the same thing here.

I agree with you on the marijuana btw. Should be legal but right, hard to see why it would have to be replaced with anything. Hardly the same level of human 'need' being served on that one. I think the religion thing goes a whole lot deeper and therefore can't just be simplistically dispensed with.
posted by scheptech at 8:31 PM on October 23, 2005


It's true: the vast, vast majority of Jews, Christians, and Muslims are bloodthirsty madmen, irrational fucking dimwits, and immoral, greedy hypocrites who would rather burn money than give it to the poor and needy.

I'd love to see stats to back that up, Optimus.
posted by kyleg at 8:31 PM on October 23, 2005


"Sanity is an island battered in an ocean of frothing delusion."

I think this bears some repeating.
posted by clevershark at 8:33 PM on October 23, 2005


Optimus Chyme - read the New Testament, yes? That's the bit of the Bible that Christianity's mostly based on. The New Covenant with mankind, and all that. Particularly in the Gospels, you'll find a lot more about the importance of treating your neighbors well and individual faith than you will incitements to bloody war. Sure, fundie churches love to focus on the violent, terrifying, and nonsensical imagery of Revelations or quote obscure Old Testament verses to back up their bigotry, but most Christians are the sort who consider the whole "love thy neighbor" thing to be much closer to the heart of the religion, even if they don't always live up to those ideals. I think you'll see similar patterns in Jews and Muslims.

And "the vast majority of Jews, Muslims, and Christians are bloodthirsty madmen, irrational fucking dimwits, and immoral, greedy hypocrites?!" The vast majority of Jews, Muslims, and Christians are a lot like you and your neighbors. More tolerant than you, I'd hope. They're people. Normal people. Some smart, some dumb, some good, some assholes. Some are the monsters you describe, but most are people just trying to get by and trying to do what they think is right, sometimes failing and sometimes managing to succeed despite themselves. Saints? Not generally, but not devils either. Yeah, I don't think that Jesus would be pleased to see all the blood spilled in the name of Christianity [though then again, I'm not sure he'd be surprised at human nature managing to muck things up so badly], but rabid and nonsensical blanket insults make you look as obnoxious and ill-informed as the worst of the people you're decrying.

Since I'm dumb enough to jump into a shitstorm like this, an aside to the people emphasizing all the wars religion's been involved in: think about all the other wars that religion hasn't really played a role in. Strife, unfortunately, appears to be part of human nature. People can twist almost any decent thing - love for one's family or nation or freedom or what have you - and make it into a reason to fight. Does that make all those things inherently bad? There are good aspects and bad aspects to religion, but to wave around wars that had a religious element and use them as 'proof' that religion is bad is simply stupid.
posted by ubersturm at 8:33 PM on October 23, 2005


Good thing no quasi-pagan nationalists *coughHitlercough* or atheistic ideologues *coughStalincoughMaocoughPolPot* have ever killed millions of people, like those twisted religious types.

Clearly mass murder is unique to religious individuals, and in fact characterizes all such people.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 8:34 PM on October 23, 2005


Yes, let's judge all humanity by the last 100 years and ignore the thousands of years that came before it. Surely that's constructive.
posted by clevershark at 8:38 PM on October 23, 2005


coughtalk is the lowest form of snark.
posted by Citizen Premier at 8:39 PM on October 23, 2005


His point was that mass murder is not limited to fundies and he supported it rather well. Your point was a straw man.
posted by Krrrlson at 8:40 PM on October 23, 2005


jefgodesky: [W]e can only understand data in a narrative.

Quite true and well said.

But as real as the data may be, the narrative is always up for debate. The same data can say any number of things.

The same data can support many things, but the same data won't support everything. That's the nature and utility of data: it limits the range of interpretation.

We can't limit our beliefs only to what we can prove, after all.

No, but we can decide to take as little as possible for granted, or we can decide to believe uncritically in comforting narratives because it feels good to do so. You tell me which sounds like a better way to conduct your affairs. And yes, I said "better" and I realize that involves a value judgment. Making sense of life involves making value judgments, not just throwing up your hands and saying all beliefs are equally valid.

Everything beyond that is mythology--and we all have one.

If your mythology (as you call it) accounts for more of the know facts, it's a better basis for action than one that ignores them or involves twisted interpretive schemes to whisk away obvious problems.

For example, the myth that all religious people are insane. You can't prove that.

Actually, it is a testable hypothesis (unlike "all thought is mythology"). It happens to also be obviously wrong, but that's another issue.

You can't prove your mythology is any better.

You can if you adopt a pragmatic definition of "better." If you want to define things as better in some abstract, a-cultural way, then you're right. But that sort of definition is a waste of time.
posted by wheat at 8:46 PM on October 23, 2005


I said that everyone has some kind of mythology. But everyone--including atheists and agnostics--believes that they're the only people who don't. It's called ethnocentrism. It's universally found, and universally false.

True, no one thinks they speak english with an accent, we all speak normally and everyone else sounds funny, right? There are people in the world who believe, and will argue angrily, that they are not possessed of an accent.

Similarly there are those who believe only other people are possessed of a 'world view' or even 'culture' which mediates how they think and see, whereas they themselves are free of any such bias, unencumbered by such things.
posted by scheptech at 8:52 PM on October 23, 2005


Yes, let's judge all humanity by the last 100 years and ignore the thousands of years that came before it. Surely that's constructive.

But it's much harder to pinpoint atheists' crimes if they took place before atheism was tolerated or accepted. If they were in a cultural framework where a religion was almost standard issue, they may not use the religion at all when dictating their mad schemes, even if they appear as a Christian or whatever.

Listen, when I think that Belief in science is a myth, I don't mean to say that it's not true, I just think of Myth like C.S. Lewis thought of myth: as a unified belief structure that may or may not be true, an elemental explanation for our human condition and the world around us. Indeed, Lewis thought the difference between Christianity and other myths was that Christianity was real and True at the same time. But even if we disagree with that point, we can see certain unified ideas as Myth.

I believe in science, as in I believe that there is something called progress that humans push towards, never completely grasping, but expanding the boundries of. I believe in Equality, that even if every bit of evidence proclaimed that humans, or each race, or each gender, or whatever were not equal, I would still believe in it, I would still act as though it was true. I believe in God, as I think there is a creative omnipotent universal intelligent force that knows us in a personal way. Even if it wasn't true, I still would believe. Yes, Myths are not fact, not because they deliberately counter reality, but because they see reality as ultimately irrelevant.

Am I worse for believing in the above? If I believe in happy endings even when they don't always happen, or Santa Claus even if he's some guy in a suit? I think I can manage my mind's dichotomy. I think I can believe and still live a good and just life.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 8:52 PM on October 23, 2005


wheat and Lord Chancellor: I couldn't agree more. Mine is not a relativistic point that all mythologies are created equal, but rather, an attack on the false notion everyone has, "My worldview is unvarnished truth; yours is just silly superstition!" We recognize the attitude easily in others, but we refuse to see it in ourselves.
posted by jefgodesky at 8:55 PM on October 23, 2005


count me as another atheist who, albeit being mighty tired of religion (especially the fundamentalist branches), thinks that blog post is deeply ignorant, and not even particularly entertaining as a pure rant.

but the irony of the google ads in the sidebar made going to the link almost worthwhile. it's just good that i am so easily amused.
posted by piranha at 8:59 PM on October 23, 2005


Civil authorities are allowed to bear the sword, so to speak. It's in the New Testament.

Dispense with the euphemisms and call it by its true name - murder. Are you honestly saying that some throw-away bit in the NT completely undermines and denies one of the Commandents? Do you honestly believe that state-sanctioned murder is moral?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:59 PM on October 23, 2005


Pretty_Generic your faith in logic belies which mythology which you subscribe to. Your statement [1)] sounds just as ridiculous to a person with spiritual beliefs as [1)]Quarks almost certainly do not exist. Now, wait a second, what the hell do quarks have to do with God - people kill other people over their belief in God, not quarks. Neither quarks nor God can be proved to be certainly present anywhere, there can only be faith that either exist. Look at Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle which basically, very basically, states that with anything, we can only measure roughly and imprecisely. Newton was also aware of this in his creation of calculus as a mathematically attempt to compute area under a curve.

This blind faith in science and it's mythology of precision and logic is still a kind of faith. For do we not believe in our own reasoning? Do we not have confidence in our ability to think? What is that but a sort of faith? Had we not worshipped people, sentiment, money and ourselves? or worshippfully beheld the sunset, the sea, or a flower? Who has not loved something or someone? How much do these feelings, these loves, these worships have to do with pure reason? Little or nothing. These are the very things out of which the tissues of our lives are created. These feelings determine the course of our existence.

Imagine Life without Faith! Were nothing left but pure reason, it wouldn't be life. But we believe in life- just as surely as we cry when our first puppy/kitten/goldfish dies, or favorite aunt/uncle/grandparent does the same. You can not prove that there is life in teh same sense that you can prove a straight line is the shortest distance between two points on the same plane.

Reason isn't everything. Neither is it entirely dependable. What about those people who proved that man could not fly?

Faith in some kind of God is a part of our make-up, just as much as the feeling we have for a friend. Sometimes we have to search fearlessly, but He is there. He is just as much as fact as we are. This may be obscured by calamity, by pomp, by worship of other things, but in some form or another it is there.

Who are you to say that there is no God? Who are you to say that there is no Neutron Bomb? Both are things with much more power than you. Belief in God, or Pursuit of Science is not about making yourself happy. Happiness is merely another emotion within a vast palette of emotions which we use to cypher our experiences. Belief in God, or Pusuit of Science is about serving a Higher Purpose. Through this Higher Purpose we are useful and helpful to others, through being useful and helpful to others, our needs are provided us. There is no higher purpose.

Belief in God is not a Christian/Jew/Moslem thing. Belief in God is a spiritual practice where one realizes that they are not the center of the universe, unlike pre-Copernicum science. Have people in power or people lust for power used religion to mislead? Yes. Does religion always signify there is belief in God? No.

I think that the FPP was probaly right in that we should get rid of religion. And what do we replace it with? A belief that in God as a Higher Power which is within quarks and neutrinos, and electrons and protons, atoms, molecules, moles, chemical compounds, aminino acids. complex carbohydrates, plants, rocks, fish, amphibians, boulders, lizards, birds, monkeys, mountains, humans, aliens, molehills, planets, suns, stars, quasars, neubulae, galaxies, the universe and whatever could possibly be beyond that and actually embody infinitity. Infinity. Jesus man, that's a really, really big number. Can you count that high? How do you know that you can't? Have you tried?

Bathwater, bye bye. Baby stays here within the intangibles of my heart.
posted by N8k99 at 9:00 PM on October 23, 2005


Ontological Arguments for and against the existence of god
posted by kuatto at 9:01 PM on October 23, 2005


Jesus man, that's a really, really big number. Can you count that high? How do you know that you can't? Have you tried?

Put down the bong.
posted by darukaru at 9:04 PM on October 23, 2005


Good Lord. First off, lame-ass rant. Didn't we all write a rant pretty much exactly like this when we were fourteen? So a big yawn from me on that one.

jefgodesky: I don't know what your problem is with people questioning the historicity of Jesus. I went to a very well respected Divinity School, and every blessed one of the biblical scholars I met admitted very frankly that there was no solid historical evidence that Jesus existed. Stop using "no one who knows anything thinks that" as some kind of proof. Okay?

And I've never met a new testament scholar who thought Jesus was a peasant.
posted by Hildegarde at 9:05 PM on October 23, 2005


Oops, missed this one. Yes I'm assuming based on history as I imperfectly know it, that many people do apparently 'need religion', although I suppose we may not be referring to exactly the same thing here.

Ok, well obviously some people disagree.

I agree with you on the marijuana btw. Should be legal but right, hard to see why it would have to be replaced with anything.

That was my point. You don't think Marijuana needs to be replaced if it were removed (nether do I). But I also don't think that religion would necessarily need to be replaced with anything. Is religion a means to an end, or is it an end in and of itself? That's the question. If we need religion for in order to do X, then what is X? Why is it so important that we must keep religion around? Perhaps if you defined what X was, we might be able to get somewhere in determining what we might need to 'replace' religion such that we still have X.

By not defining X, you make your question about replacing religion impossible to answer in the first place.

Good thing no quasi-pagan nationalists *coughHitlercough*

Since when is paganism not a religion?

There are people in the world who believe, and will argue angrily, that they are not possessed of an accent.

