Skip

Why do atheists care about religion?
October 20, 2006 2:47 PM   Subscribe

Why do atheists care about religion? (youtube). Some of this video is factual, however some states do not have these clauses in their constitutions. However, not even being able to testify in court because you are an atheist is downright frightening.
posted by triolus (74 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Hmm, can't watch the video while at work, but based on the text links... as for me, I'm one atheist who cares about religion for completely different reasons than musty old laws that theoretically, but not actually, prevent me from doing things.

Not that I wouldn't like to see the laws shot down publicly and derisively. It's just that, you know, there are worse things being done by people under the guise of religion at the moment.
posted by gurple at 2:57 PM on October 20, 2006


I can answer that without even watching. Because we get beaten over the head with it all day, every day, and because decisions which have huge effects on our lives are made based on religion constantly.

When I'm not busy shaking my head in disgust at the latest attempt to keep me from doing something because the invisible whatever in the sky says we shouldn't, or hearing that our foreign policy was all but dictated to our leaders by god itself, I spend very little time worrying about it.

And it's interesting...I once proposed swearing on Darwin's Origin of Species if I ever had to testify in court.
posted by nevercalm at 3:05 PM on October 20, 2006


Ahh... If only the last link was still practiced. I could hold up store owners who happen to be known athiests, and they couldn't testify against me. And as we all know, security cameras don't believe in God either, so the footage would be no good. Whereas now, I have to kill shopkeeps so they can't indentify me as the assailant. I would have more time to play WoW!
posted by Debaser626 at 3:11 PM on October 20, 2006


Why do atheists care about religion?

Well, among other reasons, many atheists are religious people. Atheism is non-belief in theism, not rejection of religion. Theism is only one of several types of religion.
posted by jam_pony at 3:11 PM on October 20, 2006


This comes up every year or so.

While the words remain in a few state constitutions, they're utterly inoperative and have no actual effect whatsoever.

Older state constitutions commonly retain provisions that have been ruled unconstitutional because nobody has bothered to delete the inoperative text. This is especially true when, as some of these are, the offending provisions are actually part of a state's old bill of rights as part of a statement that the state will allow Catholics etc to hold office.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:15 PM on October 20, 2006


I'm going to assume that this video is about clauses in state constitutions that require belief in a supreme being for various things (why does this have to be presented as a video? text is so much easier). These rules are all invalidated by Torcaso v. Watkins, I think.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:17 PM on October 20, 2006


I'm an atheist fundamentalist myself.
posted by mullingitover at 3:17 PM on October 20, 2006


We just did this a couple of months ago.
posted by brain_drain at 3:18 PM on October 20, 2006 [1 favorite]




This atheist cares about all sorts of religion -- Sumerian, Greek, Norse, and Roman mythology is really interesting from a literary and historical perspective. You can't really understand something as grand as The Iliad without it, to name just one work. How the world works today? You have to have a grounding in the mythological beliefs of Christians, Jews, and Muslims as well. It's absolutely fascinating. And then there's visual art and architecture -- where to begin?

So I guess I have a slight problem with the way this rhetorical questions is presented. Religion is one of many things you need to know about in order to understand the world at both its best and worst, although there's far more of the latter than the former IMO. I could live without the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, at great pains, if I could get cultists to stop blabbering about the greatness of their Jesus or their Allah. (Doesn't happen as much with Jewish people, because their's a rich tradition of textual criticism, if not outright skepticism, built right into their founding texts, e.g., Job. Which is a quantitaive improvement that I appreciate.)
posted by bardic at 3:32 PM on October 20, 2006


bardic, that reminds me of a favorite, but starting-to-get-tired, Dawkins quote:

"We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further."
posted by gurple at 3:41 PM on October 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


This comes up every year or so.

As does this post in some form or another, and it is incorrect bullshit every time.

And, just like the last time someone posted on this nonsense, precatory statements in Constitutions are not law.

Atheists can testify in court by affirming.

"Do you swear or affirm that...."

Atheism has a lot of intellectual weight and merit to it; it's a shame it is frequently defended by loud and ignorant atheists.
posted by dios at 3:42 PM on October 20, 2006


brain_drain writes "We just did this a couple of months ago. "

Yeah, but last time it wasn't in amateurish video format! (Again, I'm just assuming; I haven't watched it.)
posted by mr_roboto at 3:45 PM on October 20, 2006


Atheists can testify in court by affirming.

Woody Harrelson as Larry Flynt did it in "The People vs. Larry Flynt." Excellent movie.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:46 PM on October 20, 2006


brain_drain writes "We just did this a couple of months ago. "

There is no longer a prohibition against double posts.

