Is Religion a Force for Good in the World?
November 26, 2010 8:24 AM   Subscribe

In tonight's semi-annual Munk Debate in Toronto, Tony Blair and Christoper Hitchens square off over the topic "Is religion a force for good in the world?" For those who couldn't get tickets, you can watch a live webstream (PPV, $5) of the debate this evening, starting at 7pm EST.
posted by modernnomad (106 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Join us tomorrow when our topic will be 'Religion: Which is the one true faith?'"
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:28 AM on November 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


First you have to decide what good is. If you think good means following God's will, then yes, religion is a force for good in the world, no matter what it leads to. Hitchens is going to make the Sam Harris-y mistake of assuming good to be something that increases human well being. Silly man!
posted by fleetmouse at 8:36 AM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wonder if that warmongering shit Blair thinks his own personal faith has been a force for good in the world.
posted by londonmark at 8:39 AM on November 26, 2010 [7 favorites]


If there was a god it would be a fight to the death and the winner would be eaten by tigers.
posted by Artw at 8:40 AM on November 26, 2010 [8 favorites]


Together, Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens are two of the great British thinkers on religion.

They're both at far ends of the spectrum of folks who are "great thinkers on religion." Would the public not have been better served by showing a debate between folks who were thoughtful and more representative of the moderate majority?
posted by zarq at 8:40 AM on November 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


The existence, or non-existence [of God], to be determined by two falls, two submissions, or a knockout.
posted by Electric Dragon at 8:41 AM on November 26, 2010


"Is religion a force for good in the world?"

Well, yes and no.
posted by philip-random at 8:43 AM on November 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


The first step in addressing any issue is to ask the right question(s) about it. "Is religion a force for good in the world?" is the wrong question. It's more like the set up for a joke.

"Hey, Chris, is religion a force for good in the world?"

"Well, Tony, because he wanted to get to the other side!"

Since everyone knows how this particular joke goes, no one is surprised. But familiarity is comforting. So everyone laughs and goes to dinner thinking they just heard a debate about a serious question by serious people instead of two comedians doing their shtick.
posted by MarshallPoe at 8:46 AM on November 26, 2010 [8 favorites]


When IntelligenceSquared tried this Hitchens basically wiped the floor with the Archbishop and Ms. Widdecombe, and the audience vote revealed a huge shift away from the force for good camp after the debate.

Say what you want about the man's personality, he knows his topic and comes to the debate with all the ammunition ready.
posted by localroger at 8:48 AM on November 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


My take: Religion is a subconsciously developed explanation of human nature.

When it's used to explain or justify why we feel like helping each other, it's good. When it's used to explain or justify why we are afraid of each other, it's bad. Etc etc.

Note that "good" and "bad" are also things we made up, just to be able to talk about stuff.

</eponysomething>
posted by Bokononist at 8:50 AM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Who would pay $5 just to watch a bunch of people arguing?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 8:56 AM on November 26, 2010 [23 favorites]


Damn right! $5 should get you an opportunity to enter the debate.
posted by cavalier at 8:57 AM on November 26, 2010 [8 favorites]


Would the public not have been better served by showing a debate between folks who were thoughtful and more representative of the moderate majority?

Moderates in thius debate tend to be people who don't have the courgae of their convictions, and fall all over themselves to agree with everyone around them. Totally boring. Incidentally, by what definiton are Hitchens or Blair extreme? Hitchens doesn't seek to force children to be raised atheist, or suppress religous observance that doesn't physically harm people. And Blair is no extremist - he doesn't want Catholic doctrine to be made law, or even to ban abortion. He isn't on some religous fringe. They just both happen to believe, strongly, that God does or does not exist and that religion is a positive or negative thing. Far better than an agnostic philosophy professor and United church minister, neither of whom really think they can fully accept or reject the Bible, boring their audience to death for an hour and a half.

I have a ticket, and as far as I'm concerned Christmas has come early this year. Blair is one of the most persuasive public speakers of his generation, rivalled in effectiveness as a politician probably only by Bill Clinton, and there is no better spokesman for the atheism that believes in itself for a change than Hitchens. The fact that Hitchens is dying and that this is likely the only time Blair will do this makes this debate a truly unique treat. This will be a debate for the ages, I think.
posted by Dasein at 8:59 AM on November 26, 2010 [11 favorites]


Is religion a force for good in the world?

Tony ? "Yes"

Christopher ? "No"

Just saved you a fiver.
posted by Webbster at 9:02 AM on November 26, 2010 [12 favorites]


Is Tony Blair actually a heavyweight on the pro-religion side of the debate? Really?
posted by RustyBrooks at 9:03 AM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well-summarized, Webbster.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:05 AM on November 26, 2010


Oh and I doubt it will be a good as Cleese/Palin v Muggeridge/Stockwood fixture.
I predict a no score draw for the Blair/Hitchens match.
posted by Webbster at 9:05 AM on November 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hitchens has been a busy fellow lately. Besides being named the first ever Doctor of Heresy and promoting his book, he debated Tariq Ramadan in Toronto, William Dembski (video and audio) in a Texas Baptist school, and now Blair. Being in what he calls "Tumortown" has barely slowed him.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 9:05 AM on November 26, 2010


There is no such thing as having no religion. The truth is, "You gotta serve somebody." Those who think they have no religion are either unwilling (Hitchens) or incapable (the autistic science types who populate The Edge) to look frankly and deeply into their own hearts.
posted by Faze at 9:06 AM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


So I suppose this will settle the debate one way or the other forever more?
posted by idiomatika at 9:07 AM on November 26, 2010


Both Tony Blair and Chris Hitchens really need to be having a good, solid debate on "Was the Iraq War a force for good in the world?", preferably with them on one side and an orphaned, limbless Iraqi child on the other.