I've never seen any evidence of such people.
posted by delmoi at 9:05 PM on October 23, 2005


I think that the FPP was probaly right in that we should get rid of religion. And what do we replace it with? -- n8k99.

We've been over this...
posted by delmoi at 9:08 PM on October 23, 2005


Good thing no quasi-pagan nationalists *coughHitlercough*

Since when is paganism not a religion?


I think the point being his quasi-pagan qualities really didn't contribute to his world view. That if he was an athiest, the results would have pretty much been the same.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 9:08 PM on October 23, 2005


We need to fit those facts into a story, and that story is the mythology.

Oh, do we? I don't need a story. I don't need a "Why?" Reason is pretty good at getting me my "How?" fix, and that's good enough for me. Maybe some scared, lonely souls need purpose in this life, but some of us don't care for questions that have no answers.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:14 PM on October 23, 2005


Well, there's nothing at all wrong with being a scared, lonely soul. I would say that give I can fix it with answers (made-up they may sometimes be), I'm doing just fine and have nothing to desire from your world view.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 9:15 PM on October 23, 2005


I think the point being his quasi-pagan qualities really didn't contribute to his world view. That if he was an atheist, the results would have pretty much been the same.

Okay...
posted by delmoi at 9:16 PM on October 23, 2005


jefgodesky: I don't know what your problem is with people questioning the historicity of Jesus. I went to a very well respected Divinity School, and every blessed one of the biblical scholars I met admitted very frankly that there was no solid historical evidence that Jesus existed. Stop using "no one who knows anything thinks that" as some kind of proof. Okay?

Only because I'm tired of having the argument, but basically, you're right. There's no solid proof he was historical--but neither is there proof for Julius Caesar or Alexander the Great. In fact, the evidence for the existence of Jesus is better than the evidence for Alexander. Rather than hijack this thread, I'd direct you here, where I've already made a sufficient response to this issue, unless you'd like to add any further evidence for the "Jesus Myth" theory.

And I've never met a new testament scholar who thought Jesus was a peasant.

That only proves that you need to spend more time researching the history of the matter, because the fact that Jesus was a peasant is one of the very few things about him that isn't contested. See Crossan, Meier, or anything written on the historical Jesus in the past century.

Oh, do we? I don't need a story. I don't need a "Why?" Reason is pretty good at getting me my "How?" fix, and that's good enough for me. Maybe some scared, lonely souls need purpose in this life, but some of us don't care for questions that have no answers.

So, why did you just make up a story, then? Your story is: "I understand the world through Reason alone. Reason is sufficient to understand the world. Only scared, lonely souls need such stories." That's a story. Nothing in there is falsifiable, nothing in there can be measured or proven.

You just invented a story to prove you don't need stories. :)
posted by jefgodesky at 9:17 PM on October 23, 2005


Well, there's nothing at all wrong with being a scared, lonely soul. I would say that give I can fix it with answers (made-up they may sometimes be), I'm doing just fine and have nothing to desire from your world view.

Well, good for you I suppose. But I would rather be scared and lonely then lie to myself.
posted by delmoi at 9:18 PM on October 23, 2005


Well, good for you I suppose. But I would rather be scared and lonely then lie to myself.

You say that like there's something wrong with it.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 9:19 PM on October 23, 2005


So, why did you just make up a story, then? Your story is: "I understand the world through Reason alone. Reason is sufficient to understand the world. Only scared, lonely souls need such stories." That's a story. Nothing in there is falsifiable, nothing in there can be measured or proven.

Or maybe he just needed a story to explain it to you?
posted by delmoi at 9:22 PM on October 23, 2005


I've never seen any evidence of such people.

I've run into a couple of 'em, bizarre really. Anyhow it's an analogy illustrating the larger point about ethnocentrism. I'll refer to my own family, earlier generations were pretty darn enthnocentric and I am insufficiently egocentric to think I'm not also ethnocentric. They'd see something like miso and say oh, that's their "soup"... And I'd say sure and chicken noodle is your "soup"... get it? No.

Anyhow, is jefgodesky's point being addressed? Why do atheists not see their own ethnocentrism? (I know I'm generalizing) Because the very idea of science is to eliminate bias. Point being: this is a laudable but ultimately unattainable goal, super-human as it were. No one but no one can claim to be free of the bias of their own world view or culture. And sure, this goes seriously against the grain of those who believe they believe in 'truth' as revealed by science and or logic.
posted by scheptech at 9:23 PM on October 23, 2005


You say that like there's something wrong with it.

You're reading too much into it, then.
posted by delmoi at 9:23 PM on October 23, 2005


all i can say is thank fuck for at least one more sane and coherant voice in a country full of nut cases.

north americans i swear continue to get scarier by the day. even the airline pilots here are turning out to be friggin' jesus freaks.
posted by rodney stewart at 9:24 PM on October 23, 2005


Or maybe he just needed a story to explain it to you?

If he can't express it to me without a story, how does he express it to himself? "Reason is sufficient to understand the world" seems like an atomic part of his argument, though, and that's undeniably a story.

Here's a story: Long ago, life began in a pool of primordial goo, and since then, it has constantly progressed towards greater and greater complexity. We're the result of that, and we've added another realm by which we can pursue that progress: we've developed Reason, and with that, we can use Science to make ourselves and the world better.

Here's the story I believe: Long ago, life began in a pool of primordial goo, and since then, it's become increasingly diverse. If the universe has any goal at all, it must be to become more diverse. Humans are another kind of diversity, and a really awesome kind, at that. We're not good or evil, but we are inextricably a part of this world.

Both stories. Both complete mythology, unprovable, unfalsifiable. Tell me, how many of you believe the first story? Am I "lying to myself" with the second?
posted by jefgodesky at 9:25 PM on October 23, 2005


You say that like there's something wrong with it.

You're reading too much into it, then.


Well, I suppose everyone is happy then. You have your lack of belief and I have my belief. Both of us will continue to make decisions no matter what anyone says. You probably won't be too sucessful in making me feel differently about myself, and I'm really not sure if I could say anything to you to make you think differently.

Which is the entire point of the silliness of this thread. In the end, I guess you'll feel better about being vocal on your opinions and I'll feel the same for my beliefs, but nothing will come of it.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 9:26 PM on October 23, 2005


all i can say is thank fuck for at least one more sane and coherant voice in a country full of nut cases.

Are you saying that these "morans" should, in your opinion, "get a brain?"
posted by Krrrlson at 9:27 PM on October 23, 2005


You just invented a story to prove you don't need stories.

Not at alll. I said I need no story. Reason gives me my how fix, not my why fix, which I have no need of. To play your tautological game of Wissenschaftslehre, "I like language but I don't read."
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:29 PM on October 23, 2005


Anyhow, is jefgodesky's point being addressed? Why do atheists not see their own ethnocentrism? (I know I'm generalizing) Because the very idea of science is to eliminate bias. Point being: this is a laudable but ultimately unattainable goal, super-human as it were. No one but no one can claim to be free of the bias of their own world view or culture. And sure, this goes seriously against the grain of those who believe they believe in 'truth' as revealed by science and or logic.


Who said anything about biases? Anyway, I think you're missing the difference between belief in reasoning and innate reasoning. If I drop stuff and every time it falls to the ground, I will believe in gravity. Similarly, one might begin to believe in logic and reasoning and science because they see it's successes with their own eyes.

To claim that reason itself requires belief in reason is like saying vision requires belief in vision, and therefore every person with sight is religious.

Yes, I believe irrationally that I can see, and I believe irrationally that I can hear and touch and taste and think. If that makes me religious, then I suppose I am religious. Congratulations, you've won the argument.
posted by delmoi at 9:34 PM on October 23, 2005


Not at alll. I said I need no story. Reason gives me my how fix, not my why fix, which I have no need of.

So, if I invent a story about me not needing stories, then obviously, I need no stories. I just said so, didn't I?

This isn't a tautological game, except insofar as humans are incapable of thinking without some kind of narrative. You don't even have how without a story, much less why. Without a story, you have a hammer, a velocity, and an impact. Saying that you hit your thumb with a hammer by accident is a story.

"Chimpanzees share 98% of their genome with human beings" is a data point. Concluding from that how humans and chimps evolved from a common ancestor is a story that makes sense of data points like that.
posted by jefgodesky at 9:34 PM on October 23, 2005


You probably won't be too sucessful in making me feel differently about myself, and I'm really not sure if I could say anything to you to make you think differently.

What makes you think I was trying to do that? I think you may have confused me with some of the other posters.
posted by delmoi at 9:36 PM on October 23, 2005


(someone whose name I didn't catch): Civil authorities are allowed to bear the sword, so to speak. It's in the New Testament.

Civil authorities like Herod and Pilate? Turn in your debate badge!

schleptech: This is the King James version of the statement. Later translations of the hebrew such as the NIV have it as "You shall not murder".

Ah, thanks for the update. (checking off my list) That's one less thing I have to respect about Christianity, thanks a heap! For once you start distiguishing between "kill" and "murder," well, then you can justify killing anyone by merely redefining the word "murder," which is on a lot less firm ground as "kill."

j(something-or-other): I never lumped them together, others did.

Pardon me, but it certainly looked to me like you did the lumping.

You mean like the pursuit of the Enlightenment's project of the ennoblement of humanity by Reason?

At least they made up their own potential delusion! And reason, at least, is a tool against dogma, rather than a dogma itself, sport. This is reason with a lowercase "err." Beware the stealth capital!

And even then, you yourself called it a PROJECT, and a project indicates something one would like to happen rather than something that is now and forever true. Whee.

As human beings, they are most definitely religious. All humans are. That, too, is universal. Even if that religion is simply the mythology of, "Reason is sufficient to understand the universe." That is, itself, an unfalsifiable statement--a statement of faith, if you will.

No, I say you are incorrect on this one. I hearby deny your statement and call upon you to prove it. Many people who attempt to find rational explanations for things will still tell you that you won't find one for everything.

Neither does shamanism, or animism, or Gnostic Christianity ... are they not religions, either?

The rant named three specific religions. Yours are not on the list, pal, and cause a lot less trouble than the big three (of course, those are GM, Ford and Chevrolet).

If a religion is, "something that has a dogma," then we're going to cut the number of religions in half, at least. And if it's whether or not it is invoked in the killing of people, we'll need to add to the list capitalism, Communism, democracy, freedom, king, country, et cetera ad infinitum.

There is actually not an infinite number of these things. Just more than there should be. And I'm unsure of your point anyway, as I never said that religion NECESSARILY means killing people, or that killing people implies religiousness. I mean, really.

Then your beef is not with religion, but dogmatism.

Dogmatism is an element in all three religions named by the article. Shamanism, who knows, is cool if they no kill me. I no like with the killing me. I get the feeling that the guy who ranted was rating against that, seemed pretty obvious in fact. In fact, arbitrary explanations for the world I'm not too fond of either. If you're gonna say something that might be wrong, you need to admit that. If you can, then your particular religion is hunky-dory with me. (A lot more, in fact, than the kinds of people who say "hunky-dory.")

But, and let me be clear about this, the moment you bring in some fairy crap and say they they cause the rain, I will so wail on your ass.

Just to summarize and be perfectly clear: the problematic aspect of religion is saying something and demanding that it's true, regardless. I think it's actually hard to have a religion that doesn't do that to some degree, but it's certainly possible to be more low-key about it than the C, the I and the J.

It would seem that I'm the one asking people to doubt themselves and how sure they are of their own beliefs here.

Er, when did we say we were talking about anyone involved in this discussion? Oy.

But if you were saying that, then you weren't doing a good job of it but was doing some implying it crap, whereas I actually said it, so *I* get to wear the happy cap.

Actually, there's a lot of cognition studies to back me up. Humans think in stories.

Oh, it's so clear now! You've shown me the light! Humans think... in stories! Stories == narrative == mythology == magic sky father! How could I have ever doubted that we needed specific, arbitrary, goofy-ass explanations for all kinds of phenomina in this world we live in! The Whore of Babylon. The Beast in the Pit. Angels. Jinn. The lot. C'mon in guys!

(In case you haven't guessed, I'm getting kinda tired of the endless back-and-forth. But then, I kinda asked for it. -groan-)

Artiface_Eternity: Good thing no quasi-pagan nationalists *coughHitlercough* or atheistic ideologues *coughStalincoughMaocoughPolPot* have ever killed millions of people, like those twisted religious types.