Apparently.

We keep having the same discussions over and over and over.
posted by dios at 3:47 PM on October 20, 2006


I came to atheism through my study of and fascination with religion. It was just that, the more I read, the more I doubted. Too many stories were repeated across different religions and then reported as gospel fact.

Along the way, I met too many believers who didn't actually know what they believed (specifically, they never actually read the source material and just went along with whatever they thought their religion was supposed to be about.)

My mind extrapolated backwards, and I saw how easy it would be for a memetic concept to propagate across generations; where originally it was a parable, but three generations later is was the God's Truth, and it happened exactly as described in the book.

In the end, I just didn't have faith. I've seen nothing in my 35 years on the planet that gives me any reason to believe that there is a God. I still think religion is interesting (and frustrating). But for me, it's more like a study in psychology or sociology. The behavior of people in reaction to things they are attempting to understand and the different routes they will take to get there.
posted by quin at 3:48 PM on October 20, 2006 [4 favorites]


(c) Hugh

Legal problems solved. Next?
posted by zennie at 3:49 PM on October 20, 2006


Atheism has a lot of intellectual weight and merit to it; it's a shame it is frequently defended by loud and ignorant atheists.

Gee, dios, if I didn't know better I might think that that remark referred to some of the posters here! Of course, you're just speaking in generalities.

That's a generality that I happen to agree with, actually. As a generality.
posted by gurple at 3:52 PM on October 20, 2006


im in ur fpp debasing ur intellectual discourse
posted by Mister_A at 4:01 PM on October 20, 2006 [3 favorites]


It's funny how I'm totally inured to an overbearing poster named "dios" constantly jumping into threads shouting about how much he hates said thread, especially ones that are directly or tangentially related to religion.

My 10th grade Spanish teacher wouldn't be pleased.

That said, I've always found the "angry atheist" meme implied in that cartoon to be perplexing. Maybe it's because one of my close relatives considered her childhood Catholic indoctrination to be something she had to spend most of her 20's getting over and away from, but I've met plenty of people who become atheists because the fear, guilt, and resentment of much organized religion is just not something anyone needs to get along in life happily.
posted by bardic at 4:01 PM on October 20, 2006


Hmm, if you click the the "this is a reply too" link you get another goofy techno-filled 'documentary', and if you click the 'this is a reply too' link you get this, which was actually a lot more interesting then the other two.
posted by delmoi at 4:03 PM on October 20, 2006


Atheists care about religion because religion cares about atheists.
posted by aubilenon at 4:06 PM on October 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


Christians care about atheists, because proseletyzing is such a big deal for them. Muslims go through historical shifts regardings it. Jewish people and most other religions? Not so much.
posted by bardic at 4:10 PM on October 20, 2006


delmoi writes "Hmm, if you click the the 'this is a reply too' link you get another goofy techno-filled "documentary", and if you click the "this is a reply too" link you get this, which was actually a lot more interesting then the other two."

Thanks, delmoi; I actually kind of enjoyed that!
posted by mr_roboto at 4:14 PM on October 20, 2006


Maybe it's because one of my close relatives considered her childhood Catholic indoctrination to be something she had to spend most of her 20's getting over and away from, but I've met plenty of people who become atheists because the fear, guilt, and resentment of much organized religion is just not something anyone needs to get along in life happily.

It seems like many atheists are atheists because they really are bitter about religion, and many of them spend an inordinate amount of time debating Christianity, which makes about as much sense for an atheist to do as angrily debate The Lord of the Rings. In other words, none. But if they enjoy it, go for it. I feel bad about atheists who really do seem to care, though. It's like they're still under they "clutch" of religion.

It's odd (and annoying) that some religious people can't even seem to comprehend the idea that a person can be atheist.

I also don't understand why Christians always say that Atheists "can do anything" because they don't worry about being smited. Christians can do anything they want too!. All they have to do is beg forgiveness afterword, and they can get into heaven. Plus 99% of the time they convince themselves god wants 'em to do it.
posted by delmoi at 4:14 PM on October 20, 2006


Thanks, delmoi; I actually kind of enjoyed that!

You're welcome :)
posted by delmoi at 4:14 PM on October 20, 2006


Some people are bitter because they grew up in cults and have to be deprogrammed. It's asking a lot for them to just "get over" what they went through. I'm certainly grateful that I didn't have to put up with what many others have (and that's certainly not limited to Catholicism, but anecdotally, I've met plenty of people, often women, who seem to struggle and/or make peace with it).
posted by bardic at 4:19 PM on October 20, 2006


*with Catholicism that is
posted by bardic at 4:20 PM on October 20, 2006


Snore, this is so boring, duplicative, and factually incorrect.