Also, ignore the fucking troll.
posted by Avenger at 9:09 AM on November 26, 2010 [17 favorites]


Being in what he calls "Tumortown" has barely slowed him.

C'mon, Toronto's not that bad.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:09 AM on November 26, 2010 [10 favorites]


If the debate involved their left wrists being handcuffed together and each given a box-cutter, I'd pay $10 and spend more on overpriced hot dogs and crap beer.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:13 AM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Will somebody in Toronto please take this opportunity to arrest the bastard?
posted by ceedee at 9:14 AM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Whether or not religion is a force for good in the world, the depredations of Barrick Gold, the company owned by Peter Munk, the sponsor of this debate, are unquestionably evil.
posted by docgonzo at 9:14 AM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


There is no such thing as having no religion.

Sez you.

Unless other people bring it up, it's not a topic that ever really enters my mind. Further, I know from my (largely secular) friends and family, that the same is true for them too. Religion and metaphysics aren't in themselves particularly interesting, any more than say, fairy tales or ancient mythologies are. We're not so much atheist or even agnostic as apathetic.

It's a bit of a mystery to many of us why people do get so worked up about theoretical possibilities which have such seeming little bearing on our lives for the most part.
posted by bonehead at 9:19 AM on November 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Is god for reals? Do we even get to make that decision?!

To find out: click here!
posted by defenestration at 9:21 AM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Religion and metaphysics aren't in themselves particularly interesting, any more than say, fairy tales or ancient mythologies are.

Fairy tales and ancient mythologies are way more interesting than religion. Nobody gets all freaked out when you cut all the boring parts.
posted by ecurtz at 9:25 AM on November 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


There is no such thing as having no religion. The truth is, "You gotta serve somebody." Those who think they have no religion are either unwilling (Hitchens) or incapable (the autistic science types who populate The Edge) to look frankly and deeply into their own hearts.

I've looked into my heart several times, actually, through the magic of ultrasonography. It mostly just throbs and makes a lot of squishy noises. I didn't see God anywhere in there.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:25 AM on November 26, 2010 [19 favorites]


There is no such thing as having no religion.

This "every worldview is a religion" canard is as silly as saying that anything we do on Sunday is golf, or whatever we eat is a hamburger.
posted by fleetmouse at 9:28 AM on November 26, 2010 [15 favorites]


And he's successful yet again!
posted by defenestration at 9:30 AM on November 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


The truth is, "You gotta serve somebody."

...mmmm, tasty Reagan era Bob.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:33 AM on November 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hmm, I'm in Toronto tonight, but there's no way I'm going to miss The Good Right Arm Stringband's CD launch party. It promises to be far less annoying.
posted by scruss at 9:37 AM on November 26, 2010


The truth is, "You gotta serve somebody."
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:38 AM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I hope Hitch thoroughly trashes that oily, lying, god-bothering swine.
posted by Decani at 9:40 AM on November 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


With the exception of the actual existence of people, religion is responsible for more violence and persecution than anything else in human history. Given that, religion would be great if we could just get rid of all the people.
posted by davelog at 9:41 AM on November 26, 2010


Also, if Bliar is classed as a "great thinker on religion" these days then the god squad is in seriously deep excrement.
posted by Decani at 9:44 AM on November 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Is this the next episode of Glee?
posted by srboisvert at 9:47 AM on November 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Serving dinner (a day late, but just in time for Christmas!).
posted by bonehead at 9:49 AM on November 26, 2010


You know where the top part of a woman's long leg, meets the very bottom of her ass?

I worship that - does it make it God?
posted by dbiedny at 9:49 AM on November 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Who would pay $5 just to watch a bunch of people arguing?

Hmmmm ...
posted by New Frontier at 9:54 AM on November 26, 2010 [20 favorites]



...mmmm, tasty Reagan era Bob.


Actually, Gotta Serve Somebody pre-dates the Reagan White House by at least a year. As always, Mr. Dylan was ahead of his time.

Good song, I gotta say. I was maybe 18 at the time and most definitely NOT religious, but had no problem as reading it as, "It doesn't matter how high you get up the ladder of success, you're always going to be serving some BOSS or other, some ideology, some agenda. So choose well."
posted by philip-random at 9:59 AM on November 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: Who would pay $5 just to watch a bunch of people arguing?
posted by modernnomad at 10:06 AM on November 26, 2010 [6 favorites]


Tony Blair? Tony Fucking Blair? Tony "what would Jesus think of being cautious about the sacraments" Blair?

I guess making Richard Dawkins the spokesperson for religion would've been too obvious.
posted by koeselitz at 10:11 AM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Dasein: “And Blair is no extremist - he doesn't want Catholic doctrine to be made law, or even to ban abortion. He isn't on some religous fringe. They just both happen to believe, strongly, that God does or does not exist and that religion is a positive or negative thing.”

