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"It is easy to take parts of any holy book and make it sound like the most inhuman book ever written"
April 14, 2008 7:04 AM   Subscribe


 
Uh-oh. The Christians are gonna rage.

Either that or turn the other cheek.
posted by chillmost at 7:18 AM on April 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


A Saudi man has created a riposte to films criticising Islam in a video which portrays Christianity as a religion of violence.

And in the sequel, Schism 2, Jesus McClane battles mercenaries who seize control of an airport's communications and threaten to cause plane crashes if their demands are not met.
posted by three blind mice at 7:24 AM on April 14, 2008


Dummy can not tell the difference...there are extremists in religious communities yes, but they are usually kept in place by secular govt--not encouraged; what the bible said long ago is hardly what is practiced today among Jews and Christians. If we take dummy at his word then why not eliminate all religions as terror groups?
posted by Postroad at 7:26 AM on April 14, 2008


Right, the same way that the IRA was 'kept in place' by the government? The same way that the Branch Davidians were 'kept in place' by the government? I could go on.

Many people are violent. Some use religion as a rationalization for violence. This doesn't make religion inherently bad; it means that some people are bad.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:31 AM on April 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


all religions can be depicted as preaching violence.

I was actually thinking about writing a book based on the fringe theory that sometimes power can be wielded for harm, rather than good. But, I still don't think I have enough data.

That said, this was an interesting, if cartoonish perspective. Just from the standpoint that many of the atrocities he shows, Saeed ascribes to Christianity, when religion seems only incidental to them. These are about more base motivations like bigotry, fear, hatred, desire to subjugate the other, and so on.
posted by psmealey at 7:34 AM on April 14, 2008


The same way that the Branch Davidians were 'kept in place' by the government?

Uh, the government killed them all. For really pathetic reasons. What do you want, dancing on their graves?
posted by Justinian at 7:35 AM on April 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


As an atheist, I applaud this film.
posted by Slothrup at 7:37 AM on April 14, 2008


...what the bible said long ago is hardly what is practiced today among Jews and Christians.

Mores the pity, in some cases.
posted by DU at 7:40 AM on April 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


all religions can be depicted as preaching violence.

Christianity is too easy a target. Let's see him try depicting Buddhism as preaching violence. If that's still too easy, then Jainism. Then do Pastafarianism, please. That should be enough to make a much more entertaining film.
posted by sfenders at 7:44 AM on April 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


At least some wit response to stupidity.
posted by zouhair at 7:45 AM on April 14, 2008


As an atheist, I applaud this film.

I suspect that was intended to be humorous, but I think it's essentially part of the problem. Generally speaking, people like Richard Dawkins (despite their educations and intellect) communicate their polemics with a very unsophisticated understanding of the nature of religion and religious belief. They would have us all belief that the religious are suffering from a mass delusion, or are all in some way, brain damaged.

I am personally on the fence with respect to Theism, but this kind of ignorance is just as dangerous as that of fanatics (in some cases, particularly Dawkins's, it is itself a form of fanaticism): it makes us blind to understanding how the other thinks and how he/or she finds his/her motivations. This area of is sometimes where we can find compromises to seemingly intractable problems.

As long as both sides think the other is too stupid to communicate with, nothing will be communicated.
posted by psmealey at 7:47 AM on April 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


As an atheist, I applaud this film.

Exactly, because atheists have never resorted to violence.
posted by rocket88 at 7:50 AM on April 14, 2008


THE HOT BUTTONS TURN OFF THE BRAIN!
posted by Burhanistan at 7:57 AM on April 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


God has been known to order Christians to kill people. God has been known to order Muslims to kill people. God has been known to order Jews to kill people. God has never ordered an atheist to kill people. I wonder why that is?
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:57 AM on April 14, 2008 [10 favorites]


God has never ordered an atheist to kill people. I wonder why that is?

Stalin, Mao Zedong and Pol Pot (atheists all) ordered plenty of people to kill people.

yeah, I went there
posted by psmealey at 7:59 AM on April 14, 2008 [4 favorites]


These hot buttons, somewhere near the bowels they are found, hmmm?

(Please read the above in the voice of Zoidberg for enhanced effect)
posted by Mister_A at 8:02 AM on April 14, 2008


Generally speaking, people like Richard Dawkins (despite their educations and intellect) communicate their polemics with a very unsophisticated understanding of the nature of religion and religious belief. They would have us all belief that the religious are suffering from a mass delusion, or are all in some way, brain damaged.

On the contrary, I think someone like Dawkins in particular is very well aware that belief in religion is absolutely not due to brain damage, just unfortunate "design".

As for the seemingly unsophisticated critiques: I think that's a result more of trying to address the fundamental claims and not get caught up in the idiosyncratic details of each sect and sub-church. Nip it in the bud at the source, rather than get into the brush.
posted by DU at 8:02 AM on April 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Stalin, Mao Zedong and Pol Pot (atheists all) ordered plenty of people to kill people.

Atheists can be violent people. So can religionists. Everyone knows this.

The question under discussion is whether the belief system "preaches violence". Does the atheistic belief system preach violence? What examples can you cite?
posted by DU at 8:05 AM on April 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


Stalin, Mao Zedong and Pol Pot (atheists all) ordered plenty of people to kill people.
Faint of Butt's point still stands.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:05 AM on April 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Decapitate those who say atheism is violent!
posted by fleetmouse at 8:06 AM on April 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Faint of Butt: Because all atheists are clearly deaf, duh.
posted by davemee at 8:06 AM on April 14, 2008


Faint of Butt's point still stands begs the question.
posted by psmealey at 8:07 AM on April 14, 2008


Responses, summed up:

1) Christianity is an easy target. Try Buddhism.
2) It is highly unlikely that Raed al-Saeed will receive death threats from Christians or that he will be discouraged from airing his movie because the government fears civil unrest if it is to be aired.
3) Secular governments keep religious extremism in check, Theistic governments encourage religious extremism.
4) That all said, if you don't like someone's movie, make a movie opposing it, don't declare a fatwa - so he's got the right idea there.
posted by BrianBoyko at 8:09 AM on April 14, 2008


God has never ordered an atheist to kill people. I wonder why that is?