#1: Quasi-pagan nationalists known by me in this age: none.
#2: Atheistic ideologues known by me in this age, rather less than I would have thought. I'll be sure to keep a careful watch on Ralph Nader.

But you neglected to say, purely accidently I'm sure, that Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot didn't take up the Big Book of Atheism and read therein "Go bring me back a mess of dead heretics!" They may have read Marx, true, or one or two other works, but those are not an intrinsic part of atheism now, are they? Atheism, which is defined in the lack of belief in something more than the belief?

Clearly mass murder is unique to religious individuals, and in fact characterizes all such people.

And of course you're speaking with complete intellectual honesty when you refer to the rant's statements as being th--

Wait a moment, no you're not! Jerk!

ubersturm:
Ah-ha! I like your approach. There certainly ARE nice, non-obnoxious religious types in the world.
posted by JHarris at 9:37 PM on October 23, 2005


To claim that reason itself requires belief in reason is like saying vision requires belief in vision, and therefore every person with sight is religious.

The perception of vision is a data point. Here's two stories that make sense of that data:

1.) My eyes are taking in light waves, and transmitting that stimulus to the brain. My brain is thus able to percieve an accurate impression of a world that exists outside of myself.

2.) There is no world outside of myself, and what I percieve as "vision" is simply the manipulation of my brain, sitting in a jar, in a mad scientist's laboratory.

Both stories. Both unprovable. We go with #1 because it's more useful. Even if #2 is true, where does that get us? We're still stuck in a world that appears to operate by given rules, so even if it's false, understanding those rules has value...

But then, you were the one saying we should only believe what is true, without regard to what is convenient.
posted by jefgodesky at 9:39 PM on October 23, 2005


I think you may have confused me with some of the other posters.

No, I was only remarking from your statement about preferring to be scared, lonely, and right. I mean, to any extent we're all posting on here to be heard, our opinions to be considered. I'm sorry if I incorrectly assumed, though.

I only mean, this isn't about winning. This is just about why we do all this quirky belief stuff. I know why you do, and I suppose you know why I do. I didn't mean to preach to someone who knows the sermon.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 9:40 PM on October 23, 2005


But then, you were the one saying we should only believe what is true, without regard to what is convenient.

No, that was NOT me.
posted by delmoi at 9:42 PM on October 23, 2005


I can't imagine how somebody could operate with just a bunch of data points in his head, and no interpretation of what those data points mean. How could such a person even cross the street? He knows there are cars, he knows their velocity and color and mass, but without some interpretive framework to say, "Hey, those will probably kill me," such a person is going to die very rapidly. He knows he's hungry, but he has no way of expanding that into thinking, "I should eat," etc.

but that raises an interesting question ... do animals make stories to survive? ... or are they relying on instinct ... or hard wired stories for their survival?

in fact, how do we really know that the stories we "make up" aren't actually hard-wired and we just fool ourselves into thinking we've created them to make ourselves feel more powerful?

but of course, such questions aren't answerable
posted by pyramid termite at 9:44 PM on October 23, 2005


No, I was only remarking from your statement about preferring to be scared, lonely, and right.

I was only talking about myself with that statement. That's why I used the word "I". What reason is there for an Atheist to care about what other people believe? Unless those beliefs impact their health or well-being, of course.
posted by delmoi at 9:46 PM on October 23, 2005


Can somebody answer this question for me - why are religious Americans so afraid of Agnostics and Athiests, to the point where we're their least favorite minority? Why are religious people so afraid of us having power? Do they assume that we're immoral just because we don't have religion?

I would really like to get to the bottom of this. Maybe you guys can help?
posted by afroblanca at 9:48 PM on October 23, 2005


Put down the bong.

This is exactly my point in this thread. You just made up a story to explain 'why' I wrote what I did, and perhaps even 'how'.
posted by N8k99 at 9:51 PM on October 23, 2005


The perception of vision is a data point. Here's two stories that make sense of that data:

1.) My eyes are taking in light waves, and transmitting that stimulus to the brain. My brain is thus able to percieve an accurate impression of a world that exists outside of myself.

2.) There is no world outside of myself, and what I percieve as "vision" is simply the manipulation of my brain, sitting in a jar, in a mad scientist's laboratory.

Both stories. Both unprovable.


You can't prove anything about the real world, you can only gather evidence. There is no evidence of #2. With regards to #1, you can find a lot of evidence that other people and animals operate that way (with the light hitting the eyes) and infer that you work the same way yourself. That isn't even really a really well thought out example of anything, to be honest.

And now I'm going to bed.
posted by delmoi at 9:54 PM on October 23, 2005


Pardon me, but it certainly looked to me like you did the lumping.

No, I was quite careful to distinguish between science on the one hand, and the Enlightenment, humanism, positivism, and similar beliefs on the other.

At least they made up their own potential delusion! And reason, at least, is a tool against dogma, rather than a dogma itself, sport. This is reason with a lowercase "err." Beware the stealth capital!

In other words, it is a story you agree with. Does that make it any less a story?

And even then, you yourself called it a PROJECT, and a project indicates something one would like to happen rather than something that is now and forever true. Whee.

The ennoblement of humanity through Reason is the Englightenment project. It is something that, in the Enlightenment's story, is indeed ongoing--something they would like to happen, rather than something that is now and forever true, yes. The story is the framework that makes such a project sensical: the framework that Reason is man's defining characteristic, that Reason is sufficient to understand the world, and that Reason is capable of such ennoblement.

Many people who attempt to find rational explanations for things will still tell you that you won't find one for everything.

Absolutely. But faith abides that a rational explanation exists. That we haven't found it yet does not shake that faith, just as a Christian's faith is not shaken every day that Jesus does not return.

The rant named three specific religions. Yours are not on the list, pal, and cause a lot less trouble than the big three (of course, those are GM, Ford and Chevrolet).

True, but the comments have certainly widened the scope of debate. We have here indicted religion itself, not these specific religions.

There is actually not an infinite number of these things. Just more than there should be. And I'm unsure of your point anyway, as I never said that religion NECESSARILY means killing people, or that killing people implies religiousness. I mean, really.

The comment I replied to said, and I quote:

Humanists are closer, it is true, but it is worth nothing that there is no bible of humanism, it has no real dogma other than "people are great," and that people are not killed in its name.

I parse this to read that the defining characteristics of religion are (1) having a "real dogma" and (2) people being killed in its name. Humanism meets neither requirement, and so, is not a religion. If these are not your defining criteria, what relevance do they have to whether or not humanism is a religion?

I argue both points as defining religion. #1 applies only to some religions and not others, while #2 is true of many things that are not religion. (Come to think of it, so is #1...)

So, if you did not mean to say that a religion must, necessarily, kill people in its name, why did you raise that point in arguing that humanism is not a religion? If there are religions that don't kill in its name, then how does showing humanism to not kill in its name prove it to not be a religion?

I get the feeling that the guy who ranted was rating against that, seemed pretty obvious in fact. In fact, arbitrary explanations for the world I'm not too fond of either. If you're gonna say something that might be wrong, you need to admit that. If you can, then your particular religion is hunky-dory with me. (A lot more, in fact, than the kinds of people who say "hunky-dory.")

Then we should be in absolute agreement, then.

Save for the fact that the author of the rant in question seems to be more of the religious type you don't like. Or is it only when the religion wants to kill you, specifically, that you object? If this is laying the philosophical groundwork to justify atheist crusades against the believing infidels, is that OK? Or, his apparent unwillingness to accept the possibility of his own error?

But, and let me be clear about this, the moment you bring in some fairy crap and say they they cause the rain, I will so wail on your ass.

Why? Because under your story, that isn't acceptable? It seems you're trying to do precisely what so irritates you about others--trying to enforce your story on them.

Just to summarize and be perfectly clear: the problematic aspect of religion is saying something and demanding that it's true, regardless. I think it's actually hard to have a religion that doesn't do that to some degree, but it's certainly possible to be more low-key about it than the C, the I and the J.

Probably what impresses me most about shamanism is its ability to accept mutually exclusive statements as simultaenously "absolute truth." I still have a hard time wrapping my brain around that, but I think the problem you're expressing with religion here stems from the fact that we forgot the simultaneous part, and only kept the absolute part.

Oh, it's so clear now! You've shown me the light! Humans think... in stories! Stories == narrative == mythology == magic sky father! How could I have ever doubted that we needed specific, arbitrary, goofy-ass explanations for all kinds of phenomina in this world we live in! The Whore of Babylon. The Beast in the Pit. Angels. Jinn. The lot. C'mon in guys!

Not every story needs to inclue such a colorful cast of characters. If I tell you how I went to the grocery store this afternoon, that's still a story--no magic sky father, goofy-ass explanations, whores, Babylons, beasts, pits, angels or jinn required.

(In case you haven't guessed, I'm getting kinda tired of the endless back-and-forth. But then, I kinda asked for it. -groan-)

You did at that.
posted by jefgodesky at 9:55 PM on October 23, 2005



Can somebody answer this question for me - why are religious Americans so afraid of Agnostics and Athiests, to the point where we're their least favorite minority? Why are religious people so afraid of us having power? Do they assume that we're immoral just because we don't have religion?


I've never heard of anyone being afraid of athiests. Maybe I just don't get around enough.
posted by delmoi at 9:56 PM on October 23, 2005


afroblanca, i'm not afraid ... but frothing rants like the article this fpp linked to aren't exactly going to reassure anyone

many americans are afraid of anyone who's different from them ... i think that has more to do with it than anything else ... perhaps that's human nature, but there does seem to be something about our culture that makes it come out in some rather twisted paranoid ways
posted by pyramid termite at 9:56 PM on October 23, 2005


No, that was NOT me.

Hmmm, looks like you're right. My apologies, I must've gotten confused. Obviously, this thread has become too long, and the hour too late. I apologize.
posted by jefgodesky at 9:58 PM on October 23, 2005


There is no evidence of #2. With regards to #1, you can find a lot of evidence that other people and animals operate that way (with the light hitting the eyes) and infer that you work the same way yourself. That isn't even really a really well thought out example of anything, to be honest.

But if we're operating under story #2 (classic brain in a jar), then you're not gathering any evidence of anything except your own electrode-induced hallucinations. You have begged the question; your evidence for story #1 presupposes that story #1 is, in fact, true.

And now I'm going to bed.

That's a very good idea. I'm going to go to bed as well. Night night everyone! I hardly expect anyone to really be rocked from their beliefs, but if I succeeded in getting anyone, atheist or Bible-beater, to take a moment to question their own egocentric view of the world, then I'll take that as an indication that I done good. And if not, well, I've spent evenings in more painful ways.
posted by jefgodesky at 10:03 PM on October 23, 2005


It's true: the vast, vast majority of Jews, Christians, and Muslims are bloodthirsty madmen, irrational fucking dimwits, and immoral, greedy hypocrites who would rather burn money than give it to the poor and needy.

I'd love to see stats to back that up, Optimus.
posted by kyleg at 8:31 PM PST on October 23


See jeffgodesky's "only because it's a representative sample of humanity in general" supra.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:04 PM on October 23, 2005


I've never heard of anyone being afraid of athiests. Maybe I just don't get around enough.
posted by delmoi at 9:56 PM PST on October 23


It's not fear, it's hate.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:07 PM on October 23, 2005


In case anyone was looking for reasons why all of humanity should be exterminated or, failing that, merely enslaved in a vast industrial-brutalist complex -- this thread provides all the reasons you'll require.
posted by aramaic at 10:10 PM on October 23, 2005


Who said anything about biases?

Religionists are commonly accused of bias, and including in this thread, of not thinking for themselves. They have a stated, well known world view which may be easily attacked as ethnocentric which results in them biasing information, of distorting data, resulting in misunderstanding leading to apparently, homicidal mania.

An offered response is: even scientists (yes we're conflating scientists, atheists, agnostics) have a world view which 'distorts' or biases their processing of information and pre-conditions them to believe their own version like everyone, of reality, a notion they are no more fond of than anyone else.

So, an equivalence of sorts is (allegedly) established between religious belief and any other system of thought such as well, science for lack of a more precise term.

Interesting, thanks folks. Now, who's repsonsible for the invention of nuclear weapons? Science, religion or perhaps an unholy alliance...
posted by scheptech at 10:12 PM on October 23, 2005


the smell of fear.

