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The Problem with Atheism
October 3, 2007 11:54 AM   Subscribe

Sam Harris critiques contemporary atheism. Harris, best known for Atheist tracts "Letter to a Christian Nation" and "The End of Faith," calls for a more nuanced, modest atheism rationality.
posted by klangklangston (155 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
via Wendell on MeCha.
posted by klangklangston at 11:54 AM on October 3, 2007


I don't believe in Wendell.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:57 AM on October 3, 2007 [4 favorites]


Sam Harris always wears black because he is the Devil.
posted by four panels at 11:59 AM on October 3, 2007


So, we can now ask, how have people of good will and common sense gone about combating racism? There was a civil rights movement, of course. The KKK was gradually battered to the fringes of society. There have been important and, I think, irrevocable changes in the way we talk about race—our major newspapers no longer publish flagrantly racist articles and editorials as they did less than a century ago—but, ask yourself, how many people have had to identify themselves as “non-racists” to participate in this process? Is there a “non-racist alliance” somewhere for me to join?

I think this is a better point than he even realizes -- because there are anti-racist alliances to join, and they are normally staffed by self-important dickbags.

Good essay, thanks klang (and wendell, I guess).
posted by Bookhouse at 12:00 PM on October 3, 2007


"240 million of these people apparently believe that Jesus will return someday and orchestrate the end of the world with his magic powers."

If Sam ever actually steps off his tired old stereotypes, and reads the bible and states what it really says, that would be a miracle indeed.
posted by CameraObscura at 12:03 PM on October 3, 2007 [1 favorite]



I think this is a better point than he even realizes -- because there are anti-racist alliances to join, and they are normally staffed by self-important dickbags.


Is that so? Would you care to elaborate?
posted by kolophon at 12:05 PM on October 3, 2007


LOLATHIESTZ
posted by blue_beetle at 12:06 PM on October 3, 2007


"Good essay, thanks klang (and wendell, I guess)."

It was either this or something from the Oxford American that I've already put up on my blog.
posted by klangklangston at 12:06 PM on October 3, 2007


If Sam ever actually steps off his tired old stereotypes, and reads the bible and states what it really says, that would be a miracle indeed.

He doesn't claim that's what the Bible says, he claims that's what a lot of people believe.
posted by Legomancer at 12:07 PM on October 3, 2007 [12 favorites]


"If Sam ever actually steps off his tired old stereotypes, and reads the bible and states what it really says, that would be a miracle indeed."

Yeah, there's some throw-away Atheist cred stuff in the beginning, but I like how he does get at the crux of the faith experience later on.
posted by klangklangston at 12:08 PM on October 3, 2007


He doesn't claim that's what the Bible says, he claims that's what a lot of people believe.

Well, that makes him wrong twice.
posted by CameraObscura at 12:09 PM on October 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


I think that “atheist” is a term that we do not need, in the same way that we don’t need a word for someone who rejects astrology. We simply do not call people “non-astrologers.” All we need are words like “reason” and “evidence” and “common sense” and “bullshit” to put astrologers in their place, and so it could be with religion.

Thank you.
posted by dead_ at 12:09 PM on October 3, 2007 [6 favorites]


He doesn't claim that's what the Bible says, he claims that's what a lot of people believe.

Well, that makes him wrong twice.


Wait, so you are saying it is in the Bible, but that a lot of people don't believe it? Damn apostates!
posted by ND¢ at 12:12 PM on October 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


...he claims that's what a lot of people believe.

Well, that makes him wrong twice.

Indeed, I think he may not be acknowledging the wide range of idiocy and insanity in even Protestantism, let alone all of Christianity.
posted by DU at 12:17 PM on October 3, 2007


It was either this or something from the Oxford American that I've already put up on my blog.
posted by klangklangston at 2:06 PM on October 3

Thats like a self link without the link.

I think that “atheist” is a term that we do not need, in the same way that we don’t need a word for someone who rejects astrology.
Thats a good point. Very Bright.
posted by Sailormom at 12:20 PM on October 3, 2007


Stimulating post.

"If the comparison with astrology seems too facile, consider the problem of racism. Racism was about as intractable a social problem as we have ever had in this country. We are talking about deeply held convictions. I’m sure you have all seen the photos of lynchings in the first half of the 20th century—where seemingly whole towns in the South, thousands of men, women and children—bankers, lawyers, doctors, teachers, church elders, newspaper editors, policemen, even the occasional Senator and Congressman—turned out as though for a carnival to watch some young man or woman be tortured to death and then strung up on a tree or lamppost for all to see.

Seeing the pictures of these people in their Sunday best, having arranged themselves for a postcard photo under a dangling, and lacerated, and often partially cremated person, is one thing, but realize that these genteel people, who were otherwise quite normal, we must presume—though unfailing religious—often took souvenirs of the body home to show their friends—teeth, ears, fingers, knee caps, internal organs—and sometimes displayed them at their places of business.

Of course, I’m not saying that racism is no longer a problem in this country, but anyone who thinks that the problem is as bad as it ever was has simply forgotten, or has never learned, how bad, in fact, it was
."

Makes me think there is an appropriate time for being anti, when the mainstream has adopted a backwards mindset. Then, once the backwards mindset is markedly less prevalent, an appropriate time to take a stand not so much an an anti-something, which is basically defined by the "something" but as basically sane person, "decent, responsible people who destroy bad ideas wherever we find them."
posted by nickyskye at 12:20 PM on October 3, 2007


Is there a “non-racist alliance” somewhere for me to join?

Uh, yes....several. More to the point, there were many at the time. Harassed (and killed) poll workers, for example, weren't just people who just happened to wander down to the South and stumble into the job. They were organized.
posted by DU at 12:21 PM on October 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


I don't really think of "atheist" as an anti- term. It's like "asymptomatic"--I'm just not exhibiting irrationality.
posted by DU at 12:23 PM on October 3, 2007 [8 favorites]


We should not call ourselves “atheists.” We should not call ourselves “secularists.” We should not call ourselves “humanists,” or “secular humanists,” or “naturalists,” or “skeptics,” or “anti-theists,” or “rationalists,” or “freethinkers,” or “brights.” We should not call ourselves anything. We should go under the radar—for the rest of our lives. And while there, we should be decent, responsible people who destroy bad ideas wherever we find them.

Bad Idea, 12 O'Clock. Prep missiles.

Sorry, dude, my identity does not "go" under your "radar."
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:24 PM on October 3, 2007


I love his section on contemplation:

As someone who has made his own modest efforts in this area, let me assure you, that when a person goes into solitude and trains himself in meditation for 15 or 18 hours a day, for months or years at a time, in silence, doing nothing else—not talking, not reading, not writing—just making a sustained moment to moment effort to merely observe the contents of consciousness and to not get lost in thought, he experiences things that most scientists and artists are not likely to have experienced, unless they have made precisely the same efforts at introspection. And these experiences have a lot to say about the plasticity of the human mind and about the possibilities of human happiness.

So, apart from just commending these phenomena to your attention, I’d like to point out that, as atheists, our neglect of this area of human experience puts us at a rhetorical disadvantage. Because millions of people have had these experiences, and many millions more have had glimmers of them, and we, as atheists, ignore such phenomena, almost in principle, because of their religious associations—and yet these experiences often constitute the most important and transformative moments in a person’s life. Not recognizing that such experiences are possible or important can make us appear less wise even than our craziest religious opponents.

posted by schroedinger at 12:25 PM on October 3, 2007 [4 favorites]


It was either this or something from the Oxford American that I've already put up on my blog.

it's not like it's mandatory to post something
posted by matteo at 12:28 PM on October 3, 2007 [3 favorites]


I think its an interesting essay, and that he makes a lot of good points. However, I don't think the atheist label can really be abandoned, when people say "wait a minute, are you an atheist" after you've been discussing religion with them, what would his ideal answer be?

And, to participate in the derail: "Jesus will return someday and orchestrate the end of the world with his magic powers."

I'm not seeing a problem here Camera. That sounds like a pretty good summation of Revelation to me. Obviously a lot of it was "God" rather than "Jesus", but what with the trinity and all I don't think its at all wrong to imply the other two when you specify one of them.

Your problem, apparently, is that you don't like a blunt summary of what the book of Revelation actually says. It *says* right there in Revelation chapter 6 that with his magic "worthy" powers Jesus will open a sealed scroll and start the end of the world by letting loose all sorts of nasty things including the ever popular four horsemen.

So, yeah, saying that someday Jesus will come and orchistrate the end of the world with his magic powers seems like a perfectly accurate summary of Revelation to me. Why do you disagree?
posted by sotonohito at 12:31 PM on October 3, 2007 [9 favorites]


Another problem is that in accepting a label, particularly the label of “atheist,” it seems to me that we are consenting to be viewed as a cranky sub-culture

Like "MeFite?"

I love being a member of cranky subcultures. I'm old and crotchety waaaaay before my time.
posted by god hates math at 12:32 PM on October 3, 2007


I think this is a better point than he even realizes -- because there are anti-racist alliances to join, and they are normally staffed by self-important dickbags.

Is that so? Would you care to elaborate?

Sorry, that was a bit flip. But what I meant is that, like many an atheist, people who get very involved in something like the SHARP movement can lose all sense of proportion and end up flyering Boyd Rice shows when they ought to be fighting poverty in black neighborhoods. Much like many atheists spend far too much time LOLChrist-ing when they are better off living their own lives as examples of how you don't need religion to be a good person.
posted by Bookhouse at 12:34 PM on October 3, 2007


We should not call ourselves “atheists.” We should not call ourselves “secularists.” We should not call ourselves “humanists,” or “secular humanists,” or “naturalists,” or “skeptics,” or “anti-theists,” or “rationalists,” or “freethinkers,” or “brights.” We should not call ourselves anything. We should go under the radar—for the rest of our lives. And while there, we should be decent, responsible people who destroy bad ideas wherever we find them.