Oh, He's ordered plenty of atheists to kill. Damned atheists just aren't listening.

I do wonder though why God doesn't just do this jazz Himself. Sparrow falling from the sky, all-powerful being that He is. He just said "Let there be light" and there was light, He gives cancer to kids, why can't He whack His own damned enemies? Afraid of prosecution? Can't stand the sight of blood?

To paraphrase Bono, "The God I believe in smites his own foes."
posted by three blind mice at 8:10 AM on April 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


God has never ordered an atheist to kill people. I wonder why that is?

Because killer atheists are all about the work around.
posted by humannaire at 8:11 AM on April 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


I do wonder though why God doesn't just do this jazz Himself. Sparrow falling from the sky, all-powerful being that He is. He just said "Let there be light" and there was light, He gives cancer to kids, why can't He whack His own damned enemies? Afraid of prosecution? Can't stand the sight of blood?

I tend to think of God as the Brad Pitt character (Floyd) in True Romance, but he's all-powerful... he just doesn't do shit.
posted by psmealey at 8:14 AM on April 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Generally speaking, people like Richard Dawkins (despite their educations and intellect) communicate their polemics with a very unsophisticated understanding of the nature of religion and religious belief.

I agree. People like Dawkins and Hitchens may do as much harm to atheism as Mohammed Atta did to Islam. (Read that any way you like; I rather enjoy the ambiguity.)

Secular governments keep religious extremism in check, Theistic governments encourage religious extremism.

All governments encourage behavior that they think will help keep them in power.
posted by Slothrup at 8:14 AM on April 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


I suspect that was intended to be humorous, but I think it's essentially part of the problem. Generally speaking, people like Richard Dawkins (despite their educations and intellect) communicate their polemics with a very unsophisticated understanding of the nature of religion and religious belief. They would have us all belief that the religious are suffering from a mass delusion, or are all in some way, brain damaged.


I'd be cool with this if the mirror requirement was imposed on all religious proselytizers. You want to preach get a science degree or two.
posted by srboisvert at 8:16 AM on April 14, 2008


I'd be cool with this if the mirror requirement was imposed on all religious proselytizers. You want to preach get a science degree or two.

I don't understand your point. Does Dawkins have a degree in theology?
posted by psmealey at 8:19 AM on April 14, 2008


if you don't like someone's movie, make a movie opposing it, don't declare a fatwa - so he's got the right idea there.

Yeah, good on him.

Oh, and your favourite religion is a pack of lies made up to make people feel better about their miserable lot in life. And sucks.
posted by Artw at 8:23 AM on April 14, 2008


Religions are metaphysical soft drinks.

Most people enjoy 'em, some people go on to harder stuff, and others just prefer water.
posted by humannaire at 8:35 AM on April 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


Stalin, Mao Zedong and Pol Pot (atheists all) ordered plenty of people to kill people.

I never thought of them as people who didn't believe in a God, but rather as people who believed they WERE God, as are most murderous despots. It's just easier for theistic murderous despots to pass the buck.

People like Dawkins and Hitchens may do as much harm to atheism as Mohammed Atta did to Islam.

Because publishing books is the equivalent of crashing planes into buildings. No ambiguity there.

If Dawkins didn't exist, the Holy Warriors would have to invent him. Or maybe they have.

BTW, in the current Holy Wars, even the most conservative figures show far more Islamic fatalities than Christian ones (of course that includes Shiite Islamic vs. Sunni Islamic Holy Wars). And no evidence that trend is going to change anytime soon.

All governments encourage behavior that they think will help keep them in power.

Which is why some nations have constitutions that require elections every once in a while. So that "what will help keep them in power" can be actual service to the people. Doesn't always work, but it's better than claiming God told you what to do and you don't have any choice.
posted by wendell at 8:39 AM on April 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


"So I was doing a show in Fyfe, Alabama, and afterwards these three guys came up to me and said "Hey buddy, we're Christians, and we don't like what you said!"

"I said "Oh... well... forgive me."

"Later, as I was hanging from the tree..."
-Bill Hicks
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:47 AM on April 14, 2008 [4 favorites]


I too am a bit taken aback by the Dawkins/Atta comparison. I'm not really a fan of the guys approach, which I consider a bit counterproductive, but being a bit tone-deaf and smug is the equivalent of commiting a major terrorist attack? Eh? WTF?
posted by Artw at 8:51 AM on April 14, 2008


1) Christianity is an easy target. Try Buddhism.

Tibet was kind of your standard theocratic shithole before the Chinese came along.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:51 AM on April 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


I too am a bit taken aback by the Dawkins/Atta comparison. I'm not really a fan of the guys approach, which I consider a bit counterproductive, but being a bit tone-deaf and smug is the equivalent of commiting a major terrorist attack? Eh? WTF?

