Big Tent Atheism

Guest blogger Paul Spinrad first wrote about meme warfare in Adbusters #11. 

In politics, I think there are two competing motivations for voters to support a cause publicly. One is to influence the majority to agree, to make changes that you believe in, and the other is to distinguish your opinions as superior to most other peoples'. These two motivations generally cause people to act in similar ways, but I've found some "tells" that reveal the underlying elitist motivation:

Under a democracy, the elitist motivation is self-defeating: If your true aim is to distinguish yourself from the masses, you really don't want your side to win-- your aim is better served when more people vote the other way, and then you can be disgusted with most peoples' stupidity and wash your hands of responsibility.

With religion, I think atheists have the same dissonance going on. If they really think the world would be better off without religion, they shouldn't hate religion and call believers fools. Any successful new belief system must appreciate the beauty of what it's replacing and strive for backwards-compatibility. If Matthew 1:1-16 hadn't explained how Jesus' lineage fulfills the prophecy in Isaiah 1:1-5, it wouldn't have gotten where it is today.

So I put it to declared atheists-- the ones who fly the flag about it, not the ones who are quiet or closeted: Do you think that most of humanity is A) hopeless and doomed to kill each other because of their stupid religious beliefs, or B) capable of coming to and benefiting from your views?

I think closeted atheists who participate in other religious activities are the future of atheism. They know that prayer feels good without a needing brain scientist to tell them, and they know you don't need God to want to feed the hungry, heal the sick, and provide homes for the orphaned. What if they simply stopped reciting the words that they didn't agree with during religious services, without calling attention to it? In many places I don't think they would be kicked out or turned upon and beaten just for that.

An atheism that's well-designed for broad appeal wouldn't need miracles. What miracles do for a belief system is ensure greater investment on the part of the adherent. If something's easily believable, it's easy to take or leave, but doubtful claims require a leap and then ongoing mental maintenance. If a group subscribes to some miraculous claim, it demands shared support, repetition, declarations, indoctrination, etc.-- all of which bind the group together. For a new atheism, the miracle-we-believe function would be served by the question of whether the whole scheme could actually succeed. If the "us" people say yes and are excited at the prospect while the "them" people view it as absurd, that's the identical, effective dynamic.

Meanwhile, I'm putting The Crooked Letter on my reading list-- it sounds great!

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  1. what about those who just get on with their lives and dodge the religious and noisily atheist both?

  2. “If your true aim is to distinguish yourself from the masses, you really don’t want your side to win”

    Nader voters, I’m looking at you!

    — MrJM

    1. You sure like false dilemmas, don’t you?

      Admittedly, they’re not as self-vindicating as short, snarky comments.

  3. I’m no biblical scholar, but I looked up Isaiah 1:1-5, and flipping forward a few pages, I’m thinking you have a typo. Isaiah 11:1-5 makes a lot more sense.

  4. I think the “noisy atheist” sentiment and support for people like Dawkins was a reaction to all the “religious” right leaning nonsense from the last 8 years. I suspect it will die down now that that brief era is over and there are bigger things to worry about.

    @ #1 Takuan – gold star for you?

  5. If there is any atheist who thinks that rationality will be spread just by good example let them speak now. We’ve been trying this in your face smart ass form of atheism for 10 years at best, and the numbers don’t lie. Interest in atheism and its supporters has never been higher. How about we give this route a few more years before we start complaining about how impolite it is.

    1. We’ve been trying this in your face smart ass form of atheism for 10 years at best, and the numbers don’t lie.

      Aren’t there more religious fundamentalists? With automatic weapons? And Senate seats?

  6. So if I think your religious belief is thoroughly misguided, I need to, a) shut-up, and b) “appreciate the beauty” of it? Oh, yeah. Right.

    Let’s try switching a sentence around to see how ridiculous this line of argument is: “I think closeted gays who participate in heterosexual activities are the future of gay-rights.”

    dt.

  7. History shows that it was the Christian emphasis on “truth” which paved the way for the European philosophy & science of the late 18th Century – it both led us, and allowed us, to unlock the cage of religious superstition.
    Some wish to remain in that cage: they close the door, and return to their familiar corner.
    But they can never again lock the door, and they cannot stop those who will from leaving the cage.
    The religions of miracle, personal revelation, and hatred of ‘others’ (be they infidel or skeptic), is gone gone gone: bigotry and hatred, though, will be with us long – and they hardly need religion to justify themselves.
    I think that some religious types hate us, because of the impotence of their “love”: which would burn us alive, if they but had the power. As indeed ‘religion’ did burn alive and break on the wheel, for many hundreds of years, those whom it called ‘heretic’, ‘infidel’ or skeptic, and who were unfortunate enough to find themselves subject to their power.
    Religion is dangerous: history has shown it to be so, without any doubt. In marked contrast to the teachings of religion: the benefits of which for mankind (besides its provision of the necessary historical pre-conditions for the arising of Enlightenment science) are very doubtful indeed.

  8. We are not all utilitarians — but your argument assumes that we are.

    You say —

    “If they really think the world would be better off without religion, they shouldn’t hate religion and call believers fools.”

    I’m sure some atheists believe that the world would be better off without religion. But that is not implied in atheism. Atheism simply says that the best — that is, the most consistent, most complete, most coherent, most “true” — theory about the world is one that does not assume a God. It may turn out that believing falsehoods would make the world a better place. Does that means that we should believe them? The answer to that question is analytically different than the answe to the question — is there a god. Your argument needlessly conflates them together, to the point that you confuse yourself.

    We are not all utilitarians. Some of us put truth above utility. Perhaps that makes us “elitists”.

    On that note, is there a reason you are so hostile to intellectual elitism? The intellectual elite care about reasons. Democracy aside, this seems like sufficient grounds to take their side.

    Finally,I must say that I don’t see the point of a politicization of atheism (and maybe we agree on this). Atheism does not need cheerleaders. The truth of it surrounds us, and nags at the back of every priest, altar boy, and would-be prophet’s head. Science has the enormous advantage of providing an explanation of the universe that does not reduce the world to something silly, like the consequence of a God’s ultimately petty desire that we accept him without reason.

    Is there anything more to say on this subject? Probably not.

    ~B

  9. But as someone who is a theist, I already see atheists in religious organizations and I can’t help but wonder why?

    Why not just join habitat for humanity or the red cross? Why keep the trappings of religion if they don’t mean anything to you?

    I’m not trying to be rude, I honestly don’t get it.

  10. It sounds like you’re dropping into a very old debate in atheist circles as if you’re the first person who has thought of it.

    On the side of convincing people who do not already agree with you, everyone knows you aren’t making any friends by telling people they’re idiots. This isn’t a new idea to anyone.

    However, taking a strong stance definitely has an advantage in rallying people who already agree with you, but might not be inclined to speak out, so there’s another side to the political issue. I mean, there is a real political advantage to the way the people you are criticizing are behaving, and I think you’re sort of ignoring that to shore up your point.

    But aside from that, it appears like you’re really looking at this from the standpoint of ‘ideological warfare’ or some concept where we should be tailoring all of our activities to ‘trick’ people into believing our particular ideology, because what is important is this notion of success. What you’re ignoring there is authenticity. I mean, if I actually believe it’s wildly insane to believe that a wizard who lives in the sky will make you immortal, I think there are compelling arguments to the effect that I should just say so.

    If someone asks me what I think, should I tell them straight up or give them whatever marketing line I think would be most successful to get them on my side? I would say the former sounds more reasonable to me, but the latter is certainly more talked about. Somewhere in there, I think, is hiding the idea that the actual content of your beliefs is irrelevant: that it doesn’t matter whether God actually exists or doesn’t or whether religious laws should be followed or ignored. What matters is just the politics.

  11. Hmmmm. Closeted atheists who participate in other religious activities.

    Trying to work out if I fit this or not, and if I agree with it as a possible category of belief. I think probably no on both counts.

    If you are identifying as atheist, to me that is a rejection of religious thought, and it’s kind of hard wired into the proposition of atheism. I doubt you will find many atheists here who accept the dissonance you describe, or the requirement to accept the beauty of religious thought.

    I’m a former atheist who has converted to Catholicism, and accepts scripture as metaphor and enjoys the power of the ancient rituals of the Church. I don’t believe in a personal, interventionist God, but I see that concept as a useful ideal for contemplation.

    In another thread, Arkizzle popped out the term “secular christian”, and I think that’s closer. I’m someone who has reconciled the apparent contradictions of religious practice and the persuasiveness of science within myself.

    I don’t think there’s an atheist in here any more, but maybe we’re just playing with semantics.

  12. “simply stopped reciting the words that they didn’t agree with during religious services, without calling attention to it”
    Interesting — this is exactly what I’ve been doing at Catholic Mass for years. I have always had a less charitable view of it than you do — I thought of it as a cowardly way of “passing.” (That’s “passing” in the same way that some black Americans are sometimes accused of “passing” for white.) I am still waiting for them to find out that my wife is a Buddhist with no intention of converting.

    This gives me and my family access to a large community of people we wouldn’t otherwise be part of, and many of whom are far more kind and charitable than people on the outside might give them credit for. But again, a less charitable way of putting this is that I am buddying up with people who are nice towards their fellow Catholics, but nasty towards others.

    The one major benefit, for which I haven’t found a pejorative, is that it weekly forces me to consider things that I believe to be impossible. Voices from the sky, partings of seas, resurrection … I still find it all far too implausible to be real. But every week, I hear compelling stories that suggest it is. I think this helps keep me sharp.

    Plus, my 18-month-old really digs the architecture and the windows. I think there is value in that as well.

    Can I ask you to expand on something? You write,
    “For a new atheism, the miracle-we-believe function would be served by the question of whether the whole scheme could actually succeed.”
    What exactly is “the whole scheme?” Is it the atheist congregation? Are you asking whether atheists can will themselves into a community of the like-minded, as churchgoers have done?

  13. Ah, B beat me to it. My sick brain is apparently not quick enough on the keyboard.

    Good call, in any case.

  14. I”m not an athiest. I’m a strong agnostic theist. I don’t know, I don’t believe anyone else really knows, it would take a literal miracle to convince me and even that might not do it — and frankly I have trouble believing in a deity _SMALL_ enough that our belief matters.

    On the other hand, I don’t require anyone share my belief. On the other other hand, since I respect them enough not to try to force my views upon them; I expect the same courtesy in return.

    I think we can all agree upon “Be good to each other; the rest is commentary.”

  15. Just like Takuan (gold star! gold star!) and many other in this comment thread, I don’t really recognize my own atheism in the arguments from the post.

    At the core of my own, personal, alienation lies one observation I have seen a LOT of from the US (both over the internetz before I got here, and a LOT in personal interactions once here), namely the obsession with proselytizing.

    The basic assumption of the post seems to be that atheists all wish to Go Out And Convert, or that their reason not to want this is somehow sinister. Similarly, I have had outright problems talking to religious Americans at times, because their proselytizing language was so alien from my own language use that communication broke down.

    I am an atheist.

    This is a personal conviction and statement of faith. I would prefer for society to respect mine and my family’s choice of conviction, and not unduly annoy us by weird school rules, syllabi and suchlike, but otherwise I Just Don’t CARE. Keep your religion out of my politics, and I’ll happily keep my face out of your religion. It’s not closeted, it’s just not particularly interested.

  16. @14
    I’m an atheist who goes to church regularly, so let me attempt an answer.

    I’ve worked with Habitat for Humanity, and I’ve worked with other organizations, and while helping rebuild a house is probably more fulfilling than going to Mass, I have not found the same sense of community there. Habitat is something you do, whereas Catholic is something you are. The Church is something that will be with you a lifetime, from baptism, through school, to death. Now that may not be a good thing, but it is a thing. For those of us who value continuity, who see the value of a large family, it is beneficial.

  17. It sounds like you’re dropping into a very old debate in atheist circles as if you’re the first person who has thought of it.

    I’m sensing a theme with this guest blogger…

  18. Bah. My last sentence in my post above does not read correctly.
    I meant, that history has shown us without a doubt that religion is dangerous.
    The benefits of religion, other than its historical role in bringing about the Enlightenment, are very doubtful indeed.
    Doubtful enough IMO to make religion itself dangerous, in light of its certain history of violence and savagery, which has been done (and is yet being done!) in God’s name.

  19. first point is that atheism is only the lack of belief in god. that’s it. pure and simple. it is not a belief system.

    i read through this a few times and i think i’m missing something in the tone. not sure who it’s directed at or what exactly it is suggesting.

    are the A and B quesions above meant to suggest and either/or scenario (in which case it is a false dichotomy), or are they just 2 different questions being posed to atheists?

    not sure what to make about the comment regarding atheists participating in religious services, but it seems to suggest that non-believers should accept religion as a given, go to church anyway, ignore and leave out the parts that don’t apply to their disbelief, but by all means don’t rock the boat. and that this passive acceptance would do more for atheism than vocal anti-religious activism?

    i can’t even comment on the whole miracle business. i really don’t get what that was all about.

    i have a lot more i could say, but i’m hoping someone will set me straight before i go on further. i’d hate to argue a point that isn’t actually being made. i get the idea that the author’s point of view is along the lines of indignation that people would dare questions society’s unsubstantiated supernatural beliefs…

  20. #14: But as someone who is a theist, I already see atheists in religious organizations and I can’t help but wonder why?

    Why not just join habitat for humanity or the red cross? Why keep the trappings of religion if they don’t mean anything to you?

    Indeed, as an atheist, I would feel it was both hypocritical and disrespectful if I did as Pspinrad proposes.

    And I will echo what was said above. Pspinrad has proposed a false dilemma: that the only kind of atheists are either confrontationalists getting in your face or closeted and mumbling at church.

  21. I agree Key: there is a social element to Churches that the atheists (particularly the younger ones) do not understand.
    This is also the reason the State in the USA does not provide an adequate social safety net, nor adequate education via publicly-funded schools: the religious types in Government know that lonely suffering, without any hope of State or public aid, is the beast way to “voluntarily” draw people to the foot of the Cross, and to (State-subsidized) Church-centered, “faith-based”, and above all privately-administered social support.
    Creepy, really.
    The religious types “work on” the drug prisoners, too, being given special access to the prisons and parolees, right? And prisoners/parolees get “credit’ for “getting religion”, right?

  22. @22: So…you go to church for the sense of community? And you’re an atheist? Why not have a barbecue instead? Why subject yourself to nonsense in a room full of people who don’t believe what you believe?

    1. Why subject yourself to nonsense in a room full of people who don’t believe what you believe?

      For the opportunity to experience other peoples’ viewpoints? It kind of depends on the tenor of the occasion and the group. And one’s own prejudices. Being at a Christian church service gives me the heebie-jeebies, but going to a synagogue on Friday night doesn’t. A Mormon picnic would probably have a very different tone than a Ba’hai cocktail party.

  23. “I think closeted atheists who participate in other religious activities are the future of atheism.”

    I suspect that that might work as well as silence worked for gay rights.

    Also, “other religious activities”?

    You mean, religiously participating in other activities? i.e., participating regularly and passionately?

    Because, if not, then it seems that “religious activities” ~ that are “other” or not ~ are predicated upon talking to or worshiping (or whatever) some imaginary being that’s supposed to be in charge of all … this. Which are activities that many of us just can’t engage in with any sincerity.

    Maybe a better definition of terms, to start off?

    Like, if you’re “praying” without “praying” TO some abstract construct, then you’re MEDITATING. I suggest. And if you’re “meditating,” but you’re addressing your thoughts somewhere in particular (especially if that somewhere is called God or Allah or what-have-you), then you’re PRAYING …

    Y’know, this whole thing makes me think that Nietzsche brought us to this point: The inside-out of the military admonition:

    Kill God And Let All Of Us Sort Him Out.

    What next for you? Jousting at wind turbines?

  24. Anonymous @ 25,

    Many people, including me, believe that a number of self-identified atheists treat atheism with the same dogmatism, poor reasoning and proselytizing fervor that frequently characterizes religious fundamentalism.

  25. I think you’ve ignored a whole segment of atheists (well, probably more than one, but this one is mine) that sees a good in the community of religion even if we don’t believe the tenets of it, but cannot stomach the fact that men with low scruples have bent belief into a power base.

    Why should I participate in the trappings of religion (which only serves to strengthen a power I want nowhere near my civic person) simply to enjoy the sense of community around it? My religious friends can (and do) invite me to gatherings outside the church, and I welcome the opportunity to socialize with them without needing to pay fealty to a power structure I feel has long over stayed its welcome.

  26. Why subject yourself to nonsense in a room full of people who don’t believe what you believe?

    Because, obviously, they see something beautiful where you see nonsense, regardless of belief.

  27. @28
    Well, I’d have a tough time getting the same 250 people together every Sunday morning for a barbecue. And I don’t have space at my house. And there are not 250 people who know me well enough that they would come to my barbecue.

    There is a continuity to this community that you can’t get — or should I say *I* can’t get — from a group of friends.

    And something Ugly Canuck said in #27 put me in mind of something else. I think he’s right about the unfortunate evangelical tendencies of some in government. But I’d add that I think a religious safety net is a good thing. Growing up, when my dad was laid off and my mom was unable to work for income due to raising 7 kids, we received what I’d call Catholic welfare. The members of the church, in addition to paying taxes that help support a governmental safety net, went the extra mile to help take care of their own (“their own” being both parishioners and folks from the neighborhood who were not parishioners).