I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.
-- George Herbert Walker Bush, President of the United States, Press Conference at Chicago's O'Hare National Airport, August 27, 1987

posted by rodney stewart at 10:19 PM on October 23, 2005


jefgodesky: You're being entirely too relativistic about this whole mess. Yes, humans all have to function without proof of certain things, that's a given. People make up a certain view of the world and act according to it, this is true but it's so true that it's useless. You say :"and lots of religious beliefs that aren't supernatural". I'm not so sure about this.

Certainly most religions contain non-supernatural beliefs; murdering is bad, adultery is bad, resting a certain day of the week is good, drinking alcohol is bad. If all a person believed was these things that person wouldn't be religious. It's the cause of these beliefs that makes one religious, the veracity of these beliefs is predicated on revalation from a superhuman figure, that is supernatural.

My problem then is not with religion itself but belief in the supernatural. My problem with the supernatural is that it's not there. I can agree with some of the values that religious people hold, but I find the mechanism that they attribute those beliefs to absurd. If there is anything good there I think I still need to do the work myself as to determining why its good. Science is different than religion because we don't accept that force is the product of mass and acceleration because Newton claimed that an apple grew wings and whispered it into his ear.
posted by I Foody at 10:33 PM on October 23, 2005


I've never heard of anyone being afraid of athiests.

Good writeup on a well-publicized Gallup poll about Americans' willingness to support various minorities for political office

Only 49% of Americans would support an Atheist candidate, the lowest for any minority.

What are they so afraid of? From my perspective, the end-of-the-world scenario espoused by fundamentalist Christians is far scarier than anything we Atheists or Agnostics could dream up.
posted by afroblanca at 10:42 PM on October 23, 2005


jefgodesky, there are literally mountains of historical evidence that support the historical existence of Alexander the Great. You can continue to claim otherwise, but you're lying yourself. The scant--really essentially zero--historical evidence of Jesus is a fact that's acknowledged by all reasonable people. This isn't something up for debate; an enormous amount of time and effort has been put into finding concrete evidence and to this day there's nothing there. One day, you'll get tired of lying to yourself and see this--until then, persist in your delusions.

This is the key point, perhaps. You and others in this thread are desperate to cast the Enlightenment, science, and reason in the same bin as religion but it doesn't fit. Religion is a myth. It's truth-value is zero. Science and reason, for all their flaws and biases blah blah blah, present an accurate, consistent, and concrete model of the world. The truth-value of scientific models is greater than zero. This is the fact that you can't escape. And it is this difference, which is a difference of such great degree so as to be a difference of kind, means that science and religion will never be comparable.

The blog rant is interesting only because it raises the obvious point that religions are factually untrue. They are myths. One might even call them lies. Yet somehow it's become quite "normal" for a great many people to behave as if these untrue stories really happened. This is the problem--the blatant disregard for the truth--not religion per se.
posted by nixerman at 10:43 PM on October 23, 2005


Ah, but nixerman, how do you know those stories of Alexander are true? How do you know that what you're saying is true? How do you even know what know is?

Uselessly pedantic epistemological debates discussions remind me why I'm no longer dating my first girlfriend. They. Go. Nowhere.

But how do you know what nowhere is? And what is nowhere? Why do you think in terms of beginning and end when it's all just a story in your mind? Blah blah fucking blah...
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:00 PM on October 23, 2005


Science and reason, for all their flaws and biases blah blah blah, present an accurate, consistent, and concrete model of the world.

More important is the method at which the model is constructed, not necessarily the truth of the model. The scientific method is humble. It does not say, "this is how the world operates," but merely "this is how we think it works given the evidence thus far, but we could be wrong." Religion is the height of man's arrogance in contrast. The insolance required is confounding: to even dare write words in the name of some god, and to top it off, they forge his name to their canon.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:12 PM on October 23, 2005


This blind faith in science and it's mythology of precision and logic is still a kind of faith.

faith in science at least has a justification: the application of science has predictable and reproducible results; the exercise of religion, like it's beliefs, is entirely arbitrary. it's self-defense mechanism is based on the fact that delusion is immune to those appeals of reason that don't accept the delusion as fact, and even conveniently immunizes itself against those that do. what bothers me more is the mechanism that puts the burden on the nonbeliever to give some educated justification for the lack of belief.

i once thought that personal spirituality was separate from religion and thus required some degree of respect. this belief disappeared the more i understood the willingness of the otherwise passive believer to give proxy to all manner of religious leadership to influence how the rest of us live our lives--particularly given that its action rarely reflects core spiritual beliefs as much as desire to attain or maintain power itself. the claim that the expression of such belief should be given some sacred status protecting it from criticism is self-serving and dishonest.

so say what you want about the author of the piece, but to my mind he is basically correct, and the obvious frustration that mars his delivery is not at all unfounded.
posted by troybob at 1:15 AM on October 24, 2005


Hey, I know, let's just not post anything else about or related to politics or religion. Ever. Nothing is resolved.
posted by deusdiabolus at 1:17 AM on October 24, 2005


""What's up with WOMEN? Listen, learn to pee with the seat up and THEN i'll stop ridiculing you. BOOYEAH! UNGH!""

Actually, his argument was more along the lines of "stop pissing on the seat we all use and maybe I won't insult you."

For those of you who do believe strongly in God, I have a question...

Which faith is God's faith? Is it the one where you'll go to heaven when you die, the one where you'll go to hell and somebody else will go to heaven, or the one where you don't really go much of anywhere, whether you wanted to or not? Are you still a good Christian if the Mormons or the Catholics or somebody else is right and you're wrong?

Is picking the right religion like winning at roulette or something? Should I make a list and use 2d10, so at least I have a chance of being right, or should I just try to be a good person and take my chances?

Seriously. I'd like some answers here. I'll let you sort this rather basic question out amongst yourselves though. Let me know when you've achieved a unanimous consensus.
posted by insomnia_lj at 2:04 AM on October 24, 2005


His premise is just silly. If religion is the cause of violence, then the most peaceful countries in history should have been the Soviet Union and Mao's China.

Cenk Uygur is the Pat Robertson of atheism. He foams at the mouth for a bit, and the people who already agree with him stand up and clap their hands. I'm not impressed.
posted by Jatayu das at 4:15 AM on October 24, 2005


The problem with jefgodesky's interpretation = narrative = mythology = religion (aside from the dramatic equating of loaded terms for effect :-), is that, if it were not the case, solipsism ensues.

Any argument that begins "As solipsism isn't the case" isn't really telling me anything. And equating the value of correctness in all religions and worldviews because they all ultimately come from the thought processes that refute solipsism isn't telling me anything either. Yes they are all thoughts that have been thunk, but there do exist other ways to measure their quality. If you want to see the picture, you have to draw some lines. Some lines are demonstrable. The graph of weekly sales with wednesday's orders accidentally reduced by 20% is qualitively different to one with the correct figures, in other ways than merely how we interpret the numbers.
posted by Sparx at 4:28 AM on October 24, 2005


Maddox does it better.
posted by Space Coyote at 5:44 AM on October 24, 2005


I don't necessarily agree with his conclusions, but I still agree that religion has outgrown itself and we can do better than that.

Having said that, people can worship whatever they want to, just don't preach or impose speculation and mythology as "truth".
posted by furtive at 6:01 AM on October 24, 2005


Actually, his argument was more along the lines of "stop pissing on the seat we all use and maybe I won't insult you."

Actually I think that comment was more referring to the tone of the piece, not the argument itself.
posted by Stauf at 6:13 AM on October 24, 2005


The Flying Spaghetti Monster is real. I believe.
posted by Dukebloo at 6:24 AM on October 24, 2005


Jesus save us all from believers!
posted by cassbrown1 at 6:33 AM on October 24, 2005


jefgodesky, there are literally mountains of historical evidence that support the historical existence of Alexander the Great.

Quoting from Oriental sources on Alexander the Great:
Those who want to study Alexander, have access to four tertiary sources (written in Greek and Latin), many quotes from secondary sources (all written in Greek) and one primary source. It is written in Babylonian and is also interesting because it offers a non-Greek perspective.
Indeed, by the standards of ancient history, a "mountain of evidence," as you say. But note what we have for the "historical Jesus": the sayings gospel of Q (of questionable devotional content, and who knows who wrote it?), the original core of Mark (which has significantly less devotional content than any of the other gospels), all of the Pauline epistles, and the Testimonium Flaviun from Josephus (the concensus now states that the TF was almost certainly embellished, but must have been present in some form, or Josephus' entire narrative falls apart), all near-contemporaneously. So that's one primary source, some quotes in secondary sources, and four tertiary sources for Alexander, versus what, 17 secondary sources for Jesus?

The name of the historicity game is, "multiple, independent attestation." Sure, some later sources give Jesus a Virgin Birth, a bunvh of miracles, and have him rising from the dead and flying. Later sources on Alexander havehim born of a virgin, too, and cutting the Gordian knot and what-not. That's not the point. If all of these sources know about the man, but don't know about each other, then a historian concludes that the man is real. This is why the only people who doubt that Jesus existed are people who haven't done much work in ancient history; they expect a standard of proof that we don't find for anyone before the Middle Ages. Considering the par set by a man who conquered the known world and was dead by 30, that we have so many sources testifying to the existence of some peasant is astounding. No reasonable historian doubts the existence of Alexander; and no reasonable historian doubts the existence of Jesus. It's an idea championed only by militant atheists going to the opposite extreme of Christianity, and winding up just as wrong.

(And yes, there are lots of atheists--as well as Jews and Christians--who have researched the historical Jesus. You should read some of their work, it's a fascinating line of historical inquiry. This says nothing about Jesus being "the Son of G-d." For example, I don't believe in the Virgin Birth, and I'm highly skeptical of the resurrection--but any standard of evidence that concludes that he didn't exist at all would also have to throw out most of our knowledge of the ancient world.)

Religion is the height of man's arrogance in contrast. The insolance required is confounding: to even dare write words in the name of some god, and to top it off, they forge his name to their canon.

It's not as if they all sat down as a committee and said, "Hey, let's write a Bible!" It was written by hundreds of different people, over thousands of years--and it was only in the 1800s that some stupid Americans decided it was the inerrant and literal Word of G-d.

i once thought that personal spirituality was separate from religion and thus required some degree of respect. this belief disappeared the more i understood the willingness of the otherwise passive believer to give proxy to all manner of religious leadership to influence how the rest of us live our lives--particularly given that its action rarely reflects core spiritual beliefs as much as desire to attain or maintain power itself.

I despise religious authority, and there are many religions that reject any manner of such authority as part and parcel of their religion. That's a different manner than the absurd claim that every religious person is mentally ill. We all have a religion--maybe that religion says that the supernatural is a delusion, but we all have some view of what the world is, and who we are, and how we relate to that world. Any such view is a religion; a religion is not just a worldview that considers there to be a supernatural element.

the claim that the expression of such belief should be given some sacred status protecting it from criticism is self-serving and dishonest.

Naturally. Every religion is subject to criticism--even the religion of those who'd like to pretend they have none, simply because theirs doesn't include any supernatural elements.

Seriously. I'd like some answers here.

"I'm sorry, the correct answer was, 'Mormon,' yes, 'Mooormon.'"

And equating the value of correctness in all religions and worldviews because they all ultimately come from the thought processes that refute solipsism isn't telling me anything either.

Who said any such thing? Certainly not I. I'm not saying that all beliefs are created equal, I'm saying that we all have one, so let's knock off the self-righteous "holier-than-thou" BS about how other people have "beliefs," but not me, no siree, I have the Truth. It's no less annoying from an athesit as from a fundie.

If you want to see the picture, you have to draw some lines. Some lines are demonstrable.

Absolutely right, but that's not what I was talking about. I was calling out the people saying, "G-d, those people with pictures must be mentally ill! I mean, look at them! With PICTURES!" Some lines are demonstrable, some are not. Some pictures are works of art; others are stick figures. What they have in common is being pictures. So can we knock off the denigration of others for having such pictures--since we all have one, and get to the much more useful discussion of comparing said pictures?

The Flying Spaghetti Monster is real. I believe.

Ramen!
posted by jefgodesky at 6:46 AM on October 24, 2005


His premise is just silly. If religion is the cause of violence, then the most peaceful countries in history should have been the Soviet Union and Mao's China.