Keep in mind that the people who believe stuff like this also tend to believe things like "Atheism is a religion, too!"
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:51 AM on April 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Regarding the peaceable nature of Buddhists, weren't they kicking the shit out of Hindu protestors in Sri Lanka only last year? Also, going back to WWII, there was that whole Nanking massacre thing...
posted by Artw at 8:56 AM on April 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Seriously, why do atheists think they're entitled to some kind of moral superiority? You have faith in the nonexistence of god, religious people have faith in the existense of god, and neither belief automatically makes people better or worse.

And if I brought up Soviet Russia, where religion was outlawed (opiate of the people!), you'd tell me their butchery of millions was totally unrelated to atheism, right? Because there were so many other factors in play that it would be absurd to reduce the murderous history of the USSR to atheism?

At the point where a war or genocide is massive enough that it attracts international attention, there is always a multiplicity of causes, and the complexity can't be resolved by simply saying RELIGION or ABSENCE OF RELIGION or ANY. ONE. THING.

Perhaps some religions contribute negatively to society and some do not, but that is frankly such a vague and difficult question (like Christianity today is anything like what it was in, e.g., the Middle Ages?) that it's absurd to throw it around like we can just say yes or no and we've accomplished something.

I honestly don't get it. How is it productive to be totally reductive? (<---poet)
posted by prefpara at 9:05 AM on April 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


I never thought of them as people who didn't believe in a God, but rather as people who believed they WERE God, as are most murderous despots

That's likely true, but in the interest of fairness (to me) the remark you quoted was in response to faintofbutt's circularly logical snark that only people who believe in God can have murdered in God's name. Sound and fury signifying nothing. Only rapists rape people!

Of course, I don't believe that their atheism (which they had all arrived at differently) had anything whatever to do with their atrocities or megalomania.

Because publishing books is the equivalent of crashing planes into buildings. No ambiguity there.
I too am a bit taken aback by the Dawkins/Atta comparison


For everyone starting to get into a lather, here's what Slothrup said:

"People like Dawkins and Hitchens may do as much harm to atheism as Mohammed Atta did to Islam"

This ventures too far into hyperbole for me to be acceptable (I'm bringing it up only because Slothrup wrote it somewhat in support of something I wrote), but I don't think he was equating the writing of books and giving of lectures with the slaughter of 3,000 people. Only he can say for sure, but I think he was merely furthering the idea that if you're trying to win hearts and minds with your ideas, coloring your views with intolerance and arrogance is often self-defeating.
posted by psmealey at 9:10 AM on April 14, 2008


Seriously, why do atheists think they're entitled to some kind of moral superiority?

I’d tell you why, butit would be deleted as LOLCHRISTIANS.
posted by Artw at 9:12 AM on April 14, 2008


Faint of Butt : God has never ordered an atheist to kill people. I wonder why that is?

I want you to kill your neighbor.

*quin continues brushing teeth*

Did you hear me? I want you to kill your neighbor! He has sinned against me!

*combs hair*

Seriously, he is building an altar unto a false god, go and smite him in my name!

*washes face*

And he has not honored his mother or father, he is a SINNER!

*takes anti-voices-in-my-head medicine*

NOOOoooooo

*leaves house, waves to neighbor*

"Hey Tom! How's that new marketing job?"

"Great!"
posted by quin at 9:32 AM on April 14, 2008 [6 favorites]


Psssssst, your laziness is showing.

They would have us all belief that the religious are suffering from a mass delusion, or are all in some way, brain damaged.

Actually no. Quite specifically, they would NOT have us all belief that they are suffering from brain damage. Delusion, yes of course. Brain damage? No. Specifically, no. Dawkins has on multiple occasions in his writing pointed out that intelligence and religious beliefs are not related. Instead it is more capacity for and appreciation of critical thought that comes to the forefront. My own father is as religious as can be, and hails from MIT and has a PHD in chemistry. Stupid? No. Entrenched in his cultural roots? Of course.
Continuing on...

And if I brought up Soviet Russia, where religion was outlawed (opiate of the people!), you'd tell me their butchery of millions was totally unrelated to atheism, right? Because there were so many other factors in play that it would be absurd to reduce the murderous history of the USSR to atheism?

No, it wouldn't be because there were so many other factors in play, it would in fact be because it was completely unrelated. Sorry, did I miss the part where Atheism spoke down from the heavens and told those people to be batshitinsane crazy power-hungry murderers? Did they specifically murder in the name of atheism? Acting as if their murder was justified specifically because of the higher power of atheism? Not to be condescending or anything (that was a lie), but are you familiar with the crusades? Perhaps with a chap named Matthew Shepard? And do I need to bring up the corrupt nature of organized religion regarding the whole Catholic bureaucracy protecting pedophiles thing? My g(G)od, this is like shooting fish in a barrel. Don't confuse atheists being murderers with atheists murdering for atheism. It's awfully hard to confuse Christians murdering with Christians murdering for Christianity, why is it so easy to fuck up the converse?
I apologize for the linguistic ugliness of my previous sentence, and leave you with this parting thought.
"Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you'd have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, it takes religion."
Steven Weinberg
posted by GoingToShopping at 9:33 AM on April 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


But yes, it’s terrible that religious people would be portrayed as inherently less moral or more prone to genocide. I can’t think of any other group who are portrayed in that same way every time they are mentioned, in such an unthinking, broad brushed way that lacks any kind of critical analysis every time they so much as blink. Oh wait – I CAN!
posted by Artw at 9:35 AM on April 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


Christianity is an easy target. Try Buddhism.

Once in high school during detention (I was late to school a lot), it somehow came up in conversation among my fellow inmates that one of the other kids there was apparently a Buddhist. Another kid was curious, and was asking him all sorts of questions about his religion. The Buddhist kid apparently didn't want to answer these questions, grew increasingly annoyed, and finally said to the kid who was asking all the questions "dude if you don't shut the fuck up I'm going to kick your ass."