  28. Rick beat me to my question. Aren’t there other secular ways of hanging out with people without having to pretend in something you think is ridiculous? Can you not find other ways to feel this sense of belonging?

    I would not go out of my way to antagonize a religious person as long as he or she didn’t get in my face about going to hell and Jesus is the way. If someone is going to chastise me for being a sinner, then I’ll criticize him or her for being an idiot.

    If you want to believe in fairies and pixie dust, go ahead. But don’t assume I’m going to swallow the Kool-Aid, too!

  29. So.. I am pseudo-closeted, I don’t deny it, but I don’t advertise it in my normal identity, but I work in an Religious Affiliated School with people who would be troubled deeply if they learned of my atheism. I am tolerated so long as I am quiet.
    So, I remain closeted, I ignore the constant prayers, the invocations, the claims that no one like me could possibly be of any use in the world.
    I even volunteered at a food bank called “With Love from Jesus” where hungry people could get food, and poor people clothes (after a brief 15 minute sermon). At least, I did until the last time. The plaintive cries of the little kids (toddlers to teens) being forced to watch the goriest scenes from “The Passion of the Christ” before they could get the food.

    So, I guess mission accomplished! Thanks for the advice. Just one question. When will this strategy of keeping quiet and going to church hit paydirt? Or will one day we all just look around and say, “does anyone here really believe this?” Then we’ll all laugh and convert the church into an gay, disco/art gallery?

  30. Rick: upbringing, the habits of childhood and family life, developed long before one is able to ‘think for yourself”. If one’s been a church member for one’s whole life, it might just be bad manners to stop attending. What have you got better to do on a Sunday AM?
    Going to church to enjoy the company of the other people, does not mean that you need to agree with what the sermon says.
    And I know that my lack of faith has never stopped me from getting along with Churchmen and those others whom I know who do not share my lack of faith. There’s no reason for me to be a prick about it, and to spurn their company, if they do not spurn mine.
    The atheists’ goal ought not to be conversion of individuals, but rather the reduction of the need for religion, and for a reduction in fanaticism, in society.
    I may not share their metaphysics, but so long as they are not writing the laws & rules, what do I care? The trouble is, of course, that there are some areas (hello, reefer laws!) where religion has wormed/weaseled itself into the Laws. But not many such!
    Nationalistic religions ( EG. “God loves America and hates all who oppose our policies on corn exports.”) have other and maybe worse, problems: specifically, they are basically doing politics, but under another name. That makes for fanatical politicians, never historically a good thing….but fanatical atheists are not really playing it right, either: both tend to discount the value of other people’s blood, IMO.

  31. First; What B said in #11.

    Secondly; Like KEY in #22, I’m a church-going atheist. (But unlike KEY, I’m a Unitarian Universalist, and no longer a catholic. I get all the church I want, with none of the God/Jesus I don’t want!)

    With that out of the way…

    Most people, whether they are theist or atheist, will (if they reflect enough about their belief system and are honest about it) admit that they’re agnostic on some level. While in practice they just assume that a God does or does not exist and live life accordingly, when you get down to it no one can know for sure. (Well, some people think they can, but they’re just nuts ;] ). The next step in this line of thought – and it is a step that fewer people reach – seems to be that people believe what works for them. To some people, it makes more sense to see the universe as a narrative woven by a loving creator, and to some other people, it makes more sense to see the universe as a quasi-deterministic machine shaped only by the uncaring laws of physics. Some people like to think teleologically, like things to have a “reason” (not just a “cause”), like to believe that the universe is understandable basically as a story about love, and want to think that their soul will live on for ever, so those people go with theism. Some people like to think naturalistically, to believe that natural and chance events happen not as part of a plan but as a simple consequence of previous states, that the universe is understandable and predictable at a physical level, that nothing affects any observable phenomena other than other particles and energies which are also observable and themselves follow simple laws, so those people go with atheism. Depending of what kinds of questions you like to ask regarding the universe, only theism – or only naturalism – will have the answers.

    And that’s fine. Until people start flying airliners into skyscrapers. In other words, until people think that following a holy book is more important than utilitarianism/consequentialism. That’s when any reasonable person – theist or atheist – can say, “They’re doing something BAD”.

    So I (and everyone else I know, pretty much) will not claim that any reasonable person would share their theistic beliefs. But I (and everyone else I know) can see that if you sacrifice utilitarianism and consequentialism in order to bring the world closer to some holy book’s set of moral absolutes, then that’s just wrong, and the world would be better off without it.

    I don’t think most atheists have a big problem with people who believe in the supernatural (even if this does get in the way of people appreciating science), since “God” is the only answer when you want to teleologically ask “Why” of natural or chance events. What it comes down to is, utilitarians and consequentialists have a big problem with absolutists.

    It turns out that, in our culture, absolutists tend to be religious fanatics, and utilitarians and consequentialists tend to be either atheists or liberal Christians who don’t want to call themselves “utilitarians and consequentialists” (they prefer “liberal Christians”). So the labels that people like to attach to themselves are getting in the way of everyone seeing what the real disagreement is.

    By the way, I’m writing a book about all this.

  32. Coming, like Michiexile, from one of the quietly non-religious countries, this is an interesting piece of social anthropology. There’s no direct replacement for “church as community” in Norway, at least not that I can think of.

    The closest I’ve been to regular attendance to a place where I can meet a large group of other regulars was … school. I’m trying to land a job at my university right now, and I imagine that will fill a similar role. Still, it’s a different idea – you don’t get the same semi-random sampling of society. Hmm.

    (Not that I’m complaining. This is a side effect of a secularization that I find quite worth it.)

  33. @35
    Aren’t there other secular ways of hanging out with people without having to pretend in something you think is ridiculous?
    But it’s far more than “hanging out.” If you know of other ways to be part of a large community that will genuinely sacrifice to help members of the community, or even those outside of the community, who need help, please suggest them. Because I do have some discomfort with the dissonance that being an atheist Catholic brings.

  34. It’s funny that the author uses the term “closeted atheists”. Do you think that gays would have the level of acceptance that they have today (in the US at least) if there hadn’t been a Stonewall riot and parades with “we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!”? I don’t think so. It is far too easy to sweep the people you don’t want under the rug. Many of us who regularly have people tell us “I never would have guessed that you were gay (gee thanks, was there some way I was SUPPOSED to act??)” still march in the parade because people need to know we exist and we need to honor those who were “in your face” when it was VERY unaccepted. I am not a closeted atheist, but I only get angry or upset with the religious when they try to mess with people’s human rights. If they want people to be nice to them, then they should police their own “people” into being nicer to people not in their religion. They are the ones in some sort of organization. Most atheists are not in any kind of “organized” atheism. I put it on the religious who want to tell others how to live their lives to change. Maybe we would be better off as a world if all these religious people went into that closet you talk about?

  35. I am having a real struggle here…..I can’t decide if this post is more offensive to sincere communities of believers or atheists who are recipients of a suggestion to compromise themselves.
    Mostly I think I just read a post that espouses disingenuousness for the sake of a certain level of cultural influence.
    Way to fight the good fight!!

  36. Thanks to BB for posting this. It’s nice to see something here that gets at belief/nonbelief without degenerating into “invisabel sky fairy lol.” Of course, I like it because it flatters my own personal sensibilities (endorsing my unbelief without asking me to think that my smart decent religious friends are mentally ill or sociopathic brain-slaves). But still, I appreciate the change in tone from some of the other things that have been posted here on the subject.

    I’m also pleased to see Takuan against the “noisy atheists,” at least today. It must have been a different Takuan who wrote

    organized religion is evil, kill it where ever it raises its venomous head. Kill it by not giving it any time, money, print, attention or worry.

    Disorganized religion is an amusing pain in the ass,laugh at it,sometimes with it and encourage it so it so doesn’t get organized.

    and compared religion to Ebola, and other such. Welcome to the quiet atheists’ club.

  37. I think at least one reason for people to embrace religion is to form some sort of “emotional connection with the cosmos”. Rationalism can never really replace this one, as rational thought reveals (quickly, too) that not only are you essentially a trivial part of the universe, but so is everyone you’ve ever known, every thing you’ve ever known, the entire planet, etc, etc…all of which will eventually be part of a big expanding gas ball after the sun goes fwoop into a planetary nebula and white dwarf.

    If you tell people that there’s no point or purpose to existance apart from what they make up themselves, many of them will be unhappy.

  38. I always bristle a little when people dismiss atheism by saying it’s exactly the same thing as religious fundamentalism.

    It’s not.

    Granted, I don’t particularly like proselytizing. As an atheist, I’m sick of it when Christians do it to me, and I’m sure Christians don’t like it when atheists do it to them. So I don’t advocate proselytizing (though explaining my reasons for being an atheist in a conversation about the subject often seems to be labeled proselytizing, as if my beliefs are only okay as long as I never talk about them ever).

    I guess I think that even the most proselytizing atheists are categorically different from proselytizing Christians, even though they may be equally obnoxious. They ask you to examine your beliefs and apply logic and reason. Christians explicitly ask you to give up logic and reason in favor of faith. The latter seems a lot more dangerous to me. I know it’s often (usually?) done with good intention, but actively trying to erase logic and reason just seems like a social ill to me.

  39. The trouble is, of course, that there are some areas (hello, reefer laws!) where religion has wormed/weaseled itself into the Laws.

    Rastafari!

  40. Replace “atheist” with “jew” and see how this reads. Pretty ugly isn’t it?

    Generally Atheism is the only belief system which can be publicly vilified without retribution.

    1. monopole,

      Your attempt to drag the discussion down to the level of name-calling is rejected. kthxbai.

  41. #43:I think at least one reason for people to embrace religion is to form some sort of “emotional connection with the cosmos”. Rationalism can never really replace this one.

    I disagree. You are made of the same stuff as the rest of the universe! Where “you” end and “the world” begins is an illusion that comes from you having learned to think about a particular mound of chemicals as “I”, as something different from the rest of the world. To be fair, the Buddhists did stumble upon this truth first, but naturalism brings it into particularly sharp focus. I feel like I am a PART of the world, in a way that I did not back when I believed that I had a supernatural soul.

    If you tell people that there’s no point or purpose to existence apart from what they make up themselves, many of them will be unhappy.

    And many of them – like myself – will feel liberated. Worth trying, no?

  42. An atheism that’s well-designed for broad appeal wouldn’t need miracles. What miracles do for a belief system is ensure greater investment on the part of the adherent. If something’s easily believable, it’s easy to take or leave, but doubtful claims require a leap and then ongoing mental maintenance. If a group subscribes to some miraculous claim, it demands shared support, repetition, declarations, indoctrination, etc.– all of which bind the group together. For a new atheism, the miracle-we-believe function would be served by the question of whether the whole scheme could actually succeed. If the “us” people say yes and are excited at the prospect while the “them” people view it as absurd, that’s the identical, effective dynamic.

    Thanks for this provocative post. I wonder if I, as a fairly conservative Anglican minister and a fan of BB, might add a few comments?

    I’m not sure you’re correct in asserting that miracles “ensure greater investment”. As a Christian minister I want to assert that one miracle in particular – the resurrection of Jesus – makes Christian adherence a binary issue. He either did or didn’t rise from the dead and thus investment is or isn’t ensured.

    I find myself in broad agreement with other commenters who question to the need to “pretend” to have beliefs. We’re pretty hardcore in what we stand for but I don’t expect people to be simple “yes men”. They either agree or they don’t and we give them the freedom to have some integrity about their position.

    Of course, some have rightly asked why hang around anyway? Why not just join a secular organisation that is improving the world? Well, the answer in our case is that we’re not primarily about improving the world. Those many members who we have who are not yet convinced about Jesus still hang around because they just like being with us.

    And finally, as others have noted, Matt. 1:1-18 is not a fulfillment of Isiah 1:1-5 – it’s prior referents are Gen. 12:1-3 and 2Sam. 7 ;-)

  43. Do you think that gays would have the level of acceptance that they have today (in the US at least) if there hadn’t been a Stonewall riot

    In the US, at least, cops aren’t raiding atheist bars on Saturday night and throwing the patrons in jail. Are atheists oppressed? Or just irritated? If I were in Sa’udi Arabia, I would say oppressed. If I were in a European country where everybody has to pay a tax that supports the state religion(s), I would say oppressed. But in the US? I think that it’s just annoyance.

  44. There’s already a word for “quiet, don’t-mind-me, just go along with the flow, go to church, keep your head down” atheists. The word is hypocrite, and they’ve been around ever since the first brain-damaged primate proclaimed to his tribe that he was the embodiment of supernatural power.

    I mean sure, I don’t try to convince religious people that they are wrong, I don’t get in screaming matches or anything. But if it comes up, I’m sure as hell not shy about making it very clear what my beliefs (and lack thereof) are.

    I grew up in a very religious family, and it was force-fed to me until I was old enough to reject it entirely, and make it stick. So I had that option, the shut-the-hell-up-and-go-with-the-flow option. In a lot of ways, it would have been easier than making a break that got me ostracized by everyone I grew up with, and everyone I knew. That was actually my plan, when I was 10-12 years old. One thing I hadn’t counted on was the gnawing, nagging feeling that by not standing up for what I (didn’t) believe in, I was tacitly enabling a whole new generation of power-hungry, morally-dubious church elders. Men who used their standing to get away with atrocities. Men who would have sexual relationships with gay teenagers they had “taken under their wing”, and then when the teenagers orientation came out publicly, turn around and cast them out, ostracize them, cut them off from everyone and everything they knew.

    I saw this happen twice. I would probably still be a quiet little hypocrite, but the second time it was my older brother who was cast out.

    Many years later, this all came flooding back to me as I stood in an exotic fish store, watching a school of red pacu (a smaller relative of the piranha), glide from one end of a massive aquarium to the other. One of the smaller fish had become injured somehow, a tiny wound on its flank, barely visible to the eye. Another–somewhat larger–pacu sensed this, and kept swerving over to nip at his wounded tank-mate, each time making the injury a little bit worse, until after a few minutes of this, the other fish in the tank started to notice the blood in the water, and went into a frenzy. Within a minute, there was nothing left of the weaker fish but scraps of fins, and a rapidly dissipating pinkish haze in the water.

    The moral I took is that you don’t know what a group of people is like until you see them turn on each other… tearing, rending and destroying.

    Now you may say that I’m bitter, and you would be right. I’m very bitter. I’m also entirely certain that even when the men behind the curtains are well-meaning true believers, honestly befuddled by the demon-haunted world in which they find themselves… that it adds nothing to their lives but the comforts of ritual and the illusion of purpose.

    Silence gives consent, and I don’t consent, so I’m not silent. One of the most important reasons to speak out is to let people know that it’s ok to feel this way, that there are people out here who won’t judge then for not buying the whole supernatural menagerie so many take for gospel.

  45. As an Atheist, I’d like to make three brief statements.

    1) I find great beauty in the elegance of evolution and the understanding of nature. To quote Carl Sagan:

    “It is sometimes said that scientists are unromantic, that their passion to figure out robs the world of beauty and mystery. But is it not stirring to understand how the world actually works–that white light is made of colors, that color is the way we perceive the wavelengths of light, that transparent air reflects light, that in so doing it discriminates among the waves, and that the sky is blue for the same reason that the sunset is red? It does no harm to the romance of the sunset to know a little bit about it.” –Pale Blue Dot p.159-160

    2) I am hugely concerned for my religious friends. I often feel that they are so busy worrying about the next life, that they are sacrificing this life.

    3) I am concerned for the future of our planet. There are far too many people in this world that look forward to armageddon. If you ask your average evangelical whether they hope the rapture happens in their lifetime, and they will say yes. That scares me. It especially scares me when some of these same people hold positions of political power.

  46. Robulus: The rastafari did not write the reefer laws: but I bet they’d be better if they were.
    I take it police don’t charge the Rasta for fear of creating a religious exemption a la peyote?
    Or have US Judges decided that the Rastas aren’t a “real” religion?
    If the latter, how “free’ is religion stateside, anyway? Bounded by “christian” freedom?

  47. Thanks for your post davidould: it is good to remind some of us that Christianity does have a some actual content, that some things must be believed, if one is to call oneself “Christian”.
    And although I know churchmen and religious people – muslims, hindus,jews and Buddhists – I do not attend a church, and am not shy of stating my (lack of) beliefs and the reasons therefore, if asked.
    But they are my reasons: others must, I am afraid, find their own.

  48. I’ve been talking religion for years with a formerly agnostic/atheist friend of mine who converted to basic “theism” some years back. He found that he had a wish to (summarizing his words) express thankfulness to what/whomever had created the cosmos, because it had begun to seem to him that such a beautiful, elegant, tragic, funny, musical, chaotic, funky place could not have come about by pure chance.

    In discussing my faith, which is a kind of basic, dogma-lite Christianity (ie, more about the things Christ said than lots of the trappings that have been added since), he wanted to really understand the intellectual basis for my belief. He is one of the smartest people I know, and kept coming at concepts of belief, faith, mercy and grace from an intellectual standpoint. He respects my intelligence (wisely or no), and truly felt that he had to get into my head to discern what would make me believe the things I did.

    At one point, though, I made this point to him: if salvation requires a certain level of intellectual prowess — ie, if you have to be able to think your way to God — doesn’t that impose more of a spiritual burden on, well… the less-smart?