I'm willing to debate the claim that Tony Blair is actually capable of believing anything. He's so thoroughly a politician that I think actual, positive beliefs are beyond his ken. The fact that he sees himself as a religious person has always been an insult to religious people everywhere.

It's pretty clear to me who will win this debate.
posted by koeselitz at 10:13 AM on November 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


Fairy tales and ancient mythologies are way more interesting than religion. Nobody gets all freaked out when you cut all the boring parts.

Well, I'm still ticked off at Peter Jackson about Tom Bombadil and the Scouring of the Shire, but I guess you have a point that I haven't declared any crusades over it.

yet...
posted by SomeOneElse at 10:31 AM on November 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


philip-random: “Actually, Gotta Serve Somebody pre-dates the Reagan White House by at least a year. As always, Mr. Dylan was ahead of his time. Good song, I gotta say. I was maybe 18 at the time and most definitely NOT religious, but had no problem as reading it as, ‘It doesn't matter how high you get up the ladder of success, you're always going to be serving some BOSS or other, some ideology, some agenda. So choose well.’”

Well, that's fair enough, and it ain't a bad song (especially when Etta James sings it.) But since this is about debate, even though I'm generally on the pro-religion side of the argument I feel compelled to note that John Lennon's answer, "Serve Yourself," was pretty damned good, too.
posted by koeselitz at 10:35 AM on November 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


The winner will be guillotined and loser burned at the stake... or vice versa.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:53 AM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


There is no such thing as having no religion. The truth is, "You gotta serve somebody." Those who think they have no religion are either unwilling (Hitchens) or incapable (the autistic science types who populate The Edge) to look frankly and deeply into their own hearts.

Only a person of strong faith could be so utterly, arrogantly blind to the obvious. Congratulations, you're on the road to sainthood.
posted by londonmark at 10:54 AM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Have them "debate" the Iraq war instead.

The synchronized mental gymnastics would certainly be worth the five dollars.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:03 AM on November 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


First argue the definition of religion. Do we fight on perenialist, experientialist or other grounds. Then decide if Buddism, Taoism, Unitarianism, etc qualify. Once you get past this, and are ready to present a theory of religion that you can both agree on now you are ready to argue if it is a force. Also can anything be a force for good. I mean isn't force a coercive action.
posted by humanfont at 11:19 AM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Was Blair a force for good?
posted by joost de vries at 11:19 AM on November 26, 2010


Was Ned Flanders unavailable?
posted by Brocktoon at 11:30 AM on November 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's a bit of a mystery to many of us why people do get so worked up about theoretical possibilities which have such seeming little bearing on our lives for the most part.

Soooo. You're reading this thread and commenting because ...
posted by kneecapped at 11:32 AM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's all right now
I've learned my lesson well
You gotta serve somebody
I think I'll serve myself.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:36 AM on November 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


There is no such thing as having no religion. The truth is, "You gotta serve somebody."

If atheism is a religion, then not playing baseball is a sport.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:59 AM on November 26, 2010 [14 favorites]


Perhaps they'll just conclude that religion is a force of 'goovil'
posted by Flashman at 12:08 PM on November 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Why does everybody think Richard Dawkins is annoying? Because he seems so self-assured?

I've been reading a few audiobooks by him, read by him. He seems like an alright guy, he just has a case of the i-done-sure-there-ain't-no-gods. Doesn't mean he's an awful person. Not everybody can be a socratic ideal of agnosticism.
posted by tehloki at 12:22 PM on November 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


The Munk organizers offered weekly ticket drawings to pairs of people who uploaded miniature webcam debates, a minute per segment, on the going topic. My brother and a friend of his gave it a try. They're both solidly atheist and it was a stretch for either of them to take the other side -- not that there's time to make much of any kind of argument in that time frame. (Theirs is the debate posted November 6, if anyone's curious.)

But they had fun doing it, and they got tickets, and they're looking forward to going tonight.
posted by tangerine at 12:29 PM on November 26, 2010


Hitchens: "I'd like to welcome my distinguished opponent Tony Blair to this debate. We both agree that the war in Iraq was both necessary and good..."

*gasps of horror*

Hitchens: "... but we're here to discuss whether or not religion is evil."

*audience sighs*
posted by benzenedream at 12:47 PM on November 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


Although it's not impossible, it is very difficult to get people to fly planes into buildings without religion.

But hey, I'm just one of those atheists who rudely doesn't keep quiet about his atheism.
posted by Legomancer at 1:18 PM on November 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Why does everybody think Richard Dawkins is annoying?

I don’t think that they do. I think that this reaction, where is does occur (there’s only one person in this thread who’s alluded to a dislike of Dawkins) is largely an attempt to use an ad-hominem attack to try to discredit him. Similarly, calling his arguments strident simply a way to ignore the fact that they are, in fact, relentlessly logical and well-grounded. That they may appear strident to some is simply evidence of his point that religion enjoys a privileged position in our society.
But…

(1) Calling atheists “brights” is just outrageously pompous, as if Saint Augustine, Descartes, Erasmus, and, for that matter, Tony Blair, are all just not as smart as him. People don’t believe in God because they’re stupid, and renaming your movement to define yourself as smarter than your opponents is highly obnoxious.