The irony produced by that moment knocked over half the desks in the room, and some village in India has been powered exclusively by Buddha ever since they hooked him up to a generator.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 9:37 AM on April 14, 2008


GoingToShopping, even a simple minute of googling would help you to fill gaps in your understanding of Soviet history. The USSR did, in fact, persecute and murder people in the name of atheism, among other things.

In any case, my point was that saying "religion is bad!" is laughably simplistic and unproductive. I was not attacking atheism.

Artw, I suggest that two wrongs don't make a right.
posted by prefpara at 9:43 AM on April 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


People don't kill people because God told them to do it.

People kill people in the name of their own personal God because:

a) Someone with more power or charisma than they have wants people to die for his own political or economic reasons. That person convinced them that their God, in whom they trust and believe deeply, wants them to kill. They could have used any other exploitable shared fear, or desire, and religious belief is particularly powerful in this respect. This is the "Holy War" method. (We are killing you because you are infidels - X tells us that you are infidels, and X speaks for our God)
b) They wanted to kill people for their own human reasons, and they use religion as their justification. If you are murderous, hateful or insane, you can certainly twist the words of your own personal Holy Book to convince you that you are in the right. This is the "Hate Crime" method. (My God told me to kill you because you do not believe in him, or because something about what you do or the way you are is abhorrent to my God.)

Christianity and Islam are exploitable this way, but so are patriotism, racism, and any number of shared fears and beliefs. Anything that can be used to dehumanize the other enough to convince people that the other deserves to die will do.
posted by louche mustachio at 9:46 AM on April 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


Eh, "Schism" was pretty good -- but not as good as "Hostel" or "Saw II." Needs more torture.
posted by pardonyou? at 9:53 AM on April 14, 2008


No, it wouldn't be because there were so many other factors in play, it would in fact be because it was completely unrelated.

Hmm. Atheism sort of is and isn’t related to the excesses of Stalin and Hitler. Both were born in a tide of modernist zeal, sweeping aside the old order and replacing them with a shiny new ideology tailor made for the 20th century which, yes, rejected the competition in forms of other ideologies and religions. Irony fans will not that this is a form of atheism that behaves very much like a religion.

Atheism was very much a part of those modernist ideologies, it’s true, but what they ended up being doesn’t resemble atheism very much at all. And they were so incredibly bound up in their moment that they’re not really relevant to anything else at all.

As for Pol Pot, I have absolutely no idea what the fuck that was all about. A nation-wide case of the severe crazies is my only guess.
posted by Artw at 9:53 AM on April 14, 2008


Comparing Dawkins to Atta is idiotic.

He's the Rush Limbaugh of atheism. I was going to say Ann Coulter, but I think Sam Harris is a better analogue.
posted by dw at 9:55 AM on April 14, 2008


Artw, I found this sentence of yours interesting: "Atheism was very much a part of those modernist ideologies, it’s true, but what they ended up being doesn’t resemble atheism very much at all."

It echoes a common defense of religion - that the atrocities that are commonly attributed to religion are the result of a pervese twisting of that religion into something unlike its original form and true essense.

Whatever your position on these issues, surely you can admit that religion comes in enough forms that it is sort of ridiculous to talk about it as though it were one monolithic thing.
posted by prefpara at 10:00 AM on April 14, 2008


Another way of thinking of it:

Kill people because they are Muslims
Kill people because they are Christians
Kill people because they are Hindus
Kill people because they are Buddhists
Kill people because they are witches
Kill people because they are wealthy
Kill people because they are poor
Kill people because they are women
Kill people because they are men
Kill people because they are black
Kill people because they are Asian
Kill people because they are homosexuals
Kill people because they are liberals
Kill people because they are conservatives
Kill people because they speak a language that sounds like gibberish to you
Kill people because they don't love our country enough
Kill people because they are wearing a different color than you are
Kill people because the man on the radio told you to kill them


Does that make it any more right? Are any of those people any less dead?
posted by louche mustachio at 10:03 AM on April 14, 2008


if you're trying to win hearts and minds with your ideas, coloring your views with intolerance and arrogance is often self-defeating

Finally, proof that the art of reading comprehension is not dead. (You see what I did there? :)
posted by Slothrup at 10:05 AM on April 14, 2008


Psssssst, your laziness is showing.
Stupid? No. Entrenched in his cultural roots? Of course.
Continuing on...


Making my point for me, in a way. Most days, I end up on the side that calls religion stupid (some days not), but this condescending manner and callow arrogance have now pissed me off. Beyond that, claiming that cultural roots and upbringing are the only influences or contributing factors to those seeking a religious path is a shallow generalization. There are people that are tied into it by elements and moments of profound spirituality, mysticism, aesthetics (or pick another word for it) in a way that cannot be explained by the scientific method. These are concepts that seem completely foreign to the likes of Dawkins, who simply believes that if they cannot be explained within his paradigm they cannot exist.

Though I have had fleeting moments where I experienced such phenomena, I don't consider myself a true believer. But to deny the existence or meaning for them based on a limited set of measurable criteria is narrow and, I think, foolish. In Dawson's own paradigm we couldn't measure the atomic weight of hydrogen some years back, and couldn't explain quantam mechanics ever more recently. It didn't mean they weren't real.
posted by psmealey at 10:05 AM on April 14, 2008


Whatever your position on these issues, surely you can admit that religion comes in enough forms that it is sort of ridiculous to talk about it as though it were one monolithic thing.