Well, among other reasons, many atheists are religious people. Atheism is non-belief in theism, not rejection of religion. Theism is only one of several types of religion.

What special world do you live in where words are defined by the idiosyncratic personal interpretation of their morphological content, not the commonly accepted understanding of the word's denotation?
posted by Falconetti at 4:23 PM on October 20, 2006


Atheism has a lot of intellectual weight and merit to it; it's a shame it is frequently defended by loud and ignorant atheists.

In all honesty, much the same can be said for religion. Look around, and you can find very thoughtful analysis and thought regarding religion. You can also, and even more easily, look around and spot the Pat Robertson et al types: loud and ignorant religionists.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:28 PM on October 20, 2006


Most of the things that nearly everybody believes are unsubstantiated, and are based on faith. Since the only common definition of "God" seems to be "a unitary thing behind existence," and since it's very difficult for human beings to reject their belief in some unitary thing behind existence (love, mind, rationality, truth, science, matter, etc.) it turns out that there really is no such thing as atheism. There are only good religions and bad religions.
posted by koeselitz at 4:42 PM on October 20, 2006


Metafilter: What special world do you live in where words are defined by the idiosyncratic personal interpretation of their morphological content, not the commonly accepted understanding of the word's denotation?
posted by Citizen Premier at 4:47 PM on October 20, 2006


Nope. That's not what atheism means.

Although I do agree that it's hard to get around the need for a unifying principle, and that some are better than others.

In other words, an atheist doesn't "believe" in science harder than she "believes" in religion, so much as among things that have explanatory power, science has a track record and religion doesn't. To wit, plenty of scientists are religious. It's harder to meet a religious fundamentalist with an advanced degree in phsyics, although I'm sure they're out there.

Maybe that seems like a minor distinction, but it's pretty important. Atheism is a-theism, not a subset of theism. It's a refusal to play the god game.
posted by bardic at 4:48 PM on October 20, 2006


koeselitz, I myself belive that there is no unitary thing behind existence. Hence, I am an atheist.
posted by Citizen Premier at 4:50 PM on October 20, 2006


Well, personally. I think fellow atheists would be wise to focus less on religion and public policy, and more on basic civil liberties and rights in a multi-religious society. Historically objections to religious oaths and tests (one of the few liberties included in the body of the U.S. Constitution) came not only from atheists, but from religious groups who saw those oaths as blashphemous, or as ways to discriminate between religious groups. It should be said that the Constitution was written during a period when sectarian discrimination and violence was still a serious threat.

delmoi: It seems like many atheists are atheists because they really are bitter about religion, and many of them spend an inordinate amount of time debating Christianity, which makes about as much sense for an atheist to do as angrily debate The Lord of the Rings.

This is rather like comparing apples and toaster ovens. Christianity is to a large degree part of the historic culture of the United States. Some Christians actively campaign to shape public policy to support their points of view, and discriminate against other points of view. It is difficult to address or critique many aspects of U.S. policy and culture without addressing and critquing the role of Christianity.

It shouldn't be surprising that people who find themselves in the position of religious or philosophical minorities tend to critique their local culture rather than some culture far away. So ancient Greek atheists expressed doubt about a polytheistic gods, the Buddha dismissed Hindu gods as irrelevant, and Arab and Persian atheists have tended to focus on Islam.

koeselitz: Since the only common definition of "God" seems to be "a unitary thing behind existence," and since it's very difficult for human beings to reject their belief in some unitary thing behind existence (love, mind, rationality, truth, science, matter, etc.) it turns out that there really is no such thing as atheism.

Well, one response to this is the conclusion of the Epicurian argument about the problem of evil which is that if such a "unity" is unable or unwilling to deal with widespread evil in the universe, why call it "God." At that point, we are dealing with semantics.

And there are both ontological and epistemeolgical arguments for atheism. The ontological arguments tend to assert "there is no god." The epistemeological arguments simply assert that in the absence of proof, a lack of belief is a justified and rational position.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:54 PM on October 20, 2006


bardic: "In other words, an atheist doesn't "believe" in science harder than she "believes" in religion, so much as among things that have explanatory power, science has a track record and religion doesn't."

The belief that propositions which are born out by observation more than once are increasingly likely to be true is a tenet of science, and is therefore invalid for determining whether the tenets of science ought to be followed. If you look at science from the perspective of science, of course it's a form of knowledge. However, in human life, there are plenty of propositions which cannot be tested through observations, and which every single one of us deals with every day. For example: love. For another example: death. Generally, most propositions which deal with human experience cannot be tested. Those propositions, I think, are the most important ones. And they're the ones that modern science doesn't cover.