(2) Arguing that parents who raise their children to think that they (the children) are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, whatever, is child abuse is deeply offensive to probably the vast majority of loving parents on earth, and moreover makes atheism – which insofar as it is political should be advocating freedom of thought, speech and religion – just another excuse for using state power coercively, this time against the most personal of family matters. Taken to its next logical step, it’s simply an argument for atheist authoritarianism, in which the state polices the way parents are raising their children. (Sadly, this is a feature of much politics these days, liberalism having transmogrified from a movement that sought the freedom of the individual to one which seeks to control the individual for some greater good – see also: the anti-smoking movement calling smoking in the home child abuse; David Suzuki calling for prison for those who don’t agree with him about global warming; leftists using “hate speech” as an excuse to silence, fine or imprison those whose views they find repugnant.) The irony is that it’s nothing more than the atheist version of blasphemy (same goes for global warming and hate speech above), with the same alleged concern for the impact with would have on the mental health (previously known as the soul) of children. While I think that some religious practices certainly are abusive – and not just to children – I think we need to part company firmly with Dawkins on this, and in this respect I find Hitchens and Sam Harris far better than Dawkins.

I will also say that while Dawkins focuses on the objective truth of religious beliefs, Hitchens is far better as an all-around destroyer of all arguments religious, with a special knack for showing the disgusting ways in which religion wields political power around the globe.
posted by Dasein at 1:46 PM on November 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


And for blasphemy above, read: heresy.
posted by Dasein at 1:49 PM on November 26, 2010


tehloki: “Why does everybody think Richard Dawkins is annoying? Because he seems so self-assured? I've been reading a few audiobooks by him, read by him. He seems like an alright guy, he just has a case of the i-done-sure-there-ain't-no-gods. Doesn't mean he's an awful person. Not everybody can be a socratic ideal of agnosticism.”

I don't harbor any ill will toward him, by the way. How I feel about his scholarship is neither here nor there. I just think he'd agree that it'd be totally silly to make him a spokesperson for religion, right? That's what I meant when I mentioned him. It's almost as silly making Tony Blair a spokesperson for religion, as I really don't think of him as an intelligent, cogent, thoughtful religious person – certainly not in the way that Hitchens is an intelligent, cogent, thoughtful atheist.
posted by koeselitz at 1:51 PM on November 26, 2010



Metafilter: Who would pay $5 just to watch a bunch of people arguing?

Bet this went over a lot of heads.
posted by notreally at 1:53 PM on November 26, 2010


No, we just favorited the joke the first two times it was made, by furiousxgeorge (assuming he was making the joke- it's possible that was unintentional) and then New Frontier (where the joke was more explicit).

But it was a clever joke.
posted by hincandenza at 2:20 PM on November 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wonderful. An islamophobe vs. a ex-cryptocatholic neocrusader.
Calling atheists “brights” is just outrageously pompous, as if Saint Augustine, Descartes, Erasmus, and, for that matter, Tony Blair, are all just not as smart as him.
I'll grant the others, but Blair as smart as Dawkins? Seriously?
There is no such thing as having no religion. The truth is, "You gotta serve somebody." Those who think they have no religion are either unwilling (Hitchens) or incapable (the autistic science types who populate The Edge) to look frankly and deeply into their own hearts.
I looked into a heart once. It was full of blood. (By looked I mean 'watched on youtube' and by once I mean 'just in the past five minutes')
posted by delmoi at 2:24 PM on November 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: Who would pay $5 just to watch a bunch of people arguing?

You can watch for free, for $5 I expect to be taking part...

liberalism having transmogrified from a movement that sought the freedom of the individual to one which seeks to control the individual for some greater good

Not really, it's just that a lot of people who think they're liberals are actually slightly confused socialists.
posted by robertc at 3:37 PM on November 26, 2010


Although it's not impossible, it is very difficult to get people to fly planes into buildings without religion.

Modern suicide attack doctrine was invented by Marxists in Sri Lanka. That truth being a thing you did not know that was making you have false opinions, it has become time for you to reexamine your attitudes based on new data, assuming you practice what you preach.
posted by mobunited at 5:10 PM on November 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


If atheism is a religion, then not playing baseball is a sport.

apatheism, sure. antitheism, less so.
posted by weston at 5:26 PM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's not that simple. I'm an apatheist with respect to deism but a strong atheist with respect to the Abrahamic religions - I strongly and positively believe that it's nonsense, and that you'd have to be subject to bone shattering stupidity or a really acute case of doublethink not to think so.
posted by fleetmouse at 7:20 PM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Can we get some other than these spritual lightweights in there for the religious side? I want to see Desmond Tutu, Thich Nhat Hanh, or someone with some real presence in there.
posted by humanfont at 7:59 PM on November 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Although it's not impossible, it is very difficult to get people to fly planes into buildings without religion.

Modern suicide attack doctrine was invented by Marxists in Sri Lanka. That truth being a thing you did not know that was making you have false opinions, it has become time for you to reexamine your attitudes based on new data, assuming you practice what you preach.


Were the Marxists in Sri Lanka flying planes into buildings? Because if not, I think you're focusing on the wrong part of the comment.
posted by Jaybo at 8:57 PM on November 26, 2010


Aren't the kamikaze attacks from WWII modern enough to count ?
posted by rfs at 9:43 PM on November 26, 2010


Kamikazes were heavily influenced by Shinto.
posted by lumensimus at 9:48 PM on November 26, 2010


They'd have to pay me a lot more than $5 to watch that.
posted by Hello Dad, I'm in Jail at 10:39 PM on November 26, 2010


Although it's not impossible, it is very difficult to get people to fly planes into buildings without religion.