A FUCKING MEN
posted by everichon at 12:35 PM on October 3, 2007


I thought I disagreed with him until I got to this part:

Well, rather than declare ourselves “atheists” in opposition to all religion, I think we should do nothing more than advocate reason and intellectual honesty—and where this advocacy causes us to collide with religion, as it inevitably will, we should observe that the points of impact are always with specific religious beliefs—not with religion in general. There is no religion in general.

That's a main idea I can get behind. There sure is a lot of condescension in the parts before and after that, though. Makes me wonder how this strategic plan is working out for him. It doesn't seem to be going well so far. I'm not religious, but I'm annoyed just from reading this.
posted by Tehanu at 12:40 PM on October 3, 2007 [3 favorites]


But what I meant is that, like many an atheist, people who get very involved in something like the SHARP movement can lose all sense of proportion and end up flyering Boyd Rice shows when they ought to be fighting poverty in black neighborhoods.

Agreed. I'm often wary of people who join ideologically-defined organizations - my experience has been that lots of them tend to miss the forest for the trees.
posted by god hates math at 12:42 PM on October 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


"Makes me think there is an appropriate time for being anti, when the mainstream has adopted a backwards mindset."

I agree, nickyskye.

And as much as I enjoyed his article, the title should perhaps have been "The Future of Atheism" or - with superficial provocation -"Why Atheism Must Die" rather than the one given.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 12:43 PM on October 3, 2007


I love Sam Harris in some ways, but I agree with DU, I think he's wrong about this part:

"...but, ask yourself, how many people have had to identify themselves as “non-racists” to participate in this process? Is there a “non-racist alliance” somewhere for me to join?...And atheism, I would argue, is not a thing. It is not a philosophy, just as “non-racism” is not one."

Those people fighting racism did indeed have labels for themselves, they called themselves civil right workers or voting rights activists or anti-segregationists or whatever, but they didn't change laws and attitudes by "not call(ing) ourselves anything. We should go under the radar."
posted by tula at 12:48 PM on October 3, 2007 [3 favorites]


evrichon: so would you say if I think federally institutionalized marriage, a religious tradition, is a bad idea, I shouldn't petition the state or federal governments for the right to a civil union on the basis of atheism, belief in the separation of church and state and equal rights, because I should just keep that "atheist" bit to myself?
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:52 PM on October 3, 2007


I think we should do nothing more than advocate reason and intellectual honesty—and where this advocacy causes us to collide with religion, as it inevitably will, we should observe that the points of impact are always with specific religious beliefs—not with religion in general.

That's a main idea I can get behind. There sure is a lot of condescension in the parts before and after that, though.


And it's an idea that a number of religious believers in almost all sects are already behind (and have historically been behind), which was why I found reading that speech to be so frustrating.* It's like he knows he has a PR problem, but can't stop doing the thing that's causing it, even as he's telling you that he knows he's got the problem.

*That, and his implication that the Bible is something that all Christians believe is composed entirely of material facts. His blindness to the presence of poetic devices (or his deliberate unwillingness to acknowledge them) reminds me of a robot in a pulp SF story that doesn't understand what love is. It's like he can't be bothered to even open the Oxford Bible Commentary.
posted by Prospero at 12:55 PM on October 3, 2007


AV: No, I wouldn't try to defend Harris's idea to that point. I am enthusiastic only because it is a nice response to what I think is cringe-making and unproductive overzealousness on the part of "brights" and their ilk.

Of course there is a time for speaking loudly and directly, I just think that some people on "our" side make a mistake in thinking that it's appropriate all the time. Full disclosure: I am a total pussy who hates confrontation.
posted by everichon at 12:59 PM on October 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's like he can't be bothered to even open the Oxford Bible Commentary.

To be fair, the same could be said of 95% of Christians.
posted by ND¢ at 1:01 PM on October 3, 2007 [3 favorites]


Well, I'm not an atheist, but I certainly believe in reason.

His explication of a rationalist approach to questions of meditation and spiritual experience are important.

schroedinger quoted it above, but it bears notice. One of the issues that a lot of people who are religious, and/or spiritual is that they have had *genuine experiences* that have, subjectively, happened to them. Atheism does itself a great disservice to merely disregard these experiences. The mystical experience is a actual event that people have been having for thousands of years.

Now, we can debate *what* exactly that experience is, although MRIs have shown that meditation actually changes brain structure.

Great find, klang and wendell.
posted by MythMaker at 1:01 PM on October 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Was I cowardly for posting this over here and over here but not here? No, I was just genuinely interested in seeing how others reacted to it because the speech contained a surprising mixture of things I agreed with, disagreed with and 'needed to think about some more', more than the usual rant by a Superstar Atheist, and I respected MeFi's informal rule of Don't post something just to start discussion (and yes, doubted the Blue's ability to get into the multiple issues before degenerating into whatever Atheist Posts usually become). But klang really didn't need to credit me. REALLY.
posted by wendell at 1:06 PM on October 3, 2007


A lot of good points. I'm not willing to go under the radar (imagine what the civil rights movement would have been if no one made a fuss - no movement!), but he is right that rationality should be enough.
posted by arcticwoman at 1:09 PM on October 3, 2007


Man, is that really the nuanced view? Cuz it's pretty not. There are real benefits to having men believe in things they cannot see. To this end religion can be useful and even ennobling for many persons. The problem is that modern religion is a political phenomenon. That's the whole point; nobody cares what god how you worship in the privacy of your own home but big problems arise when you bring it up in the political realm. The comparison to racism is misguided (religion simply doesn't involve the visible oppression of a large segment of the population, it's very much a positive freedom among consenting adults) but the framework could still work. If there was a strong taboo between mixing religion and politics, if a positive irreligious notion of 'the citizen' could be revived, then this would go a long way towards the good times. And let's be a bit more realistic: racism didn't just magically "fade away" as people got smarter. It took the slaughter of about ~5 million members of the "subhuman races" before the West comprehensively rejected racist ideology. It will probably take another similar cataclysm before people can really grasp that religious ideologies are also a bad idea.
posted by nixerman at 1:11 PM on October 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


"it's not like it's mandatory to post something"

Oh SHIT! Better delete this then!

"I shouldn't petition the state or federal governments for the right to a civil union on the basis of atheism, belief in the separation of church and state and equal rights, because I should just keep that "atheist" bit to myself?"

Actually, that's exactly right—imparting the "atheist" label makes your lobbying less effective.

You should petition the state because you believe in the separation of church and state (a Protestant, Enlightenment ideal), and because of equal rights (another idea derived in large part from Protestant theology). Making it an "atheist" cause alienates people who would otherwise support your goals, and invites a backlash against your campaign.

You mentioned atheism as identity before, and that's exactly the type of egoism that keeps many atheists from being effective in politics. Think about it this way— if you supported gay marriage as an explicitly homosexual concern, rather than the concern of all people who believe in fairness and/or the secular ideal of state institutions, you'll never achieve the majority required to act.

That type of clumsy identity politics should be abandoned in college along with Dr. Seuss hats.
posted by klangklangston at 1:12 PM on October 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


He's wrong and his racism analogy, if he understood it, would demonstrate that. Anti-racists identified as such, just as people against slavery called themselves abolitionists and people against the state call themselves anarchists.

Refusing to confront stupidity, ignorance, and irrationality is not a winning strategy, and if it came from someone less well-known than Harris, I'd suspect concern trolling.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:13 PM on October 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


That, and his implication that the Bible is something that all Christians believe is composed entirely of material facts.
He refers to studies like This one earlier in the article, and mentions that while some, such as Dawkins, think those numbers are misleading, that even if it's only like 1/3 or 1/4, that's still a problem. Kind of hard to deny that at least some Christians think that "the bible...is composed entirely of material facts," yes?
posted by agentofselection at 1:30 PM on October 3, 2007


The attempt to normalize atheism in this fashion is fatuous. You don't get anywhere in life by operating under the assumption that everyone else's perspective is so foolish as to not be worth understanding, adjusting one's definitions to preclude the process entirely.. I thought that's what atheists disliked about the tactics of the religious... so why adopt their them?

While people at both extremes are busy yanking each other's hair out over definitions and self-identifications and their feelings of persecution, we are currently in a time when it is easier and more common than ever for those occupying the middle of the spectrum to reach out and explore the beliefs and the cultures of those around them, to question themselves and question others, to scrutinize and criticize but ultimately sympathize. These people often have the same misgivings and doubts about religion (and the religious) that atheists do, and have to work just as hard to maintain and defend what they believe. Of course one is never going to find these people or care about them if one is just interested in feeling threatened or persecuted or superior.

Even the term "intellectual honesty" seems hopelessly condescending. It's pretty easy to feel good about oneself when anyone who doesn't share your beliefs isn't just wrong-- they're LYING to themselves.