"Maybe that seems like a minor distinction, but it's pretty important. Atheism is a-theism, not a subset of theism. It's a refusal to play the god game."

And I don't mean to say that atheism, as you define it, is impossible. Only that it's probably a lot harder than you think. Every one of us, no matter how much we'd like to admit it, has a set of belief about the world that comfort us. It's very, very difficult to lay bare those beliefs.

Citizen Premier: "koeselitz, I myself belive that there is no unitary thing behind existence. Hence, I am an atheist."

I mean it when I say I admire you for it. It must be very difficult to get through daily life while eschewing science, logic, and a whole slew of other world-unifying concepts. I believe it would be real progress if every human being could do that; free themselves completely from the influence of others and the desire to make sense of the world. However, since I don't think it's possible, and since I think it's rewarding to try to make sense of the world, I endorse traditional religions.
posted by koeselitz at 5:11 PM on October 20, 2006


Oh, and Kirk: that argument of Epicurus is a difficult one. But I have just as much problem trying to discern why things like "good" and "evil" exist at all. I tend to think that that argument is pure rhetoric, as I don't believe that Epicurus believed in such things.
posted by koeselitz at 5:17 PM on October 20, 2006


That video was so boring (...twangy music... guy reading the title of the video... more twangy music over shots of religious buildings... long, long shots of various bits of state constitutions...) that I bailed out a couple of minutes into it. But then this isn't about the posted video, is it? It's just an excuse for yet another ATHEISTS ARE GOOD AND SMART RELIGIOUS PEOPLE ARE BAD AND DUMB! discussion. Enjoy.
posted by languagehat at 5:19 PM on October 20, 2006


Substitute "Wicca", (or for that matter, "Islam") for "religion", and Christians will find themselves in complete agreement with Atheists on the scope of its proper role in society and in particular public policy.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:21 PM on October 20, 2006


What special world do you live in where words are defined by the idiosyncratic personal interpretation of their morphological content, not the commonly accepted understanding of the word's denotation?

Falconetti: I think what jam_pony is saying is that there are religions which are non-theistic. Thus followers of those religions are religious people but also atheists. I believe this applies to some forms of Buddhism, as well as others such as Animistic religions, Wicca, and undoubtedly many more.
posted by BaxterG4 at 5:30 PM on October 20, 2006


I don't know languagehat, I tried to compose my comment in a way that didn't polarize the thread. And I saw a couple of other that were far better than mine that also didn't resort to saying Y0UR G0Dz DUM8 l0l! as well.

Perhaps another dumb discussion what the original poster was going for, I don't know. But as god vs heathen threads go, this one has been pretty civil.
posted by quin at 5:30 PM on October 20, 2006


koeselitz: For example: love. For another example: death. Generally, most propositions which deal with human experience cannot be tested. Those propositions, I think, are the most important ones. And they're the ones that modern science doesn't cover.

This is debatable. But I don't think that atheism demands a commitment to one particular method of creating knowledge, or one particular type of knowledge. For example, I also am fond of law as a method of creating some types of knowledge, like the fact that I'm not guilty of a felony.

Only that it's probably a lot harder than you think. Every one of us, no matter how much we'd like to admit it, has a set of belief about the world that comfort us. It's very, very difficult to lay bare those beliefs.

Well, this is why I consider myself an atheist. Some of the more extreme apologies of theism (as demonstrated here) rely on a mushy shell game in which "god" is justified by continual redefinition. In the process, "god" becomes meaningless because god is love, logic, science, my coffee cup and my toaster oven. Sometimes, Einstein's Spinoza-esque deism gets brought into the discussion, ignoring the problem that his impotent and blind god completely unconcerned with human affairs is pretty far away from the God of Moses and Abraham who gives law and punishes nations.

I can believe in love, logic, science, my coffee cup and my toaster oven, without invoking god-language to explain or justify that belief.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:38 PM on October 20, 2006


as god vs heathen threads go, this one has been pretty civil.

I agree, and that's a good thing. I still don't see the point of yet another MeFi thread chewing over the same old cud. But obviously lots of atheists never ever get tired of that cud.
posted by languagehat at 5:41 PM on October 20, 2006


As for the Pledge of Allegiance, I think Modern Humorist came up with the best answer. In fact for the first time in my life I'd actually like to be in a position of being expected to say the pledge, just so I can say it this way.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:50 PM on October 20, 2006


LH, as a member of the bulletin board/blog culture for nigh twenty years, I think I can state with authority that discussion of religion will never prove unpopular. Whinging about it isn't the solution: creating FPPs about other things is the ticket.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:56 PM on October 20, 2006


I enjoyed this presentation about why athiests care about politics.
posted by nanojath at 6:10 PM on October 20, 2006


Generally, most propositions which deal with human experience cannot be tested.