Well, that's sort of true, but when it becomes a flag to rally around it's usually pretty irrelevant what the substance of the religion is. Atheism did indeed become a component in ideologies that served a similar role, but just a component, and the main reason for that is that it was kind of fashionable at the time rather than anything inherent in atheism.
posted by Artw at 10:10 AM on April 14, 2008


There are a few (very few) subsets of Christianity that strive for intellectual honesty in dealing with their holy book and their God. They tend to be pacifists.
posted by francesca too at 10:10 AM on April 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


None of which is to say that Dawkins does not understand these concepts, he mostly glosses over them in his writings speeches. What irritates me most, though is people like Bill Maher who yell "LOLXTIANS!!! They believe in a talking snake! A talking snake! I totally agree with you." Basically emboldens fools who have just a cartoonish view of religion as the most brazen, idiotic fundie you'll ever meet,
posted by psmealey at 10:10 AM on April 14, 2008


Artw, what you wrote is really interesting.

First, you say that "when [a religion] becomes a flag to rally around it's usually pretty irrelevant what the substance of the religion is."

Then, you say that "[a]theism did indeed become a component in ideologies that served a similar role, but just a component, and the main reason for that is that it was kind of fashionable at the time rather than anything inherent in atheism."

To me, these look like parallel statements. You seem to be observing that in general, religion and atheism are both susceptible to being used as an excuse for doing evil, despite whatever their essential nature may be.
posted by prefpara at 10:22 AM on April 14, 2008


religion and atheism are both susceptible to being used as an excuse for doing evil, despite whatever their essential nature may be.

The essential nature of religion is the same as the essential nature of human beings. The essential nature of atheism is the same as the essential nature of human beings.
posted by Slothrup at 10:25 AM on April 14, 2008


There are a few (very few) subsets of Christianity that strive for intellectual honesty in dealing with their holy book and their God. They tend to be pacifists.

I think it's pretty clear that when Christ says not to defend yourself, he's talking metaphorically, despite the complete absence of any sign of metaphor in that passage.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:40 AM on April 14, 2008


prefpara - I think the esential differnece is that Atheism is the rejection of an idea rather than an idea in itself. If you somehow twist atheism into an imperitive to do something it's no longer really straight atheism - whereas if you twist a religion to have a similar imperitive it's still a religion, just a different variant of it.
posted by Artw at 10:46 AM on April 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


if you twist a religion to have a similar imperitive it's still a religion, just a different variant of it.

I can easily think of religions and sects within religions that are so different from one another that they are almost opposites of each other. Some are pretty widely accepted as beneficial or neutral (e.g. Quakers have delicious oatmeal & pacifism). Is it fair to talk about "religion" in general as though the varieties have no real significance and are all part of the same whole?

Atheism is the rejection of an idea rather than an idea in itself.

This is kind of just playing with the definition of "idea." I'm not saying atheism and religion are the same, I'm just trying to point out similarities between them that seem to me to be significant in this context.
posted by prefpara at 10:56 AM on April 14, 2008


As for Pol Pot, I have absolutely no idea what the fuck that was all about. A nation-wide case of the severe crazies is my only guess.

I think, off the top of my head, I seem to remember it was some sort of extreme perversion of Maoism (Which was pretty bad to begin with... one of those atheist substitute religions see also Stalin, Hitler etc).

Oh and Dawkins/Hitchins whilst pretty crap are hardly terrorists. It's almost like god made them so crap to discredit there cause...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:59 AM on April 14, 2008


Atheism did indeed become a component in ideologies that served a similar role, but just a component, and the main reason for that is that it was kind of fashionable at the time rather than anything inherent in atheism.

So you're saying that Marxism is areligious? That is, Marx's "opiate of the masses" statement is irrelevant to Marxist thought?

I mean, evangelical Protestantism was the Weltanschaung that the modern American conservative movement came out of. In that sense, it's a component of a wider belief system, fashionable at the time. And yet, if you're a Republican, you're a religionist, but Marx and Lenin and Stalin and Mao? Oh, it was fashionable to be atheist.

I see the same explaining away that I see of Christians explaining away Falwell.

prefpara - I think the esential differnece is that Atheism is the rejection of an idea rather than an idea in itself. If you somehow twist atheism into an imperitive to do something it's no longer really straight atheism - whereas if you twist a religion to have a similar imperitive it's still a religion, just a different variant of it.

That's not completely true. The opposite of atheism isn't religion, it's theism.

You can build a belief system around atheism just as easily around theism. Once you extend atheism into a belief system, though, it's now functioning as a quasi-religion. And I think that's where you see most of the disconnect these days between classical atheism and this new breed of evangelical atheism. It's not just a single belief, but a belief system, that not only is there no God, but in believing so you are therefore superior to those who do believe in God.
posted by dw at 10:59 AM on April 14, 2008


Is it fair to talk about "religion" in general as though the varieties have no real significance and are all part of the same whole?

Probably not, and it can often be counter productive, but on the other hand it can be pretty handy and useful shorthand.

I think at the bottom of it what we all need to watch out for is sets of ideas that agressivly try to replicate themselves and cause harm to others in order to acheive that goal. I think we're both in agreement about that.
posted by Artw at 11:03 AM on April 14, 2008


Atheism did indeed become a component in ideologies that served a similar role, but just a component, and the main reason for that is that it was kind of fashionable at the time rather than anything inherent in atheism.

So you're saying that Marxism is areligious? That is, Marx's "opiate of the masses" statement is irrelevant to Marxist thought?