On preview, a million 14 year olds said it better and earlier than Harris: "Labels are for soup cans!!!"
posted by hermitosis at 1:34 PM on October 3, 2007


Atheism as a founding factor of my identity has direct bearing on my decision not the get married. Cultural lobbying to allow a heterosexual couple to attain a civil union in a state like CA where they are available for homosexual pairs and as end-of-life arrangements seems as dependent on the emotional conveyance of my principles in lieu of my faulty gender as a reason to fight the status quo as on intelligent analysis of constitutional precedents regarding equal rights. These battles are being fought just as much on television as in the legislatures and a cute hetero couple is a cute hetero couple, atheist or not. I just want my dance with daddy and my pottery barn loot!! *cut to tear-stricken closeup*

Anyway, my atheism in this arena is suffering from political invisibility, and needs to be referenced as a valid difference that calls for rights accommodation in demonstrating why the marriage/civil union dichotomy is inadequate and wrong-headed. Obviously, the equal rights argument alone is not working adequately for the institutionalization of gay marriage, because of cultural blindness to the biggest of these three problems, separation of church and state. Pragmatic approaches to this problem demand emotional intelligence.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 1:35 PM on October 3, 2007


nixerman said :

religion simply doesn't involve the visible oppression of a large segment of the population, it's very much a positive freedom among consenting adults

Wow. You evidently weren't born gay into a catholic family. I was, and let me tell you, it was pretty oppressive. I've often thought that raising a child catholic should be made illegal.

I just can't figure out how. Does lying to your children constitute fraud?
posted by nickp at 1:36 PM on October 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


Also:
We have...a flying spaghetti monster, the nonexistence of which also cannot be proven, and yet belief in [it] is acknowledged to be ridiculous by everyone.
Oh no he di'int. Pastafarians, put this Harris dude on the shit list.
posted by agentofselection at 1:39 PM on October 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Earlier this year, Sam Harris and Reza Aslan had a debate that was televised on C-SPAN. It's on Youtube now: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV.
posted by NoMich at 1:41 PM on October 3, 2007 [4 favorites]


Refusing to confront stupidity, ignorance, and irrationality is not a winning strategy

Insisting on confronting people's beliefs as being stupid, ignorant and irrational is not exactly a strategy for making friends and influencing people either.

Here's the thing about Sam's article that I didn't get. I consider myself an atheist, insofar as I'm unaware of any persuasive arguments or evidence for the existance of God. I know that some people have mystical experiences that convinces them otherwise. Fine, that's beyond the scope of my experience. I think there are other, more plausible explanations for what they experience, but I don't feel any need or desire to tell them that -- at least until their supernatural beliefs starts to impact what I can and can't do.

But I've never read a book about atheism. Just as I've never read a book about ghosts, or fairies, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. If something doesn't exist, why would you bother to want to read or write about it? The only answers that I can plausibly come up with are:

a.) You aren't very secure about your lack of beliefs, so you've got to convince yourself.
b.) You have a desire to proselytize your lack of belief to others, or
c.) You feel the need to belong to a tribe of some sort. You can't join the religious tribe, so you join the atheist tribe.

In light of that, it seems to me that what Harris says is in direct contradiction to what he actually does. Surely if he actually believes what he says, the obvious course of action for him would be to just shut up about it and get on with the important things in his life?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:42 PM on October 3, 2007 [3 favorites]


You mentioned atheism as identity before, and that's exactly the type of egoism that keeps many atheists from being effective in politics.

I don't think there's anything wrong with naming the ideas that resonate with you, especially when they are as clear-cut as "NO GOD whatsoever" or "FURRY". It's not really arguable that these are anything but a cell in the mosaic. Defining my identity unapologetically no good for a presidential run? Tragic. Guess I'll go do a line, then. I need the confidence.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 1:46 PM on October 3, 2007


Insisting on confronting people's beliefs as being stupid, ignorant and irrational is not exactly a strategy for making friends and influencing people either.

I can see the abolitionist meetings if slavery had lasted till 2007:

A: "Fucking slave-owners! Can't they see that slavery is evil and wrong?"
B: "Woah, calm down, there. If we go around telling people that what they do is evil, we'll totally turn them off to our cause!"
C: "Yeah, instead of saying "slavery is evil!" let's just tell them that we respectfully disagree about whether owning human beings is the best thing to do! That'll totally change minds!"

But I've never read a book about atheism. Just as I've never read a book about ghosts, or fairies, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. If something doesn't exist, why would you bother to want to read or write about it? The only answers that I can plausibly come up with are:

a.) You aren't very secure about your lack of beliefs, so you've got to convince yourself.
b.) You have a desire to proselytize your lack of belief to others, or
c.) You feel the need to belong to a tribe of some sort. You can't join the religious tribe, so you join the atheist tribe.

In light of that, it seems to me that what Harris says is in direct contradiction to what he actually does. Surely if he actually believes what he says, the obvious course of action for him would be to just shut up about it and get on with the important things in his life?


Yeah, because it's not like religious people are engaging in actions justified by their faith which fuck up the world and make life harder for the rest of us. Oh, no, atheists attack religion because they're insecure and need to feel they belong.

Good grief.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:49 PM on October 3, 2007 [11 favorites]


at least until their supernatural beliefs starts to impact what I can and can't do.

You gave a fourth possible reason, but didn't include it in your list. Religious people's bad ideas sometimes impinge on other's rights. Sam Harris is against this.
Or, on preview, what Pope Guilty said.
posted by agentofselection at 1:55 PM on October 3, 2007


This comes to the heart of a question I've been asking myself lately. How do we deal with (stupid|irrational|disturbed) people when their decisions en masse can affect our own safety?
posted by Skorgu at 1:55 PM on October 3, 2007


Atheism as a founding factor of my identity has direct bearing on my decision not the get married. Cultural lobbying to allow a heterosexual couple to attain a civil union in a state like CA where they are available for homosexual pairs and as end-of-life arrangements seems as dependent on the emotional conveyance of my principles in lieu of my faulty gender as a reason to fight the status quo as on intelligent analysis of constitutional precedents regarding equal rights. These battles are being fought just as much on television as in the legislatures and a cute hetero couple is a cute hetero couple, atheist or not. I just want my dance with daddy and my pottery barn loot!! *cut to tear-stricken closeup*

Can you do me a favor and have your boyfriend contact me and let me know how he tricked you into thinking that? My girlfriend is being a real bitch about this.

E-mails in profile. TIA.
posted by ND¢ at 1:55 PM on October 3, 2007


religion simply doesn't involve the visible oppression of a large segment of the population, it's very much a positive freedom among consenting adults

Someone should go back in time and tell this to native Americans (North, South, and Central), Australians, etc., because religion certainly was involved in their oppression.
posted by rtha at 1:56 PM on October 3, 2007


... federally institutionalized marriage, a religious tradition...

'Federally institutionalized marriage' is a civil good in religious trappings. Marriage is a cultural phenomenon throughout the world. It ends up wearing religious clothing because most things that are important tend to end up wearing religious clothing.

Religion is culture. The only special about it from a cultural perspective is that it tends to arrogate domains that don't inherently have anything much to do with it.
posted by lodurr at 1:57 PM on October 3, 2007


The only special about it from a cultural perspective is that it tends to arrogate domains that don't inherently have anything much to do with it.

There is almost nothing that religion can be said to be unrelated to.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:01 PM on October 3, 2007


Does lying to your children constitute fraud?
No, its pretty much a requirment of parenting.
posted by Sailormom at 2:01 PM on October 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Another way to put it: Many religions would not last very long if they were prohibited from indoctrinating children. The meme-complex would die out without this (very efficient) route of transmission.

There are advantages and disadvantages in combatting a bad meme-complex by explicitly starting your own counter-meme. Harris thinks the disadvantages in this case outweigh the advantages, and he's got a point, particularly given the negative connotations of the word "atheist". We live in a time when name-calling has almost entirely displaced reasoned argument. [It's those dammed *liberals* again!] Not giving the opposition a clear target is good strategy.

On the other hand, I think it's possible we will only make real progress when we understand the benefits that religious belief confers on believers. And find an easy-to-swallow substitute. Given the choice between 1.) Continue to half-heartedly more-or-less believe what your parents told you and 2.) Spend 20 years meditating in a cave ...

It may be necessary to engineer a new meme-complex to fit in the evolved slot the human brain appears to have for religious belief. "Brights" was a pretty bad first attempt.
posted by nickp at 2:02 PM on October 3, 2007


Federally institutionalized marriage' is a civil good in religious trappings.

So far, this is still the minority viewpoint. Else, why not extend the right to any two adults? I find the heated debate over gay marriage proof of the matter than marriage is religious. I would rather not be married, in that case. Nor baptized.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:09 PM on October 3, 2007


Kind of hard to deny that at least some Christians think that "the bible...is composed entirely of material facts," yes?

I wouldn't seek to deny such a thing, since I've personally known at least a few Christians of this kind. But the problem of a poll such as the one that you cite is that there are a lot of different kinds of truth, of which literal truth is only one. Moreover, most people (I'd sadly conjecture almost all) go through their lives without even trying to distinguish between those various different kinds of truth.(1) So it's unfair to derive any meaning from asking the average person if the events of the Bible are literally true, if it's likely that they hear the word "literally" only as an intensifier of "true," as many people colloquially use it. Similarly, it's unfair for Harris to claim, based on such questionable data, that hundreds of millions of people believe that the events of Revelation are actually going to happen.(2)

(1)Incidentally, this may be the reason why the concept of intelligent design has a foothold in our culture that by rights it shouldn't have--if in our thinking we aren't rigorous enough to distinguish between material truths and other forms of truth, such as those found in fables or allegories, or those that seem to be found in religious revelation, then what's wrong with the claim that matters of science aren't just matters of "belief"? Maybe the rhetorical energies of rationalist public intellectuals would be better spent in this area.

(2) Here I'm not claiming that all Christians have read the Book of Revelation with the assistance of informed secondary material and considered some sort of historicist interpretation to be the best. I'm merely suggesting that the thoughts of most people who profess Christianity are probably so inchoate concerning the Bible's actual content and history that conclusions drawn from asking yes-or-no questions about its material truth or falsehood aren't very meaningful.

posted by Prospero at 2:21 PM on October 3, 2007


"I find the heated debate over gay marriage proof of the matter than marriage is religious. "

That's sloppy thinking. For some, marriage is religious. For some, purely legal (Justice of the Peace, anyone?). For the majority of Americans, both.
posted by klangklangston at 2:23 PM on October 3, 2007


I find the heated debate over gay marriage proof of the matter than marriage is religious. I would rather not be married, in that case.