Really? I just stuck my hand into fire again. When will I ever learn?

I see where you're going, and you're wrong. Just because there are aspects of human experience which are harder to quantify than others doesn't make quantification, falsifiability, and all that other good science/Karl Popper stuff invalid. Science doesn't make a claim to knowing everything (although unfortunately, some scientists do), but to offering a method that over time allows for self-correction.

As for what gets me through the day? I believe that art and literature provide me with what other people get out of religion. So be it. When a bunch of poets start to craft Federal legislation limiting the rights of theists, maybe I'll reconsider.
posted by bardic at 6:14 PM on October 20, 2006


2 cents filter: Having read the former atheist/religion thread, and then this one, I've come to the conclusion (for me personally, certainly not to you brave minders) that this second one had some very interesting points raised, particularly in the comments of koeselitz, kirkjobsluder, baxterg4 and the always insightful george spiggot. I didnt consider it a waste of time or space. But will my application to the post police be callously turned aside due to this admission?

If you dont like the post, um, you might just try ignoring it. Probably not as satisfying as jumping up and down yelling 'sucky post' and 'double' and ' you're violating the rules, how dare you, cretin. But there it is.

Thanks Triolis for the interesting post.
posted by Gaius Gracchus at 6:17 PM on October 20, 2006


As for the quality of a given thread about religion on mefi, this one has been decent partly because only two asshats have come along and insisted we don't talk about this stuff evar. Why's it so shocking that atheists take religion seriously? Aquinas didn't find God until he was 28 and decided stealing fruit was bad.
posted by bardic at 6:23 PM on October 20, 2006


Aquinas didn't find God until he was 28 and decided stealing fruit was bad.

that was st augustine
posted by pyramid termite at 7:14 PM on October 20, 2006


that was st augustine

Oh, now it's on.
posted by nanojath at 7:37 PM on October 20, 2006


not even being able to testify in court because you are an atheist is downright frightening.

because, ya know, testifying in court is your life's dream, obviously.
posted by quonsar at 8:00 PM on October 20, 2006


i used to be the kind of atheist that just didn't care what people believed in, really...i just figured that whatever that thing is that people were born with that allows them to have religion, i just didn't have that...i was required to go to southern baptist church as a child, but as i got older i was surprised that the stuff we were learning in sunday school people were actually taking seriously...it just never made a connection with me, and i never cared enough to try to force it...

...also, i've heard it expressed well somewhere (though i can't recall where or by whom) that growing up gay can give some early insight into the inconsistency between actions/words and stated ideals...perhaps when it came to religion, i was lucky (unlucky?) enough to see how embedded these things were in the church culture i encountered...

as i've gotten older, i've become more aggressively atheist (in terms of anti-religion more than just don't care about it)...i think this is in part because of frustration over my impression (not to generalize, as i'm no expert) that the religious can't seem to be happy enough just exercising their spirituality on a personal basis, but must insist that the rest of us buy in and suffer the consequences as well...and connected to this, the frustration that even in discussions or debates not related to religion itself, believers will drag you into a logical bermuda triangle in which they assume that their more mystical assumptions are self-evident and need not be explained or proven (much like the 'respect for religion' safety zone that dawkins refers to, which allows, say, christians to attack gays and yet claim deep offense when their beliefs are similarly disrespected)...i've grown more suspicious that these 'safety zones' are disingenuous--not as much appeals to respect for personal belief as convenient defense against logical, critical argument...again, perhaps i see it more being gay, but it's incredibly frustrating when you cannot even achieve a common plane for rational debate when dealing with groups trying to influence policies that affect us all...(and i'm not saying i don't have my own rational blind spots, but i like to think i can be reasoned with and would change an opinion given a sensible argument so directed)...

...so, not that i think that most people who claim to be believers are actually believers, but their silence is a proxy exercised by the relative nut cases that seem more and more to drown out voices of reason...not that i don't try, but it's hard to keep quiet when faced with that...
posted by troybob at 8:01 PM on October 20, 2006


Damn. My first theology burn. Ouch.