    So, my point was that, excepting situations where we’re talking about true mental or developmental problems (which, in my belief system, are covered by the “bring the kids to me” statement), one of two things must be the case. Either, a) faith needs to be at least as important as thought, or b) the stipulations of a faith have to be very easily grasped by almost anyone.

    I have some really cool, smart atheist friends. They don’t belittle my faith, because they know it comes from a place of thoughtful, meditative, prayerful, lifelong, loving focus. I don’t belittle their atheism, because I know it comes from a very thoughtful, smart, focused ideology.

    I think/feel I’m right. They think/feel they are. We talk. We listen. Happy mutants all.

  49. thanks UC (#56), appreciate your comments.

    yes, you’re right – if we want to be members of any organisation, religious or otherwise, then a certain integrity is required.

    And, of course, we must also continually ask ourselves whether the things that we are affirming in good conscience are actually true. That is, I think, what others would call the scientific method ;-) IOW, be an empiricist and test the theory!

  50. The first problem with all of this, as several others have pointed out, is that atheists aren’t a homogeneous group. Some are raised atheists by atheist parents, some are raised religious by religious parents and come to atheism later in life. Some are bitter and hate all religion. Some think religion does a lot of good in the world. Some like to go on and on about their atheism. Some don’t care.

    Personally, I think religious groups do a lot of good in the world, but it always seems to benefit them, too. A lot of terrible things have been justified by religion. But a lot of terrible things have been justified by non-religious ideology. In the end, I think it’s a wash.

    I don’t think ridding the world of religion would create a Utopia. But I’d like to be able to live my life in peace without having theists hijack my government to take away my rights.

    And when it comes to atheists joining religious groups, I think the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are a good example of why this happens. They are both religious (though the Girls Scouts are much less so and are much more inclusive). Sometimes there are other options, but sometimes there aren’t. What do you do if all of your kid’s friends are in the scouts, and they want to join, too? My daughter joined Girl Scouts for just this reason, even though she doesn’t believe in any gods. The vast majority of what they do has nothing to do with religion in any way. But there it is, in their pledge, the belief in god.

  51. When I was younger I belonged to the American Athiest org. Subscribed to their magazine and went to a convention once. I met Madalyn Murray O’Hair, what an asshole. Simply meeting her and seeing the rest of her vicious, backstabbing gang really soured me for a long time. I didn’t convert to religion or anything but I stopped participating in AA and began to question. I doubted my doubt, I still do I suppose.

    Now many years later I am still an atheist but… things are different. I don’t think that I am as cocksure as I used to be. Life will do that to you.

    “This guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, “Doc, uh, my brother’s crazy; he thinks he’s a chicken.” And, uh, the doctor says, “Well, why don’t you turn him in?” The guy says, “I would, but I need the eggs.” Well, I guess that’s pretty much now how I feel about relationships; y’know, they’re totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd, and… but, uh, I guess we keep goin’ through it because, uh, most of us… need the eggs.”

    That is also why religion isn’t going away anytime soon. No amount of reason or proof or logic or lack of evidence can fight that. People need the eggs that religious faith gives them. A lot of the New Atheists of today are completely unable to comprehend that quote above. It’s beyond their comprehension. I think that’s sad.

    Now I still think it’s possible to live without those particular eggs. You can get them somewhere else. It just isn’t very likely that everyone else will reach the same solution you do. The odds are against it.

  52. You’re projecting hopelessly. ‘An atheism designed for broad appeal’? Unlike religious movments, atheism does not need to propagate itself to survive.

    I ask you to consider that most atheists are not evangelical in their beliefs and do not give a god damn about what anyone else believes.

    You present a false dichotomy in your two options. Both are equally absurd and paint atheists in a cruel light, and I think you know that. I choose Option C: You go away and pray, I go away and don’t pray, we all live our lives in obedience to nobody.

    As an aside: Is there a way to vote guest bloggers off the island, so to speak? I don’t come to Boing Boing every day to have my beliefs mocked and attacked.

    1. Is there a way to vote guest bloggers off the island

      You can always vote with your feet.

  53. thanks UglyCanuck (#57), appreciate your kind words.

    AndyHavens (#58)

    I have some really cool, smart atheist friends. They don’t belittle my faith, because they know it comes from a place of thoughtful, meditative, prayerful, lifelong, loving focus. I don’t belittle their atheism, because I know it comes from a very thoughtful, smart, focused ideology.

    I think/feel I’m right. They think/feel they are. We talk. We listen. Happy mutants all.

    While I’m tempted to ask you what you consider “lots of the trappings that have been added since” are I’ll leave well alone and just thank you for this.
    I am often saddened by the a priori judgements and plain prejudice I regularly receive when people find out what I do, which the OP outlines above. Your friends appear to be taking a far more mature approach. No-one was ever persuaded of anything by being belittled, rather it always gives the impression of being far less secure in ones assertions than we want to project.

  54. My attitude towards this post is a mix of derision and feeling vaguely offended. Most of the reasons have been articulated well by people in previous comments.

    I am an atheist more often than not. I go to services regularly. Twice today, I helped make a minyan (the minimal quorum necessary for communal prayers in Judaism). I’m not a “closeted” atheist. My theistic friends know full well that I’m an atheist. I engage in the services because they give me a comfort and for social reasons. Calling atheists like me “closeted” is simply inaccurate. We are open and honest about our beliefs.

    Now, even given that I am in such a category, I find the presumptions of this piece to be poorly thought out. Spinrad wrote that “I think closeted atheists who participate in other religious activities are the future of atheism. They know that prayer feels good without a needing brain scientist to tell them, and they know you don’t need God to want to feed the hungry, heal the sick, and provide homes for the orphaned.”

    This is wrong at so many levels. Atheists of all sorts, closeted or not work to heal the sick and feed the hungry. The notion that one cannot be a brash atheist without giving these up is simply ridiculous. There’s no reason that the out, even proselytizing atheist can’t help with charity work.

    Furthermore, the fact that prayer feels good is neither here nor there. So does heroin. I don’t recommend you try it. Simply feeling good is not a by itself a good argument to do something. Moreover, for all we know prayer wouldn’t feel so very good if so many of us didn’t grow up doing it anyways. In a highly atheistic world such behavior may simply become less common or nearly non-existent. Moreover, even the most brash atheists such as PZ Myers don’t mind if people engage in ritualistic prayer. It might strike them as a bit pointless but if it makes you feel good they don’t mind. (Both Myers and Hitchens have said they don’t mind religion as a hobby).

    Finally, I’m disturbed that the poster feels a need to pick a term “Big Tent” which is normally used by intelligent design proponents to talk about how to get their ideas in the public schools. If atheists need that sort of dishonesty to spread their views then it suggests that maybe atheism is just wrong.

  55. Loud atheists present a viewpoint that is otherwise not represented in public discourse. The culture (in the US at least) is so god-soaked that many people don’t realize that atheism is even an option. “You can just *not believe*, try it!”

    So I’m agreeing with anonymous @#8. Let’s keep being loud and see how that works for us.

  56. “If they really think the world would be better off without religion, they shouldn’t hate religion and call believers fools.”

    I’ve read the post three times, and I still don’t understand this sentence. Let’s slightly change it to say:

    “If they really think the world would be better off without racism, they shouldn’t hate racism and call racists fools.”

    Really? If I think religion(or any other ideology) is irrational and destructive, why shouldn’t I hate it?

  57. antinous: I find it curious that you dismiss anti-atheist persecution as merely “irritating.” As if we should just be happy that we’re not in Saudi Arabia. Sorry, that’s not a very high bar to set, and the experience of an atheist in this nation is very much dependent on where they live.

    Only a few years back, then vice-president George H. W. Bush had this to say: “No, I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.”

    What other group in this country is it still considered acceptable for the future commander-in-chief to treat this way? It’s a perfectly valid question. When you can tell an atheist youngster that she could be president some day–without lying through your teeth, that is–then we’ll talk about “irritation.”

    1. mkultra,

      Can you give me some examples of “anti-atheist persecution” in the US? Being fired from a job, denial of vital services, arrest/imprisonment/torture? Anything? You quoted a President who left the White House in 1992. Were there laws enacted during his administration that denied atheists civil or human rights?

      Persecution. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

  58. Mr. Spinrad.

    I think your entire line of thought begins with your (understandable) catholic/theist bias.

    You write that: “With religion, I think atheists have the same dissonance going on. If they really think the world would be better off without religion, they shouldn’t hate religion and call believers fools.”

    I know that you are only thinking of militant atheists, but perhaps that is the problem. I know a great many atheists who have no dissonance with their belief structure, and are entirely happy to let others believe as they will. Those that react poorly to the religious tend to do so out of a feeling that they are marginalized for not believing in something that any sane person, religious or otherwise, must admit has no proof. Your post is another example of something likely to spark that feeling, by assuming that being religious is something that everyone needs.

    Has it ever occurred to you that many atheists wouldn’t call believers fools if they refrained from doing foolish things, like assuming that atheists are somehow left feeling a need for something that religion provides (as your post implies)?

    I myself am a firm believer in the divine, but sometimes I am ashamed to say so when the treatment of atheists in our society (especially in Christian America) comes up.

    Sorry for the rant. xx.

  59. Do you think that most of humanity is A) hopeless and doomed to kill each other because of their stupid religious beliefs, or B) capable of coming to and benefiting from your views?

    I think this is a depressingly leading question.

    While people often use their religious beliefs as rationalization for doing terrible things to each other, they also use their philosophical beliefs or simply act as their culture dictates without considering the human toll.

    The idea that if everyone became rational all conflict, cruelty, and evil in the world would end is a feel good fantasy.

    Different conclusions can be drawn from the same data, and conflicts can arise due to things like resource distribution. Some people just don’t respect other people. Some people are sociopaths. Some people are stupid, and will do harmful things purely out of inability to see the consequences.

    Outside of that, people are not inherently rational. We use rationality as a tool, and focus it on specific events or issues. When not using our favorite tool, we respond to events instinctivly or unthinking according to social customs that we have internalized, exhibiting behaviour which does not stand up to rational scrutiny.

    It doesn’t matter if people believe in God or Odin or Krishna or Bob or the laws of physics. They’re going to do what they’re going to do. In a subjective universe actions based on claims of rational reasoning are just as likely to be valid as those based on claims of moral superiority. Start with a wrong premise or wrong information, and the result will be skewed.

    And this is why I don’t go around railing against religion and trying to ‘convert’ people to atheism.

  60. I’ve been seeing more of this sort of argument lately, and I’m interested to know where it’s coming from. Is there some coordinated movement of militant atheists that I’m not aware of? Maybe some internal church propaganda? If you’re going to caution others to keep mum about their religious affiliation, there had better be fires and lynching involved, because rudeness is not a valid reason for asking people not to practice their first amendment rights.

    What if they simply stopped reciting the words that they didn’t agree with during religious services, without calling attention to it? In many places I don’t think they would be kicked out or turned upon and beaten just for that.

    Keep your head down. Don’t disagree. Don’t cause a stir. Play along.

    If you’re a woman in Iran, you should cover your head in public like the Imam says. You can still be a Christian, they probably won’t rape or stone you just for that.

    If Whitey knocks you down and calls you a nigger, don’t start nothing, just smile and nod like you wish you was back on the farm, or you’ll be swinging from a tree by sunup.

    You can still be a Jew, you just have to register and practice at home. Pretend to be a Christian in public, wear a cross or something. You’ll probably be left alone.

    I have no wish to be rude, but fuck that with a goddamn rake. Atheism is not something that should need to be hidden to fit in. No religion is. No race is. No sexual preference is. NO ONE IS.

    A) hopeless and doomed to kill each other because of their stupid religious beliefs, or B) capable of coming to and benefiting from your views?

    B, but talk like yours makes me long for A.

    On a final note, can anyone think of a single social revolution brought about by people catering to the status quo instead of publicly standing up for themselves? I’m coming up blank.

  61. “Do you think that most of humanity is A) hopeless and doomed to kill each other because of their stupid religious beliefs, or B) capable of coming to and benefiting from your views?”

    The question is poorly framed. People kill each other not because of their religious beliefs but because powerful men have told them to. When “clerics” recommend violence, they couch these recommendations in religious terminology. But these are excuses. If the word ‘religion’ means anything, there can be no religious rationale for murder. Organized violence happens because certain men are willing to do anything, and say anything, to increase their wealth and power. Religion is a red herring. It has nothing to do with such conflicts.

    The remedy for religious violence is for believers (and everyone else) to recognize that a god who wants you to kill is not worthy of respect; neither is any man who claims to represent such a god. A man who wants you to kill for what he paints as religious reasons is a LIAR.

    When atheists become vociferous it is usually in response to this kind of deception, debasement, and criminality. I don’t care what people *believe*. I care what they *do*. But using the language of religion, men lead other men in perpetrating atrocities across the globe. Therefore, one is tempted to hope for the abolition of religion. But that would not solve the problem. The problem is that some men lie and cheat and kill and use religious language to mislead us as to their reasons for doing so. They can never have *religious* reasons. They use religious language for this one reason only: to confuse us. And it works like a charm.

    When people try to do evil things, we need to find a way to stop them. Neither the problem nor the solution has nothing to do with religion. When the villain starts talking about religion, ignore him. He is trying to catch you off-balance. Nothing he says about religion is relevant to his criminal history.

  62. This entire “athiests and/or lefties need to cozy up to the religious and/or evangelicals” schtick is getting quite tiresome.

    This is both tired and new with its “good”==”closeted” versus bad==”uppity”. Oh I’m sorry, did you not say “uppity” but merely a synonym. Mea freakin’ culpa. This is as offensive as it was when used about race and gender.

    Lastly, how can one elide the parts one disagrees with when one disagrees with the whole idea of devoting a set block of time on a weekly basis to expressing and celebrating one’s “faith”. Christianity may have provided a link back, but it also provided a link forward, away from that whole smite and stone and sacrifice jealous murderer god schtick; but for those who espouse logic, reason and science, faith based religion presents nothing forward going, and to provide a link back to it is purely retrograde. The word for such a plan, program or campaign is “reactionary”. We should all eschew the reactionary.

  63. There are more kinds of atheists than just noisy and closeted. Some of us just have a hard time making sense of ideas like “god” and “demon”. It makes some conversations difficult, particularly with the religious, but it really hurts to imagine proselytizing; “Have you ever considered limiting the number of concepts you recognize and can discuss intelligently? ‘Cause you really should, man.”

  64. Also, while I haven’t the fight in me at this point, I have to say: #68, beelzebuddy — good on ya. No-one should have to pretend, just to fit in. It’s not okay. Not for race, not for sex, not for belief.

    Maybe we should start a movement of atheists to Canada, where everyone is created equal regardless of whether or not they believe in god?

    One nation “under god” my foot, they added that on June 14, 1954.

  65. @Antinous (55)
    If that’s in response to monopole@48, he does bring up a valid point: Swapping “atheism” and the name of any religion in a text does seem to move it up and down on the scale of acceptability.

    Of course, choosing judaism as the example religion does bring up some shades of Godwin, but it’s a well-chosen example. For the obvious historical reasons, people are quite sensitive to statements about it; this makes it an obvious counterexample to something people are claimed to be unusually insensitive to.
    I would still have picked christianity for the symmetry of it, though.

    Compare/contrast:
    “Atheists shouldn’t make so much fuss – they can just quietly skip the parts they object to”
    “Jews shouldn’t make so much fuss – they can just quietly skip the parts they object to”
    “Christians shouldn’t make so much fuss – they can just quietly skip the parts they object to”

    All of those seem shady, but if you were to test them on a representative sample of the population I’d be surprised if the level of unease was the same for all three.

  66. #51 – you’ve got to be kidding. try being even a quiet atheist in the deep south. i’ve been physically threatened by local officials for refusing to participate in prayer at public school events.

    and what #66 said.

  67. Today I had a co-worker tell me that she tried to read the Qur’an and that it just didn’t make any sense. I shrugged and said, “I’m the same way about the Bible.” She went on in defense of the Bible, and I stopped her and said, “Look, there are no religious texts that make any real sense on their own and at face value. They offer nothing but a bunch of platitudes, recycled stories and strange customs that ultimately you’ll have to pick and choose from.” We talked for probably an hour about religion and morality and etc. I pulled out that old saw about, “Everyone’s an atheist — but some have one exception. I mean, you don’t believe in Thor or Zeus or Ra, do you?” It was probably the deepest conversation about such things that she’d ever had. It just made me sad. Not that I wasn’t getting through to her — I was. It was that she was a nice person, and I had to intellectually beat the shit out of her because she wanted me to acknowledge one religious text as inferior to another. I’m neither an evangelical atheist nor a closeted one. I don’t enjoy destroying other people’s faith in wackiness, but I don’t stand for it when they ask me to believe in something I don’t.

  68. Good point, Antinous.

    Of course, it’s always good to hear a variety of new opinions. Thank god (or not, as the case may be) he’s only a guest.

  69. Why is it my responsibility as an atheist to figure out how to market my beliefs to the theists?

  70. Monopole is right. Replace “athiest” with any putative race or religion and you get a racist or otherwise bigoted screed. Wait, be patient, hide in the closet and practice the ways or your betters. Then and only then will they come to accept you, as you accept the beauty and wonder of their ways. barf. there is no beauty there, and it isn’t rocket science to reject it.