Well, you don't have to be religious to be homophobic.

(But it helps.)
posted by pardonyou? at 2:26 PM on October 3, 2007


There is almost nothing that religion can be said to be unrelated to.

Inherently?
posted by lodurr at 2:33 PM on October 3, 2007


I'm just saying that marriage is not primarily religious, it's social or cultural, depending on how you like to talk about these things. Religion appropriates it as its own, because religion does that to everything.

This is my view, of course, and I don't expect it to be shared by people who give special status to religion.
posted by lodurr at 2:36 PM on October 3, 2007


Okay Prospero, I see your point, but it rests upon assuming that the majority of poll respondents don't know what they're talking about, even when talking about their own beliefs. Even then, Harris still says that even if you and Dawkins are right, and the numbers are smaller than indicated (for example, 1/3, as per this poll with arguably better wording and the choices for the bible to be "the inspired word of God" or "a book of ancient fables, legends, and history as recorded by man" available) it's still a whole lot of people (a hundred million, instead of hundreds of millions) believing in magical-powered sky Jesus.
I don't see how it's fair to say "no, no, they SAY they believe x, but they're really too ignorant to understand what's being asked of them." Is it just easier for you to believe that people are dumb enough to misinterpret a question than that people are dumb enough to believe in silly things?
posted by agentofselection at 2:39 PM on October 3, 2007


Yes, lodurr. Religions generally make claims about many if not all aspects of life.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:42 PM on October 3, 2007


"I'm just saying that marriage is not primarily religious, it's social or cultural, depending on how you like to talk about these things. Religion appropriates it as its own, because religion does that to everything."

More to the point, that's because religion is social and cultural as well as theological.
posted by klangklangston at 2:45 PM on October 3, 2007


Many really good points , many of his points are the reason I've never self applied the term "atheist". Nice post.
posted by nola at 2:45 PM on October 3, 2007


For some, marriage is religious. For some, purely legal (Justice of the Peace, anyone?). For the majority of Americans, both.

Talk about sloppy. If anyone can find me historical roots of marriage unregulated by religion, my mind will be changed. But until that time, marriage is a religious institution with social purposes and is ignored as such most Americans on both counts, since parties are fun and being different is hard. The vows may differ by officiant and by document, but the history is there, and as long as a majority of voters in this country vote in line with the belief that certain individuals partaking in this ritual constitutes sin, I think defining it as religious is no stretch.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:49 PM on October 3, 2007


So far, this is still the minority viewpoint. Else, why not extend the right to any two adults? I find the heated debate over gay marriage proof of the matter than marriage is religious. I would rather not be married, in that case.

But if you say, "Well, I'm not getting married because a bunch of religious people say marriage is religious," haven't you essentially let them "win"? Why give them the power to define the terms? Why not instead say, "F-you! I'm a gay-friendly, sinning hedonist nonbeliever, and I'm getting married! Hopefully someday soon my gay brothers and sisters will join me. Sorry to soil your precious 'religious ceremony.'"
posted by pardonyou? at 2:53 PM on October 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm having a mind-meld.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:54 PM on October 3, 2007


“I think we should do nothing more than advocate reason and intellectual honesty—and where this advocacy causes us to collide with religion, as it inevitably will, we should observe that the points of impact are always with specific religious beliefs”

You could probably remove the “do nothing more than” as hyperbole and it’s a pretty solid statement. So - address specific religious beliefs where they endanger intellectual honesty, pretty fair.

I don’t see how Joe Buddhist meditating in his bedroom for a few hours a day endangers anything, folks like Fred Phelps - different story.

Oh sure, it’s fun to pelt folks like Phelps with bricks. Sure we all want to club people like that with ball bats. Certainly we’d like to push all of them out of high windows.
...what.
I wasn’t going anywhere further with that.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:55 PM on October 3, 2007


It *says* right there in Revelation chapter 6 that with his magic "worthy" powers Jesus will open a sealed scroll and start the end of the world by letting loose all sorts of nasty things including the ever popular four horsemen.

This is exactly the sort of literalistic reading--ignorant of genre and deaf to literary allusion--that gets roundly mocked (appropriately) when fundies do it, but passes for a legitimately read of the Bible when it's done by atheists/skeptics.

Revelation springs from a tradition of Jewish apocalyptic literature, most of which doesn't appear in the Bible, and none of which was intended to be read straightforwardly. Revelation read correctly is a great antidote to Christian power-grabbing, because it's all about laying down political, economic or military power and embracing non-violent suffering to renew the world--following in the example of the one who was announced as a Lion but chose to appear as a slain lamb.

The Rapture Exposed is an accessible book to read for a critique of Left Behind-ism.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 2:57 PM on October 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


pardonyou, because that's a cop out, is why, and the terms are legal. I don't go to mass and take communion to "subvert" the pope either. What's the point? Why would I want to participate in that broken, unfair, trite mainstream marriage ceremony anyway? No kids, no insurance need, no problem. Living in sin is just as F-you, especially in such proximity to a nice couple of fundie kids as my parents are now raising.

No marriage till gay marriage suits me fine, and maybe not even then, depending on how equal the rights are and stuff.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:59 PM on October 3, 2007


"Talk about sloppy. If anyone can find me historical roots of marriage unregulated by religion, my mind will be changed. But until that time, marriage is a religious institution with social purposes and is ignored as such most Americans on both counts, since parties are fun and being different is hard. The vows may differ by officiant and by document, but the history is there, and as long as a majority of voters in this country vote in line with the belief that certain individuals partaking in this ritual constitutes sin, I think defining it as religious is no stretch."

Sweet Mother of Christ, that's retarded.

Let's go bit by bit. First off, calling for "historical roots" is a red herring, especially when dealing with a) an institution whose modern form is radically different from its historical roots, and b) running an inverse Scotsman fallacy. Given enough latitude in defining, everything with historical roots also has religious roots, and every institution that survived the Middle Ages has religious ritual to accompany it.

Your argument that Americans ignore both the social and the religious elements of marriage is laughable, and your support that "parties are fun and being different is hard" is such facile bullshit that I'm amazed you could bring yourself to type it without any self-reflection. If anything, weddings are when Americans traditionally have the most connection to both social and religious institutions, and decide as a couple how they will interpret those traditions.

Then you fall back on a vague appeal to majority, citing nothing inherent in the act of marriage that requires religious authority or even contemplation (again, justice of the peace), and argue that because a lot of other people believe it to be religious, it's religious.

Yes, that's sloppy thinking, and yes, you should probably bow out of the whole thing if you don't want people to see how embarrassingly inchoate your thinking is on the matter.
posted by klangklangston at 3:02 PM on October 3, 2007


See the thing is, Pater Aletheias, that lots of people (exact number still under debate) do read Revelation (or claim to read it) literally. Harris isn't making any reading of Revelation at all here, he's discussing people's beliefs, and some people believe in magical sky Jesus. Many Christians do not believe that the Revelation is literal truth. Fine. That's one less absurd belief to tackle. Those Christians may hold other bad ideas, or maybe not. That doesn't change the fact that there are people out there believing in stupid things, and sometimes attacking the rights of others because of those stupid beliefs.
posted by agentofselection at 3:03 PM on October 3, 2007


Is it just easier for you to believe that people are dumb enough to misinterpret a question than that people are dumb enough to believe in silly things?

I haven't intended to make any assertions about my perceived intelligence of the respondents--if my language leads you in that direction, then that's my fault. (However, surely you know people at all levels of education and intellect who are happy to offer opinions on books that they have not read, but have heard about and feel they should have. Churches are no different from academic cocktail parties in this respect.)

But I don't claim that they're "dumb enough to misinterpret the question", because I don't claim that the questions they're being offered have a single best interpretation. Nor would I expect all respondents to be trained in philosophy well enough to start a debate with the pollster.

Finally, as an aside, it's not unusual for people to hold that the Bible is both "the inspired word of God" and "a book of ancient fables, legends, and history as recorded by man." (Thomas Mann, in Joseph and His Brothers, is good reading on this seeming paradox.)
posted by Prospero at 3:08 PM on October 3, 2007


"See the thing is, Pater Aletheias, that lots of people (exact number still under debate) do read Revelation (or claim to read it) literally."

Which is why it makes more sense to confront religious claims one by one, and work toward a common language. From my experience far fewer people hew exactly to the language of the Bible, and this is always something I find incredibly galling when it comes to atheist v. theist debates.

It's also something that I found incredibly refreshing about my friend, who's studying to become an Episcopalian priest, that he was willing to say, "Ok. You don't believe in God or Christ or whatever. That's less important to me now than making sure that poor people are fed, homeless are housed and addicts are treated." That's what his faith guides him to, and that's what a lot of atheists come to through their lack of faith.
posted by klangklangston at 3:08 PM on October 3, 2007


I'm not particularly religious but I got married in church - I'm CofE, so it's not like it was a religious church - and the marriage service begins with a PR bit about how marriage is a holy institution, which is symbol of the mystical union betwixt Christ and his church, and don't take the piss, OK? And in that there's a passage that says, in effect "Christ showed that it was a good idea because the first miracle he wrought was at the wedding in Canaa".