Seriously, I've got a former poly sci professor that would kick my ass for having typed that. Professor Clor, I apologize to you if you're still alive.
posted by bardic at 8:09 PM on October 20, 2006


because, ya know, testifying in court is your life's dream, obviously.

who among us hasn't fantasized about entering the courtroom as a surprise witness, wearing a big white hat and veil, in a $5000 nolan miller suit, just like alexis carrington, and giving some dramatic, scandalous testimony about the cruelty of an ex-husband who murdered your son's gay lover? if i don't get a chance to do it before i die, i'm gonna be way pissed...
posted by troybob at 8:24 PM on October 20, 2006


if i don't get a chance to do it before i die, i'm gonna be way pissed...

Honestly, I don't see your atheism as the most likely obstacle to realizing that dream.
posted by nanojath at 8:37 PM on October 20, 2006


But obviously lots of atheists never ever get tired of that cud.

Yeah, because the theists are so over it.
posted by papakwanz at 8:44 PM on October 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


I admit I didn't have much hope for this thread, but it's turning out better than expected.

Special thanks to nanojath his efforts in this regard.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 10:14 PM on October 20, 2006


A podcast that addresses some issues that might be of interest: The God who May Be, part one.
It was a modern axiom that philosophy and religion should be strangers, the one relying on reason the other on revelation. But, as the limits of both reason and revelation have become clearer, a new conversation has begun, and Irish philosopher Richard Kearney has been one of its leaders. In a three-part conversation with David Cayley, he talks about his philosophy of the imagination and his book, The God Who May Be.
The part that made me perk up my ears is his basic thesis that atheism is critical part of any personal journey toward true faith. He says that atheism rids us of all the knee-jerk reactions to things and forces us to question each presumption carefully before accepting or rejecting it. He frames it as a kind of spiritual purge, one that individuals experience, and that western culture is currently experiencing (in some quarters, anyway). He's a Catholic, and he thinks atheism is a very good thing, and something he still turns to as part of his own spirituality. I'm really looking forward to parts two and three (they haven't been released yet).
posted by Hildegarde at 10:37 PM on October 20, 2006


I live to serve.
posted by nanojath at 10:38 PM on October 20, 2006


ok, i have to say it, but the first thing i thought when i started to watch that video is "Hey, those are loops from Garage Band!".

anyway, if you have even remotely considered atheism then chances are you are clever enough to realize that big old social/cultural structures are generally bent against those who exercise independant thought (unless that independant thought is about gaming the system, in which case, Welcome!). The majority of the world just doesn't feel comfortable without being inferior to something (and having that padded with all sorts of silly stories). Yes, youtube is amazing, but we (the non-religious types) all can just nod and get back to avoiding conversations about religion with those who never question what they were told.
posted by ba3r at 11:15 PM on October 20, 2006


proselytical atheism ≠ independent thought
posted by blasdelf at 2:27 AM on October 21, 2006


The majority of the world just doesn't feel comfortable without being inferior to something (and having that padded with all sorts of silly stories).

Not sure if I buy your characterization of religious belief, if that's what it was, but I thought the vast majority of the world's population held such beliefs. Or has that been debunked?

Please let that have been debunked.
posted by dreamsign at 6:32 AM on October 21, 2006


Oh boy, an atheism thread!

*rubs fingers, waits for theist to show up*

He's gonna just crumple up and die when he hears this latest argument I thought of! Yeah! Right again!

*refreshes page*
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 6:58 AM on October 21, 2006


I enjoyed this presentation about why athiests care about politics.

And the thread, too.
posted by Foosnark at 9:03 AM on October 21, 2006


Y'know, the only thing worse that crappy atheism threads are crappy posts about atheism threads. This one included, if that pleases you; but mostly idiot spew like the above n posts.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:05 AM on October 21, 2006


...it's very difficult for human beings to reject their belief in some unitary thing behind existence (love, mind, rationality, truth, science, matter, etc.) it turns out that there really is no such thing as atheism.

It must be very difficult to get through daily life while eschewing science, logic, and a whole slew of other world-unifying concepts.


I think you and I mean very different things by "belief," and I'm curious to know what you mean by it.

Say I'm having a lucid dream (I'm aware that I'm dreaming), and in that dream there's a glass case with a slice of cake inside it, and I'm holding a hammer. I know the hammer isn't real (I don't believe in it), but I want the (non-existent) cake. So I'm going to go ahead and use the hammer, purely for practical reasons.

I don't BELIEVE in a "unitary thing behind existence", but I'm willing to wield the tools of science, because they're useful. I don't really care if they're TRUE or not, unless I'm waxing philosophical. And I don't wax that floor most of the time. (Though it's fun to wax it on occasion.)