Nah, I'm syaing that the modernist period was full of materialist zing and that was fairly antithetical to established religion. It's the power of the human will! God is dead! Long live the power of the proletariate!
posted by Artw at 11:06 AM on April 14, 2008


It's really annoying how Richard Dawkins has become the ultimate atheist strawman. Feel free to indicate what exactly he's written or said that you're responding to when you're composing your screed against him.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:07 AM on April 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


He's the Rush Limbaugh of atheism. I was going to say Ann Coulter, but I think Sam Harris is a better analogue.

Except for, you know, the lies, insults and incitations to homicide.

I wonder how many people talking crap about Dawkins and Harris have actually read their books. I have. I found them to be very respectful. Sure there are times I disagree with them, and Dawkins tends to not come across well on screen, but there's no point when they suggest anything other than the idea we should be able to have a reasonable dialogue about this stuff.

Spreading the idea that they're somehow podium pounding ideologues is just showing your ignorance. And how much you'd like the world to be black and white.
posted by lumpenprole at 11:14 AM on April 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


Hitchens is more proveably an utter dick. He can be Coulter.
posted by Artw at 11:15 AM on April 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Dawkins tends to not come across well on screen

A lot more people have seen Dawkins promoting his book on various television shows than will ever actually read it.
posted by Slothrup at 11:16 AM on April 14, 2008


Hitchens, also, would be an example of an atheist advocating the death of a large number of people in a large part because he doesn’t like their religion. You’ll notice that this is as part of his involvement with an absolutist, very “modern” ideology (in this case neoconservatism).
posted by Artw at 11:19 AM on April 14, 2008


RE: The wiki link, I'll refrain from commenting on it due to lack of time resources required to devote to it. But you may be right. I dunno. I'll know tomorrow morning I suppose.
These are concepts that seem completely foreign to the likes of Dawkins, who simply believes that if they cannot be explained within his paradigm they cannot exist.
Wrong again, and that's what I was trying to point out with my "your laziness is showing" comment.
Have you actually read any of his books? Not his essays, but his books, where he specifically covers all these topics and more? The whole point of his ideals are that if something can't be explained, that's fine. One of the most significant advantages of science is that it accepts a lack of knowledge for what it is. It does not in fact try to fancy up some absurd omniscient omnipotent all-loving God as an answer. it accepts ignorance for what it is. If something cannot be explained by Dawkins' paradigm, then that means it needs to be looked at more heavily, not that it needs to be ignored.
posted by GoingToShopping at 11:21 AM on April 14, 2008


I'm an antitheist so I too applaud this film. In this life it is important to question authority to create more infromation and better understand our choices. Buddhism, for me, is an ethical system - more a philosophy of life than a religion.
posted by kokomo at 11:24 AM on April 14, 2008


I think at the bottom of it what we all need to watch out for is sets of ideas that agressivly try to replicate themselves and cause harm to others in order to acheive that goal. I think we're both in agreement about that.

I'm not so sure that we agree. I mean, I can't reconcile what you described with a belief in anything. For example, I have a strong belief that I have the right to defend myself against physical attack. If this belief were not widely accepted in my culture, I would aggressively try to convince others to adopt it. I would be willing to harm others (in some very real but non-lethal ways, such as by taking away from them their percieved right to attack others, which they would undoubtedly believe to be a serious harm) in order to achieve that goal. And I don't think there's anything wrong with any of that such that we ought to "watch out" for me and my band of true believers.
posted by prefpara at 11:27 AM on April 14, 2008


I think at the bottom of it what we all need to watch out for is sets of ideas that agressivly try to replicate themselves

Man, you really need to read The Selfish Gene.
posted by lumpenprole at 11:31 AM on April 14, 2008


Hitchens, also, would be an example of an atheist advocating the death of a large number of people in a large part because he doesn’t like their religion

What? Where?
posted by lumpenprole at 11:32 AM on April 14, 2008


Just as a side note: I see two sides to this argument. One side making a whole landslide of unsupported claims, and another side that says "Goddamn, you need to do some research!"
posted by GoingToShopping at 11:35 AM on April 14, 2008


I gave my copy of The God Delusion to a friend, so I'm going to have to try to reconstruct this from memory, but I really appreciated Dawkin's response to those who said that he wasn't able to speak for lack of a degree in theology.

Our esteemed colleague, having not studied tailoring, tanning or embroidery has no right to comment on the clothing worn by the emperor.

(He said it better and in a few more sentences.) Basically, theology tends to presuppose the existence of a god. It's impossible to work within that framework to talk about the lack of a god.

I find myself in the target market for Dawkins. But I was close enough to the choir to start with that it doesn't matter.
/derail

I had tried to write something about the need for a schism in Islam, but I find myself without enough information to be sure of my point.

I was going to ask about pacifist denominations in Islam and stumbled across the Alevi, so each faith can claim at least one group that abhors violence, not that that has done much good in either society. (The only Quaker president in the US was Nixon. It's not something the Quakers I know are proud of.)

So I'm having trouble finding any particular bone to pick with Islam vs. any other monotheistic religion, other than religion is the state in far too many places and that is a serious problem.

I'm not sure how much this addresses the issue at hand, but on the other hand, hey, Alevis are cool and I figured people should know about them, but I'm not about to put together a FPP on them.
/ramble
posted by Hactar at 11:44 AM on April 14, 2008


Feel free to indicate what exactly he's written or said that you're responding to when you're composing your screed against him.

Spreading the idea that they're somehow podium pounding ideologues is just showing your ignorance. And how much you'd like the world to be black and white.