And I thought "is that the best you can do by way of argument"? Then a couple of years later I read a big history of the Reformation and discovered that while there are lots of married people in the bible, there aren't actually many (any?) bits of the bible that say "Get married, or else". Turns out a lot of the immediately post-Reformation movements had a theological difficulty with marriage because (a) it was something that they had always done but (b) there wasn't scriptural authority for its importance.
posted by athenian at 3:16 PM on October 3, 2007


Prospero: Strangely enough, it also seems common for people to believe that the bible is both "the inspired word of God" and literally true. I think these responses are fairly ambiguous.
I also probably am with you on the claim that many people who say they believe the Bible is the literal word of God actually do not, especially if confronted with specific instances. On the other hand, I know many people who do actually hold this belief.
I think that the most important thing though, is not how many people actually believe it, but how many people say they believe it, and are therefore willing to go along with social agendas because those agendas claim to be biblically based, and are willing to cherry-pick specific rules, and then claim that we must follow those rules because they are the literal word of God.
posted by agentofselection at 3:18 PM on October 3, 2007


There's really no better time to bow out than when you've yet again needlessly turned a discussion into a reeking mass of insults hurled at someone with whom you're essentially not even in disagreement. I just can't tolerate cruelty, no matter how much you try to pass it off as cutting wit ("fucking retarded." Timeless pith. Mamet?), exemplifying the very worst to be found in this community. Since I don't need to defend what I believe have already described it in a reasonably sensible way, yes, you win!

What did you win, by the way?
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 3:29 PM on October 3, 2007


Not really that critical, in my opinion.

The fact is that modern atheism suffers from being horribly irrational. In the past, many atheists were smart enough to recognize what it meant to be consistent in their claims. Now, the vast majority of the atheists I meet are moralists, and usually moralists of the saddest, most knee-jerk kind.

As many have said, the opposite of belief isn't disbelief. The opposite of belief is a shrug. Those who care what other people believe can't claim that they don't have positive beliefs of their own. We're talking here about things which, as many are fond of pointing out, aren't really provable or disprovable; and to oppose those with belief in one side is to espouse belief of one's own. Indifference is a harder route to take, but it's the consistent and rational one.

And, if you ask me, the world could use more atheists of the true type. The world is overrun by believers and "atheists" who have vehement beliefs of their own. No one really understands how truly difficult it is to dissociate oneself from causes, beliefs, dogmas, and unquestioning acceptance; and no one really involves themselves in that spiritual practice any more. They just read a book by Sam or Richard and nod their heads, in much the same way Sam and Richard nod their own heads at each other.
posted by koeselitz at 3:50 PM on October 3, 2007


koeslitz - I haven't read much of these guys, but it seems like Sam Harris isn't exactly nodding his head with Dawkins and Hitchens.

I agree with a lot of what you say though. Hitchens is an arrogant blowhard - I don't believe in god, but it's still not a subject that should be approached with humility.

From Yeats's "Second Coming": "The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity."
posted by taliaferro at 4:05 PM on October 3, 2007


err...preview: it's a subject that SHOULD be approached with humility. Sigh...I'm still at work.
posted by taliaferro at 4:06 PM on October 3, 2007


Religious people's bad ideas sometimes impinge on other's rights.

Their bad ideas don't. They might seek to pass laws based on those bad ideas, and that's a perfectly legitimate time to criticise both the laws and the ideas that underpin them. But there may be just as many people who fight for equality and social justice on the basis of their religious beliefs as well.

"Fucking slave-owners! Can't they see that slavery is evil and wrong?"

For example, those abolitionists? Pretty well all Christians/Quakers, etc.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:06 PM on October 3, 2007


Did anyone see a comment by abcde here for a moment, then disappear?
posted by klangklangston at 4:08 PM on October 3, 2007


For example, those abolitionists? Pretty well all Christians/Quakers, etc.

As if the slaveowners weren't universally Christian.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:10 PM on October 3, 2007


Thomas Jefferson wasn't.
posted by klangklangston at 4:11 PM on October 3, 2007


I think that the most important thing though, is not how many people actually believe it, but how many people say they believe it, and are therefore willing to go along with social agendas because those agendas claim to be biblically based, and are willing to cherry-pick specific rules, and then claim that we must follow those rules because they are the literal word of God.

I agree with that.
posted by Prospero at 4:14 PM on October 3, 2007


In other words, real atheism would look like:

Who gives a flying fuck about the poor, the homeless, the addict? Is there any fucking reason I should bat an eye about all those people who don't have half an ounce of shit to do with me, and wouldn't help me anyway if they had a chance? It's perfectly easy for me to live a happy life without caring about them.

In fact, I have a feeling that the only people who do care about those fuckwads are the people in religious positions who stand to gain by acting like they're some kind of holy fount of divine goodness. The only reason the child-molesters who call themselves priests (Episcopals, don't think I'm letting you off just because you got the kids to shut up) act as though they care is because it fills the coffers. Do you have any idea how much money they make off of simple, stupid people? Every one of them goes on and on about how wonderful the world is, how happy and good everything is, how much they want to feed the babies and give the poor crack whore a bit of bread and all that sickly-sweet shit. They're so shameless now that they'll even tell you they don't care about their own beliefs so long as it'll make them seem holy and keep them gainfully employed.

Consider the facts: it seems extremely likely that all this "good" we're encouraged to do by anybody and everybody who can get us to listen to them is just bullshit. There's no point in it. 'Helping others,' and all the sentimental shit that goes with it, is a scam.
posted by koeselitz at 4:15 PM on October 3, 2007


"Eh, minority group x should just be quiet and live well. Living well will prove they deserve rights."

Because shutting up and living well got black people into the front of the bus, women the vote, gay people the right to marriage/civil unions/the healthcare of their loved one, and atheists the continued separation of church and state.

As soon as Christians start listing off every other Christian they dislike when talking about their beliefs I might start to buy atheist "I'm an atheist but I hate Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris. They're so obnoxious." as anything other than "Like me, please like me!"
posted by birdie birdington at 4:16 PM on October 3, 2007 [4 favorites]


And that's not to say it's not compelling. On the contrary, these blowhard atheists who spend all day telling me about how 'this person is saying things that are evil' and 'this person is unjust' seem horribly conflicted to me. Why does it matter what other people say? Is there some sort of standard written in the sky about what we're supposed to say or believe?

And why the hell should I worry about it?
posted by koeselitz at 4:18 PM on October 3, 2007


As many have said, the opposite of belief isn't disbelief. The opposite of belief is a shrug.

I'm with you if all you're talking about is attitude, but surely we're not back to a failure to assert any contrary belief whatsoever. As someone who so aptly put in another MeFi thread of this kind, I don't need to remain open to the possibility of flying pigs. I am however open to evidence on the issue.
posted by dreamsign at 4:23 PM on October 3, 2007


dreamsign: "As someone who so aptly put in another MeFi thread of this kind, I don't need to remain open to the possibility of flying pigs. I am however open to evidence on the issue."

Why do you care? "Possibilities" only have meaning when you're interested in positive beliefs. See, I have a feeling this whole "absolute truth" thing that science has introduced is what gets all these atheists all wadded up nowadays. You're only beyond the belief issue when you let go of this need to know. But Dawkins et al pretentiously cling to their precious scientific facts. Let go, my friends, let go, and you'll be above the fray.
posted by koeselitz at 4:28 PM on October 3, 2007


The idea, that one should go about finding and destroying bad ideas, is bad, and ought to be destroyed.

An atheist doesn't think of god or God? Perhaps not. There is nothing to affirm, since affirmation would constitute belief. Voice-In-Skull, though, is only part of the picture: humanity lies in seeking to understand not just ourselves, but one another, out of curiosity, strategy, and commonality.

Blah blah blah, imagine me going on like that for awhile; got the picture?

People like to fuck, and nobody gets people fucking like God gets us fucking. Plenty of people fuck without a god watching, too, which is okay, because there's no god there, and God's probably watching enough fucking people fuck already.

That's pretty juvenile, but it more or less says it.
posted by breezeway at 4:28 PM on October 3, 2007


klangklangston: Yeah, but it submitted somehow in the middle of my typing, and I hadn't finished it yet.

Now, koeselitz:

"We're talking here about things which, as many are fond of pointing out, aren't really provable or disprovable; and to oppose those with belief in one side is to espouse belief of one's own."

If you're referring to religious or metaphysical claims here, you're begging the question. One major point of Harris' speech--one that should be a crushingly obvious axiom, but endlessly must be defended by atheists and, less endemically, by deniers of all kinds of other things--is that something being impossible to disprove doesn't make it wrong or even unimportant to deny it. For instance, there may be a novel type of meteor on course to destroy us all, one which is impossible to locate with our telescopes. If there were no significant evidence that there were such a thing, would that make people wrong to try to dismiss a worldwide fear of it? (This is one of the infinite number of bizarre cases that are are epistemologically equivalent to God, but considering the millions of times atheists have been required to construct them, we may actually run out.)
posted by abcde at 4:30 PM on October 3, 2007


So that does away with that idea. Your point (which seems like a separate one, but they're kind of mixed together in your first post) that atheists tend to have strong, separate positive beliefs that can't be proven, such as moral realism, doesn't matter. It would just mean they under-apply their own logic, not that the logic is wrong. (This being said, I'd say that probably most atheists are moral relativists--but that doesn't exclude feeling strongly on ethical issues, it only bars you from saying they're metaphysically real).
posted by abcde at 4:32 PM on October 3, 2007


As many have said, the opposite of belief isn't disbelief. The opposite of belief is a shrug.

I just don't even know why this is okay to say. We should just shrug that gays can't get married and people can abuse their children by withholding necessary medications and shamans are allowed to have schedule 1 drugs? Shrug for private school vouchers, shrug for faith based initiatives, shrug shrug shrug. Life is just so boring, isn't it? What a silly earnest fool one would be to care.