I agree with that statement, although there was an exception this just year when a man flew a plane into a building not for religious reasons, but because he was very frustrated with the U.S. tax code.

2010 Austin Plane crash
posted by bobo123 at 11:06 PM on November 26, 2010


Were the Marxists in Sri Lanka flying planes into buildings? Because if not, I think you're focusing on the wrong part of the comment.

The answer is twofold.

1) Cornered by the fact that you were pissing into the wind first tine around, you are demanding the ridiculously specific.

2) The answer to you question/dodge attempt is actually "yes." The Tamil Tigers, inventors of the modern suicide attack, will conduct them with anything. See:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2009_suicide_air_raid_on_Colombo

In any event, it's pretty stupid to make this a moral criterion. Ol Hitch there loved the US bombing the shit out Iraq on purely secular grounds. Is it more moral when civilians die by indifferent button push? Perhaps you can enlighten me in the moral superiority of chicken hawk warmongering without evidence of a threat -- a faith-based disaster for part of the world that both sides in the debate was just fucking super.
posted by mobunited at 3:12 AM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


The outcome of this debate will be decided entirely by the meaning of the word "religion". I anticipate its meaning will not be hotly debated, but rather that each side will try to subtly insinuate its own assumptions about the word, and the side that does best at that will win the debate.

There are serious anthropologists who think that a religion is a way of categorizing the world into "sacred" and "profane". I am not certain as to the meaning of "sacred" but if it means taking some things very seriously, I find it hard to imagine believing that to be bad in itself.
posted by LogicalDash at 4:00 AM on November 27, 2010


Metafilter: where the top part of a woman's long leg, meets the very bottom of her ass
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 6:00 AM on November 27, 2010


I pretty much love that every time Hitchens gets into it with someone, all the observers say, "well of course he won, he wasn't going up against a real heavyweight!"

Of course he wasn't. There aren't any heavyweights on the opposing side. The religious position breaks down ultimately to, "I believe it because I want to" and the atheist position to, "I don't believe it because there's no evidence." There isn't even a contradiction to address there. One side is about feelings, and the other is about the objective absence of evidence.

The morality shit is just window dressing.
posted by klanawa at 9:15 AM on November 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm an atheist and it seems to me that every conflict in today's world is driven by a power/wealth imbalance that has it's roots in colonialism. The sides are divided along ethnic lines... religion does nothing but indicate ethnicity.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:35 AM on November 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Although it's not impossible, it is very difficult to get people to fly planes into buildings without religion.

Well I would argue it's very difficult to get people to fly into buildings period. I know a good deal of people who self-define as religious, and only seven of them have flown airplanes into buildings in the past twenty years, and of those, only three did it on purpose.
posted by philip-random at 9:41 AM on November 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


A transcript
posted by Fat Buddha at 10:46 AM on November 27, 2010


There is no such thing as having no religion. The truth is, "You gotta serve somebody." Those who think they have no religion are either unwilling (Hitchens) or incapable (the autistic science types who populate The Edge) to look frankly and deeply into their own hearts.

posted by Faze at 5:06 PM on November 26


Troll of the year award. If you were actually serious, I feel bad for you. No wait, I mean I don't give a shit.
posted by Decani at 2:11 PM on November 27, 2010


As always, Mr. Dylan was ahead of his time.

And as always, he changed his mind again later. What a fucking genius prophet.

Dylan, in a nutshell.
posted by Decani at 2:15 PM on November 27, 2010


Why does everybody think Richard Dawkins is annoying?

"Everybody" doesn't. People who don't like having their most precious delusions challenged and mocked do. Oh, and hypersensitive agnostics. Can't we all just get along?

No. We can't. Not as long as there are crazy people around who try to tell their children and everyone else how to live based on nothing more than deep personal conviction and a bunch of bullshit old books written by people who didn't even see the bullshit they're claiming is real. Dawkins recognises that, which is why he annoys those who haven't managed to figure it out yet.
posted by Decani at 2:23 PM on November 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


As always, Mr. Dylan was ahead of his time.

And as always, he changed his mind again later.


Ummm, I was sorta making fun of Bob with that line (ie: his going JesusWeird pre-dating ReaganAmerica and it's boomerang conservatism by more than a year). But that said, I do respect a man who can change his mind, particularly if it's away from a problematic position.

But then again, some of that Jesus music he wrote was shit-hot.
posted by philip-random at 3:25 PM on November 27, 2010


There aren't any heavyweights on the opposing side.

Your argument is incorrect for two reasons, First so far hisopponenta have not been people who I would consider able to hold up their own in any religious debate. Karen Armstrong, Dinesh d'Souza and Tony Blaire are basically cannon fodder in any religious debate. Let's see how he does against Pope Benedict, the Dalai Lama or even Jesse Jackson.