    1. I should clarify – I’m not saying that atheists aren’t persecuted. I just expect better examples than ‘he dissed me’.

  71. Your example of atheists praying hits close to home for me, as I spent much of the morning with the family of a little girl who was having heart surgery. We laughed, cried, and spent time praying. I bowed my head with this family, held their hands, closed my eyes when they implored god for help, and was glad that they were finding comfort and courage in their faith. And I was overjoyed when the girl lived.

    Who am I to shake someone’s belief system if it gives them strength and a sense of purpose? At the least, causing someone to question their beliefs will create emotional drama and in many many cases doing so could prove dangerously traumatic. If I ever try to convince an octogenarian Christian woman that the life she has led has likely been misguided, I doubt that I will be doing her a service. It’s just… cruel.

    I should say that while I share much in common with atheists I still classify myself as an agnostic. Nothing in the universe is certain enough to be proven, so in my opinion anyone who claims to me that there is no god still believes in something. And that belief is likely emotionally-charged, irrational.

    Atheism already has a church designed for broad appeal: we’re called agnostics. Our church is called the big church of “I don’t freakin’ know!” Don’t try to attract us to your tent, just come to ours. You can sit next to me in the front row… I promise to save you a seat.

    While “There is no God” seems like the natural reaction to organized religion, atheists are only reacting, still playing the game of religion. If you want to make any headway, it is time for rational people to reframe the argument. Stop denouncing supreme beings while quietly educating the masses to the supreme sublime that nothing is certain. Can I say that? That nothing is certain is a fact? I hope I don’t create one of those universe-imploding paradoxes.

  72. @antinous — Just because one kind of persecution is ignored by the majority does not ameliorate its effect on even those who pretend it does not exist.

  73. This entry is clearly controversial: short, hot topic, and not-balanced. The correct word is “agnostic” when you use “atheist”. Real atheists like me (Skeptics) quetion everything, not just the concept of god. And yes, to make a post you have to do a lot more of researc and not just put a controversial question and watch the flames ;)

  74. “Atheists shouldn’t make so much fuss – they can just quietly skip the parts they object to.”

    If I can quietly skip the parts of religion that have insinuated themselves into our country’s laws and politics, that will work fine for me.

  75. i’m an atheist. i wouldn’t call it a flag that i fly unless i’m specifically pissed about something in the news and its the topic of discussion. i never ‘evangelize’. i think the world could better be served by not necessarily with no religions but also with religions that historically do not have significant number of members who kill people in their religions name, or force their beliefs on other people through sheer force or legislation of those beliefs.

    there are religions in the world that fit that mold, and while i think its silly that they make untestable or unproven claims about the nature of reality, the overall benevolence of them causes me to lack concern about them.

    i’ve known a lot of atheists and agnostics who falter with the whole “prayer feels good” idea. for me the issue there is more a matter of semantics. if you were raised religious your gut reaction is to say “i’m praying for you” or “you’re in my prayers.”

    since my well wishings aren’t addressed to any being that may intervene, i just default to “you’re in my thoughts” it may seem more impotent next to the possibility of divine intervention. but at least mine come from myself, and in earnest.

  76. To Boingboing,

    I really think you should consider if you want to continue having Spinrad as a guestblogger here. If we take what he is saying here seriously, we should all be rather offended.

    Specifically when he says this:

    “I think closeted atheists who participate in other religious activities are the future of atheism. ”

    If he were to say that closeted homosexuals who participate in heterosexual sex are the future of homosexuality OR closeted Buddhists who pretend to be Christians are the future of Buddhism OR closeted Republicans who pretend to be Democrats are the future of Republicanism OR women who pretend to be men are the future of women, there is no way this would be considered acceptable.

    I guess it’s cultural acceptable to imply that atheists are all elitists that secretly want to be religious, but I find it offensive, and I don’t think it fits with the rest of the content on boingboing, which is ideally a ‘Directory of Wonderful things’.

  77. I agree that “athiests” could put on a better face. Every so often a name change is in order. I particularly like the term “Secular Humanist”, which is what I think the author might be describing.
    The trouble is the nature of the argument when it comes about in the political sphere. And, politics is really what is all about. Thiests and non-thiests are the same in that they become most passionate when things get political. Usually the arguments don’t hold much water because we get the worst spokesman on both sides, i.e Pat Robertson and Bill Maher. What can you do? It makes for great TV. Despite this, there needs to be room at the table for sceptics to question theological bases for widely held political stances, if only to question how exactly a particular dogma came to be.

  78. @Key: I’m a burner and I feel a strong community at burn events and with burners I’ve never even met before. I’ve had people I’ve never met before sacrifice for me, share with me, and offer genuine kindness. This feeling of community is much like the community I felt at church youth group events growing up, but without all the god hoo-ha.

    I think it has something to do with the fact that, even though you may not know someone else in the burn community, you have a shared experience and some shared values. I’m sure there are other communities out there like that. You can build it with any group of people if the people agree that they’re trying to build a community and share certain values.

    Because I do have some discomfort with the dissonance that being an atheist Catholic brings.

  79. “I think closeted atheists who participate in other religious activities are the future of atheism. They know that prayer feels good without a needing brain scientist to tell them, and they know you don’t need God to want to feed the hungry, heal the sick, and provide homes for the orphaned. What if they simply stopped reciting the words that they didn’t agree with during religious services, without calling attention to it?”

    Okay, first, you appear to be advocating silent hypocrisy as some kind of acceptable norm, or as an appopriate response to religious nonsense or pressure to conform. Is that deliberate?

    Second, if that’s what you think an atheist is, you are the one with the problem, not atheists.

    Defining atheists in that way may be very satisfying for you, hwvr y r tttly rrlvnt, nccrt nd rthr slly fr dng s.

    Pls dn’t wst r tm wth yr nxt rtcl.

  80. I much prefer short snarky wry zinger posts. Atheists add spice to religious carnage. They give the true believer a dependable source of people to look down on.

  81. As an atheist, I’d like to just append a heartfelt, secular “amen” to the original post.

    Belief structures don’t have to be about political debates; they can simply be a way of getting through life. They need not be political causes–though their expression as such has it place, too.

    But if a belief system (a religion or a particular set of beliefs that excludes the supernatural) is not just about the political causes, or the parts where governmental structures intersect with our lives–if it’s about how we interact with other people–then this sort of “quiet athiesm” works just as well.

    A friend who is a practicing Jew or Buddhist, but makes no mention of this in a largely Christian society isn’t necessarily “passing” or being cowardly; she’s just practicing her religion in a non-public way. Her interactions with others may be in strict accordance to her beliefs, but if those beliefs have no requirements that she evangelize, then there’s nothing dishonest about this.

    The (I suspect) majority of Americans who practice a form of quiet Christianity have the benefit of a societal and ethical code to consult, and perhaps a measure of solace at the apparent randomness of the world. If that belief system occasionally leads to some irrational behavior, well, no system as complex as a religion is without bugs.

    The same might be true of a radical or unusual political belief. There seems to be a tendency, especially on Internet message boards and blog comment sections, that honesty requires loud protestations of one’s opinions and beliefs. But we (speaking as a US person) protect the privacy of private groups, protect the anonymity of freedom of association. Why? Would not revealing the membership of the NAACP be more honest? More straightforward? Would not such transparency show the true numbers and strength of their beliefs, the courage of their convictions?

    Well, not in a racist community in Alabama in the 50s. Allowing the anoymity of a group can protect it when its ideas are so unpopular and so nascent that to reveal it would be to jeopardize it.

    The same thing can be true of one person’s private doubts. growing questioning and intellectual curiosity, if counter to the mainstream, can grow further if kept private. Once those ideas are developed enough to withstand gentle scrutiny, they might be expressed to a family member, a friend, or an open-minded authority figure. That person’s private responses can be ruminated on and considered further, building and strengthening an argument.

    Not every change in thinking is revealed in a flash; not all progress, societal and personal, is the work of a sudden blow. Sometimes that’s necessary–I can’t claim any authority (and certainly not as an anonymous commenter) to understand all or even most of the workings of history and societal change–but an evolution in an ongoing discussion or a way of thought can also proceed in small steps.

  82. Where does this woman and her family fit into your false-dilemma? She’s neither a closeted atheist, nor a Hitchens/Dawkins type evangelical atheist.

    http://www.hulu.com/watch/56912/30-days-atheistchristian

    The only thing I found a shame about that episode, is that she had to be in so many other ways mainstream (white, middle class, heterosexual, married, mother of 3) to get the reception that she did. She doesn’t go for the purposes of selling anyone else on what atheism can bring to their lives, but she also makes no apologies for what she believes. She doesn’t think she’s better than everyone else – she just thinks she’s right. I should hope that people like her are ‘the future of atheism’ to the extent that phrase has any real meaning.

  83. I’m not the one who brought up “persecution” but here’s this for Antinous:

    http://www.secularhumanism.org/library/fi/downey_24_4.htm

    I would never claim to be persecuted, as a privileged white male in this society, but there you go. There are parts of this country where an atheist is a persona non grata, and people actively work fuck you over.

    Antinous asserts that we don’t pay taxes to support a state religion. However we do indirectly pay more in support of the religious exemption. (Tax the chruches?)

    Antinous doesn’t see cops breaking into atheist bars and jailing the patrons. I don’t see cops breaking into bars on lady’s night and tossing the women in jail either — I guess gender discrimination doesn’t happen?

    Pilcrow gifts us with the observation that atheism is a religion too!

    While “There is no God” seems like the natural reaction to organized religion, atheists are only reacting, still playing the game of religion.

    No, it’s still just a lack of belief in a god or gods.

    Don’t mean to come off ranty here, but I’m too lazy to rewrite for tone. Take above as “I disagree and here’s why.”

  84. As an aside: Is there a way to vote guest bloggers off the island, so to speak? I don’t come to Boing Boing every day to have my beliefs mocked and attacked.

    I really think you should consider if you want to continue having Spinrad as a guestblogger here. If we take what he is saying here seriously, we should all be rather offended.

    O noes, has Spinrad hit the “Platt Threshold”?

  85. NOEN said “I doubted my doubt”

    Awesome comment!

    I think atheism (Dawkins style) is an excercise in extreme rational thought. It excludes the insight that we are in many ways primarily emotional beings. If you accept that insight, the “eggs” are much more tangible.

  86. Antinous, I think there are laws in some states that deny an atheist the right to hold public office. I think Arkansas may be one of those states.

    Obviously atheists in America aren’t under threat of death, but there are many laws and societal norms that don’t necessarily seem religious on face value, but have religious underpinnings. Many current political debates are over religion and should the religious side win atheists (and many others) lose (abortion, fetal personhood, gay marriage, etc…)

  87. I’m with Eustace #73: “There are more kinds of atheists than just noisy and closeted.”

    Paul Spinrad’s post shows a lot of ignorance about what atheism is and how real-world atheists feel and act. I don’t believe in a god, I think all religions are deeply flawed, but I don’t go around constantly trying to “shock” believers. I always try not to be rude to them (as long as they are not rude to me), but I’m certainly not hiding. In fact, I freely talk about what I think and believe if the question arises. And I’m certainly not going to attend church just because it makes the religiously inclined majority uncomfortable if I don’t, thank you very much.

    A good thing I live in a country enjoying an actual separation of state and church…

    I’m half annoyed, half amused by that Paul Spinrad’s assumption that atheism is a kind of elitist “dissonance”! What about the dissonance in religiously inclined people who feel threatened by a handful of “loud” atheists?

  88. Antinous: The examples are common. I’m not going to do your homework for you. Takuan did that already. It seems like you move the goalposts every time someone has a successful rebuttal.

    As to why I used that particular example, it’s because this is an individual who was–at the time–at the very highest levels of government, and under an enormous amount of scrutiny (as befits a candidate for the highest office of the land).

    The point I’m making isn’t that he felt this way, it’s that nobody seemed to notice. He was comfortable making that statement because he knew that nobody would stand up to oppose it, that nobody could say a damn thing about it without coming off as one of those “crazy atheists”, and that not a single one of his opponents could raise it without committing political suicide.

    “I don’t know that ________ should be considered as citizens.”

    Fill in the blank. That’s more than a “dis”: it’s one of the last socially acceptable bigotries in this country.

    1. I’m not going to do your homework for you.

      When you use the word persecution without giving any concrete examples beyond a 16 year old quote, you’re not in any position to include the word ‘work’ in your comment.

  89. @79

    I know of at least one public school teacher who has kept her own (lack of) belief hidden out of fear of repercussions.

    A quick google search popped up the following:

    Atheist beaten on campus:
    http://friendlyatheist.com/2007/03/31/atheist-beaten-up-on-campus/

    A poll:
    “Have You Been Physically Threatened or Fired Because of Your Atheism?”
    http://answers.polldaddy.com/poll/1389019/?view=results
    That’s 20 out of 72 respondents who say that they’ve been fired or physically threatened.

    A public school teacher who claims he was asked to resign because he was an atheist:
    http://www.democracyforamerica.com/users/208765-brad-watkins/blog_posts/27752-texas-teacher-suspended-for-being-liberal-and-an-atheist

  90. I went to church decades ago, mainly because of friends and for access to the social network. I never got baptised though.

    These days, I occasionally think about dropping in just to socialise, but I can’t bring myself to drink the Kool-Aid, so to speak.

  91. It’s oddly re-assuring and good to see that atheists differ as much one from the other as religious people do when it comes to the question of what degree of tolerance we ought to adopt with respect to the religious views of others. It shows that people are thinking for themselves, or trying to.
    Historically, Christianity grew strong under the tolerant Roman Empire: but the hallmark of early Christianity, once it had become the Official religion of the Romans, was its extreme and violent intolerance, particularly towards their “fellow” Christians (cf. the battle of the Homoiousians vs. the Homoousians.)

    Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homoiousian

    This violent intolerance continued through centuries, with schismatic Christian warfare even occurring in this generation: eg. Northern Ireland.
    I cordially detest any type of universalism of belief: of the belief, that a belief must be held by all, and that it is the business of believers to ensure that all do so believe. Do you hear me, my “fellow” atheists? Are you looking to substitute one sort of intolerance, for another? If so, why?
    To be sure one must beware that which uses your tolerance to institute intolerance, once their security and power is achieved (cf, the “democratic” rise of fascism, the extirpation of Paganism by the early Christians).
    Science, in contrast to mere matters of personal belief, is universal in its truths. The boiling point of water is what it is regardless of your beliefs as to the efficacy of good works; 2+5=7, regardless of your belief or otherwise in the immortality of the soul; the steam pipe must be of a given thickness and strength to withstand the pressure without failure, regardless of the sanctity of the engineer.
    Good science is the solution to fanaticism. And one should tolerate all but the intolerance of others.
    Finally, matters of belief must never be dictated or forced. By anyone. The State has ever only had jurisdiction over our bodies. And although it would disagree, the Church too has never had any jurisdiction, but over our bodies. But they both have, and sometimes still do, pretend to a greater claim.
    We shall always have the freedom of our own consciences: the question is, to what degree does one have the courage to face that reality. Or to announce it to the world.

  92. Wow, that was perhaps the first post on Boing Boing I’ve ever been turned off by.

    I’m supposed to silently participate in things I consider garbage? Why? What possible reason would I have to do that? Should a Muslim shut up about the Q’uran and go to the local Baptist church on Sundays? Should a Christian attend the local Church of Satan service? What would be the point?

    See, here’s the problem with articles like this. You are asking us, as Atheists, to shut the fuck up, smile, and nod: yet there is NEVER any call for the religious of the world to do the same!

    I’m not someone who goes around evangelizing atheism to every person I meet — but neither am I going to bite my tongue when someone starts spouting their religion at or around me.

    Here’s a compromise for you: when every Mormon and Jehovah’s Witness stops knocking on my door; when every Muslim stops talking about the Q’uran; when every Christian keeps their prayers silent, and stops talking openly about God; when every single religious person agrees to shut up about their religion, keep it private, confine it to their churches, synagogues and mosques; when every single religion in the world stops trying to gain converts, stops trying to proselytize, and stops vying for their viewpoint to be in the forefront of public discussion; when religion (or lack thereof) truly becomes a private choice and not a public topic for discussion (and often derision) — then I will stop being a loudmouthed Atheist.

    I won’t bring it up first, that I can promise you — but if you think that will stop the problem, then you are damned short sighted, since I guarantee you that even if I never bring it up first again, it will still come up all the time due to the sheer frequency that I am subjected to someone else’s religious stuff.

    I don’t believe in God, Jesus, Mohamed, or the Tooth Fairy — and I refuse to pretend otherwise just to stop making you feel uncomfortable.

  93. believers should go live in a country where there is no state religion, de facto or otherwise (Japan is an example) and see how people can be happy, kind and joyous without even thinking about religion.

  94. We often assume – at least at first – that what we like is what everyone else likes. Along those lines, I suspect a lot of theists assume that atheists are trying to do the same things they are – preaching and attempting to convert. Though most of us aren’t, some of us are, often in response to theists doing it first.

    My own interpretation of Spinrad’s post is that he’s like most theists: all they know about atheists is what they learned from other theists. That’s one of the strongest assets we atheists have: Most of us come from religious backgrounds, so we know what it’s like on “the other side.” Most theists have no idea what atheism entails aside from not believing in God.