One could argue that those nations live under an equally strong civil religion. Ok, I'm arguing that.
posted by qwip at 7:05 AM on October 24, 2005


What qwip said - it's not really about religion, but about ideologies that are

a) mass compatible,
b) give your group the feeling of being superior/chosen or whatever, and
c) give you an excuse (i.e. dogma) to never question b).

Religion just happens to fit those requirements often and on a large enough scale, but communism is not much different in that regard.
posted by uncle harold at 7:21 AM on October 24, 2005


Or, for that matter, nazism - as is often mentioned in the same kind of argument.
posted by uncle harold at 7:26 AM on October 24, 2005


If c) ist strong enough, it is comparatively easy for a charismatic leader to drive a people to war and aggression.
posted by uncle harold at 7:28 AM on October 24, 2005


ori: This entire genre of editorials are so embarassing: the guy who won't stand for it anymore and finally tells it like it is, which inevitably means high-fiving his readers and foaming with vitriolic bigotry.

Bingo.

jefgodesky: Science provides data points; we fit those data points into a story, we string them into a narrative that ultimately gives meaning and significance to what would otherwise be meaningless data points and numbers. We can't understand just a list of numbers; we need them to tell a story. A graph tells a story from the numbers, for example: "Oh look, it's going up!" or "Oh look, it's going down!" Those are stories; the numbers themselves say nothing about such trends. They're just dots.

Actually science does provide the data points and the story. A theory in science is a story like, "the force of electricity will be proportional to the inverse square of distance between two charged objects."

Of course, while you are correct that science on its own does not get you very far without a belief in an underlying epistemology, I think that calling that epistemology a "mythology" and therefore a "religion" stretches those terms a bit beyond the breaking point. I don't know of many atheists who would object to the fact that under science you need something like positivism, post-postivism, or pragmatism. However "religion" in this current socio-political context strongly implies belief in a sentient, personal, law-giver god.

Atheism properly isn't a lack of belief in religion, but a lack of belief in a god or gods. It just happens that a supermajority of religion it our socio-political context centers on the existance of god.

Here's a story: Long ago, life began in a pool of primordial goo... Both stories. Both complete mythology, unprovable, unfalsifiable.

Well, this is probably falsifiable (one of the things that I have a hard time with is people who use "proof" when talking about science.) That is, the theory that life can develop from inorganic substrates within a specific chemical environment is something that can be tested in a laboratory. Likewise, another avenue for falsifiability involves reverse-engineering life to find the minimum necessary components.

The remainder of the two stories (having to do with complexity and diversity) are both philosophy and as you point out, matters of faith or philosophical conviction.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:41 AM on October 24, 2005


Here is my mini rant:

The whole of the Judeo-Christian-Muslim Religion is based on wresting power away from women and away from the earth. The ability to give life is the greatest power of all and when developing their religion men made sure to give that power to themselves. I like to imagine it happened like this.

There once existed a bitter, old shaman who had been shabbily treated by the women in the tribe, whose young wife had mocked him for failing to achieve an erection. Day after day the hunters had returned to camp empty handed and had been forced to choke down the food harvested by the women in the tribe. This shaman looked around his world where everything female had the power to create life and he made up a story. The story he told that night around the campfire gave the ability to create life to the male God and even in a secondary capacity to Adam-- who created Eve from his rib.

But granting his male God this uniquely female attribute was not enough. The bitter, old shaman further demonized the female in his story by making her responsible for all the evil in the world. By having her take the fruit directly from the snake and then urge the fruit unto Adam, she placed all the responsibility for the pain of childbirth on her own shoulders. Not to mention all the war, all the torture, all the murder, all the rape. In short, everything bad that ever happened to mankind comes directly from Eve's thoughtless behavior.

That this story was wholeheartedly embraced by a primitive people is understandable. It is the caveman version of "Why Bad Things Happen To Good People." It is a powerful story and a believable one if you are a medieval peasant . But the idea that in this day and age people still cling to the notion that this actually happened, this I find willfully, even criminally stupid.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:14 AM on October 24, 2005


However "religion" in this current socio-political context strongly implies belief in a sentient, personal, law-giver god.

So Buddhism has had its religion status revoked? Did anyone tell the Dalai Lama?

Atheism properly isn't a lack of belief in religion, but a lack of belief in a god or gods. It just happens that a supermajority of religion it our socio-political context centers on the existance of god.

OK, so we're not saying that religious people are insane for having a religion, but that some religions are really fucked up? Now that, I can get on board with.

The remainder of the two stories (having to do with complexity and diversity) are both philosophy and as you point out, matters of faith or philosophical conviction.

Indeed; I put it that way purposely, because every such philosophy is decorated with some falsifiable data points, and some completely unfalsifiable interpretations of those data points.
posted by jefgodesky at 8:20 AM on October 24, 2005


Here's what I always ask people who advocate just tossing religion out: What exactly would you like to replace it with? (And sorry but answering 'nothing' is the same as not having an answer.)
posted by scheptech at 6:14 PM PST on October 23

If one thing completely replaced religion, it would be religion. To be meaningful, you'll have to define which aspects of religion you think would need to be replaced, before suggestions can be made as to what they could be replaced with.
posted by Happy Monkey at 8:26 AM on October 24, 2005


jefgodesky: So Buddhism has had its religion status revoked? Did anyone tell the Dalai Lama?

Well, two things. First, Buddhists the last I checked were a tiny minority in the context in which we are having this argument. Second, the Dalai Lama's flavor of Buddhism is polytheistic. (Although gods occupy an interesting place in that worldview.)
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:27 AM on October 24, 2005


Was this really a rant? Seems like common sense to me.
posted by bshock at 8:57 AM on October 24, 2005


First, Buddhists the last I checked were a tiny minority in the context in which we are having this argument.

Which means I was correct; this is a criticism of a particular kind of religion, rather than religion in general, and the people foaming at the mouth about "religion" are being hysterical and generalizing about all of religion based on just a few possible configurations. Well, as long as we're clear on that....

(Although gods occupy an interesting place in that worldview.)

Indeed! It's a very different conception of a "god," something I'm not sure even belongs in the same category.
posted by jefgodesky at 9:02 AM on October 24, 2005


Save for the fact that the author of the rant in question seems to be more of the religious type you don't like. Or is it only when the religion wants to kill you, specifically, that you object? If this is laying the philosophical groundwork to justify atheist crusades against the believing infidels, is that OK? Or, his apparent unwillingness to accept the possibility of his own error?

Oh, blah blah blah. The author of the rant made valid points about a lot of people that are in the world and killing people, causing a great deal of trouble in the world. I respect his anger.

On the killing me bit, of course they're not killing me directly. But they're killing people I like, some people I might actually act like were the circumstances different, and thus me by proxy. To some extent, if you kill him, you kill me. Didn't Jesus once say something like that?

If this is laying the philosophical groundwork to justify atheist crusades against the believing infidels, is that OK?

The believing infidels have been crusading an awful lot there, guy. You don't think it's appropriate that someone might want to react to that? As for laying philosophical groundwork, well hey, it's not a crime until someone acts on it. The rant may be immature and obnoxious, but it's not against the law; he doesn't threaten anyone with anything other than making fun of them, unlike many of the people of which he speaks.

Maybe that, as others have said, the fact that it sounds like something written by many fourteen-year-olds says something about its universality? By preventing people from, as you put it, "laying philosophical groundwork," you're actually implying they should be censored?

But anyway, I apologize for not treating each of your points, but all the juice has been used up in that region of my brain. That's the juice that enables me to put up with annoying, intractible, pedantic debating. It's probably the juice that possessed me to make this FPP in the first place. Well, it's used up now, and I don't think another shipment will be coming in for a long, long time, thank god.
posted by JHarris at 9:27 AM on October 24, 2005


The rant would have been better if he had left Bush out of it. That just made it sound gratuitous, as if secular and logical people just shouldn't support Bush, as if his religious beliefs were any different from those of every other US president.

In the other direction, the rant could have gone deeper, even more punitive. For example, two of the three religions mentioned still practice blood sacrifice. Christians don't, but only because they allow themselves to cherry-pick the doctrines of the Hebrews, keeping what they like, such as the Ten Commandments, and discarding what they don't.

The whole Judeo-Christian-Moslem thing can literally be boiled down to a handful of "contracts" between God and men. It's interesting that JHVH followed the standards for contract law in the ancient world.

God supposedly made a contract with Adam, for everybody; Noah, for everybody; Abraham, for most people; and Moses, for Hebrews only. Then Jesus's followers said that Christians could disregard the old contracts and just follow Jesus for the same result.

That being said, Mosaic law does not apply to Christians. Any of it. Ten Commandments included. As long as Christians obey Noah's and Abraham's laws, as far as the Jews are concerned, they are cool with JHVH.

Mocmud made a contract with JHVH that neither followed traditional contract law, nor apparently grasped the other previous laws. However, they, too, try to follow Mosaic law, even though they admit that the last law that should apply to them is Abraham's law.

On the plus side, if all of these religious idiots were secular, they would still be idiots, and probably even more destructive and illogical. If nothing else, having them spend their lives in empty ritual keeps them from utterly running amok.

Finally, don't be too sure about Moses having been swiped from other tales. A tribe in South Africa was recently proven to have a unique genetic marker found only in the "priestly" tribe of Jews in Yemen. The tribe's origin myth was that they had been led from a city, whose name was remarkably like the name of a city in Yemen, by an ancient leader named "Bobo".

If they made it all the way from Yemen to South Africa, I've no doubt that other Jews could have wandered in circles in the desert for a long time, if not 40 years.
posted by kablam at 9:46 AM on October 24, 2005


The issue I've always had with "religion" is the usage of the word. "Religion" lumps together two very different things: spirituality and tribalism.

The spirituality is the source of the good stuff. It can actually make people better on an individual level. Religions that focus on the spirituality are the ones traditionally considered "peaceful": buddhism, quaker, shamanism.
Spirituality brings people together. However, tribalism is what keeps people together, and motivates them to do...other things...together. That's why tribalism is the source of most all the bad stuff.

Now, tribalism certainly has a value of its own. In an innocuous form, it keeps people alive and functioning when they might otherwise retreat into hermitude or engage in behavior that is counterproductive for the tribe at large. Unfortunately, tribalism is also really good at identifying "others" outside the tribe, against whom anger, fear, missionary operations and genocide can be generated.

I like spirituality. I dislike tribalism.

Well, except for mefi.
posted by Pliskie at 10:05 AM on October 24, 2005


Religion and insanity -- no way to tell them apart.

No, really. No way, at least based on content.
posted by dreamsign at 10:06 AM on October 24, 2005


Pliskie: Unfortunately, tribalism is also really good at identifying "others" outside the tribe, against whom anger, fear, missionary operations and genocide can be generated.

I like spirituality. I dislike tribalism.


I basically agree, but I'm not sure if you can separate the two that easily. One thing that (in theory) sets humans apart from tribal-ish mammals is the ability to override the negative tribal instincts by common sense.

Spirituality can be the means to circumvent that common sense and revert to lashing out against "others". So while spirituality in itself is good, you can't really view tribalism without it.
posted by uncle harold at 10:20 AM on October 24, 2005


jefgodesky: Which means I was correct; this is a criticism of a particular kind of religion, rather than religion in general, and the people foaming at the mouth about "religion" are being hysterical and generalizing about all of religion based on just a few possible configurations. Well, as long as we're clear on that....

Certainly. I think that contemporary western atheism needs to make it clear that it's coming out of a socio-political context where deism, polytheism, animism, pantheism, and deism are also highly suspect belief systems.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:37 AM on October 24, 2005


It's just his opinion. He's wrong on the majority of his assumptions, and poorly mixed political religion with real spiritual teachings, but I like when someone dare to challenge standard beliefs. Those three target elephants that we call religions need some refreshing visions from today indeed - there's too much wars and division instead of effective human intelligence, love and general health.

We, the inventors of satellite communication and cell phones, are afraid of chicken flu.
posted by nandop at 10:45 AM on October 24, 2005


MetaFilter: This is the MetaFilter I hate.
posted by davejay at 10:57 AM on October 24, 2005


To some extent, if you kill him, you kill me. Didn't Jesus once say something like that?

Indeed, but why can you only extend that to those you agree with?

The believing infidels have been crusading an awful lot there, guy. You don't think it's appropriate that someone might want to react to that?