Second the argument in the Munk debate was about religion not faith or the existence of god. Specifically is religion a force for good in the world. From a historical perspective religion has played a key role in progressive social movements. Consider the following movements and the key role of the religious convictions of those who pushed them forward: Suffrage, Abolition, and Civil Rights. Religioius institutions can be sued as tools of oppression, but the underlying faith enables reform.. Would the power of the princes fo the church have been broken without Luther ther confronting them with power of the Christian message?
posted by humanfont at 7:13 PM on November 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Jesus was an anarchist
posted by philip-random at 7:25 PM on November 27, 2010


klanawa: “I pretty much love that every time Hitchens gets into it with someone, all the observers say, "well of course he won, he wasn't going up against a real heavyweight!" Of course he wasn't. There aren't any heavyweights on the opposing side. The religious position breaks down ultimately to, "I believe it because I want to" and the atheist position to, "I don't believe it because there's no evidence." There isn't even a contradiction to address there. One side is about feelings, and the other is about the objective absence of evidence. The morality shit is just window dressing.”

That's idiotic. I love your brilliant thesis that people who disagree with you must all be completely stupid. That's a fine thing to think. You seriously think that makes sense?

Look, you can say a lot of things about religion, but there have clearly been very intelligent religious people, and there still are. A thoughtful atheist, I think can shake her or his head at this fact, wondering how people can make this mistake – but it's a fact that can't be denied. Do I have to do that bullshit thing where I list intelligent religious people? Please don't make me, it's tedious.

If you're really not aware of any intelligent people who are religious, then I can't help you here. You just need to get out more. Or maybe read a book or two.
posted by koeselitz at 7:36 PM on November 27, 2010


klanawa's statement isn't about "intelligence". It's about the nature of the argument in favor of religion. Like he said, "the religious position breaks down ultimately to, 'I believe it because I want to' and the atheist position to, 'I don't believe it because there's no evidence.' [...] One side is about feelings, and the other is about the objective absence of evidence".

No amount of heavyweight opponents can get around the fact that there's no evidence that any given religion is true.... and no amount of intelligence makes you immune to believing things which aren't true, either. Thus, the mere existence of intelligent religious people is not enough to refute klanawa's argument.

If you're really not aware of any intelligent people who are religious, then I can't help you here. You just need to get out more. Or maybe read a book or two.

Nice. I love your brilliant thesis that people who disagree with you must all be completely stupid!
posted by vorfeed at 8:11 PM on November 27, 2010


I paid the $3 to watch the replay... it was civil, although Hitchens seemed a bit grumpy/mean spirited at times. Blair kept talking about how yes of course we can find examples of where religious people did wrong but on the other hand they do so much good... Hitchens kept replying that it's not just people doing things 'in the name of' religion, but these bad things are demanded in the holy texts. I thought Hitch took it my a bit but then I went in biased.
posted by kevinsp8 at 8:13 PM on November 27, 2010


That's idiotic. I love your brilliant thesis that people who disagree with you must all be completely stupid. That's a fine thing to think. You seriously think that makes sense?

koeselitz, where in that comment did klanawa even suggest such a thing? I notice you're quick to draw the "idiotic" card yourself, however.

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.

Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.

An hypocrite with his mouth destroyeth his neighbour: but through knowledge shall the just be delivered.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:28 PM on November 27, 2010


Sys Rq: “koeselitz, where in that comment did klanawa even suggest such a thing? I notice you're quick to draw the "idiotic" card yourself, however.”

Look, the fact that klanawa's statement was idiotic in itself doesn't contradict the fact that painting all religionists or all atheists with the brush he painted them with is wrong. I did no such thing. In fact, I tend to feel there are good debaters on both sides of the aisle, and sadly I think anybody who pays attention to reality has to face that fact. It's not as easy as counting a score.

vorfeed: “klanawa's statement isn't about "intelligence". It's about the nature of the argument in favor of religion.”

Bullshit. What is "heavyweights" a euphemism for, then? Is klanawa suggesting that atheists are, what, invariably more muscular than religionists?

klanawa's statement was pretty clear: people who say that Hitchens got off easy because he had to debate a "lightweight" like Blair are being silly, because there are no heavyweights in the religion camp. Good debaters, intelligent people, whatever that means -- they don't exist within religion. klanawa went on to provide "support" for that claim by saying that religion is in its essence a rejection of the claims of evidence.

If I told you that there is no place on earth that has a blue sky, and then offered an elaborate proof as "evidence," would you listen to my proof? Or would you instead note that there are clearly blue skies? The fact is that there are clearly "heavyweights" within religion. So the falsity of klanawa's claim isn't really something we have to wonder about; it's obvious. The only question, I guess, is where the flaw in the reasoning resides. There's really no point in me trying to refute claims that all of us can see are patently false.
posted by koeselitz at 10:50 PM on November 27, 2010


Good debaters, intelligent people, whatever that means -- they don't exist within religion. klanawa went on to provide "support" for that claim by saying that religion is in its essence a rejection of the claims of evidence.

You're acting as if "whatever that means" wasn't already explained by the claim that religion is, in its essence, a rejection of the claims of evidence. In a reasoned debate, people who decide that they need not support their statements with evidence aren't heavyweights. They may indeed be intelligent, or very good at debate otherwise, but they're not playing in the same class as someone who can muster both emotional and rational arguments. You yourself have admitted that those who argue in favor of religion must eventually stand upon a position of faith... and faith isn't much of an argument, unless you happen to be preaching to the choir.

That's the idea in play, here, not some straw-man about how good debaters and intelligent people "don't exist within religion".
posted by vorfeed at 11:55 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


vorfeed: “In a reasoned debate, people who decide that they need not support their statements with evidence aren't heavyweights. They may indeed be intelligent, or very good at debate otherwise, but they're not playing in the same class as someone who can muster both emotional and rational arguments.”