    As for appreciating the beauty of religion, what am I supposed to appreciate? The desire to be ignorant? The closed-minded attitude of most theists? The open attacks on science, reason, and education? The open attacks on anyone of a different color, creed, sex, or sexual orientation? The fact that these same attacks have been happening for centuries and that for the past 8 years our country has been unashamedly guided by these “principles?”

    I will admit, however, you guys do have some nice architecture.

  95. @47 Airshowfan
    Thank you for that recommendation. I guess that should have occurred to me before now. Perhaps I wasn’t being 100% honest earlier; Catholic ritual does have a lot of resonance for me. So it’s not just the community aspect that I’m after. But you’re right, I should at least look into UU.

    By the way, have you heard about the Jehovah’s Witness who converted to Unitarianism? He started going door to door for no particular reason. Just wanted to chat.

    @99 Crashgrab
    Pardon my ignorance, but what’s a burner?

  96. #21: Exactly. Atheism can be considered a kind of faith no less profound — and no less silly, and no less prone to being misunderstood (including by some of the people who claim to profess it), than any other family of faiths.

    (Which is one of the many problems I have with the BSA’s stand on the “three g’s” issues. But that’s a different rant.)

    I tend to agree that Spinrad’s position is a straw man at best. The answer to his question is neither (A) nor (B). Humanity is not hopeless, nor does it have to come around to my views any more than I have to come around to someone else’s. I have no need for my beliefs to have “broad spiritual appeal”. They’re reasonably self-consistant; they give me a reasonable basis for living a life that I think contributes to the world. If others get to the same place via a different route, more power to ’em.

    If they wind up somewhere that causes us to be unable to worth together despite an honest effort, then we’ve got an issue that needs resolving. But in my experience that’s less often a matter of conflicting religious beliefs than of other kinds of beliefs.

    Song cue: South Pacific, “You’ve Got To Be Taught”

  97. Some of the assertions in the original post are just plain silly.

    “I think closeted atheists who participate in other religious activities are the future of atheism.”

    Yeah, sure. Hypocrisy is just the way to win hearts and minds! Or maybe this program is tailored to the unfortunate atheists who live in countries where non-believers are threatened with jail or death?

    “What if they simply stopped reciting the words that they didn’t agree with during religious services, without calling attention to it?”

    What kind of religious service would that be? Not praying or chanting when everybody else do *is* a public disruption of a religious service! Or, worse, a mockery. If you can’t bring yourself to say the words, light the candles or eat the wafer, it’s a lot more respectful simply not to go to the service. And take part in other activities with your church-going friends.

    “An atheism that’s well-designed for broad appeal wouldn’t need miracles.”

    No, it’s *religion* that needs miracles! Duh.

  98. “If Matthew 1:1-16 hadn’t explained how Jesus’ lineage fulfills the prophecy in Isaiah 1:1-5, it wouldn’t have gotten where it is today.”

    I don’t see how this statement can be correct. It implies that the whole world was made up of Jewish people who converted to Christianity because it was compatible with Judaism. That is not what happened. Most Christians are not descended from Jews, their ancestors who converted to Christianity were of other religions and had no interest in compatibility with Judaism when they converted.

    Therefore the following statement is also incorrect:

    “Any successful new belief system must appreciate the beauty of what it’s replacing and strive for backwards-compatibility.”

  99. Atheism, in its purest form, is every bit as mindless and limited as the fundamentalists they so despise.

    Both camps love to evangelize. Both love to sneer at each other and discuss among themselves how wrong the other group is. Both have artists and writers expressing themselves for their cause.

    Most importantly, both camps are satisfied with never contemplating greater concepts than those which comprise their faith. They will never stray outside of their communities and learn how other people think. To do so would make them feel guilty, sinful and weak, as if they are doing a disservice to their communities. And they are.

    I think the future of atheism will be quite similar to what atheism looks like today; small knots of disenchanted people who reject the spiritual framework of the society they live in.

    But as major religions like Christianity begin to wane in popularity, I think most people will begin to adopt more philosophical and plainly-spoken views instead of the convoluted parables of the old ways.

  100. What though the field be lost?
    All is not lost—the unconquerable will,
    And study of revenge, immortal hate,
    And courage never to submit or yield:
    And what is else not to be overcome?
    That glory never shall his wrath or might
    Extort from me. To bow and sue for grace
    With suppliant knee, and deify his power
    Who, from the terror of this arm, so late
    Doubted his empire—that were low indeed;
    That were an ignominy and shame beneath
    This downfall …

    Farewell happy Fields
    Where Joy for ever dwells: Hail horrors, hail
    Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell
    Receive thy new Possessor: One who brings
    A mind not to be chang’d by Place or Time.
    The mind is its own place, and in it self
    Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.
    What matter where, if I be still the same,
    And what I should be, all but less then he
    Whom Thunder hath made greater? Here at least
    We shall be free; th’ Almighty hath not built
    Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
    Here we may reign secure, and in my choice
    To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
    Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n.

  101. I am an atheist, but this post had me scratching my head trying to understand it.

    I don’t conceal my atheism, but I’m also not interested in convincing or recruiting anyone to “the cause”. My beliefs have nothing to do with other people’s votes or their level of support – they’re personal, they’re in my head. I don’t want people telling me what to think, and I extend that courtesy to others.

    If a person wants to be an atheist, that is their choice. It is their responsibility to weigh the facts of the matter. There is no church of atheism, no songs and rituals, no moral edicts, no collection plate – there isn’t anyone in charge to influence the direction of the masses (in fact, with atheism being so unpopular, there are no masses). There is nothing to be recruited to, no army to join, no war to fight, no direction to travel in.

    The idea of being an atheist, then concealing it and going to church, is at the very least dishonest, and may also be cowardly. The use of the term “closeted” speaks volumes about the situation (at least to a gay man like me). There is little point in being ashamed of what you are, or in trying to be just like everyone else (and not yourself). I don’t believe that lying is the best choice a person can make in this instance.

    The A or B choice offered strikes me as lacking in understanding of the world, and in creativity in forming a response to it. The world is not binary, and neither are the available responses to it.

    I can only speak for myself, but an “us and them” mentality seems pointless to me. Making a fight out of something that doesn’t need to be seems pointless. Becoming angry because someone doesn’t agree with me? That seems childish.

    Perhaps it would be worth considering that religious beliefs are like any other ecology. Atheism exists because it has adapted to its niche, other beliefs because they to theirs. Expecting there to be one belief alone in that environment doesn’t make sense to me, anymore than expecting everyone to think anything uniformly. People are sufficiently different from each other to make that impossible. Why would we even want uniformity?

  102. Right. There’s probably no point in weighing in at this stage as most of what needs to be said about this truly horrible post has been said. However, I’m so truly, deeply irritated by a) the tone of the post (never mind its content) and b) the fact that it was posted on Boing Boing by a guest blogger, that I feel the only way to get it out of my system is to say something, however unnecessary it may be.

    Firstly, the tone is one of ‘Don’t be such a spoilsport! We’re trying to create something beautiful here.’ Now, the tone alone is not only petulant, but it also assumes that atheists are out to ‘get’ theists of all sorts (though, Christianity seems to be implied here) and effectively rain on their parade by being just so silly, boring and devoid of creativity (and any ability whatsoever to appreciate beauty?) to point out that what the filthy theists are doing has no basis in logic, reason, or (cross your heart and hope to die) science. The tone (once again, never mind the content) seems to assume that engaging in a religious activity is of little consequence and that people should be left alone to get on with it. It ignores the fact that engaging in a religious activity is indicative of a particular mindset – in this case, one which atheists have criticized for being based in something other than reality – and that that mindset and/or world view is not simply contained to the church or religious sphere, but extends its influence to a much vaster playing field where decisions that affect reality (and not imaginary friends) are made.

    Honestly, to criticize someone for not seeing the beauty in something while you yourself contrive to ignore the immense (and, more often than not, negative) impact religion has had historically speaks of a lack of responsibility, no real understanding of the topic under discussion, and (I feel this is necessary) the reasoning prowess of a five-year-old.

    Secondly, I’ll be the first to point out that everyone is entitled to an opinion; that censorship is not really in anyone’s interest; that a variety of opinions and the debate such variety engenders are both Good Things; that criticism should be brutal but also constructive; and that, if you own a website, directory, blog, or other forum, you are probably – within the bounds of the law, of course – entitled to post whatsoever you please. However, it’s worth noting that, while censorship is one thing, peer review is another altogether. I can’t help wondering whether some reviewing or moderating would have avoided this absurdness from entering my inbox.

    Admittedly, editing and / or moderating your guest bloggers’ post would, in this instance, probably not make for a sensible policy, but, I mean, wtf? This does not qualify as a ‘wonderful thing’.

    I read Boing Boing for exactly that reason. Boing Boing feeds, in all their permutations, deliver to me on a daily basis posts, articles, tidbits, and oddments that inspire wonderment in me. It also provides a variety of opinions, especially the gold mine of laughs, wisdom, and variety that is the comments section. All of this qualifies as one superexcellent ‘Wonderful Thing’. But to have it tainted by proselytising rubbish such as Paul Spinrad’s ‘Big Tent Atheism’ is disappointing, not because of what he said, but because one gets the feeling that he’s (mis)used a forum that glows and sparkles with true wonder as a vehicle for pushing his own agenda.

    Granted, it does happen (and pretty often, too) that Boing Boing is utilised for exactly that purpose, but (at the risk of sounding naive) I’m willing to think that whatever evidence I’ve seen of it thus far has to my mind been ‘reasonable'; that is, based in logic and reason and touted for logically sound and admirable causes. I might not always have agreed, but at least I didn’t get ‘No fair. I don’t want to play anymore if I can’t win. I quit!’ posts to ruin that day’s Boing Boing feeds.

  103. @112/ugly canuck — “I cordially detest any type of universalism of belief: of the belief, that a belief must be held by all, and that it is the business of believers to ensure that all do so believe. Do you hear me, my “fellow” atheists?”

    To which I must also sadly add “Do you hear me, my “fellow” theists?”

    Freedom of belief. It’s not just a phrase. It’s a major tenet of any free society.

  104. To the people who say “religion is dangerous”… so is science. See Hiroshima and Nagasaki for details. Not to mention run-of-the-mill pollution, global warming, and the like.

    To the people who think that religion has no beauty – go look at religious artwork, read religious poetry, listen to religious music.

    I now return you to your regularly scheduled rabid-dog-assault on people who even seem to believe differantly than you yourselves do. Carry on with your seizing of the moral highground.

    ;)

  105. Remember y’all that not all religions are universalist: not all seek converts.
    Do not paint with too broad a brush: I know that the Hindus, by and large, do not seek converts. Nor do the Taoists: nor the Confucians: nor the Druze. I am not sure whether Jewish people proselytize: but the Christian and Islamic faiths are very universalist, and are jealous, (like their jealous Gods, with obedience as their first commandment) of any other claims to power.
    For each of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, it is their way, or the highway (to hell).
    And it is this insistence on the universal applicability of their religion to all people everywhere, that directly leads to conflict.

  106. I was in the midst of composing a long comment about what it was like for me being an atheist for six years in Alabama, but I changed my mind. Let me just say this:

    I think there is value in having loud and proud atheists on the teevee and other fora challenging the basic assumptions of the religious. It’s not about converting believers into atheists, but about giving a little breathing room to the humbler ones you seem to like; and also letting the people who think there’s something fishy about religion know there’s nothing wrong with them, that there are valid reasons for them to think so and they are not alone. I’m guessing that being the only atheist you know in a population that thinks you are scum is not a problem for you.

    I can also say that, in my experience, I have experienced far more respectful responses to my profession of unbelief over the past several years. I believe (with limited empirical evidence) that it is at least partly due to greater knowledge on the part of Christians that atheists will not meekly accept the idea that we are not moral without God in our lives, but will turn around and challenge their beliefs just as forcefully. The Christians I know tend to debate me on the subject exactly once.

    (I suspect that, to some extent, you are doing the “why can’t everyone disagree nicely on the internet?” thing, but if that’s the case, you’re on the wrong internet. You should try a different tube.)

    You know, I liked your first guest post.

  107. The problem with proselytizing atheists is not only that they are motivated by feeling superior–it’s that they don’t understand the science they think they’re defending.

    I’m an atheist. And I also understand that religion is an adaptive behavior related to the nature of our brains. It helps us to achieve the goals of our various neurological systems: to increase social connection, feel good about ourselves, feel understanding of our place in the Universe (and therefore more control over our destinies, and, thus, less fear), etc. It’s not an atavistic leftover like embryonic gills. It stays with us until it works.

    What we need is promotion of RATIONAL RELIGION: spirituality which requires no superstition in order to be followed. I’ve written on this quite a bit–it’s possible.

  108. By the way, I would just like to say that even though I very much disagree with this post, Mr. Spinrad, you are not denying global warming, and you are therefore welcome to stay at BoingBoing, as far as I’m concerned.

  109. to be fair to the OP, he did qualify his statement:

    So I put it to declared atheists– the ones who fly the flag about it, not the ones who are quiet or closeted

    I took him to be talking about those particularly militant atheists.

  110. Wow.. on the same day that atheism.org have a misguided poll on if Blasphemy is a crime (with the Yes question written as “YES – Freedom ends where other people get offended.: “) boingboing hosts a guest who is saying Atheists should shut up and be quiet.

    Greta has said (and quite well, as she does) a lot more about Atheists shutting up here: http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2009/02/shut-up-thats-why.html

    For myself though: Leaving up losing campaign stickers and signs long after the election is over. (I passed a Ron Paul window sign today…)
    Funny, I passed a few buildings today, with big crosses out the front. Maybe they are “elitist” too?

    If I attended a church and pretended to worship, I would be lying.

  111. You can believe anything you want here, but you will damn well do it civilly. Civility is the original open source interface that everyone can use.

  112. Great comments, will read more later, and yes– I’m sure I’m bringing up old discussions that have been going on already for ages (but I haven’t been in the room for them before, and I’m interested).

    One clarification: my scenario about atheists just not saying the words they don’t believe it is this:

    1. They don’t say the words during services, and see it as a group movement rather than individual cowardice. They encourage like-minded friends to quietly do the same, maybe decide to all sit together (strength in numbers).

    2. People who are clued into this movement notice others participating, perhaps gain courage to join.

    3. At some point, it gets noticed by another worshipper who objects enough to bring it up with the people running the services. When this happens, the [denomination here]-atheists then simply ask the authority if they are still welcome to attend services, participate in the community, pay membership dues, etc., or whether they are actually being asked to leave because they will not pronounce certain phrases. The authority then needs to decide.

    4. The phenomenon gets coverage, more closeted atheists make judgments about whether they could risk doing this or not, and the movement to make belief optional advances person by person, congregation by congregation, from the ground up.

    5. Maybe it’s generational– mostly just young people would try this now and get in trouble, but it would be a different story in 30 years.

    I know this is all just blue sky, and I don’t have a lot of experience to base it on, so I’m interested in getting people’s opinions. I do know that it would be dangerous to try in some places, in which case it’s just not worth it. One thing we don’t need any more of is religious martyrs.

    If it matters, this also gets back to my previous post about live audiences and VJing– I think the live audience setting is where societies decide to draw their lines.

  113. Bunch of Pansies . Sorry flower, I love you. I just saw the words,”Intellectual Elite” on earlier posts. What went wrong? Thought they were used for plant food.

  114. Antinous: Had others not provided the links above, I would have been happy to do so. Unprompted, I don’t generally tend to provide links to something which can be found with the help of Google and ten seconds of free time.

    I should point out that the GHWB quote isn’t 16 years old, it’s from August 27, 1987. So nearly 22 years old. If you’re going to be snarky and derisive, well, at least be accurate.

  115. I find this to be one of the most confusing posts I’ve ever encountered here on Boing-Boing.

    ” If they really think the world would be better off without religion, they shouldn’t hate religion and call believers fools.”

    Ummm… I don’t know that the world WOULD be better off without religion. Why do you think I would think such a thing? Wouldn’t it depend on how that change occurred (enlightenment, vs an anti-inquisition, etc)? It might be better, it might be worse. Who knows?

    I do think the world WOULD be better off with more tolerance for dissenting views on religion, AND a higher dedication to rationality. Do you disagree? I think that religion far too often is an enemy of rationality, open inquiry and tolerance for dissenting views. Do you disagree?

    “Any successful new belief system must appreciate the beauty of what it’s replacing and strive for backwards-compatibility.”

    1. Sez who?
    2. Who says atheism is replacing theism?
    3. Define beauty. What’s beautiful about hell? Or original sin? Or indoctrinating children to proselytize on the schoolyard and bully the little neighbor Jew “for his own good”, to save him from Hell?
    4. Who says atheism needs to be successful?
    5. What is the definition of “successful” when we’re talking belief systems? Is it popularity?

    I don’t want to be popular. I just want to live an authentic existence, and I’ll stand up for that when pushed, just as I’d stand up for Christians and Jews and any other believers against Government oppression. My firmness with the establishment clause is in support of minority religious beliefs. I don’t want prayer in school because of my daughter, but also because of her jewish classmates. I stand up for their liberty to believe what they believe and also live authentic existences without government interference.

    “Do you think that most of humanity is A) hopeless and doomed to kill each other because of their stupid religious beliefs, or B) capable of coming to and benefiting from your views?”