Indeed they have, but it's the crusading I have a problem with, regardless of which god's name they chant. I get on fundies for being so dismissive of atheists--so why shouldn't I do the same, when atheists do the same thing, only for a different god? Just because Reason isn't supposed to live in the sky and have a big, fluffy beard doesn't make it any less a god. And let's be clear, though we certainly perceive our own intellect, you'd be hard-pressed to find some aspect of society which exemplified it. For all our self-glorification, history sure seems mechanistic, and its players like cogs....

The rant may be immature and obnoxious, but it's not against the law; he doesn't threaten anyone with anything other than making fun of them, unlike many of the people of which he speaks.

I didn't say it was illegal, and I didn't call for his arrest. I said that his rant is hypocritical, self-righteous, and totally misses the point.

Maybe that, as others have said, the fact that it sounds like something written by many fourteen-year-olds says something about its universality? By preventing people from, as you put it, "laying philosophical groundwork," you're actually implying they should be censored?

Censored? Not in the least, that's why I never so much as implied such a thing. But I do believe that reasonable human beings have something of an obligation to heap scorn on such an idea--just as people should have heaped scorn on Martin Luther when he advocated his "final solution to the Jewish problem." He was just making a suggestion, too, after all.

However, tribalism is what keeps people together, and motivates them to do...other things...together.

An unfortunate use of the term, but I catch your meaning. But, culture is a reflexive system. The complaint seems to be that religion is used as a mechanism of control and violence. This is no more an inherent value of religion, though, than of any of our other mechanisms of control and violence. It is what happens to any belief in a controlling, violent culture.

Certainly. I think that contemporary western atheism needs to make it clear that it's coming out of a socio-political context where deism, polytheism, animism, pantheism, and deism are also highly suspect belief systems.

That I can get along with.
posted by jefgodesky at 11:07 AM on October 24, 2005


Whelp, I have woken up an concluded that jefgodesky is just not very philosophically mature.

What I personally am trying to argue here is that it is not a requirement that all people have a 'religion'. Some people can truly be free of religion, literally a-theists.

The base problem is: how do you define your terms? What is the definition of 'religion'? To most people that means a belief in the supernatural. If you believe only in things that you can see and hear and taste and touch and smell -- or things that can be sensed with devices which relay information to you through these senses then you are not religious.

Yes, often time's people will 'believe' in the philosophy of science, which is a philosophical construction and cannot be measured. But what can be measured is the success in understanding nature by people who behave as though they believe this.

So in other words, you don't need to believe that the philosophical foundations of science are "true" in some epistemological sense, but only that constructing experiments based on these philosophies is a good idea.

What is the ultimate truth? What difference does it make? I (I speak for myself here, but I would imagine many non-religious people would believe with me) am only interested in things I can measure with my senses

In your example of the head in the jar, you are comparing something that can be measured, something that is a part of nature, with someone that cannot be measured, and is a supernatural reality (since we can never measure if we are a head in a jar, such questions can never be answered, and are thus not worth spending time thinking about)
posted by delmoi at 11:38 AM on October 24, 2005


We all have a religion--maybe that religion says that the supernatural is a delusion, but we all have some view of what the world is, and who we are, and how we relate to that world.

Nuh-uh. You do *not* get to redefine "religion" this way. Language relies on consensus definitions, and stretching a word way way the hell beyond what everyone else thinks it means just makes you sound like an idiot with an agenda. If no one is on board with your wacked-out definition, you are not succeeding at communicating.

There's a perfectly good word to use for the definition you ascribe above - "worldview".

I like what J.S. Mill said:

On religion in particular the time appears to me to have come, when it is the duty of all who being qualified in point of knowledge, have on mature consideration satisfied themselves that the current opinions are not only false but hurtful, to make their dissent known.

And seriously, you think science is just another set of beliefs, of no particular value above any other set? Then fine. Remove from your life all of the fruits of science, if you refuse to have respect for it. Go back to flintknapping, and planting crops using a sharp stick. The rest of us have found it pretty fucking clear that science has helped us come up with some major material benefits, and accord it the respect it is due.

I hold strange views on this topic because I had an extremely religous psychotic break in 2001. Suddenly I believed in God, 100%, totally, and that I was specially chosen by God to save the world. It's a heady feeling, and I think I got some insight into the prophetic experience. Fortunately I got the hospitalization and medication I needed, and it took some months but eventually I was back to my atheistic self. I felt as though I had been.... violated in an especially creepy way. My mind had been hijacked, and my internal bullshit detectors did not save me. It was a sobering and humbling experience.

From it all I think I realized that if the... chemical and perhaps structural configuration of a mind falls into a certain category, it makes belief in religion (and the supernatural) more likely and in some cases required. People being rationalizing animals as they are, the rest of the mind obligingly bends itself into whatever curves are necessary to support this belief.

And I think a big reason why some people hate / fear atheists is because for them, religiously-defined morality is the only thing keeping them from robbing, raping, and pillaging.

Frankly if Christianity had the amount of integrity and truth that it claimed, we wouldn't have the sort of poverty we do. People are inherently selfish and they sort of gloss over the parts of the religion that they find inconvenient. They claim the Bible is 100% true, that you can't pick and choose, yet you see these people hoarding wealth and not giving it all to the poor. It really hurts their credibility and respect. Same deal with loving your neighbor as yourself and not judging. If Christians really followed this stuff, the world would be a lot better place, imho.
posted by beth at 12:20 PM on October 24, 2005


Delmoi and beth: I read you both to be raising the same concern; religion is a worldview that involves the supernatural, ergo, not all worldviews are religious. However, this is, again, a very ethnocentric definition of "religion" in that it neglects many religions which, though out of vogue in contemporary America, are undeniably religions.

For example, Confuscianism can (and often does) exist quite apart from any consideration of the supernatural. There are Taoist sects that do the same, approaching Taoism as a philosophy and ridding it of those supernatural elements which are, ultimately, fairly incidental to Taoism. Unitarian Universalists very often do not believe in anything supernatural, yet no one doubts that they are a religion.

So, no, I'm not redefining religion at all. In fact, I would say, you are--you are redefining it ethnocentrically, such that accepted religions are excluded so that "religion" can mean only those religions with which you have had extended contact.
posted by jefgodesky at 12:29 PM on October 24, 2005


And seriously, you think science is just another set of beliefs, of no particular value above any other set?

Why does everyone keep putting words in my mouth? No, I don't think science is another set of beliefs. I think science provides a data set, which can be arranged to "prove" an infinite diversity of various scenarios (though not every scenario--there is a certain space of possibilities, and the possibilities in that space are infinite; "Creationsm" is well outside that space, for example, but both atheism and pantheism are inside it).

I think that atheism, humanism, positivism and the Enlightenment are just another set of beliefs. Neither did I say that all beliefs are created equal; quite the opposite. But atheists, humanists, positivists and fans of the Enlightenment most emphatically do have a religion. It is unique, to be sure; just as Christianity, Islam, pantheism, deism, and shamanism are all unique. This particular one does not accept anything supernatural, but then, that's still well within the range of diversity already represented among "religions." You're not unique in the set on that score.

I think that the merits of one religion versus another is a discussion well worth having. I think screaming down someone for having a religion is hypocritical. If a Christian insists that he does not have a religion, he simply percieves G-d's universe as it truly is, does that make it so? If a humanist insists she does not have a religion, she simply understands the redemptive role of Reason in human history, does that make it any less a myth?

Science is not a problem for me. The beliefs so many espouse about science--that's a problem for me. Well, no, even that's not a problem for me ... their inability to acknowledge that they are in fact beliefs, I suppose. After all, science will never be able to prove that science is the One, True Way to Gather Knowledge. And make no mistake, that is the religion--not science itself. That is, in fact, very unscientific, indeed.
posted by jefgodesky at 12:38 PM on October 24, 2005


jefgodesky, I suspect for many people you're still spouting nonsense. Insisting that atheism is a religion is nonsense. You're attempting to expand religion so that the term encompasses any given "world view." Not only is this clearly wrong it borders on dishonest. The attempt to cast any world view, from Communism to Confuscianism to the South Beach Diet, as a "religion" makes the term so stupidly broad that the entire argument negated. Perhaps a better question for you might be to consider what's not a religion. Then the absurdity of your logic will be clear.

(BTW, stop misrepresenting humanism. Humanism postulates nothing as stupid as the "redemptive power of Reason". While there are indeed religious humanists few, if any, are concerned with any notion of 'redemption'. It's an old canard that humanism has any sort of notion of 'original sin.')

Worse, you are side-stepping what is the central issue here. Let's pretend that the Enlightenment does somehow constitute a religion. Ok, where has this gotten us? Is it now ok for people to believe in mythical stories and lies just because "everybody" does it? The rant is hardly aimed at religion the abstract concept. It's aimed at three particular religions where followers are encouraged to accept "on faith" statements that are utterly absurd. Playing semantic nonsense on the nature of "religion" doesn't shed any light on this problem.
posted by nixerman at 12:55 PM on October 24, 2005


jefgodesky, I suspect for many people you're still spouting nonsense.

Quite so; I get the same reaction when I try to convince fundamentalist Christians that atheists aren't crazy, either. It doesn't matter which side it is; both sides have their fundies, and on both sides, they're convinced the others are a bunch of mentally ill wackos, but even worse, they are dangerous, delusional and must be dealt with for the good of all. Such is the intolerant nature of fundamentalism, however many gods it espouses--many, one, or none at all.

Perhaps a better question for you might be to consider what's not a religion. Then the absurdity of your logic will be clear.

Anthropology is not a religion. Enterprise search is not a religion. Ergonomics is not a religion. Science is not a religion. Art is not a religion. Television is not a religion. Blogs are not religions. Typing speed is not a religion. Warcraft III is not a religion. Photography is not a religion....

A religion is not just any story. It is a very specific type of story. If it's a story about who we are, what the world is, and how we fit into that world, then that story is a religion. There are many such stories, but that doesn't mean that everything's a religion.

Now who's being dishonest?

(BTW, stop misrepresenting humanism. Humanism postulates nothing as stupid as the "redemptive power of Reason". While there are indeed religious humanists few, if any, are concerned with any notion of 'redemption'. It's an old canard that humanism has any sort of notion of 'original sin.')

It's a curious kind of salvationism that humanism's devised. There is no original sin, and yet, Reason is presented as the Great, Shining Hope of Mankind. It is very much expressed in messianic terms. Again, a Christian can tell you he has no religion while he tries to proselytize you until he's blue in the face--that doesn't make it so.

Worse, you are side-stepping what is the central issue here. Let's pretend that the Enlightenment does somehow constitute a religion. Ok, where has this gotten us?

Hopefully, it's gotten us to the point where we can acknowledge that some kind of belief is natural and human. Hopefully, it can helps us empathize (not necessarily sympathize) with those who believe differently than us. Hopefully, it will make us think twice before making some hysterical claim that anyone who believes differently than us must be mentally ill. Hopefully, it will allow us to calm down, actually try to communicate with the other, address those issues we find problematic, and maybe even accept that they don't have to accept everything we believe, and we don't have to accept everything they believe--and that's okay. That doesn't mean they're mentally ill, and it doesn't mean you're mentally ill. It just means that two different people can look at the same set of evidence, and come to different conclusions.

That's where it gets us. Don't get me wrong; they're just as guilty of all this, and I say many of the same things to them that I've said here. You're no worse than the fundies--but you're no better, either. And until you can face up to your own humanity and drop the delusion that you're as perfect and logical as a circuit, you'll never be any better.

Is it now ok for people to believe in mythical stories and lies just because "everybody" does it?

Not at all. And if you can prove they're mythical stories and lies to their satisfaction, they should abandon those beliefs. But it's not for you to dictate the acceptable standards of evidence for them, or what arguments they should find convincing, any more than I can dictate such things to you.

It's aimed at three particular religions where followers are encouraged to accept "on faith" statements that are utterly absurd.

The rant itself, and the comments in this thread, were very much of the usual, ignorant, militant atheist stripe. ("Ignorant" and "militant" have such a strong correlation, don't they?) They condemend "religion" based on the ethnocentric conviction that only Western monotheisms count. When called to account on that, you try to weasel out and say, "Oh, but we only meant Christianity, Islam and Judaism!" Yet even then, the rant's objections hold only to the most lunatic fringe--the monotheistic analogues of many of the atheists here, and the original author in question, actually.

If we're to judge all philosophies by their most insane fringe, then liberalism, humanism and the Enlightenment wouldn't fare very well, either.

Playing semantic nonsense on the nature of "religion" doesn't shed any light on this problem.