The opposite of belief is disbelief. If the opposite of belief were apathy (is that from psych 101 crap like love and hate are two sides of the same coin? because this is a really bad misapplication of that) then belief would be the standard. I think it's pretty important that belief is not the standard. Not politically, not socially, not financially. So, no.
posted by birdie birdington at 4:33 PM on October 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


abcde: Yes, but the example isn't really epistemologically equivalent. If you're really an atheist, the issue of a particular belief being "good" or "important" doesn't really come into it.
posted by koeselitz at 4:33 PM on October 3, 2007


Taliaferro,

Why is god a subject that should be approached by the non-believer with "humility" - of all things?
posted by Jody Tresidder at 4:36 PM on October 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


birdie birdington: "It would just mean they under-apply their own logic, not that the logic is wrong."

Certainly.

"This being said, I'd say that probably most atheists are moral relativists--but that doesn't exclude feeling strongly on ethical issues, it only bars you from saying they're metaphysically real."

Of course. If you duck when you think the post is going to hit your head when in actuality there's nothing there, it doesn't necessarily mean you believe in the post. But it does mean that you look like an idiot, and I reserve the right to laugh at you mercilessly.

Moral relativism means we're free to feel all moral positions or none. People like Dawkins pick such boring and, to be frank, Christian moral positions that I begin to wonder what the fun of atheism actually is. I'd rather a few people (I haven't met any yet, by the way) would actually make an attempt to choose none. It would at least make things more interesting.
posted by koeselitz at 4:39 PM on October 3, 2007


birdie birdington: "I just don't even know why this is okay to say. We should just shrug that gays can't get married and people can abuse their children by withholding necessary medications and shamans are allowed to have schedule 1 drugs? Shrug for private school vouchers, shrug for faith based initiatives, shrug shrug shrug. Life is just so boring, isn't it? What a silly earnest fool one would be to care.

"The opposite of belief is disbelief. If the opposite of belief were apathy (is that from psych 101 crap like love and hate are two sides of the same coin? because this is a really bad misapplication of that) then belief would be the standard. I think it's pretty important that belief is not the standard. Not politically, not socially, not financially. So, no."


If you believe in a "moral standard," then it's very, very hard to argue that there's no God. But be my guest. There are those who spend time trying to talk about "supertheistic natural law," but I have a feeling they're wasting it.

At the same time, what I said is absolutely true. A lot of the things you mention are sentimental crap. The anxious and frightful need to save the world seems to be a symptom of the modern illness. I think it comes from personal shame.
posted by koeselitz at 4:47 PM on October 3, 2007


By the way, from earlier:

Legomancer: "He doesn't claim that's what the Bible says, he claims that's what a lot of people believe."

No, he says that that's what all the Christians in the world believe. Which is clearly and categorically false.
posted by koeselitz at 4:50 PM on October 3, 2007


So essentially we back on the "morality only comes from God" shit again. The wheel just spins and spins and spins doesn't it.

Frankly there are facets of religious "beliefs" that ARE factually wrong. There are sources of doctrine that are provably factually incorrect, Places. Dates. Happenings. Major things that scholars know could not have happened how or when various religious texts claim. Things that religious scholars know to be wrong. Yet so much doctrine is based on many of these things it's impossible, short of becoming apostate, to purge them. So they remain.

But an atheist points these things out... he's gotta be more humble..? Huh? Wha?
posted by tkchrist at 4:53 PM on October 3, 2007


Finally, while an overwhelming percentage of Christians (79%) say they believe in the second coming of Jesus Christ, far fewer see Christ's return as imminent. Overall just 20% of all Christians expect Christ to return to earth in their lifetime; even among those who say that the Bible is the literal word of God, just 37% expect Christ to return to earth in their lifetime.
posted by Brian B. at 5:09 PM on October 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


I actually know a guy who chooses none, or rather, denies that he has morals, only preferences (e.g., he greatly prefers not to hurt people). He's a bit of a douche sometimes, but not as bad as you'd think. Objectivists are very close as well.

The whole morality problem is not just for secularists, because \the best even religiothing that they can claim is that there's a big dude who'd be disappointed if you did the "wrong" thing, and usually that he'd punish you if you did. They still can't say that moral wrongs and rights are some kind of flare-ups in an invisible Platonic realm of "value," because that's impossible to imagine.

Personally, I would feel so much worse spending my life seeking surface pleasures than applying the more or less rule-utilitarian value system that I do, and would likely suffer so greatly from trying to decondition myself of that, that I have a good case for my own self even if there were no other valid reason to be ethical. The weight of the issue does not escape me, though, and my own thoughts on it are too underdeveloped to bother to share.
posted by abcde at 5:10 PM on October 3, 2007


Bah, more technical mayhem. I meant, "... because, even for religious people, the best they can claim is that..."
posted by abcde at 5:17 PM on October 3, 2007


If you believe in a "moral standard," then it's very, very hard to argue that there's no God.

The Golden Rule is godless.
posted by Brian B. at 5:19 PM on October 3, 2007


Koeselitz, you're either staggeringly ignorant, or you're a troll. It's perfectly possible to construct a practical moral standard without appeals to a higher power and many people have done so. People do good for others because due to a quirk of evolution, it pleases them to do so. There's no particular reason beyond that, and there needn't be one.

Aside from the that, social contracts have been created in societies with a wide range of belief systems, from pantheism to monotheism, to animasim, to atheism to polytheism, and their remarkable simularities should lead one to believe that they're inate to human beings and not a result of anything to do with God.
posted by empath at 5:28 PM on October 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


The Golden Rule is godless.

Sure, it can be adhered to godlessly. Also, you can stone your wife for cheating without any religious precedent.
posted by hermitosis at 5:29 PM on October 3, 2007


uh, animism.
posted by empath at 5:30 PM on October 3, 2007


hermitosis beat me to the punch here, but the similarity of our remarks is so extreme that I'm going to post this just to note the coincidence:

Brian B.: Right, but he's arguing against a "moral standard" sans God. Meaning, without God, you'd have no way to persuade people that the Golden Rule is the way to go in a way than just "do what feels good" isn't. "If ... the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel: Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die" doesn't mention God either, but in the eyes of someone like koeselitz, without God's sanction, it's no more or less defensible as anything but a matter of taste.

(also, empath is rather prone to eponysterical comments, eh?)
posted by abcde at 5:36 PM on October 3, 2007


The simple fact that a particular moral rule benefits everyone is all the reason needed to follow it. You don't need to conceptualise an objective morality for that.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:51 PM on October 3, 2007


The simple fact that a particular moral rule benefits everyone is all the reason needed to follow it.

And the fact that mere men enforce it is all the reason anyone needs to break it.
posted by hermitosis at 5:56 PM on October 3, 2007


As far as I know, God has never enforced a law.
posted by empath at 5:59 PM on October 3, 2007


We weren't discussing law. And regardless, it's the threat of divine law hovering over the social contract that I'm referring to, the necessity of actual divine intervention seems to be strictly optional.
posted by hermitosis at 6:03 PM on October 3, 2007


And the fact that mere men enforce it is all the reason anyone needs to break it.

Who needs to enforce it? We speak of morality and not of laws.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:04 PM on October 3, 2007


The Golden Rule is godless.

And egocentric (which is okay when used to teach morals to children as it usually is). A better version would be "do onto others as they wish done onto them..." with a bunch of corollaries thrown in.

Either way, yes it's godless and a fundamental humanist principle...but it's weird to talk about it as a moral principle. The whole concept behind either the original or the above version is a selfish one. In that you're treating people in a certain way in the hopes that they will in turn treat you in a certain way. I see it more as mathematically correct than moral. But I think this underlines the remarks about the difficulty of atheists having a 'moral standard' in that they're defining it more as a heuristic guiding their decisions which any thinking being has to have. It's a definition thing.
posted by kigpig at 6:05 PM on October 3, 2007


Why does anyone see the Golden Rule as selfish? The implied assumption is that people need it to point out hypocrisy, not govern their own moral behavior. Nobody needs it to justify selfish actions, which are assumed to be self-justified.
posted by Brian B. at 6:24 PM on October 3, 2007


We weren't discussing law. And regardless, it's the threat of divine law hovering over the social contract that I'm referring to, the necessity of actual divine intervention seems to be strictly optional.

You're honestly saying you don't go around killing people or whatever because you're afraid of god? And you think most people do the same?

I, personally, choose not to be 'immoral' because I quite enjoy the company of other people, and I'd prefer not to be ostracized by them. It's not even the thread of punishment, it's just caring what other people think about me. In addition to the fact that making other people happy generally makes me happy and making them upset makes me upset.

Now, I can't say that in some hypothetical situation where harming somebody else would bring me a great profit with little risk of detrimental consequences to myself that I wouldnt' do it, but then again, many religious people make that same decision all the time.

Since there's very little chance that God himself is going to do anything to either let us know whatever the hell moral code we're supposed to follow IS and if we know what it was, to enforce it, I don't see where belief or non-belief in God has any affect whatsoever in how people behave after they reach the age of 12 or so.
posted by empath at 6:37 PM on October 3, 2007


If you any of the God-fearers in this thread need any further proof that religiousity has nothing to do with morality, just pick up a copy of Under the Banner of Heaven. Or just read the news out of the middle east.
posted by empath at 6:39 PM on October 3, 2007


You're honestly saying... [insert something that I didn't say at all here]?

I, personally, choose not to be 'immoral' because I quite enjoy the company of other people, and I'd prefer not to be ostracized by them. It's not even the thread of punishment, it's just caring what other people think about me.