Seriously, have you ever read St Thomas Aquinas?

My whole point was that the notion that religious people 'can't muster both emotional and rational arguments' is a silly canard. It can be rational to decide that the given evidence is not enough to support a conclusion. That decision can be completely rational. And for many religious people, it is. The fact is that there exists no evidence, one way or the other, about the objects of religion. The fact that there exists no evidence about these things doesn't mean rational discussion is precluded. And what's more, given that atheists are speaking from a position no more or less rational, no more or less evidence-based, than religious people, if this lack of evidence means that religious people are not fit for reasoned debate, then neither are atheists.
posted by koeselitz at 4:17 PM on November 28, 2010


The fact that there exists no evidence about these things doesn't mean rational discussion is precluded. And what's more, given that atheists are speaking from a position no more or less rational, no more or less evidence-based, than religious people, if this lack of evidence means that religious people are not fit for reasoned debate, then neither are atheists.

Only if you believe that arguing in favor of a specific claim for which there is a total lack of evidence is just as rational as arguing against the likelihood of that specific claim, based on a total lack of evidence.

As always, it's worth noting that the only time we entertain this notion is when we're discussing religion. Few would suggest that it's equally rational to argue for and against the existence of elves, sorcerers, or the Four Humors (or, for that matter, the gods on Mount Olympus) simply because there's no evidence about these things... yet we're supposed to swallow this highly-convenient argument the moment discussion turns to today's religions? That doesn't seem rational to me.
posted by vorfeed at 6:08 PM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


And what's more, given that atheists are speaking from a position no more or less rational, no more or less evidence-based, than religious people, if this lack of evidence means that religious people are not fit for reasoned debate, then neither are atheists.

Setting aside for a moment the supposed rationality of faith, let's get back to the effects of religion.

Voluntarily allowing the course of one's very existence to be steered by an external force in spite of, as you say, a lack of evidence, seems to me to be far less rational than simply echewing such an external force because of that lack of evidence and instead making one's own reasoned choices. "For the Bible tells me so" is not reason; reason means weighing the real world pros and cons of a given situation and deciding which path to take. Atheism necessitates reason, while religion eliminates it altogether.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:11 AM on November 29, 2010


Sys Rq: “Voluntarily allowing the course of one's very existence to be steered by an external force in spite of, as you say, a lack of evidence, seems to me to be far less rational than simply echewing such an external force because of that lack of evidence and instead making one's own reasoned choices.”

Well, you're simplifying things tremendously, but to take this argument at face value: I don't see how you can reach that conclusion. To take an example, let's consider an immediate answer to the question: "what color is the nearest planet to the earth?" I have no evidence, you have no evidence. There's no rational approach to the question. There may be a tradition that says one thing or another, and an ancestral claim that someone has seen that planet; how is it so irrational to give that tradition weight, even to have faith in it?

“‘For the Bible tells me so’ is not reason; reason means weighing the real world pros and cons of a given situation and deciding which path to take. Atheism necessitates reason, while religion eliminates it altogether.”

“For the Bible tells me so” isn't faith, either. And I appreciate that faith and reason seem diametrically opposed to you, but you clearly don't think of faith in the same way that religious people do. That's okay, but we're arguing about completely different things here. I didn't mention St Thomas Aquinas frivolously above; his doctrine, which is accepted doctrine within the church, is that faith is a part of reason, that it is an expression of reason, and that faith is nothing without debate and rational consideration. You may shake your head and say "well, that's not really what faith is;" but the fact remains that, at least for Catholics, religion in fact demands reason.

Moreover, I also don't think you can say atheism necessitates reason. Isn't it possible to be an aimless, irrational atheist? That doesn't mean most atheists are; in fact, most atheists I've met are quite rational. But I think it's possible, which means that atheism doesn't necessitate reason.
posted by koeselitz at 11:39 AM on November 29, 2010


Moderates in thius debate tend to be people who don't have the courgae of their convictions, and fall all over themselves to agree with everyone around them. Totally boring.

I disagree. A moderate opinion on this, or other matters, doesn't mean that the position is arrived at without consideration. Extremists tend to use hyperbole and volume to underscore their points but they don't represent well the average person. If anything we need more moderate and articulate debaters on issues so that the vast middle has a voice in the media.
posted by dgran at 11:49 AM on November 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, you're simplifying things tremendously, but to take this argument at face value: I don't see how you can reach that conclusion. To take an example, let's consider an immediate answer to the question: "what color is the nearest planet to the earth?" I have no evidence, you have no evidence. There's no rational approach to the question.

The nearest planet to the Earth is light yellow.

As for the nearest extra-solar planet, there is a rational approach to the question: build a spacecraft to find out. We might have had the answer to this question in 2007, if the Hubble Telescope's ACS hadn't crapped out.

Besides, "it's probably not" is in fact a rational answer to any particular color one could guess (or glean from tradition or ancestral claim). Given all the colors this planet could possibly be, not-blue is much more likely than blue, and not-purple-with-yellow-spots even more so. The planet could actually be blue, mind you, but it is not rational to believe that over the alternative... especially when there's not one tradition, but hundreds, none of which agree upon the planet's One True Color.

Again, you don't need contrary evidence in order to reject highly specific claims for lack of evidence.
posted by vorfeed at 1:03 PM on November 29, 2010


"what color is the nearest planet to the earth?" I have no evidence, you have no evidence. There's no rational approach to the question.