There's nothing semantic about it. If anything, I would say it's you who are playing semantics. After all, the diatribe against those mentally ill people who believe things is broken just long enough to remind me of the mythical stories and lies about the triumph of Reason and Science, and how Reason is the One Right Way to Know--ahd the lie that no other way of gathering knowledge is worthwhile.
posted by jefgodesky at 1:40 PM on October 24, 2005


"There is no Jesus waiting to return"
[from article]

Then howcome we’ve got his plane tickets?
posted by Smedleyman at 1:50 PM on October 24, 2005


beth said Frankly if Christianity had the amount of integrity and truth that it claimed, we wouldn't have the sort of poverty we do. People are inherently selfish and they sort of gloss over the parts of the religion that they find inconvenient. They claim the Bible is 100% true, that you can't pick and choose, yet you see these people hoarding wealth and not giving it all to the poor. It really hurts their credibility and respect. Same deal with loving your neighbor as yourself and not judging. If Christians really followed this stuff, the world would be a lot better place, imho.

sloppy thinking bethalicious! Christianity (the ideal as opposed to the body of claimed adherents) DOES. human beings, as you note in adeptly chopping the legs out from under your own comment, are Christianity's failing.

in other words, "Frankly, if non-Christianity had the amount of integrity and truth that it claimed, we wouldn't have the sort of poverty we do."
posted by quonsar at 2:55 PM on October 24, 2005


jefgodesky, I suspect for many people you're still spouting nonsense.

jefgodesky, I suspect you're wasting your time writing all these carefully thought-out responses. These people don't want to hear anything but "Religion is EEEEVIL!!!" You can lead a MeFite to perspective, but you can't make them think. I suggest backing away and letting them pat each other on the back for their superior rationality.
posted by languagehat at 2:59 PM on October 24, 2005


Languagehat, thank you ... in arguments like this, I don't even try to convince the other, as it is impossible. Rather, I simply try to show the casual reader that such lines of thinking have no monopoly on truth, and are not unchallenged.

But you are right, that point has, I think, been made as well as I will ever make it in this thread. The point of diminishing returns was passed quite some time ago. And so, I will adjourn.
posted by jefgodesky at 3:09 PM on October 24, 2005


A religion is not just any story. It is a very specific type of story. If it's a story about who we are, what the world is, and how we fit into that world, then that story is a religion. There are many such stories, but that doesn't mean that everything's a religion.

jefgodesky, again, the problem is your definition is functionally useless. Not only does it include such outliers as Communism, Astrology, Environmentalism, the Invisible Hand, national/state cultures, but indeed one can make the argument that Anthropology, Art, Television and Photography--which do indeed make hard statements about "the way the world is the way humans fit into it." Your definition is foolishly vague. To the point where the Student Manual for most university and corporate vision statements now fall into the realm of religion. Sorry, but this sort of hand wavy definition of religion as a world view doesn't provide any enlightenment nor does it allow for any sort of rigirous criticism.
posted by nixerman at 3:26 PM on October 24, 2005


BTW, if you really think Art isn't a 'religion'--and this is the precise sort of vague, meaningless statements your reasoning will allow--I invite you to look at the various artistic manifestos that have been constructed through time. Indeed, under your definition, every artistic movement since Socratic irony (if you consider Socrastic irony an aesthetic gesture, most people don't but I do) is now a religion.
posted by nixerman at 3:30 PM on October 24, 2005


After all, the diatribe against those mentally ill people who believe things is broken just long enough to remind me of the mythical stories and lies about the triumph of Reason and Science, and how Reason is the One Right Way to Know--ahd the lie that no other way of gathering knowledge is worthwhile.

This is the other danger of your view. It's perhaps the most dangerous aspect because this is the holy grail that fundamentalists are after. Let's be clear about this: reason is the only way human beings can attain knowledge. Knowledge cannot be attained through experience, mystical revelation, or discussion. Knowledge is, by definition, the result of reason. Again, you are playing fast and loose with the entire Western philosophical tradition going back to Socrates and all it shows is that you either don't grasp the enormous error in making a statement such as the above or you're intentionally trying to distort the truth. Luckily, the arguments that you're proposing were slapped down literally thousands of years ago. Aristotle can tell you plenty about the nature of knowledge and how it can be obtained.

But it's not for you to dictate the acceptable standards of evidence for them, or what arguments they should find convincing, any more than I can dictate such things to you.

Again, this is just nonsense. There are zero "standards of evidence" for religions. This is the concept of faith--to believe with no evidence. You keep attempting to put religion and science on a continuum but it's simply not going to work. Your statements literally don't parse. What on earth would be a "standards of evidence" for a religion? Is it "evidence" if a bunch of people get together and take a vote? Because, you know, that's how religions come to pass. There was no "investigation" into Jesus Christ's resurrection. There was nothing that could possibly be regarded as evidence. A bunch of people got together and decided to accept the event purely on faith.

The rant itself, and the comments in this thread, were very much of the usual, ignorant, militant atheist stripe.

This is just name-calling because you have zero logical basis.

A religion is not just any story. It is a very specific type of story. If it's a story about who we are, what the world is, and how we fit into that world, then that story is a religion.

For the record, this isn't religion at all. Your concept of religion as a narrative would be insulting not only to philosophers but also to members of any religion. Islam isn't a story about "humanity"--it's a model of the way the world actually works. When a Christian says 'Jesus Christ died for our sins' they are not relating a historical narrative, they are relating a historical fact--it's like saying 'the sun rose and set yesterday'. This is why the entire notion of 'religious tolerance' as you espouse it is again, literally, nonsense. Christians and Muslims don't merely disagree about about certain historical acts, they disagree about the fundamental nature of reality. It's like two people looking at the same object and seeing two different colors. They exist in different worlds. The entire play of interpreting religions as stories is a non-starter; a given religion is not a story it is the story and unlike most 'stories' it is not open to interpretation.
posted by nixerman at 3:51 PM on October 24, 2005


Once again, I ask those who consider them to have a religion, which of your faiths is the right one? That seems a simple enough question, given that according to many of your religions, eternal damnation is on the line, right?

For many of you who really believe in your religion, you should at least be willing to concede that the other religious people who don't follow your beliefs in this thread are possibly going to hell for all eternity, right?

Of course, if you don't believe this, then you apparently doubt your own God, and very well might go to hell yourself, according to the dictates of your religion.

By the way, I rolled double zeroes. Flying spagetti monster wins!
posted by insomnia_lj at 4:00 PM on October 24, 2005



Delmoi and beth: I read you both to be raising the same concern; religion is a worldview that involves the supernatural, ergo, not all worldviews are religious. However, this is, again, a very ethnocentric definition of "religion" in that it neglects many religions which, though out of vogue in contemporary America, are undeniably religions.


First of all, language is ethnocentric. You don't just get to define terms to mean whatever you want. If you want to claim that atheists also have a worldview then I don't think you will find many people who disagree.

I don't think Confucianism is a religion, it's a philosophy. Taoism, well I don't really know much about it. You can't just claim everyone is "religious" because if they don't think they are they're just being "ethnocentric". Come on.

Now here you define what you mean by religion:

A religion is not just any story. It is a very specific type of story. If it's a story about who we are, what the world is, and how we fit into that world, then that story is a religion. There are many such stories, but that doesn't mean that everything's a religion.

Now, of course science tells us what the world is. Does that mean geography and geology are religions? I think you meant 'universe' (hey, the Sanskrit word is the same, 'jagate'). Does that make cosmology a religion? IMO cosmology does sound a lot like a religion, especially when people try to explain it in lay language, but that's beside the point.

Science has theories about all of those questions. Psychology, anthropology, medicine seek to answer the question of who 'we' are, but not in the way you seem to mean. They give general answers about human beings as a part of the natural world (or universe), how we interact with it and so on.

but some people do not have answers to those questions and if the answer is "I don't know" or "It can't be answered" is that person still religious in your mind? It seems to mean that, based on what you just said, they would not be.


There's nothing semantic about it. If anything, I would say it's you who are playing semantics.


Sorry, you were the one playing with semantics here. The dictionary definition of religion dosn't sound anything like the dictionary definition of worldview


jefgodesky, I suspect you're wasting your time writing all these carefully thought-out responses. These people don't want to hear anything but "Religion is EEEEVIL!!!" You can lead a MeFite to perspective, but you can't make them think. I suggest backing away and letting them pat each other on the back for their superior rationality.


Whatever. I don't think religion is evil at all. There is nothing wrong with religion in general (although I would say that some particularly popular ones are annoying). But I think that claming everyone is religious wether they think they are or not is wrong. And I am trying to point that out.
posted by delmoi at 4:32 PM on October 24, 2005


For example, two of the three religions mentioned still practice blood sacrifice.

Kablam, would you please elaborate on the "blood sacrifice" performed by Jews and Muslims? (I'm particularly interested in that performed by Jews, as someone who's been through bat mitzvah, confirmation, etc. and has somehow never seen nor heard of any such thing.)
posted by whitearrow at 4:52 PM on October 24, 2005


While I disagree with jefgodesky for reasons I posted above, I have been mentally dining out on narrative as a requirement for intelligence and the implications for AI that might have. Old hat in the AI world, I realise, but I hadn't checked out much of literature and it's been fascinating catching up, so thanks for that insight.
posted by Sparx at 5:44 PM on October 24, 2005


whitearrow: that was sort of a trick statement. As far as Moslems go, blood sacrifice is done during Hajj to Mecca.

The trick is with Judaism. I expected that somebody would think that kashrus (kosher) preparation of meat was what I meant by sacrifice. That is not the case.

Proper animal sacrifice can only be performed in Judaism at the Temple in Jerusalem. The Jews have a priestly class (Cohanim, often named "Cohen"), whose main purpose it is to perform such sacrifices, so since the destruction of the temple, they have been idle as a group.

When and if the temple is rebuilt, it can only be done with the sacrifice of a red heifer. It was believed that red cows were extinct, but at least one has been bred in recent years, so theoretically the temple can be rebuilt.

Once the temple is up and running, many Jews would expect that ritual sacrifice return as a regular function of the temple. This has created some raucus arguments with Jews who are either vegetarian, strong believers in animal rights, or both.
posted by kablam at 6:42 PM on October 24, 2005


So when you said "still" -- you actually meant "last more than 1900 years ago and maybe during a very specific ritual at some unnamed time in the future...and oh, btw, it's a heifer."

Given that rumors still persist that Jews murder children of other religions as some part of a ritual, you'll excuse even a very secular Jew for being a tad tetchy about statements like Jews "still practice blood sacrifice." Without a bit more precision, it's likely to be misunderstood.
posted by whitearrow at 7:12 PM on October 24, 2005


Lovely stuff. I've been precisely this exasperated about the ineffable idiocy of the religious since I was about thirteen. I want to shake them and scream into their vacant faces, "For God's sake LOOK at what you're saying you think is true and THINK, will you?"

I usually manage to refrain, though. You can't win. The bulk of humanity is just that, and ever will be: a big, fat, needy, self-deluding, ill-educated, ignorant, superstitious bulk.

The wise person finds a way to remain calm in the tide of unreason. I ain't there yet, sadly.
posted by Decani at 7:16 PM on October 24, 2005


The point of the post is not, IMO, that there are some holes in religous stories, or that religion is bad because some people die because of it, but the religions themselves, the stories they tell, are so mind-numbingly stupid and obvious cons that it's shocking anybody would chose to use them as a guide for anything, let alone the murder of other human beings.
It's not that the Brooklyn bridge has some minor structural problems, it's that your not gonna get the goddamn bridge at all.

How long are we going to dance around the 800-pound gorilla in the room? The world is run by madmen. It's not just Bush and bin Laden. It is the leader of all of the countries in the Middle East, almost all of the Americas and most of the rest of the world.