    My that’s a shiny false dichotomy you’ve got there.

    I haven’t the foggiest idea what “most of humanity” will do or can do. I’d like them to kill less and think more. Got any solutions for that, because what’s been going on ain’t working so well so far.

    What am I supposed to do? I’m supposed to go to church now, to be a good little atheist?

    What if I don’t like church?

    You say prayer feels good… but not to me. I don’t enjoy it. Should I pray anyway? Would that make me a good atheist, or the future of atheism? Should I try to make a modern atheism that looks like a religion so that we strive for “backwards compatibility”?

    I don’t WANT to start a religion, even an atheist one, whatever that means. I don’t want to start a movement, or a revolution or an enlightenment. I just want to live an authentic life. You want to start an atheism for the 21st century, Be My Guest. But don’t look behind you for followers.

    I really don’t understand the post. Is it that atheists should go to church and pray? I don’t get it. What’s the point of posting this?

    Really? If I go to church and pray, that will make more people want to become atheists? What if I don’t care about people becoming atheists?

    Is it to win some kind of PR victory? What’s the point of that? Why should I live an inauthentic life to win some political victory?

    Isn’t that exactly what you’re railing against in the first few paragraphs of your post?

    Anyway. It’s a strange post for Boing-Boing: “Christian Says Atheists Should Attend Church and Pray, So That They Can Win Grand Political Movement For Atheism.”

    Very strange. I mean, it’s typical ass-backwards religious writing… it never makes much sense and it’s full of “I can tell you what to do and think, but don’t you DARE tell me” self-superior condescention.

    Dude, I should buy you a beer.

    It’s actually a pretty good model of what I don’t enjoy about modern western religious writing. It’s self-contradictory, smug, superior, concern-trolling good fun. And yet so shallow!

    It’s also not very well-written. Poor boing-boing. You know, there’s much better cutting-edge religious thinking going on in the blogoplex. Seek it out.

  116. …I want to add– most of what’s said in religious services that I’ve participated in I’m perfectly fine with and I think about metaphorically or poetically, so I don’t have any problem saying it– but every so often there’s some central unavoidable thing that makes me uncomfortable. So I wouldn’t want to be silent most of the time– not nearly. Maybe for just a line or two every 10 pages.

    If this is a common attitude, I see this working, but if people would really hardly ever want to join in the reading, would be quiet almost the whole time, then no way.

  117. Civilly put, the logic of Spinrad’s response is as convoluted as that of his main post. Why are the atheists in church, again?

  118. @Key: A burner is one that attends Burningman and events inspired by Burningman. I’m just using it as an example though. As others stated on here, there are the Unitarian Universalists who have a community much like a church community.

    What is it about churches that you find different from other groups (charitable/hobbies/or other)? I’m not tryinig to discount your experience, but the one thing that made me originally leave the church was the realization that the church community was no more loving, kind, generous than any other. I decided to leave it up to my own judgement what people were good for me and I wanted in my life. Maybe we’re talking about two different things, but I don’t feel churches are any different than any other social group. There are good people and bad people everywhere.

  119. Daemon: why bring up the A-bomb?
    Was the science of the forging of iron swords not good enough to use as an example, to allow you to equate the quest for knowledge (science) with the fanatical destruction of non-believers or skeptics by the religious?
    jeez, even making a fire is dangerous…”danger” is not the objection to religion. Even less so, much less, the lack of “beauty”.
    The objection is, that they are wrong about nature and man. And even worse, that they are useless, and worse than useless, in the improvement of human life, and the achievement of human happiness, today and in the future.
    We are not arguing about the past, here.

  120. dudois,

    I’m surprised that it took over 130 comments for someone to say that. However, #3 responded to a longish philosophy essay with a short, snarky comment and I responded to a short, snarky comment with a short, snarky comment. Get the difference?

  121. @123

    “Atheism, in its purest form, is every bit as mindless and limited as the fundamentalists they so despise.”

    There seem to be so many different definitions of ‘atheism’ floating around here that it’s causing confusion. I’ve always thought that a- theism just meant you do not believe in a deity. It means no more or less than that. So much of the arguments being presented here(including the original post) seem to be based off of a completely different definition of atheism.

    Atheism does not mean anti-religion. Some religions are atheistic. Without agreed upon definitions of the terms ‘atheism’ and ‘religion’, discussions like the ones going on here will no never go anywhere.

  122. I did as the poster suggests during my working life, simply to assure the continued flow of little green tickets for bio-survival. As Heinlein recommended, I pretended to be a lapsed member of the dominant religion of my environment. It felt wretchedly dishonest and created unnecessary self loathing. The worst aspect was to realize the utter contempt you hold for others not allowing them the choice of knowing you. This is the real elitism of the poster’s position. He sounds like Jack Nicholson screaming “You can’t handle the truth!”, all the while lying to others about his faith or lack thereof. If you do not stand up for what you believe, you believe nothing. That is a mistake of my past. I will not be silent for the sake of false harmony.

  123. @147

    The old saw comes to mind:

    “If atheism is a religion, then not collecting stamps is a hobby.”

    1. “If atheism is a religion, then not collecting stamps is a hobby.”

      Not collecting stamps may not be a hobby, but collaring people at cocktail parties and trying to convince them not to collect stamps is.

  124. I guess I’ve arranged my life to be surrounded by the irreligious. I would no more go into a church and try to subvert their paradigm than I would go to an extremist political meeting and try to change their minds. It’s annoying, it’s ineffective and it’s kind of rude. There is plenty of neutral ground in public. Trying to grass-root people in their ideological stronghold just never ends well, They have to come to you. At least half-way anyway.

  125. If I understand the post correctly, you want atheists to stop being loud and obnoxious and start participating in sit-ins at places of worship in order to challenge the authority of the religion and test the limits of their tolerance. How is this less annoying to people of faith?

    I have a better idea. Atheists will leave religious people alone at their place of worship and religious people will leave me alone in my house, office, school, and public square.

  126. #138. Snarky and derisive give a brain rub that keep healthy brain cells alive. Cells that go to sleep behind accuracy. Clearly you are more awake when irritated.

  127. Atheism, in its purest form, is every bit as mindless and limited as the fundamentalists they so despise.

    No, it’s not. Atheism in its purest form is a lack of belief in a god or gods.

  128. Yeah… reading his “clarification”…. he does seem to be advocating sit-ins in churches.

    Umm… why would I do that? That seems to be totally uncalled for behavior.

    If I attend a religious service, I don’t go to disrupt them or even silently protest them. I’m usually there because I was asked by a friend or family member… i’m not going to embarrass them by being rude.

    Sorry, but if that’s big tent atheism, count me out.

    I say write nice strongly-worded books instead. Dawkins and Hitchens are Emily Post next to this guy’s proposal.

  129. I think the problem is not with religion or lack thereof. The problem is with respect or lack thereof, and people’s behavior toward one another.

    People are responsible for their own behavior. Religion may be the driving force behind disrespect of others, but ultimately the adherents of that religion are responsible for their own actions and attitudes. Rather than come down against the religion, we should take a stand against disrespect and persecution.

    I believe proselytizing is disrespectful, whether for or against any religion. At its heart, proselytizing indicates a lack of respect for others’ point of view. Arrival at a particular set of beliefs/nonbeliefs is the sum of one’s entire life experiences and maybe some brain wiring thrown in; it is deeply personal. Believing that your unique life experiences have led you to the one true answer is incredibly egotistical.

    If your life experiences have led you to worship a piece of lint you found in your navel, that does no one any harm. But if your navel lint worship leads you to believe you are morally superior to people with outies and you look down on them, then it’s a problem of lack of respect.

  130. Cashgrab asked “What is it about churches that you find different from other groups?”

    My answer is that in a Church you have people from all walks of life coming together to share a sense of wonder and mystery, and give thought to spiritual matters that we simply don’t have time for during the week. It draws you out of the day to day, and into a vast spiritual realm. This is done in the form of ritual that has its roots in our ancient past.

    It’s pretty fucking amazing.

    More than a few people have made glib references to the architecture, but the fact is people are drawn to these structures, particularly the traditional ones. They are the physical embodiment of a deep human desire to commune with the divine.

    Prior to Vatican II, Catholic mass was conducted with the Priest facing forward, with his back to the congregation. AFAIK, this wasn’t to diminish the congregation, this was because the whole thing, the ritual, the design of the building, the words being spoken, was designed to create a big spiritual power flow through the Church and up to God. That’s awesomesauce!

  131. @Pinehead (123):
    Alternatively, the future of atheism (in the “absence of theism”-sense) might be what’s already the state in some countries, e.g. my native Norway.

    What seems to have happened here is that religion has faded slowly, until it got to a point where it was seen as a bit tasteless to talk about your beliefs; I suspect this happened in the period when the number of non-believers got so high that you couldn’t assume anything about the person you were talking to. As of now, hardly anyone goes to church, the number of active christians is very low, and most of the populace seems to be somewhere on the scale from atheists to generic theists/deists/pantheists. A fair number still describe themselves as christian, but much fewer believe in an interventionist god / an afterlife / the resurrection of christ. (Make of that what you want).

    Oh, and remember that “atheism” is “absence of belief in god” – it doesn’t have to be caused by a belief in the absence of god; a profound disinterest will do fine.

    I can recommend an interview with Phil Zuckerman where he talks about religion in scandinavia:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cn1il00qIzI (part 1)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_eEojwlG4cU (part 2)

  132. @ antinous “Not collecting stamps may not be a hobby, but collaring people at cocktail parties and trying to convince them not to collect stamps is.”

    And that’s where the analogy breaks down. Because while pushing atheism might even qualify as a hobby, it ain’t a religion.

    For the same reason that although you might have one on saturday morning, a grapefruit still isn’t a breakfast cereal.

  133. I tip my hat to Siamang, well said.

    “Do you think that most of humanity is A) hopeless and doomed to kill each other because of their stupid religious beliefs, or B) capable of coming to and benefiting from your views?”

    I pick C, D, E, F, and a few other of the myriad possibilities you exclude in your question. Some percentage of humanity will war over religious beliefs. Some percentage won’t experience strife with others having different religious views. Some will have education and minds open to reasoned discussion, others will lack one or both. Some will be comfortable with their religious acculturation, others uncomfortable with hypocrisy, magical thinking, and obedience to dogma. The question isn’t even a false dichotomy since some people with the potential to embrace reason will never get the chance — and not because I fail use deceptive marketing to promote atheism.

  134. @155

    “Not collecting stamps may not be a hobby, but collaring people at cocktail parties and trying to convince them not to collect stamps is.”

    Ok, but the definition of atheism isn’t: collaring people at cocktail parties and trying to convince them not to believe in a god. So, what’s your point?

    1. Ok, but the definition of atheism isn’t: collaring people at cocktail parties and trying to convince them not to believe in a god. So, what’s your point?

      Is the definition of Buddhism trying to convert non-believers? Or Hinduism? Or Judaism? Why is it good for atheists to annoy people with their beliefs but bad for religious people to do it? It has nothing to do with religion or unreligion and everything to do with being a pain in the ass, regardless of belief system.

  135. Wigglin: good point.
    Buddhism is atheistic.
    Other religions do not believe in supernatural or transcendent beings.
    I’ve never believed in supernatural beings – I just can’t see it, so to speak.
    When it comes to the understanding the world, rationalism is the way to go.
    When it comes to people, well, cut them some slack. After all, we are only temporary. like Achilles. Link:

  136. The original questions was:

    Do you think that most of humanity is A) hopeless and doomed to kill each other because of their stupid religious beliefs, or B) capable of coming to and benefiting from your views?

    The answer is A. And this post should really substitute “Scientist” for “Atheist” throughout. When we told you that science and religion were compatible, we were lying so that you wouldn’t burn us at the stake. You can’t ignore the the non-rational core of faith any more than you can ignore the parts of science you don’t like.

  137. Takuan asked Does BoingBoing have a spiritual identity?

    Yep. It’s represented with a shield divided into four quadrants. They show: the rampant atheist, the deist theist, the disinterested atheist and the angry creationist. The resulting balanced tensions evoke zen.

    The impact is heightened with a fleur de lis that upon close inspection shows couples having tantric sex.

  138. @ The OP — you’ve come back and explained how we atheists should be acting in church, and your reasoning behind your post — but why are we atheists even in church in the first place?

    Oh, and as an atheist I don’t go to church for the same reason that as an anarchist I don’t vote — if you find a system or group to be immoral, why would you show up at their pep rally?

    I like to eat meat, and am unapologetic about it.
    I question some of the claims of global warming fanatics.
    I’m pro-choice.
    I’m anti- death penalty.
    I am an anarchist, and subsequently don’t vote.
    I’m an atheist.
    Barak Obama scares me as much as Bush did, and for largely the same reasons.

    Now, with those things in mind, are there any other areas where I should a) be attending services/functions/rallies that I don’t agree with, yet still keep my mouth shut? Should I be going to PETA meetings, but hiding the cheeseburger? Should I be a jury member on a trial where the death penalty is a possibility, but not tell anyone that I’m against it? Should I keep my mouth shut when folks praise Obama around me, even though I think he’s as duplicitous as his predecessor?

  139. You can’t ignore the the non-rational core of faith any more than you can ignore the parts of science you don’t like.

    Why not?

  140. @UC (162)
    I seem to remember that buddism has room for the possibility of gods – something assorted forks and branches has used to integrate their local deities.

    Of course, the part where they’re not omniscient, omnipotent, immortal, or capable of helping you attain nirvana does still stand out. ;)

  141. @ Robulus 157, you wrote:

    “My answer is that in a Church you have people from all walks of life coming together to share a sense of wonder and mystery, and give thought to spiritual matters that we simply don’t have time for during the week. It draws you out of the day to day, and into a vast spiritual realm. This is done in the form of ritual that has its roots in our ancient past.”

    That’s cool, if that’s your bag. Two questions:

    1. If that AIN’T my bag, are we still cool, or am I evil and sinful and going to burn in hell forever?
    2. The minute my back’s turned, are you going to try and pull my daughter into your Borg collective and teach her her daddy’s evil and sinful and burning in hell?

    I’m totally cool with you spending your Sunday doing your thing. Just checking with you that, you know, there ARE actually people who don’t “feel a deep human desire to commune with the divine.” And there’s nothing wrong with that.

  142. #154 Man You On it. What replaces it for me is a personal connection with beings that have been mistaken for Gods, when they just working here like the rest of us. Big difference. Don’t need to worship. Just take care of your heart, the rest falls into place. When you get to know the gods as beings working for the same Boss as we are, you can begin to see how easy it is. All you have to do is serve and love…… Yourself.

  143. @168 ANTINOUS said: “Why is it good for atheists to annoy people with their beliefs but bad for religious people to do it? ”

    I don’t think it’s bad for religious people to do it. I think people should do it more often.

    Silence helps religion.

    That said, annoying people isn’t my personal style. Mine is “shut up until asked, then only explain yourself; don’t attempt to gain anything other than a person who listens.”

    But if you want to annoy, knock yourself out. I may not listen.

    1. But if you want to annoy, knock yourself out. I may not listen.

      Can you tell from reading my comments whether I’m atheist, agnostic, a member of any known religion?

  144. @168 Antinous

    “Why is it good for atheists to annoy people with their beliefs but bad for religious people to do it?”

    I never said it was.

  145. The TNH comment RE: Civility. Seconded by me!

    As it is spot on for my boilerplate response to someone asking me about “My personal faith” etc. I tend to respect a private dignity about private subjects. And respectfully ask that similar rules be the safest default. We have a free right to declare our stance but no right to belittle another’s in “ad hominem” mode EVER. With a possible exception for “unprotecteds” who willingly place themselves in that status. Eg: public figures or trolling/flamebaiting types:>

    I have a slight alteration to the legal “Miranda” concept. One holding it as allowable to remain silent, lest statements be used against anyone in the court of opinions:> Which includes of course MY comments on the issues. Which should be reasonably “safe” from arousing grounds for disrespect- by reasonable persons. Calling disrespect ever proper is a very slippery slope indeed.

    Folks- there’s to me a well and clearly marked division between having a viewpoint and using it to “justify” impolite actions. Which applies equally to Theist and Atheist alike if they wish to be accepted in polite company. Hence my seconding TNH on the Civility comment!

    And yes- I have of intent *NOT* declared myself either way as it’s literally of no connection to a declaration of “Be respectful mnnkay?”

  146. Thank you Siamang. Can we all agree on two things:

    1. That if you don’t think exactly as I do or live as I say, to the extent that you leave me alone to do the same, neither of us is going to burn in hell?

    2. That as long as (1) is respected, my desire to view the world in spiritual terms for my own subjective benefit, as long as it doesn’t involve imposing on others, can be free of ridicule and perhaps even open to inquisitiveness under the right circumstances?

    ‘Cuz I guess I’m basically an atheist, but I have beef with most atheists. You see, I think the fact that God is a human invention is the start, not the end, of a comprehensive critique of religion. I think we can stand to learn a lot about ourselves from what others have thought of God, and about human nature from the things that resonate deeply with people. Furthermore, I think that we must all agree and come to terms with the fact that whatever we may think about the universe, it exists first and foremost in our own brains. The brain is the organ with which we perceive and comprehend reality, and it warps and distorts reality to conform to our biological needs. Thus, I don’t think most atheists who get high-and-mighty about almighty Reason and Rationality are as divorced from their emotional reactions to the world and their own subconscious as they would like to believe.