All right, you guys need to take it down a notch. I don't see any hysterical jumping up and down, chest thumping or screeds here. I'll admit that GoingtoShopping was right to call me out for not having read Dawkins's books, but based on the numerous times I'd seen him (live and on the radio), I'd never found his views compelling. Maybe those were ultra-dumbed down summaries of his books. But having pored over Aquinas, Thomas More, Calvin, Descartes, Kant, etc in my formative years, I have done a little background work on this matter. What I have consistently heard from Dawkins in these fora, to my ears, did not bring much of anything new to the table, and little of it is much more than appeals to common sense and the occasional snide comparisons to belief in faeries and gnomes.
posted by psmealey at 11:50 AM on April 14, 2008


Having said that, I promise to pick up one of his books on this subject and read it in detail. I'll let you know if I think it's vastly different from the made for tv version.
posted by psmealey at 11:52 AM on April 14, 2008


Tribalism is the problem, fear of the Other. Religion is just a particularly virulent and irrational "tribe". Nationalism, racism, classism, etc. can also be used to rally people to the same horrible ends. I say this as an atheist who despises what religion often does to people.

If you're different from me, you are to be feared. It's a nasty, nasty lizard brain remnant that was necessary for our gene's survival but has little constructive place in modern society.
posted by LordSludge at 11:54 AM on April 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


Hitchens, also, would be an example of an atheist advocating the death of a large number of people in a large part because he doesn’t like their religion

What? Where?


I'd have thought the links between his support for the iraq war and his dislike for muslims were fairly transparent. Even if he doesn't outright say it he puts the two very close together.
posted by Artw at 12:40 PM on April 14, 2008


HOKAY IT'S DEBATIN' TIME!

FYI, I am an atheist and thoroughly anti-theist. I used to be a Catholic, so you can't say I have no experience with religion.

That said, yes, all kinds of belief (I say systems of belief because atheism isn't a religion - it's as much of a religion as not collecting stamps is a hobby.) can be construed as advocating violence. Atheism, in this respect, is unique, as are other opinions on uh, LIFE which don't have a codified system of beliefs because nobody can say it advocates violence, but certainly, people have been violent. Not just Christians and Muslims; Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and other groups have been violent in the name of religion.

Not in the name of atheism, of course, because it's not a religion. Saying Pol Pot was violent because he was an atheist is like saying Oda Nobunaga was violent because he was a Buddhist. Big leap of logic.

You can, however, say Osama bin Laden was violent in the name of Islam because he explicitly said he killed people in the name of Allah.

Every type of belief has its idiots. Christians have the fundies and the Crusaders. Muslims have Osama and his bunch. Jews have a couple of folks, including that Menachem Korn guy who wanted to blow up a lab at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Buddhists and Hindus have been at each other's throats for years and have some nutty monks and whatever the Hindus have. And yes, we atheists, unfortunately, had Stalin and Pol-fucking-pot.

I do not claim to understand why people are religious, because when I was a Catholic I never took it seriously. I am a metaphysical naturalist; I believe all that exists is the natural world - what has been shown to exist by the scientific method.

If you think about religion, it's a human construct. People are by nature not able to understand everything; some people use religion, whereas some of us are comfortable letting some questions remain unanswered and answering them when we've got evidence.

I do not care whether you think there's an Allah or a Krishna or a giant teapot on the other side of the sun. I just care about whether you use your beliefs to do good or bad.
posted by kldickson at 1:24 PM on April 14, 2008


Burp.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:09 PM on April 14, 2008


Seriously, why do atheists think they're entitled to some kind of moral superiority?

I don't claim any moral superiority, unlike EVERY FOLLOWER OF AN ORGANIZED RELIGION ON THIS PLANET (and most of the non-organized believers).

Let's see, your 'logic' goes like this:

(1) There is a Supreme Being

(2) This Supreme Being created everything the way it is, yet has 'special rules' (morals) for humans either unrelated to or contradictory of actual biology and other natural laws.

(3) I've signed on to one version of those special rules based on things I can never prove and never have to.

(4) By taking on these unprovable beliefs, I have guaranteed myself a Great Reward after my death that those who didn't are excluded from. Of course, that's also totally unprovable so if I'm wrong, you won't get to go "neener neener neener" to my face, which is the single most frustrating thing for nonbelievers.

I'm open to the concept of Life After Death, but I am not counting on it, and if there is a Final Judgment, it will come from a physically-unencumbered human spirit getting access to more information about the true nature of the universe and realizing just how we screwed up and how little it matters.
posted by wendell at 3:05 PM on April 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


wendell, your comment seems to go as follows:

1. I don't claim any moral superiority
2. (explanation of claim of moral superiority)
posted by prefpara at 3:35 PM on April 14, 2008


People sure seem to confuse atheism with anti-theism a lot.
posted by marble at 3:49 PM on April 14, 2008


The only Quaker president in the US was Nixon.

I believe Herbert Hoover was also a Quaker, FWIW.

Now back to your regularly scheduled "People Talking Past Each Other" Theism Thread.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:59 PM on April 14, 2008


"Apes don't read philosophy"

"Yes they do Otto, they just don't understand it."
Unintentional irony....
posted by Huplescat at 4:01 PM on April 14, 2008


"Miss. Reed & Quibble" would make an excellent TV crime-fighting duo.
posted by Artw at 4:01 PM on April 14, 2008


there were several things that turned me from my religion:

one was reading a history of the Albigensian Crusade where a bishop tells the military commander "kill them all, god will know his own".

another was i when became a senior altar boy and the minister wanted to take me into his office to get a ruler and compare the size of our penises.
posted by lemuel at 5:54 PM on April 14, 2008


All right, you guys need to take it down a notch. I don't see any hysterical jumping up and down, chest thumping or screeds here.