One of the reasons I'm proud of my President (Ricardo Lagos) is that he's the first avowed atheist to hold the office.
posted by signal at 7:39 PM on October 24, 2005


1) atheism is a negative religious belief ... that makes it a religion ... i would not say that about agnosticism

2) in the interest of balance, i would like to point out that some of the fruits of science and the resulting technology include the atom bomb, global warming, that nice big hole in the ozone layer and other nasty things ... if the human race does become extinct by its own actions, there's a lot better chance that science will have enabled it than religion

so the world is run by madmen and 800 pound gorillas with beliefs that rationalists think are stupid ... but some of those rationalists give them their weapons anyway, don't they? ... and they don't do so as christians, jews or muslims, they do so as scientists

the enlightenment isn't going to come off so well if it ends in a thousand big flashes of light, is it?

seems to me that there's a fairly big hole in that worldview
posted by pyramid termite at 8:48 PM on October 24, 2005


*tumbleweed*
posted by quonsar at 9:23 PM on October 24, 2005


*in the distance we hear the roar of a motorcycle and mel gibson appears over the hill*
posted by pyramid termite at 9:44 PM on October 24, 2005


delmoi: First of all, language is ethnocentric. You don't just get to define terms to mean whatever you want. If you want to claim that atheists also have a worldview then I don't think you will find many people who disagree.

Well, I would say it is impossible to not have a worldview. But I don't think there is a single atheist worldview. Atheism (to correct the misconception of pyramid termite) is simply the absence of belief in a god. Individual atheists may subscribe to a variety of different worldviews such as marxism, positivism, post-modernism, humanism, pragmatism, or even, a worldview that is none of the above.

Likewise, one of the things that gets really frustrating about the atheism vs. theism arguments is that there is no unified theism either. There are important and non-trivial distinctions between theistic religions, and important and non-trivial distinctions between atheistic traditions.

I think there is a big problem is that jefgodesky is defining "religion" so broadly that not only does humanism become a religion, but it becomes impossible to compare and contrast any belief systems. "Religion" becomes everything, and therefore becomes meaningless. Humanism and Marxism are religions, but then again, so is the modern novel, impressionism, and the Republican Party platform. It is rather like saying that all waterfowl, or broader speaking, all fowl are really ducks, and therefore, there is really no grounds we can use to contrast ducks with geese, greebes, or boobies.

As a practical matter, it's useful to describe some of the differences between worldviews grounded in a supernatural something, and worldviews grounded in other methods. And that is what we use when we say that everything is religion.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:08 PM on October 24, 2005


Well, jefgodesky left so the debate is over I guess. Felled by my mighty intellect, no doubt!

Honestly, I don't think religion is all that bad. People just love slaughtering each other and use whatever they can as an excuse.
posted by delmoi at 10:15 PM on October 24, 2005


Atheism (to correct the misconception of pyramid termite) is simply the absence of belief in a god.

agnostics have an absence of belief in a god, also ... the statement "there is no god" is a religious statement ... the statement "i just don't know if there is one" is not

it's always interesting to see people falling over themselves to say that some unprovable statements are irrational while others aren't ... it happens every time we have this discussion ... and every time some atheists are in complete denial about it

all i ask is they admit that they can't prove what they believe and there is no logical reason why one or the other belief takes precedence ...

bye
posted by pyramid termite at 10:35 PM on October 24, 2005


"if the human race does become extinct by its own actions, there's a lot better chance that science will have enabled it than religion"

Heh. Reminds me of the old quote: "Igorance got us into this mess, so why can't it get us out?"
posted by spazzm at 3:50 AM on October 25, 2005


it's always interesting to see people falling over themselves to say that some unprovable statements are irrational while others aren't ... it happens every time we have this discussion ... and every time some atheists are in complete denial about it

It's always interesting to see people equating the value two unprovable statements, even if the circumstances are completely different.

While it is true that both positions are unprovable, one has a lot of everyday experience and circumstantial evidence going for it, while the other has zero.

With that strategy, you can assign any arbitrary claim the same value. State that smurfs exist IRL? Do we have to discuss it seriously, because it's unprovable as well?

We can only discuss and think about unprovable things in regard to their feasibility. If that is not allowed and does not make a difference, you can't discuss a lot of things.
posted by uncle harold at 4:25 AM on October 25, 2005


jefgodesky, I suspect you're wasting your time writing all these carefully thought-out responses. These people don't want to hear anything but "Religion is EEEEVIL!!!" You can lead a MeFite to perspective, but you can't make them think. I suggest backing away and letting them pat each other on the back for their superior rationality.
posted by languagehat at 2:59 PM PST on October 24


Languagehat, you are one of my heroes for reasons I won't get into here, but aren't you being kind of a hypocrite? For one, though there are people like me in this thread, who have long since come to the conclusion that reasonable debate on the matter is pointless, there are far more like delmoi and nixerman who have been polite, rational, friendly, and helpful.

Secondly, I thought you were all mad at us - i.e., those ruining MeFi - for exacerbating the problem inherent in dealing with different "tribes," such as in the dichotomies of left-wing/right-wing, theists/non-theists, and buttheads/chill dudes. Then why use loaded terms like "these people" and the way over-the-top hyperbole of us just wanting to have a thread composed of, like, solely: "religion is EEVVILLL" or whatever?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:16 AM on October 25, 2005


in the interest of balance, i would like to point out that some of the fruits of science and the resulting technology include the atom bomb, global warming, that nice big hole in the ozone layer and other nasty things ... if the human race does become extinct by its own actions, there's a lot better chance that science will have enabled it than religion

Science is a method. A tool. It can both heal and destroy, bring about ruin or glory. Science makes no metastatements about the wise or judicious use of itself; that is left for other fields. If the nuclear holocaust does come, be assured that while the weapons used to wage it are from the fruits of science, the tribalism underlying it is based in no small part on religious differences.

And of course good old human nature.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:20 AM on October 25, 2005


Atheism is a religion in the same sense that not believing in Santa Claus is a religion. Or fairies. Or dragons. Or the Easter Bunny. Or Superman.
posted by signal at 6:23 AM on October 25, 2005


OC, thanks for the kind words, and I certainly didn't mean to imply that everyone taking part in the thread was a simplistic jerk (hey, I'm here, aren't I?). But I'm sick unto death of these endless front-page posts that are nothing but another excuse for a zillion smug atheists who have that high-school sense of what a genius they are for seeing through the delusions of the multitude going on and on and on about how smart they are and how dumb religious people are, and attacking whichever religious MeFites are incautious enough to get into the discussion. I think "religion is EEVVILLL" is a fair summary of their attitude. It is possible for a decent thread to come of a post involving religion; I've seen it happen, though rarely. But not when the post itself is written in such childish terms and links to a dumb "in your FACE, religious fuckheads!" rant. When people post crap like that and other people joyfully swarm around the trough grunting and slobbering, I'm going to stick my head in to point out the circle-jerkiness of the whole exercise. But I don't mean any offense to those who are actually trying to have a decent discussion, and I didn't mean to include you among the jerkoffs. That having been said, they're still jerkoffs.

To address the second part of your comment, the difference is that "tribes" are generalized categories: it's blind prejudice to think that all Republicans, or Jews, or Southerners, or left-wingers are bad. It's not prejudice to define a class of people by their actions and say that "those people" are jerks because of those actions, which is what I'm doing. If people are going to spew about "the ineffable idiocy of the religious," I'm going to call them asshats. I hope that's OK with you.
posted by languagehat at 6:27 AM on October 25, 2005


pyramid termite: agnostics have an absence of belief in a god, also ... the statement "there is no god" is a religious statement ... the statement "i just don't know if there is one" is not

*sigh* Have we not had this discussion before.

Atheism and agnosticism are two different things, and can overlap by quite a bit. Pascal's Wager and James' "Will to Believe" are justifications for agnostic religion they claim that even if you lack knowledge about god, you might be better of believing in god anyway.

Bertand Russell's Martian tea set is an argument for agnostic atheism. I can't disprove claims to a tea set in orbirt around Mars. But that does not provide a strong reason for me to believe in the existance of the tea set around Mars. In the absence of evidence, the proper position is skepticism.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:33 AM on October 25, 2005


languagehat, if you like gods and religions so much why don't you just pick one to believe in? Or have you already?
posted by davy at 6:50 AM on October 25, 2005


But I'm sick unto death of these endless front-page posts that are nothing but another excuse for a zillion smug atheists who have that high-school sense of what a genius they are for seeing through the delusions of the multitude going on and on and on about how smart they are and how dumb religious people are

I think a lot of that is because it is extremely difficult to be an atheist in "the real world." We are, what, seven percent of the population? Eight on a good day? We have no representives in the government. The entire U.S. Congress recited the Pledge of Allegiance on the steps of the Capitol and let fly with an off-the-charts-loud "UNDER GOD" like a big fuck-you to all of us who are, in Bush the Elder's words, unfit to be citizens. If someone knows you're an atheist at work, you are immediately viewed as immoral and in many places it's grounds for termination, though that won't be the official reason.

On this internet, though, there aren't such huge consequences to that admission, and there are a few (relatively) atheist-friendly places like MeFi, where we don't have to be so goddammed close-mouthed about our lack of belief. So yeah: after forced silence in the real world, a lot of us come off like arrogant jackasses with an agenda.

And what is that agenda? Equality. To not be forced to play by the capricious and infinitely malleable rules of ancient superstition, where birth-control pills can be denied you because your local pharmacist thinks they're Satan's Now-N-Laters. Where you can be forced to participate in religiously-based alcohol and drug treatment programs. Where non-attendance of church leads the state to transfer custody of your child.

So yeah: a lot of us are hurt and angry and loud about it. Would you take that away as well?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:39 AM on October 25, 2005


languagehat, if you like gods and religions so much why don't you just pick one to believe in? Or have you already?

So we're only allowed to defend things we're part of? If I see anti-Semitism, I have to convert to Judaism before I'm allowed to confront it? Come on, you're smarter than that. For what it's worth, I was raised Lutheran but lost my faith in my early teens; I don't miss the faith, but I do miss the hymn-singing and being part of something that had gone on for centuries. I've always been interested in people's beliefs and supportive of their right to believe things I don't, especially because I have a strong suspicion I myself believe things that aren't objectively true, though of course I don't know what they are. I have nothing against people not believing in religion, and if they want to make themselves feel better by thinking those who do are dumber than they are (despite the exceedingly long roster of demonstrably brilliant people who have been religious), that's their right. But if they say it in public, 1) it's rude (didn't your momma bring you up better than that?) and 2) it makes them look foolish to anyone with a lick of sense.

So yeah: a lot of us are hurt and angry and loud about it. Would you take that away as well?

Hey, I'm not trying to take anything away from anyone. I fervently believe in free speech (I guess that's my religion), and the answer to speech I don't like is to speak up about it, which is what I'm doing. As to your larger point, I guess I just don't get it. I don't like the administration's attempts to force a certain limited version of religion down everyone's throats, any more than I like their attempts to force a cartoon version of democracy onto everyone they can drop bombs on. But the latter doesn't make me despise people who believe in democracy, and the former doesn't make me despise people who believe in religion. I've been an atheist longer (I suspect) than most of you have been alive, and I find myself quite capable of observing the religiosity around me with a tolerant smile (and occasionally admiration, and occasionally annoyance) and getting on with my life. But it's true that I've spent my life in large, cosmopolitan cities; if I had lived in small, intolerant towns I'd probably feel differently.
posted by languagehat at 9:35 AM on October 25, 2005


i hate politics
posted by mingusmingus at 1:26 PM on October 25, 2005


atheism is a negative religious belief ... that makes it a religion

Elementary, thoughtless nonsense. As usual, and as much trotted-out by the religious in their desperation to tar the rational with the same damned stupidity they know, deep down, that the religious suffer from. Wise the hell up about basic logic, would you?
posted by Decani at 3:38 PM on October 25, 2005


To quote an anti-cult site article on Scientology:

"We don't expect mainstream religions to lie, to exploit people, to engage in illegal activity," said David Touretzky, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. "Scientology is not a true religion, because it does all of these things."

To answer: "Whaddaya mean 'WE?'" Mainstream religions lie and exploit people all the time, and they've been known to break the law (see the boy-fucking priests and Propaganda Due, to pick on only the Catholic church) and to insist that laws be written so that what's illegal for any private person or secular corporation is fine for "religious organizations" (like church bingo and tax "exemptions").

The differences between e.g. $cientology and Xianity are actually trivial as both are based on nonsensical beliefs and practices, and saying "Scientology is a cult because it's non-mainstream but Presbyterianism is mainstream and therefore not a cult" is question-begging bullshit.

And LH can't tell me I like to say things like this because it lets me pose as Intellectually Elite because I know damn well I'm a half-educated doofus -- and I wonder why what's so obvious to me eludes Superior Minds that defend Religion (or worse yet practice it).

[Sandeman non-vintage ruby port is pretty good, by the way.]
posted by davy at 9:24 PM on October 25, 2005


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