    That is all.

  147. @166 Barak Obama him scare me too him have funny name.

    Seriously, though, comparing Barack Obama to George W. Bush is daft in the extreme: what “same reasons” do you have to fear them both? What profitable comparisons could you make between them, save the Presidency? That’s not anarchism, that’s nihilism!

  148. @Siamang

    1. If that AIN’T my bag, are we still cool, or am I evil and sinful and going to burn in hell forever?

    We’re cool!

    2. The minute my back’s turned, are you going to try and pull my daughter into your Borg collective and teach her her daddy’s evil and sinful and burning in hell?

    No. Really. We’re cool.

    Just checking with you that, you know, there ARE actually people who don’t “feel a deep human desire to commune with the divine.” And there’s nothing wrong with that.

    I, Robulus, being of sound mind, do hereby solemnly swear not to persecute, feel ill will or radiate perceptions of wrongness towards Siamang or Siamang’s daughter, or other offspring, for their lack of deep human desire to commune with the divine. I promise to be totally cool with that.

  149. @antinous (168):

    We started out with a simple statement, effectively “absence of belief is not the same as belief in absence”.

    Moving over to the fact that bothering people with your beliefs or lack of such is annoying is a large step to the side. Yes, it’s true – but it’s also completely irrelevant to the original point that defining atheism as a religion is logically odd.

  150. That if you don’t think exactly as I do or live as I say, to the extent that you leave me alone to do the same, neither of us is going to burn in hell?

    Out of interest, why does it bother you so much that someone else would worry that you are going to “burn in hell”?

  151. This post was a refreshing read.

    I remember that for a long time, before the Bush administration came into power and the culture war kicked into high gear, you could usually depend on an atheist for exercising restraint when it came to advocating his or her worldview. Maybe religion just wasn’t for him or maybe she was thoroughly displeased by religion, but one usually did not make a fuss about it and rarely did any atheist try to outdo the fervent religious person when it came to proselytizing. Then Bush won, and slowly many atheists began to take the bait; too many enlisted for the culture war, and now it is very common for any reference to religion to be met with open hostility and disrespect, much to the disservice of progress and reasonable discourse.

    I support any call for a standard of respect and politeness in debate, and I am not moved by any defense of rudeness based on who started it or which side is worse. Criticism we should have, naturally, but let it be respectful and sympathetic towards those we disagree with.

    There is a good argument to be made for diversity in belief just as there is a good argument to be made for diversity in any system. Most arguments of superiority or for uniformity proceed from fear.

  152. Antinous,

    Don’t doubt you knew what you where doing.

    Just appreciate the textbook example.

    1. Don’t doubt you knew what you where doing.

      I’m frequently aware that I will invite laughter with my action, but do it anyway. There’s probably a clinical term for that behavior. At any rate, Teresa’s the OCD moderator and I’m the ADD moderator if you base it solely on word count and comment frequency.

  153. So basically atheists are supposed to shut up and not interfere with those who want to worship?

    Twenty odd years ago, I left the church and every single backward belief that they had indoctrinated into my head over the course of 15 years. These were people who prayed that gays wouldn’t be allowed to adopt, that recommended candidates from the pulpit and believed that women were spiritually inferior to men (the women believed this too!).

    But what they do in church is harmless, right?

    Calling someone on the carpet for being a bigot should be followed up with a medal, not being made to feel like you should apologize for having your head in the right place.

  154. Paul@135

    That just sounds like agitation.

    Why would the atheists want to be there in the first place? If the Christians didn’t love and accept them for who they are, are they real Christians? And if the atheists did just-like-being-there ad blending in, why would they want to be in a group of other atheists? If they had a group, couldn’t they just go off and have fun together, instead?

    Are they trying to make a point, being there, in a group? Is it any less controversial (to the offended), that they are there (not believing) than if they were at home bitching about religion on the internet? Are the atheists just there for the closeted community of it all, or trying to get somewhere?

    Wait.. I think I may have it.. This is like in Fight Club, right? Attending help-groups you don’t need. This is religious “tourism”, yes? :)

  155. Am I missing out on a shared cultural experience? Are militant atheists striding the streets and byways, accosting the passerby on the nature of his or her religious belief or lack thereof? Have I simply been fortunate not to be buttonholed by a screeching atheism recruiter at a party?

    I’ve had this experience from the religious but never has an atheist gotten all up in my face. Which would have been funny, and pointless, as I’m already there.

  156. @Takuan The word on the street was you were vascillating between rampant and reclining atheist… no? I shouldn’t believe everything I read.

  157. @Elvis Pelt (187):
    We recognize and respect the secret signs, of course. Anything else would be irrational.

  158. @177 “Seriously, though, comparing Barack Obama to George W. Bush is daft in the extreme: what “same reasons” do you have to fear them both?”

    They both believe, utterly and absolutely, that they can ‘fix what’s wrong’ with this country. They both believe that ‘more of the same’ somehow is an answer to problems (Bush raises our deficit to ridiculous levels, and sends troops to fight; Obama does the same). They both are surrounded by fanatical folks who act like they are the second coming of Christ (nice how I tied that one back to this post, eh?).

    And beyond that, they both are politicians, and I fear politicians in general, regardless of what party they’ve affiliated themselves with… To quote Douglas Adams:

    “To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited for it. To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.”

    As for your anarchism vs nihilism, that seems rather apropos of nothing — care to explain the context? How is me being afraid of Barak Obama nihilistic? I know this is Boing Boing and all, but I didn’t think having an unpopular opinion made you a nihilist.

  159. Paul Spinrad wrote: “For a new atheism, the miracle-we-believe function would be served by the question of whether the whole scheme could actually succeed.” That wouldn’t work.

    Quoting Paul Graham’s excellent essay, Lies We Tell Our Kids, “The truth is common property. You can’t distinguish your group by doing things that are rational, and believing things that are true. If you want to set yourself apart from other people, you have to do things that are arbitrary, and believe things that are false.”

    Religions wrap timeless truths (morality, ethics, etc.) in a wrapper of absurd beliefs to be taken on faith. Like in a virus, the wrapper gives it structural intergrity, a mechanism for getting into new minds. It also makes it difficult to get free.

    http://paulgraham.com/lies.html

  160. there is a kind of being that does not dispute or affirm gods. Nor is it acknowledgement of ignorance.

  161. This article is naeve and false. The author writes of atheism as if it’s a religion, which it is not. It smells strongly of religious propaganda. After all, there is a war on religion, isn’t there?

    Atheism is not a religion or a belief, rather, it is the concept that the universe can never be knowable because it is infinite. Atheists view reality to the degree that it can be explained by the scientific process, and know that our understanding of the universe is constantly changing and that there are no absolute truths. Atheists don’t pray; atheism is not a religion or a belief. Atheism does not have followers.

    Religion is a system of fantastic claims that have no rational or logical basis: religion is a false reality. Religiousness is the compulsion by humans to accept irrational and illogical conclusions as truth, and to not introspectively question these conclusions, ever. Put religion in the hands of leaders, and the result is oppression and war and millenia of stalled progress.

    I am an atheist, and this means I do not subscribe to a religion, nor do I want or need to follow a religion, or join my friends and neighbors in a religious ceremony. I don’t have an “agenda” to convert everyone to atheism: atheism is simply the absence of religion. However, I do often wish everyone on this planet would wake up one morning and smell and see and touch and taste and hear the universe for the reality it really is, but I suppose not everyone dreams of a world at peace.

  162. Elvis Pelt (187) makes a good point.

    I’d like to ask everyone here a question: how many times have you encountered an atheist actively proselytizing? I mean strangers coming to your door uninvited, or people with signs and megaphones on street corners, or putting atheism propaganda on your car windshield. This has never happened to me, but I probably encounter a Christian doing these things at least once a week.

    All the recent backlash against Atheists being uppity and broadcasting their views too much seems rather unfair when you contrast it with what religious folks(particularly Christians) regularly do.

  163. Atheist doesn’t mean a person who believes gods don’t exist. It means a person who is not a theist. That’s important! Any person with no god belief is an atheist — this includes many agnostics, all infants and the mentally incompetent. Any person who believes gods don’t exist is also an atheist. All humans are born atheists and become theists thereafter; I think it’s important to point this out. Theism is an acquired set of beliefs; atheism is the neutral state of man.

    Also, I’m tired of this BS notion that atheists by in large have “something to prove”. The burden of proof for the existence of gods rests with the claimant — the theists. It is not the burden of an atheist to prove that gods exist.

    All arguments derived of religious conviction should be inherently less viable than those grounded in reality. For example, the abortion debate:

    The statement, “I believe mothers should be able to terminate pregnancies because I worship Satan and hold His values dear,” should be less viable than the statement, “I believe mothers should be able to terminate pregnancies because mankind — rational and sapient as it is — deserves freedom, and preventing the termination of a pregnancy is unacceptably restrictive.”

    On the other side, “I believe mothers shouldn’t be able to terminate pregnancies because I worship God and hold His values dear,” should be less viable than, “I believe mothers shouldn’t be able to terminate pregnancies because mankind — rational and sapient as it is — inherently deserves a chance at life, and terminating a life is therefore unacceptable.”

    I think one’s reasoning should be open to criticism at all times, especially where politics is concerned (because in that realm, one’s reasoning affects one’s peers). “I believe people should be able to have sex with sheep because I See Dead People” isn’t as viable as “I believe people should be able to schtup ’em as long as it can be made certain that the sheep was consenting.”

    Yes, “I See Dead People” is just as plausible and defensible as “I Believe in God” and is exactly as valuable as basis for rational decision-making (that is to say, it has no value at all, assuming rationality, of course).

    Making crap up and claiming said made-up crap as inspiration, excuse, impetus, etc is stupid insofar as governance is concerned. I believe we should be stewards of the environment because Ploot Sploot McBloogity Bloot, Root Toot Boot Scoot. ‘n Boogie.

  164. Antinous: Exactly :)

    Now all our people are in place, we just have to place the charges and set the timers.. Oh, too far?

  165. ARGH! The OP and the moderator seem to be operating from the idea that religious people in this country are just kind people with awkward beliefs that are constantly being assaulted by obnoxious atheists intent on destroying any comfort they might get in this life. Being annoying at cocktail parties? Really? Try sodomy laws, abstinence only education, “pro-life” laws, teaching creationism and “intelligent design,” not to mention the all-on “I’m more Christian than you” competition every election cycle in the South. Oh, and some Christians have a funny habit of screwing with any non-Christian they find in non-cocktail party context, including violence. I get the distinct impression that this discussion is happening at a very abstract level for the OP and moderator. I could be wrong. But I think having an atheist get drunk at a party and tell you that your understanding of the universe is deeply irrational is pretty tame compared to the flip side. When we start going all John Safran on everybody, then we can talk. LINK

    1. strandedlad,

      Try Stalin and Mao. Atheist states have just as many atrocities to their credit as religious ones. Irritating and murderous fanaticism doesn’t require religion or lack thereof. They’re both just excuses for bad behavior.

  166. @JAMBE Did you HAVE to go to the Billy Ray Cyrus pond on that one??

    “Boot Scoot’n Boogie”

    I’m mean, seriously, I think you had an otherwise great post, but c’mon — forget the atheism/theism debate, I think that one thing we can all agree on is THAT SONG MUST DIE!

    :)

  167. If your looking to get rid of religion the best course of action would be setting up preferable secular alternatives to free funeral/wedding/birth event hosting. what it comes down to is that city hall is a shitty, boring place to get married, and nobody wants to attend a funeral in a restaurant (I have, it sucks!). these are services the church does that no non-profit secular organization is really willing to touch and this shit is deadly important to everybody at certain points in their life.
    as an anti-theist I recognize the God/No-God argument is inherently pointless as it’s something neither party can effectively persuade the other through mere discussion and (one way or the other) ultimately doesn’t affect your day to day life that much. If viewed through a strictly social and historical perspective all religion is revealed to be essentially politics. Religion is an organization that has a set of laws, a authoritarian hierarchy, preforms public services, organizes social meetings, collect funds from members, campaigns against competing organizations for dominance etc.. If one views religion and politics as essentially the same animal (as I do, and as most of the middle east and Asia do) and tries to categorize the most dominant Religious institutions along similar political forms one can only come to the conclusion that most contemporary religions are in fact oppressive dictatorships. How many churches elect their own clergy? how many churches allow it’s members to vote to change tenants or laws that need to be changed?
    All the atheist blogs and discussion groups I come across always harp on the same tired philosophical points of God or no god and none of them ever seem to address the actual meat of the issue with religion. Maybe I see this clearer where I come from a tiny rural Newfoundland hamlet where the church was the only non-residential building in the community. My parents were basically heretics but we went to church every Sunday because we wanted to socialize with the other fifty people in town. There were no secular alternatives to anything! the only school I could go to was a catholic school, the only social clubs and organizations we had were affiliated with religion, the only entertainment or events we had came through either the church or the rec center in the neighbouring town that the nuns or teachers from the catholic school ran. In our community there was no commercial district and the municipal government was a shady nebulous thing you only dealt with if you had issues with zoning laws or taxes. The church was the dominant social organizer and authority, if you needed help or support from the community the church was the medium to get it.
    Religion is not a philosophy. Religion may have a philosophy but so does every other organization or business. Arguments against religion can’t be limited to philosophy and metaphysical discussion because that has nothing to do with the real reasons people rely on the church.
    I personally have found all the religions I’ve studied to be based around despicable and harmful beliefs and values. and almost all “true believers” I come across have been, on one level or another, to be either (on the good side)just hypocrites or (on the other side) vile, cruel despots. But, I concede that religions will remain with us and for the time being probably should remain with us because they provide services to the community that are not being even remotely filled by secular organizations. If we can provide preferable secular alternatives to things like funerals and weddings (probably the two biggest services casual church goers in the city rely on the church for) to people and keep these theological arguments fresh in peoples minds you will see a dramatic collapse in religious belief among the populous.
    Sorry for not being concise at all.

  168. @181 – As you may rightly suspect, I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian household. Stormed out of church at 16 never to return. The tenacity of belief, however, in my extended family – and I’m talking 30+ members of my extended family who never had any such epiphany, including many younger siblings and cousins – led me to wonder what the hell’s going on.

    Also, I was responding to #170, who was concerned that somebody else thought he was going to burn in hell.

    Belief that people who disagree with you are going to hell is just about the most perverse pathology imaginable. It’s like AIDS – it’s no Ebola, which kills too quickly. It kills just quickly enough to spread around insidiously and become a global epidemic.

    Fortunately, the vast majority of religious people of most faiths don’t think that. Americans and those who deal with them – as well as people paying attention to mass hysteria in the Middle East – are especially sensitive to religious fundamentalism because it’s an obstacle, but the vast majority of religious people keep to themselves. It’s irrational to lump in all “religion” with “fundamentalist Christianity and Islam”.

  169. Takuan said “there is a kind of being that does not dispute or affirm gods. Nor is it acknowledgement of ignorance.”

    Well I was kind of set on the design but I guess we could shuffle stuff around and accomodate you in the middle somewhere…

  170. @197 – Atheism is the natural state of man the way nobody is born speaking a language, but only learns one thereafter. Religion may not be inborn, it may exist only in culturally dependent forms, but its sheer universality among all humanity (up till now, with people who believe themselves to be “atheists”, which I do not believe can exist at all, even if you try) means that, like language, it taps into deep-seated structures in the brain that don’t go away just because you reject certain culturally dependent forms.

    Grappling with religion means coping with its universal scope, not just discrediting certain claims made by certain faiths in certain cultures.

  171. @Takuan it’s not just ‘a business’ it’s ‘a very profitable business’. In the states it’s the easiest way to get a ton of money, have no accountability, and pay no taxes.

  172. @ Key 22

    “The Church is something that will be with you a lifetime, from baptism, through school, to death. Now that may not be a good thing, but it is a thing. For those of us who value continuity, who see the value of a large family, it is beneficial.”

    So, you are saying that it can be replaced by Facebook in the future? Is that what you are saying, because aside from mythology and actual proximity to humans, they seem similar…

  173. So, atheists are supposed to go to church and just “not say” the God bits because church is the only place where you can have fellowship and be a good person? Really?

    Yeah, I’d rather commit the sin of being an elitist if given the choice. Or perhaps just continue being quiet, trying to be a good person, and not subjecting myself to something I don’t believe in just because you seem to think it’s the only way to be involved in worthwhile activities.

  174. As an atheist I would once have been an ‘unbeliever’ to those of the Christian faith when their church was powerful enough to hold most in its sway. In the 21st century I am now simply an atheist to those churchgoing folk. I like it that way.

    I would not wish to contribute to their numbers or their coffers if it leads to the situation where they could feel comfortable enough in their strength to start calling me an unbeliever again.

    That’s why I’m not there paying lip (or not moving my lips for the bits I don’t like) service in God’s house.

  175. Paul, without getting too evangelistic … can I recommend you start reading some Buddhism. It’s atheistic, thrives on good works, etc etc

    It would also teach you not to worry about others’ beliefs … especially if they go on about them …

    (any of you who still think of Buddha is a god need to have a read also … he’s a teacher, not to be worshipped)

  176. @Davigoli Also, I was responding to #170, who was concerned that somebody else thought he was going to burn in hell.