I suppose that it's hard to use a tool while, at the same time, hold in your mind that the tool might not exist or that it might be based on an article of faith. So I don't do both these things at the same time. But I do DO them.

To me, "belief" means feeling that something is true or highly likely to be true. I don't feel that way about Science (or, rather, the foundations of Science), though I use Science all the time.
posted by grumblebee at 9:52 AM on October 21, 2006


What's this about magic cake?
posted by nanojath at 9:15 PM on October 21, 2006


Well, among other reasons, many atheists are religious people. Atheism is non-belief in theism, not rejection of religion. Theism is only one of several types of religion.

I disagree... atheism is nothing more than a default position, it's completely neutral and in and of itself, not a philosophy. It may open the door up for other worldviews (humanism, atheistic buddhism, or even just who-gives-a-shit-I-just-don't-believe apathy), but atheism is just an empty bowl. If you fill it with cereal, it's a ceral bowl, fill it with soup, it's a soup bowl.
posted by grimcity at 8:52 AM on October 22, 2006


atheism is nothing more than a default position

Wise words, and I agree completely. Trouble is, discussions about theism and atheism are almost always rendered useless -- at least intellectually useless -- but the conversants' lack of shared definitions. You and I, grimcity, share this definition of atheism, but many people define it in a more emotive way (an atheist is a person who hates God, scorns religion, etc.)

I am so sick of hearing, for the gazillionth time, people saying, "you're confusing faith with religion" or "you're confusing religion with organized religion." Sick, I am, but also sympathetic. It's annoying when someone is attacking your claim about oranges when, in fact, you'd been discussing apples.

To me, it's silly to claim ownership of a word. Words mean whatever they mean to the person using them. The trouble always comes when we think, mistakenly, we all share the same meaning or when we try to force our meanings on other people. (Even if you're less of a relativist than I am -- even if you insist that words do have fixed, correct meanings -- good luck imposing your rules on others.)

I wish that in these discussions, people would spend more time defining their terms and agreeing to call, for the sake of this discussion, a theist someone who believes in X. But people are generally (a) uninterested in defining terms, (b) deluded into thinking one can have an intellectually meaningful discussion without defining terms, and (c) horribly confused about the distinction between a logical argument between people who have agreed on definitions and a "logical" argument between people who haven't.

A couple of times, I'm said that one can't have an "intellectually meaningful" conversation without well-defined terms, and I'll go to my grave believing that. But one can have an emotively meaningful conversation without defining anything. No need to be clear if your aim is to scream (while basking in an aura of pseudo-intellectualism).

In discussions about religion, most people won't ever be able to define terms, until they first spend 10 straight hours screaming at their parents, priests, teachers and friends. Maybe, after they are completely drained from screaming, they will be able to approach the situation rationally. But it's more likely they'll want to watch "24" or go out for a beer.
posted by grumblebee at 9:48 AM on October 22, 2006


Words mean whatever they mean to the person using them. The trouble always comes when we think, mistakenly, we all share the same meaning or when we try to force our meanings on other people. ... I wish that in these discussions, people would spend more time defining their terms

That is simply not a tenable position. No, you can't impose personal meanings on other people, but the only way "meaning" can make sense is when you expand it to "meaning accepted by a significant number of native speakers of the language." If you couldn't take that for granted, you couldn't use language. Here, let's take an example:

Words
— what exactly do you mean by that? Define your terms.
mean — what exactly do you mean by that? Define your terms.
whatever — what exactly do you mean by that? Define your terms.
they — what exactly do you mean by that? Define your terms.
mean — what exactly do you mean by that? Define your terms.
to — what exactly do you mean by that? Define your terms.
the — what exactly do you mean by that? Define your terms.
person — what exactly do you mean by that? Define your terms.
using — what exactly do you mean by that? Define your terms.
them. — what exactly do you mean by that? Define your terms.
posted by languagehat at 11:24 AM on October 22, 2006 [1 favorite]


I agree that it's a problem, languagehat, but I stand by what I said: Words mean whatever they mean to the person using them. And here, I suspect, you and I are defining the word "mean" in different ways.

I believe I'm saying -- or trying to say -- something really simple. When I hear the word "cat", certain images appear in my brain. Those images are what they are. You may see different images.

If you want to say that one of us is right and the other is wrong, that's fine. I don't care or even really understand what it would mean to be right or wrong in this context. But for the sake of argument, lets say I'm "wrong." When I hear cat, I picture something really non-standard, let's say a tiny insect. You can tell me that I'm "wrong," but that doesn't change the fact that I see an insect. MAYBE -- if I feel you have some authority -- your view will change my definition. But it might not.