There is quite a lot of camaraderie among 'immoral' people, you'll find. And caring about what other people think as your guiding moral principle doesn't sound wise to me.

Incidentally, I'm not into gods. One doesn't need to be to understand the importance of religion be impressed by its contribution to the construction of "morality" in human civilization. I don't think there will ever be a point where we need to say, "Okay, thanks religion, we get the point," and then have it escorted from the building.
posted by hermitosis at 7:04 PM on October 3, 2007


I don't think there will ever be a point where we need to say, "Okay, thanks religion, we get the point," and then have it escorted from the building.

Get what point?
posted by Brian B. at 7:44 PM on October 3, 2007


See, I have a feeling this whole "absolute truth" thing that science has introduced is what gets all these atheists all wadded up nowadays. You're only beyond the belief issue when you let go of this need to know.

Wow, is that twisted. Reminds me of a quick conversation on the way to a night class oh so many years ago. Campus Crusade for Christ waylays me in the hall and asks where I'm going. Uh, kinda late for class, I say. What are you taking? Philosophy. Heh, they laugh. Isn't it annoying how all they have is questions? Wouldn't it be nice to have the answers?

You're a tad confused about whose claiming to have the answers, koeselitz. But yes, I am dedicated to a way of arriving at answers, through empirical evidence and reason, rather than appeals to emotion and jumps in logic. And yes, one is the enemy of the other.

On the one hand, sure, I guess it doesn't matter much if my mechanic believes in fairies and my dentist believes in demons, so long as these creatures aren't figured into their work. But in a democratic nation? People kind of need to be concerned about magical thinking and superstition, no?

This goes way beyond any one piece of legislation. Science has long been an enemy of politics since facts hinder spin. We need more critical thinkers right now, not less. You seem to think a person can manage both, like a lifetime of mushy thinking can be put aside the moment a person needs to weigh evidence over something complex. Nevermind just take guidance on the issue from the local parish priest.
posted by dreamsign at 8:02 PM on October 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


Wait. . . so what, I shouldn't vote?
posted by Lord Chancellor at 8:08 PM on October 3, 2007


dawkins dawkins dawkins dawkins dawkins dawkins dawkins dawkins dawkins dawkins dawkins dawkins

hitchens, hitchens

dawkins dawkins dawkins dawkins dawkins dawkins dawkins dawkins dawkins dawkins dawkins dawkins

hitchens, hitchens

oooh a snake, oooh it's a snake
posted by fleetmouse at 8:12 PM on October 3, 2007 [5 favorites]


One doesn't need to be to understand the importance of religion be impressed by its contribution to the construction of "morality" in human civilization.

Astrology contributed to the invention of astronomy, but that doesn't mean I should start believing in horoscopes or respect people that do, and nor should I say that astrology should be encouraged because it once did something admirable.
posted by empath at 8:31 PM on October 3, 2007


Which is why it makes more sense to confront religious claims one by one, and work toward a common language.

This is what it comes down to. When discussing political matters people should generally stick to political terms. That's the common language. This has the consequence of effectively neutralizing most religious talking points. In the case of gay marriage in particular many Americans respond very positively when it's cast framed as 'the right to marry the person you love'. The counterpoint of this though is that when somebody insists that God defines marriage as such and such the wall has to be defended; the only appropriate response is 'God has no place in this discussion. We're talking about the rights that belong to American citizens.' The problem is that there's not a politician alive, nor will there ever be born one, who's willing to do this.

But this same principle can be applied to most religious "controversies" eg gays in the military, teaching of evolution, and same sex education. The problem here is rarely that there's any real controversy, it's more that the political sphere has been so thoroughly invaded by religion. This is still largely unique to America though so whether this is a feature or a bug of liberal democracy remains unclear.

But an atheist points these things out... he's gotta be more humble..? Huh? Wha?

The problem is that pointing out that God never made the mountains jump and a guy named Noah never built an arc is inane. It's not courageous, it's not insightful, and it's certainly not helpful. It's simply annoying. And this is why atheists are generally so goddamn annoying. If atheists ever mounted a serious philosophical attack upon religion it would not take the form of saying 'haha, X never happened' it would have to involve a deconstruction of the religious experience itself. And if this were rigorously pursued then it'd become pretty obvious that while religion is dangerous there are clear, shall we say, 'privileges' of the religious space. The Enlightenment peeps never pursued a 'final solution' for religion because they understood that it was not so much an ideology that could be philosophically contained as a natural phenomenon that arises whenever you put a bunch of people in one place. Integrating and ultimately even harnessing such a natural human tendency is much wiser course of action than trying to eliminate it. This project of 'taming' religion by pushing and kicking it out of those spaces where it doesn't belong, of specifying exactly those conditions under which men are allowed to believe in things they cannot see, has been going on since Plato first struck out against the poets and it is no trivial thing; in many ways it is the modern project. Much of the atheist "debate" on this issue is just worthless noise because it boils down to LOLXTIANS and contributes absolutely nothing to the essential task at hand. Dawkins et al are just childish idealists if they really think they're going to just persuade six billion people to start acting more rationally via polemics. Nothing short of a real cataclysm could ever produce such an enormous change in humanity's world model.
posted by nixerman at 8:50 PM on October 3, 2007


This project of 'taming' religion by pushing and kicking it out of those spaces where it doesn't belong, of specifying exactly those conditions under which men are allowed to believe in things they cannot see, has been going on since Plato first struck out against the poets and it is no trivial thing; in many ways it is the modern project. Much of the atheist "debate" on this issue is just worthless noise because it boils down to LOLXTIANS and contributes absolutely nothing to the essential task at hand.

People often wonder why the United States is so superstitious when it appears to have so much prosperity. It's a non-question actually, because the average citizen lacks financial security in a high-stakes environment. When more people get healthcare, higher education, and retirement security, there is less demand for religion as we know it, because the latter is a substitute for real peace of mind. Most people learn to beg idols on their knees because they are desperate. There are few atheists in slum holes.
posted by Brian B. at 9:21 PM on October 3, 2007


Corrected here for italics.

This project of 'taming' religion by pushing and kicking it out of those spaces where it doesn't belong, of specifying exactly those conditions under which men are allowed to believe in things they cannot see, has been going on since Plato first struck out against the poets and it is no trivial thing; in many ways it is the modern project. Much of the atheist "debate" on this issue is just worthless noise because it boils down to LOLXTIANS and contributes absolutely nothing to the essential task at hand.

People often wonder why the United States is so superstitious when it appears to have so much prosperity. It's a non-question actually, because the average citizen lacks financial security in a high-stakes environment. When more people get healthcare, higher education, and retirement security, there is less demand for religion as we know it, because the latter is a substitute for real peace of mind. Most people learn to beg idols on their knees because they are desperate. There are few atheists in slum holes.
posted by Brian B. at 9:22 PM on October 3, 2007 [3 favorites]


The problem is that pointing out that God never made the mountains jump and a guy named Noah never built an arc is inane. It's not courageous, it's not insightful, and it's certainly not helpful. It's simply annoying.

It's none the less true.

I'm an atheist, and I have no problem with the 'religious experience' and I see no reason to attack it. I've had profoundly spiritual/religious experiences myself, the the point where it shook me to the very foundations of my consciousness and made me question everything.

People having a personal relationship with what they call God isn't the problem. People claiming that God made the earth in 7 days, and that the end of the world is eminent and that evolution doesn't exist is a very real problem for many, many people. The problem isn't religion, the problem is people being manipulated to believe patent nonsense because they've had experience they don't know how to explain.
posted by empath at 9:56 PM on October 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Dawkins et al are just childish idealists if they really think they're going to just persuade six billion people to start acting more rationally via polemics.

And Mohammed and Joseph Smith, and Jesus, and Buddha, and Confucious, and Karl Marx.

Sometimes people change their minds. I find Dawkins to be incredibly irritating and overbearing on his TV specials, but reading The Selfish Gene was a turning point in my life and I'll always be grateful for that.
posted by empath at 9:59 PM on October 3, 2007


The problem isn't religion, the problem is people being manipulated to believe patent nonsense because they've had experience they don't know how to explain.

"The problem isn't water, is dihydrogen monoxide!"
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:21 PM on October 3, 2007 [3 favorites]


I'm surprised so many people liked that speech so much, I thought it was incoherent. How are atheists supposed to criticize specific instances of religious errors without criticizing the concept of faith as a whole? One way would be to support separation of church and state, but Harris makes it very clear that he is anti religion, so I don't see how just supporting separation would go far enough for him.

That section at the end about meditation annoyed the hell out of me as well. Non spiritual meditation has been practiced and studied for decades now, it's not like Harris is the first to think about these things from a non religious standpoint.

Morality requires faith of some kind, because it is impossible to absultly define what is "Good." Religion has it easy, they simply need faith in a god who can define what good is. Atheists have a harder road to travel, they must have faith that other human beings are worthy of their respect and good in and of themselves.
posted by afu at 12:38 AM on October 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


What did you win, by the way?

He came not to bring peace, but to bring a sword.
posted by Wolof at 3:16 AM on October 4, 2007


Pope Guilty writes "I can see the abolitionist meetings if slavery had lasted till 2007:

"A: 'Fucking slave-owners! Can't they see that slavery is evil and wrong?'
"B: 'Woah, calm down, there. If we go around telling people that what they do is evil, we'll totally turn them off to our cause!'
"C: 'Yeah, instead of saying 'slavery is evil!' let's just tell them that we respectfully disagree about whether owning human beings is the best thing to do! That'll totally change minds!'"


But that's actually what did happen in the American Abolitionist movement: splits between gradualists and imimmediatists, mediaists, splits between removalists (back to Africa) and segregationist abolition and integrationists. The immediatists, combining Abolition with religious fervor, eventually went in for terrorism and insurrection (Bloody Kansas, Harpers Ferry).