Ever hear of a freaking telescope, dude?
posted by Sys Rq at 1:30 PM on November 29, 2010


“For the Bible tells me so” isn't faith, either. And I appreciate that faith and reason seem diametrically opposed to you, but you clearly don't think of faith in the same way that religious people do. That's okay, but we're arguing about completely different things here.

Yes, I know it's not faith; it is religion, which is the topic of the post. I could not have made the distinction more clearly in the comment to which you're responding.

I didn't mention St Thomas Aquinas frivolously above; his doctrine, which is accepted doctrine within the church, is that faith is a part of reason, that it is an expression of reason, and that faith is nothing without debate and rational consideration. You may shake your head and say "well, that's not really what faith is;" but the fact remains that, at least for Catholics, religion in fact demands reason.

I know perfectly well what faith is, thank you: Stubbornness, bigotry, and willful ignorance, all in opposition to reason. An unfaithful person would know the sky is blue because he can see it, while the faithful would have faith that the sky is blue because that is what he has been told is true; if the sky were to someday turn permanently orange, the unfaithful would acknowledge this fact, while the faithful, having been told since the beginning of time that the sky was blue, would insist that it still was.

faith is nothing without debate and rational consideration.

Indeed, and Good is nothing without Evil. Point?

at least for Catholics, religion in fact demands reason

Pope Benedict XVI disagrees.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:02 PM on November 29, 2010


Sys Rq: “I know perfectly well what faith is, thank you: Stubbornness, bigotry, and willful ignorance, all in opposition to reason.”

Ah. Hm. Well, now that you've corrected me on what my beliefs really are, maybe I should return the favor and explain atheism to you now. This seems to be a weird extension of ad hominemism: 'you say you believe one thing, but I'm so convinced that you're an asshole that I'm sure you're lying.'

“An unfaithful person would know the sky is blue because he can see it, while the faithful would have faith that the sky is blue because that is what he has been told is true; if the sky were to someday turn permanently orange, the unfaithful would acknowledge this fact, while the faithful, having been told since the beginning of time that the sky was blue, would insist that it still was.”

Yes, but the unfaithful is Hitler. Or maybe she isn't. Who the fuck knows? You're just making ridiculous accusations that aren't based on anything here. 'If the sky turned orange, then the faithful person wouldn't believe it.' Whatever. Faith is about things not seen; for the Bible tells me so. So faith isn't about the color of the sky, or faraway planets (yes, shitty example, point still stands) or anything else in the observable universe. If the sky turned permanently orange, a Christian (or a religious person of almost any stripe) would say: "the sky is orange. Look, I can see it." Just because you can come up with lots of insane caricatures of faithful people doesn't mean those caricatures are accurate.

me: “...faith is nothing without debate and rational consideration. ”

Sys Rq: “Indeed, and Good is nothing without Evil. Point?”

That's not true, and the parallel is false. Good doesn't require Evil to be Good. If we lived in a good society, we wouldn't require a few serial killers just to keep it going. But faith requires reason; to be a faithful person, you must be rational. That's what you're pretty much refusing to hear me saying here. I guess that's an effective argumentative tactic, but it's hardly rational.

me: “... at least for Catholics, religion in fact demands reason”

Sys Rq: “Pope Benedict XVI disagrees.”

Citation needed.
posted by koeselitz at 2:26 PM on November 29, 2010


But faith requires reason; to be a faithful person, you must be rational. That's what you're pretty much refusing to hear me saying here.

I'm not refusing to hear you say it. You keep saying it, and I keep hearing it; I just don't have the slightest idea what it means. Explain it, please. I'm begging you. I would like very much to learn how faith requires reason, and why it is that a faithful person must be rational. You haven't even attempted to do this. Please do.

Just because you can come up with lots of insane caricatures of faithful people doesn't mean those caricatures are accurate.

Fair enough. Here's something more realistic:

Husband constantly abuses wife. Wife stands by her husband, defending him against all criticism. She knows he is a good man. She has faith in him. "But," you say, "Faith is about things not seen!" Exactly. She's never seen him do anything a good man might do, yet she has faith that he is one, despite all evidence to the contrary. How much rationality does her faith require?

Faith is delusion: "I know this to be absolutely true, though I have absolutely no reason to."
Faith is bigotry: "I know I am right, therefore I know you are wrong."
Faith is stubbornness. "Lay all your airtight proof before me; I will still know I'm right."
Faith is willful ignorance: "Learning? Who needs it? I already know the truth."

Faith occurs when a person mistakes belief for knowledge. How a person could make such a mistake with patently unverifiable beliefs (e.g. God exists, and is good), or beliefs that fly in opposition to verifiable fact, and still be rational is beyond me.

The Pope has denounced Moral Relativism, equating it with Totalitarianism, stating that it is opposition to Democracy.

Again, with annotations: The Pope--Totalitarian dictator of the Catholic people--has denounced Moral Relativism--the concept that people have different beliefs of what is right and wrong--and equated it with Totalitarianism--the concept that What I Say Goes, on which the power of the Pope depends--and stating that it is in opposition to Democracy--the concept that people have different opinions of what is right and wrong, and the majority opinion should win out, all of which takes Moral Relativism as a given.

Now, if that ain't denouncing rationality, I don't know what is.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:40 PM on November 29, 2010


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