Do you disagree with this? Do you disagree that when someone says a word, you and I might each interpret this word in different ways?

If you're trying to point out to me that for many words, most people will share a similar definition, then I agree with you. I suspect that the simpler the word, the closer most people's definitions are likely to be. By simpler, I'm mainly talking about simple signifiers of concrete objects: cat, shirt, car, apple. THIS is what makes conversation possible. I don't share your EXACT definition of cat. But I share one that is close enough that if you say, "feed the cat," I'm likely to engage in an activity that will satisfy you (and you'll never even feel that I don't share your definition).

As words start to stand for abstractions: love, democracy, atheism ... there's much less likelihood of agreement. And in discussions of these abstractions, close isn't good enough -- unless we're all just emoting. (A group of friends can have a meaningful discussion about "love" without getting all that close to a shared meaning, because these friends are using "love" as a sort of emotional exchange.)

If you have the view that there are right and wrong definitions, how does that view translate into USEFUL action when I mis-define? If I say, "theism is the same as Christianity." What do you do? Say, "you're wrong?" Fair enough. But what's do you expect to happen -- besides getting a change to blow off steam -- when you do that?

I suppose you can tell me that I'm using an eccentric definition -- one that isn't shared by most people here. And that if I keep using it, I won't really be communicating. So then "right" and "wrong" really becomes about playing by majority rules.

I actually think that's quite sensible. A CLEVER way to use language -- if you're trying to communicate with people that you don't know intimately -- is to "play by conventional rules." I'm less inclined to call someone who doesn't do this "wrong" (I think it cheaps the word "wrong"), but that's just my quirk. I agree in principal.

By here -- as in many discussions about abstract topics -- there ARE no common definitions. There are just clouds of generalities and a lot of vague arguments based on an illusion of shared meanings. This is, again, why I think it's so important to nail things down.

(On the other hand, "nailing things down" is a killer in emotional discussions. Emotional talk about love succeeds BECAUSE people don't nail things down, because the vague cloud allows multiple people to share their feelings without having any common ground -- except for the fact that the have strong feelings associated with the word "love." I think another really hard problem, in threads like this, is that some people want to have an emotive discussion while others want to have an intellectual discussion. So there will be drives towards and away from nailing things down.)

If you feel that words have meaning BEYOND whatever meaning people give them -- if you feel that words have some sort of spiritual power -- then I must respect your view (and, frankly, admire your view: I wish I believed that), but beg out of the discussion. We wouldn't have enough common ground to continue.
posted by grumblebee at 1:35 PM on October 22, 2006


I suppose you can tell me that I'm using an eccentric definition -- one that isn't shared by most people here. And that if I keep using it, I won't really be communicating. So then "right" and "wrong" really becomes about playing by majority rules.

Yes, that's exactly what I'm going to tell you.

I actually think that's quite sensible. A CLEVER way to use language

Sensible, yes. Clever? Considering it's how pretty much everybody instinctively uses language, that may be overstating it.
posted by languagehat at 1:42 PM on October 22, 2006


Okay, we're in agreement about that. Good. Though I'd amend your statement to it's how pretty much everybody instinctively THINKS THEY USE language, and with simple words, they need never think otherwise, because the divergences are petty.

The problem: you and I are discussing marriage. I say I'm for it; you say you're against it. By we're both unaware that by "marriage," I mean "a loving partnership" and you mean "a legal contract." IF we get our definitions straight, I might say, "Oh, I don't really care about legal stuff. I thought you were against consensual monogamy." But usually in these discussions, such cards are never placed on the table.

I really DO think it's only important for the cards to be placed IF the conversants want to build (or smash down) logical arguments. If the goal is to emote -- or to have a light conversation -- then it's better for all the players to hold their cards. Full, clear disclosure can be a conversation stopper. Sometimes it leads to one person saying, "Oh. I misunderstood you. Now that I understand, I agree with you." End of conversation. That's rare. More often, it leads to, "Well, that's not what I'm TALKING about!" And the conversation reaches an emotional impasse.

Poetry is wonderful, because it allows (encourages!) multiple meanings to coexist (or to joust with each other), but poetry works best (in my opinion) when its aim is emotive.

There is a social mechanism that I don't quite understand, but I think it's common on sites like this: it involves people having an emotive conversation while pretending that they aren't -- while pretending that they're having a reasoned argument. Is this because our society devalues emotion? If so, that's very sad.
posted by grumblebee at 2:04 PM on October 22, 2006


« Older Who Killed Retro Girl?   |   I, for one, welcome our Romulan overlords. Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post