In some way, the immediatists, won: America is funny, because it's the only nation to fight a war between the un-enslaved (largely) over slavery (Haiti is a different cases); Britain abolished slavery by judicial decision, most of South American by gradual abolition.

The same strains are apparent in the Civil Rights movement of the last century.
posted by orthogonality at 3:47 AM on October 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


"The problem isn't water, is dihydrogen monoxide!"

Sure, you can say religion ≡ confidence game. But you're not talking about the same thing other people are talking about.
posted by lodurr at 7:27 AM on October 4, 2007


I might start to buy atheist "I'm an atheist but I hate Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris."

But I love Hitchens. His savaging of Mother Theresa is a fabulous piece of work. Attacking people for their actions seems to me to be a wholly admirable thing to do.

As if the slaveowners weren't universally Christian.


And Stalin was an atheist? Your point?

Mine was that there's a long and honourable tradition of Christians fighting for social justice, from the very earliest abolitionists like William Wilberforce, through the Quaker involvement in prison reform and enlightened capitalism, through the 19th century Christian Socialist movement, right up to the involvement of the church in the civil rights movement and those in Latin America whose work is informed by Liberation Theology.

For me, what people do is far more important than what they believe. I believe that what they believe happens to be nonsense. But until it starts having an impact on how people live their lives, then it's completely immaterial.

If I were the type of person who was looking for a genuinely pernicious ideology to root out though, I'd probably start with those who adhere to various dogmas of Americanism.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:38 AM on October 4, 2007


Leave a thread for a day, see what happens....

ambrosia-voyeur: If anyone can find me historical roots of marriage unregulated by religion...

This requirement pretty much leaves you unable to talk about anything that people do socially.

Marriage of some form exists in most societies. I won't say all, but in some form, it exists in every society of which I've read. There is usually a religious aspect to marriage, though not always. Do Bushmen talk about their gods ordaining marriage? Did 18th century Lakota? I don't think so, though of course I can't swear.

That marriage has religious trappings here and now (North America, 21st C) does not change the fact that it's a social and cultural institution, primarily.

That it's so primarily, not secondarily, is kidn of hard to escape. Just look at all the legal consequences of marriage: Ownership of property, taxation, rights with regard to children, other legal obligations and rights, etc. That people talk about these things as though they arise from a religious source is relevant, but only insofar as it affects how people think when it comes time to pass the laws: The institutions are still social (primarily) and cultural (secondarily).

Yes, religions are social and cultural institutions -- which more than the other is a chicken:egg issue, IMO, not really important here. We (where "we" means "people I have to deal with in the world, but would rather did not include me") just tend think they are more special than other social and cultural institutions.
posted by lodurr at 7:38 AM on October 4, 2007



"The simple fact that a particular moral rule benefits everyone is all the reason needed to follow it."

And the fact that mere men enforce it is all the reason anyone needs to break it.


Nonsesne.

All we EVER have had are men enforcing moral rules. Period. Except if you believe in Sodom and Gomorrah (And Lott LET the crowd rape his daughter... WTF is up with that?)

Men have ALWAYS been the proxies and police of gods. That's what a priesthood IS.

And that is all people needed to know when they broke moral rules. It was MAN's punishment that mattered to the interloper not divine punishment. If the "threat" of divine punishment was enough nobody would have ever murdered anybody. If devine punishment , if HELL, was enough the iron maiden, dungeons, guillotines, and drawing and quartering, would not have been invented.

If morality ONLY comes from god then then guys like hermitosis and koeselitz are only one divine intervention away from running to the next cubicle and smashing in the head of the dude sitting there, maybe ass raping his corpse if that is the whim of the lord.

Where as I, on he other hand neither fear nor obey the capricious edicts of invisible men. Rather the inner spark that guides my moral judgment is programmed into me by both millions of years of gregarious monkey evolution and my upbringing in human society. And that inner voice is then enforced by the laws of men.
posted by tkchrist at 9:14 AM on October 4, 2007


Those of us who are guided by UFO voices pity you.
posted by hermitosis at 9:28 AM on October 4, 2007


And Stalin was an atheist? Your point?

And Stalin ALSO went to Seminary School. Your point?

It is possible that peoples religious beliefs are only a perfunctory layer onto what they may readily do otherwise. Perhaps it merely informs n already moral center.

There is zero reason to believe that religion alone informs moral (or immoral) actions.

If Martin Luther King was raised an atheist (but still by loving parents) he would somehow magically become apathetic, or as some seem to believe, a serial killer instead?

Religion is NOT there to provide "superior" rules to humanity. It's there becuase people, moral AND immoral, need to have meaning to thier lives and religion fulfills that.... but , like morality, it's not the only thing that can.
posted by tkchrist at 9:30 AM on October 4, 2007


Those of us who are guided by UFO voices pity you.

Just stay away from my cubicle.
posted by tkchrist at 9:31 AM on October 4, 2007


PS "pity" is not refutation of the facts.
posted by tkchrist at 9:33 AM on October 4, 2007


And Stalin was an atheist? Your point?

That asshole is a flavor found in every strain of humanity, whether religious or not.

Mine was that there's a long and honourable tradition of Christians fighting for social justice, from the very earliest abolitionists like William Wilberforce, through the Quaker involvement in prison reform and enlightened capitalism, through the 19th century Christian Socialist movement, right up to the involvement of the church in the civil rights movement and those in Latin America whose work is informed by Liberation Theology.

And that's nice, but saying it as though religion deserves credit for inspiring good works is fucking ludicrous given that religion also inspires evil, too. It's irrelevant that some good people are religious when all of those causes, all of them are religious people arguing with other religious people.

For me, what people do is far more important than what they believe. I believe that what they believe happens to be nonsense. But until it starts having an impact on how people live their lives, then it's completely immaterial.

It is completely absurd to claim that there is a disconnect between beliefs and actions. We all behave precisely as we believe is right- that sometimes that conflicts with the beliefs we wish we had is a sad but irrelevant point. To suggest that one can hold a belief without acting on it absurd.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:50 AM on October 4, 2007


Ya gotta love the way people can go at it hammer and tong without realizing they agree with one another...
posted by lodurr at 10:29 AM on October 4, 2007


Metafilter: start acting more rationally via polemics

No, wait, doesn’t have the right ‘zing’
*ahem*
Metafilter: start acting more rationally! - via polemics!


“PS "pity" is not refutation of the facts.”

Those of us who worship Mr. T disagree
posted by Smedleyman at 11:20 AM on October 4, 2007


"Those of us who worship Mr. T disagree"

You fools!
posted by klangklangston at 11:23 AM on October 4, 2007


So...wait...can Mr. T be such a fool that he pities himself?
posted by lodurr at 12:31 PM on October 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Meaning, without God, you'd have no way to persuade people that the Golden Rule is the way to go in a way than just "do what feels good" isn't.

The problem with this argument is that it's comparing apples to oranges. "Without God, you have no way of selecting among many proposed moral codes; with God, you have the moral code defined by the particular brand of religion I believe in."

It's comparing apples to oranges--comparing the entire set of possible god-free moral codes with one god-based moral code.

For a legtimate comparison, you need to compare one vs. one (you want to compare your brand of fundamentalist Christianity with utilitarianism, go right ahead), or else the entire set of all possible god-free codes with all possible god-based codes: the question "how do you select one secular moral code over another?" is met with "how do you select one religion over another?
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:50 PM on October 4, 2007


Great post klang (and Wendell)!
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 2:20 PM on October 4, 2007


Intriguing, but way late here, sorry.

"Science finds every soil barren in which miracles are taken literally and seriously and revelation is considered to provide authentic knowledge of the physical world. If the scientific method is trashed, no amount of resources or loud declarations of intent to develop science can compensate. In those circumstances, scientific research becomes, at best, a kind of cataloging or 'butterfly-collecting' activity. It cannot be a creative process of genuine inquiry in which bold hypotheses are made and checked.”
posted by Smedleyman at 3:31 PM on October 4, 2007


The law giver says: Ape must never kill ape.

That's good enough for me.
posted by tkchrist at 4:26 PM on October 4, 2007


I don't think there is anything in Catholicism that necessarily leads to Liberation Theology. I think that in fact, those people that crafted Liberation Theology warped Christian belief to make it match their own ideology, because they lived in a culture which was dominated by Catholicism and had to work within it.
posted by empath at 5:21 PM on October 4, 2007


And Stalin was an atheist? Your point?

And Peter was a communist, as detailed in Acts 2 and 5.

42They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

1 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? 4 “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” 5 And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it. 6 The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him.
7 Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter responded to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” 9 Then Peter said to her, “Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well.” 10 And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things.

posted by Brian B. at 6:19 PM on October 4, 2007


If you meet the Atheist on the road, kill him.
posted by wobh at 3:17 AM on October 5, 2007


Bo Diddley was a gunslinger. Your point?

Ed Sullivan didn’t ban Stalin from his show.
Peter never danced around with a rectangular-bodied Gretsch guitar.

“I walked 47 miles of barbed wire, I use a cobra snake for a necktie
I got a brand new house on the roadside, made from rattlesnake hide
I got a brand new chimney made on top, made out of human skulls
Now come on, take a little walk with me, baby and tell me:
Who do you love?
I've got a tombstone hand and a graveyard mind, I'm just twenty-two and I don't mind dyin'
I rode around the town'n use a rattlesnake whip, take it easy honey don't give me no lip”

(Actually - still is - he just got out of the hospital in Gainsville last month)
posted by Smedleyman at 12:24 PM on October 5, 2007


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