Excuse me? Here are the comments you've made about Richard Dawkins in this thread:
Generally speaking, people like Richard Dawkins (despite their educations and intellect) communicate their polemics with a very unsophisticated understanding of the nature of religion and religious belief. They would have us all belief that the religious are suffering from a mass delusion, or are all in some way, brain damaged.

this kind of ignorance is just as dangerous as that of fanatics (in some cases, particularly Dawkins's, it is itself a form of fanaticism)

Dawkins simply believes that if they cannot be explained within his paradigm they cannot exist.

None of which is to say that Dawkins does not understand these concepts, he mostly glosses over them in his writings speeches.
And now you've said that you haven't read any of his books. I rest my case. Good day to you sir.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:28 PM on April 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also,
I gave my copy of The God Delusion to a friend, so I'm going to have to try to reconstruct this from memory, but I really appreciated Dawkin's response to those who said that he wasn't able to speak for lack of a degree in theology.
You're referring to the "Courtier's Reply."
posted by ludwig_van at 7:50 PM on April 14, 2008


Buddhism, for me, is an ethical system - more a philosophy of life than a religion.

The point of the ethical system within Buddhism is to escape the cycle of rebirth and suffering, just like with practically any other religion (except for the rebirth part, I guess.) The absence of a "God" doesn't make it any less a religion.

I don't claim any moral superiority, unlike EVERY FOLLOWER OF AN ORGANIZED RELIGION ON THIS PLANET

Sorry, that's a load of crap. There are plenty of religious people who are humble. There are plenty of religious people who don't believe that their religion gives them special entree into the afterlife. I know plenty of Hindus and Buddhists and Quakers personally that fall into this category.

ludwig_van, if you give your book the title The God Delusion, I don't think it's a stretch for people to assume that you think religious people suffer from delusion.

MetaFilter is the only place where I'm uncomfortable being an atheist.
posted by me & my monkey at 10:53 PM on April 14, 2008


I really appreciated Dawkin's response to those who said that he wasn't able to speak for lack of a degree in theology.

Why would one's knowledge of science provide any special qualification for discussing metaphysics?
posted by me & my monkey at 11:13 PM on April 14, 2008


"There are plenty of religious people who are humble"

Methinks wendell was more pointing out that followers of faith generally tend to belive their moral system is superior; not necessarily that they laud it over everyone else's failed structure. And why wouldn't they believe such? How could you follow a system of morals (entailed in most religions) if you didn't think it was the most righteous system, and therefore 'superior' to others? It'd be sad indeed if people thought "Man, those Shinto really has the whole meaning of life thing down, but here I am, Catholic, and hence doomed to follow an imperfect system of values...". To ascribe to a religion is in this way claiming some form of moral superiority - at least a superior understanding of what is 'good' and 'right'; although not necessarily the 'you think you're better than me!' variety often bandied about.

(If I've misappropriated your statement, wendell, please feel free to call me on it)

"Why would one's knowledge of science provide any special qualification for discussing metaphysics?"

I think you might've missed the point re. the Courtier's Reply...which is that any qualifications are not necessary to discuss something that doesn't exist. Knowledge of embroidery is simply not needed to discuss the fact that the Emperor has no clothes.

(disclaimer: yes that was heavily paraphrased & representing only one facet of its meaning).
posted by cosmonik at 12:47 AM on April 15, 2008


MetaFilter is the only place where I'm uncomfortable being an atheist.

Why? Seems to me I get my back up when religion is attacked here (and it is attacked frequently), and I'm barely a believer anymore.
posted by psmealey at 2:58 AM on April 15, 2008


This all comes down to how we deal with people that disagree with us. Which, in turn, comes down to what our goal is... if your goal is reasonable conclusions in the pursuit of truth and validity then you are generally not inclined to kill people for disagreeing with you.

If your goal, on the other hand, is the worship of an invisible being... well then, you might get violent in response to other people seeing a different invisible being(s) or maybe suggesting that there wasn't any invisible beings...

One of the constants in my own personal experience is the violence of those with the goal to not think about the things that they do not think about, regardless of what goes along with it.
posted by ewkpates at 3:49 AM on April 15, 2008


MetaFilter is the only place where I'm uncomfortable being an atheist.

Really? It seems hardly a day goes by when someone doesn't issue some kind of idiotic "all religion is lies and crap and religious people are ugly and stupid!" polemic. If you feel uncomfortable, it's probably because someone is picking at your malformed generalization or arguments rather than the fact that you are an atheist.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:33 AM on April 15, 2008


Ah, and looks like I took that quote a bit out of context. The original commenter was saying that in relation to the arse-faced "god sucks and so do you, churchie!" people on this site. My apologies. Atheists and religious people alike should all sit down and listen to J. Krishnamurti.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:36 AM on April 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Mr. Krish, and awesome dude, was a) an atheist; and b) a fanatic "anti-churchie" if such a thing is possible...

But in the nicest possible way... I mean, that dialogue on the immortality of the soul... it doesn't get any gentler than that.
posted by ewkpates at 7:58 AM on April 15, 2008


K. stated a few times his atheism, but he did have ongoing experiences that could be termed "spiritual" throughout his life that he called "the process". He didn't believe in anything, but he certainly was up against something.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:04 AM on April 15, 2008


I was just pointing out that Mr. K was very much opposed to the kind of imagination that most religions encourage in place of critical thought, as are most athiests. He experimented, in the very precise sense of the word, on himself to discover spritual truths. He advocated for personal responsibility rather than church membership.

Athiests should read him for the same reasons everyone should, while religious people should read him to understand why they are missing the pitch.
posted by ewkpates at 8:21 AM on April 15, 2008


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