    And FTR that person then went on to clarify in no uncertain terms that they did not think anyone was going to burn in hell.

    1. Who’s trying to emulate Stalin and Mao?

      You brought up “sodomy laws, abstinence only education, pro-life laws, teaching creationism and intelligent design” as evidence of the negative impact of religion in government. Stalin and Mao had millions killed for the simple fact that they clung to their religious beliefs. Why is it okay to criticize religious influence on the state but not to criticize atheist influence on the state?

  177. “with people who believe themselves to be “atheists”, which I do not believe can exist at all, even if you try”

    Wait wait wait, are you seriously suggesting that those of us who call ourselves atheists are really people who believe in God but are trying not too? Or that we secretly believe in God but won’t admit it to ourselves?

    Wow.

  178. My 10 th Moosehead and 2nd deep inhale from pipe leads me to Quarks. Please do not worry about,” Big Physics going to Annihilate us” It already did. The day of the second son on earth happened. It had to. Christ’s spirit was folded, spindled , and mutilated to mask the power of Death in the church. Took a neuc to begin a wake up call. We better grow up a little. The church of the earth is the entire universe, and then some. Some really good young strong blood pumping brains left the U.S.A for elsewhere under Bush Doom. They in culture shock. Pretty little seals getting clubbed? Natural Canada gone for oil? Shoot people? Think i will look elsewhere. We be doing the same crap to Bushes War. Please give the people who have served the opportunity to re-adjust and be comfortable with their space. How bout that for mind blobs. Or herniated mems. Or making sure you don’t forget the notion that the energy to free a Quark,one Quark. will annihilate our Planet, so why mess with it? I know, because we dumb enough to believe we are not hurting our friends by blowing stuff up and looking at what condenses. Think infinite possibilities to solve our problems. Easiest the best.

  179. The ‘noisy atheists’ do so, because that is who they are. A friend of mine will tolerate belief in faeries, ufo abductions, kharma, ghosts and psychic powers about as much as any religion so don’t take it personally. He doesn’t do it because he wants to be a lonely elitist, he does it because he knows it is right and has the ability to tell you why.

    I personally have absolutely no idea how people can go to Church and pray. It’s an utterly foreign concept to me. Do people take it seriously? How can they when it’s so clearly a bunch of metaphors and dated societal rules. I’m not saying this because I want to attack your institutions of faith. I’m not a confrontational person, I just really have no idea how people can just bite their tongues and go along quietly with the show. It would be like *actually* believing that Santa Claus comes down chimneys on Dec 25th, or that robots from the planet Cybertron are hiding on our planet disguised as vehicles.

    I am a reasonable person, and I realize that the majority of religious folks are not evolution-denying, anti-heliocentric, homophobic, abortion clinic bombers. I know there are benefits to society and benefits from being in a social group. But here’s what it seems to me that religious people don’t understand about me:

    1) I think that religion tries to “own” morality. We are perfectly capable of being good moral people without the threats and promises of religion.

    2) There is no magic hole in the sky for me to escape through when I die. I have one life and that’s all she wrote. I’d rather own up to the harsh reality than sugar coat things.

    3) I am an optimist for the future. I think I will see a great increases in human lifespan and a continuing improvement in quality of life for all of humanity. This is the hope that tempers the terror of #2.

    4) I find that the religious agenda in this country has been harmful to the progress of medicine, science, human and reproductive rights. You cannot push on anything without being pushed back as well.

    As far as I see it, there is no need for a big-tent or a small-tent or any tent at all.

  180. For what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul?

    Sell not out to the religion of others, but craft thine own unto thyself and in so doing keep the true faith that is eternal and everlasting. Though the priest and Heirophant doth offer grave temptation of temporal power and riches, know ye that thou art sufficient unto thyself and unto others and need know no shame therein. Self without end and end without self, thus it always has been and always shall be.

  181. Should we start now? Holding our tongue to spare the fragile ears of the faithful? Okay, sure. Enjoy your moment in the Boing Boing sun, I won’t rain on your parade.

    Secret thoughts:

    I believe in God, but Atheism makes much more sense than any thing he’s written here.

    Before he starts trying to tell people how to market their own belief system*, maybe you should just do the same.

    And even more of his own advice: be part of the community, the collective without suffering the guilt of “individual cowardice.” This is a directory of wonderful things, why the condescension? Talk about raising flags.

    #139 Siamang has said it all.

    *whatever that means.

  182. @217 – Not in those terms, no. You think of “God” and it’s probably a Christian god, and there’s no reason for that particular form to trump others. It’s simply one form that “The Divine” takes in some people in some cultures.

    I do, however, think many atheists give themselves too much credit for having liberated themselves from the shackles of religious thinking. I don’t think it’s as easy as saying “I don’t believe in God”. That’s because, you see, God doesn’t really exist, except as a fabrication of the human mind – and that’s precisely why it’s so hard to get rid of it.

    Simply rejecting certain factual claims of certain religions doesn’t liberate you from your own subconscious.

    (PS. If you’re happy keeping to yourself, more power to you. If, however, you think you’ve achieved a higher state of being on account of having rejected Christianity, well… you’ve got it a hell of a lot easier than I have. That’s all.)

  183. Can we have some more ads to cover the processing cost of a threaded commenting system please? It would reduce a lot of the sad-making confusion and frustration. Not saying we need to go full-on /., but at least a little bit of threading like they use on Gawker blogs or Weblogs Inc. would go a long way towards promoting civility and readability. Either that or ditch articles which prompt debate as opposed to comment. A third of a gopher only wakes my hunger without bedding her back down.

  184. Spinrad, with all due respect, you’re fired. Clean out your desk, turn in your badge to the security guard and go home.

    Motivation’s a red herring; what’s important is behavior. Trust me, people with the worst possible motivations can be good at ingratiating themselves (imho, that’s where we get Joel Osteen…), and nobly motivated people have this weird habit of getting themselves crucified. Oh, the irony.

    David#3 has you dead to rights: enough with the arbitrary distinctions between elitism and earnestness; any given atheist can be both or be neither, and you lose fifteen yards for the stinky ad hominem. Where the hell do you get off dividing atheists into thinking that the rest of humanity is either capable of coming around to their views or is doomed? And trying to warrant this line of argument with a bunch of characterization? *cough*Carlos Mencia*cough*

  185. Wait, wait, woah… what the hell is Paul Spinrad talking about in that ‘clarifying’ post there in the middle of the thread?

    Why is he suggesting a thrilling scenario wherein groups of Christians suddenly realise that they’re really deep-down atheists, and decide to start a secret Fifth Column of dissenters inside churches?

    How would this ever happen in the world of consensus-based reality? Did this happen to someone he knew? Does Paul Spinrad believe that this is where baby atheists come from? Is he capable of imagining countries other than the USA, basically-secular places like Australia or France, where children grow up with zero exposure to churches or church-run schools?

    Or does he believe that you actually have to stray from the flock (an act of ‘individual cowardice’, in his words), go through a dramatic transfiguration like some sort of Evil Reverse Saul, and then emerge as a twisted, cowardly atheist?

    I wonder if he thinks being an atheist is a terrible moral burden, a constantly exciting challenge?

    I’ve gone from being mildly offended to morbidly curious.

  186. @TAKUAN (221):
    Do what you want to. Do what you will. Just don’t mess up your neighbor’s thrill. And when you pay the bill, kindly leave a little tip and help the next poor sucker on his one way trip. -FZ

  187. I take it back about selective silence during worship services– that’s not a very nice idea, I can’t condone it. Thanks to those who objected for changing my mind!

    (I posted a note like this earlier– apologies for duplication if it shows up.)

  188. 182 POSTED BY DAVIDOULD ,
    “Out of interest, why does it bother you so much that someone else would worry that you are going to “burn in hell”?”

    Mostly because it’s societally destructive to think of human beings as the dead man walking. It tears families apart… I’ve seen it. I’ve seen gay teenagers kicked out of their homes and separated from their families “for their own good” to save them from Hell.

    The rationale being: Hell is the worst possible torture. So anything I do to you to save you from that, short of infinite torture, is a BLESSING!

    It grants a license for very bad behavior. It adds an irrational emotional intensifier to religion. It’s a poisonous meme that makes strangers think they’re doing you a favor by attempting to convert your children while they’re still children.

    My daughter, when she’s old enough, can decide for herself what her religious path will be.

    Robulous… sounds like we are cool. I hereby owe you a beer.

    Also, I agree with the folks saying “gee, I must have missed all those atheists shouting at me from streetcorners.” Dang them all… putting up all those signs everywhere… there’s practically an atheist club every half-block, and every politician is always out to out-atheist the next guy. I wish they’d all stop!

    Takun there is the multi-billion dollar religion industry in America. That’s where the big money is in the USA. They rake it in by the billions, and hand out a few mill here and there to the poor. That way, they’re seen as the benevolent and charitable. Quite a gig.

    Now they get government money too! Awesome!

    Antonius wrote:

    “Can you tell from reading my comments whether I’m atheist, agnostic, a member of any known religion?”

    No… nor did my post to you assume any of the above.

    DAVIGOLI,

    I’m down with that. I don’t ridicule people for having spiritual beliefs or spiritual searching/discovery. Life too short and people are too many for there to be any use in that.

    Here’s how I see it:

    If you talk about me or my beliefs, I’ll respond and clarify.
    If you ask me about my beliefs, I’ll answer.
    If you do something that uses government power to limit free expression of religious beliefs, or establishes religion by government power, then I’ll speak up.

    (Notice I don’t have a part where I start the conversation by talking about you, your beliefs, what’s wrong with them, what I should ridicule, etc….)

  189. @PSpinrad – Thank you for posting these thought-provoking articles. I may not agree with everything you say, but you also clearly read your comments carefully and adapt your opinions to new information, which is commendable. And your posts have certainly provoked plenty of debate around here! I say keep in up.

  190. @DAVIGOLI Ok, to the heart of it then — when I say I’m an atheist, I reject the idea of “The Divine” in any form it takes.

    As for your “God doesn’t really exist, except as a fabrication of the human mind – and that’s precisely why it’s so hard to get rid of it” statement, that seems to suggest that an atheist is someone who had a prior belief in God, and is now rejecting that. I have never believed in God or the Divine or whatever you’d like to call it. I am not someone who used to be religious, and now is not, I’ve simply never been a part of a religion, nor understood the desire too quite frankly.

    In the end though, you are trying (it sounds like) to semantically reduce atheism to nothing. That’s fine, and you can call it what you want, but semantics don’t change anything. It’s just as easy for me to say “There is no such thing as a Theist, because anyone who claims to believe in God cannot define what God is in any non-contradictory fashion; and the fact that even if they do, they are only relating a concept of God, since they have nothing beyond belief to base their view that their God is right moreso than anyone elses, proves that there is in fact no such thing as ACTUAL God”.

    If you are going to say that atheists don’t exist for semantic reasons, I’d say the same thing about theists.. there is no universal definition for what God is, so saying that you believe in God is absurd.

    But in the end, these kinds of semantic arguments are rather pointless, eh? For the sake of having an actual conversation, it’s easier for me to just say “right, this chap believes in some sort of power that is unexplainable by science and is greater than the rest of us”, and it’s easier for them to say “right, that chap DOESN’T”. We don’t need to get into specifics on what you ARE believing in, and what I’m NOT believing in… that’s a much more philosophical argument.

    As an aside, I used to write a blog called “Doubting the Fish” which had some minor notoriety in the Atheist blogosphere… I had a challenge that I put up that said “Define God in a logically consistent, non-contradictory way” and not one person could do it. My point with that post was to emphasize that the concept of God is, and never will be, a rational one. So an atheist, by that measure, is simply someone saying that they don’t believe in irrationalities.

  191. Just because an atheist is outspoken it doesn’t mean they want to be different or cool like this article seems to suggest. And trying to ‘convert’ someone to atheism isn’t the only reason to speak out about it. Frankly, a lot of us were pretty pissed when we realized we had been wasting a lot of our lives believing in what we now know were just fairy tales. Especially if we grew up in a particularly bad one, I was raised mormon for example. I’ve long since gotten over being angry, but at the time it was theraputic to be angry and outspoken against something I had been submissive to my entire life.

  192. Spinrad – So the synthesis of your original post and your post at 229 is. . . atheism has no place? Not to deride you for correcting your error, nor your humility for being willing to do so, but what conclusion are you left with?

  193. @223 – I’m not sure if I’m following what you are saying exactly, but just to be clear: I am an atheist and I really really do not believe in a god. Not even subconsciously (as far as I am aware). Atheists really do exist, take my word for it.

  194. @ Antinous, # 51
    In the US, at least, cops aren’t raiding atheist bars on Saturday night and throwing the patrons in jail. Are atheists oppressed? Or just irritated? If I were in Sa’udi Arabia, I would say oppressed. If I were in a European country where everybody has to pay a tax that supports the state religion(s), I would say oppressed. But in the US? I think that it’s just annoyance.

    I wouldn’t know where in Europe that’d be. In Sweden, since after I left the church, I keep my taxes. Since I lived in Stockholm I also didn’t have to pay any funeral taxes either – so leaving church meant a straight off tax cut for me.

    In Germany, I just declare my religion as –, with the result that I don’t pay any church taxes.

    I haven’t taxed anywhere else in Europe, but off-hand I couldn’t imagine anywhere that’d tax non-religious. It’s a part of the same system that avoids funneling jewish citizen’s taxes into the corresponding christian congregation.

    Then again, in Germany there’s the whole (and big) deal about WHICH kind of christian you are, and in Sweden, we’re just So Damn Secularized anyway, so I might be wrong.

  195. @234 – I think we’re on common ground here, actually. I don’t for a minute think theists are any more rational than atheists. No two people who “believe in God” actually believe in the exact same thing, because, since God can’t be tested or experimented upon in the real world, the concept only exists within people’s minds. It’s a mental concept, really. All of reality is a mental conception, ultimately, but at least with science, which is still subject to revision, we can build consensus based on repeatable, verifiable tests and falsifiable hypotheses.

    But drawing a distinction between “believers” and “nonbelievers” is, I believe, an illusory dualism. If anything, believers simply have an area of their reality they don’t understand and call it “God”; nonbelievers have that same area and acknowledge it as a mystery. The mystery persists. What disappears is a veneer of certainty about it, which, frankly, many faiths don’t traffic in in the first place.

    We’re all human beings hardwired with the same equipment; the equipment that induces people to believe doesn’t go away when you decide that your worldview is unbeholden to traditional faiths. Reason and rationality equip us with extremely effective tools, but we still have problems in life that don’t have easy answers. Again, not proposing that you start praying. Just that there’s a reason why people pray and that arises from mental states that we still have no matter what we decide to believe.

    I’ve known several people who, like yourself, had an atheistic upbringing and never saw much use for religion. That’s fine. I’m not trying to persuade you that you should start believing in God or “get religion”. You probably already have it in ways that you take for granted and don’t readily identify as religious. In the end, that’s the healthiest way to be.

    You might take an interest in Chet Raymo, a retired physicist who blogs on science and religion, but in an endearing personal tone. His writings are like old friends to me, like Thoreau or Whitman, updated for our time.

  196. The fact that Spinrad withdraws his main idea, in a two sentence comment, kind of shows that he never really put much thought in to the post to begin with. I do appreciate his honesty and humility, but this post really was a mistake. Better luck with your next one! :D

  197. Okay, maybe I was kind of being a dick.

    “Big tent” atheism is sort of a nice idea. I still have this urge to throw up a huge caveat about the framing of what atheism is, but whatever. I’m all for folks under this tent. The more the merrier.

    Group hug all around.

  198. @#201 OLLYWOMPUS: It should be, yes, but I typed Root Toot and thought of Boot Scoot, so the ‘n Boogie just… happened.

    @#207 DAVIGOLI: your language comparison is applicable only if people derive conviction from language (they don’t). The rest of your post is equally unsound, but what the hell:

    “Religion’s… sheer universality among all humanity means that it taps into deep-seated structures in the brain that don’t go away just because you reject certain culturally dependent forms.”

    The ubiquity of religion means humans are hardwired to create religions? Is that what you’re saying? I think you’re missing the point — religion is fiction (made up stuff). Man has always been making stuff up and passing it on. You could just as easily say, “Because sci-fi is popular, human beings obviously have a physiological tendency towards the creation of sci-fi.”

    Grappling with religion means coping with its universal scope, not just discrediting certain claims made by certain faiths in certain cultures.

    What? I don’t understand this sentence.

    @thread: The basic problem I have with this hooey is the implied idea that religious convictions are rationally valid reasons for choices — they are not. Faith is not a rationally valid basis for anything.

    Also, I balk at the implication that religion needs some sort of “atheist religion” to replace it; it doesn’t. Perhaps the author equates atheism and humanism? I was quite passionately religious at one point on pain of chastisement and shunning but now I am irreligious. I didn’t replace my religion with something else, I just lost it. It’s as if I cut off a tumor.

  199. Davigoli wrote:

    “I do, however, think many atheists give themselves too much credit for having liberated themselves from the shackles of religious thinking. I don’t think it’s as easy as saying “I don’t believe in God”. That’s because, you see, God doesn’t really exist, except as a fabrication of the human mind – and that’s precisely why it’s so hard to get rid of it.”

    I don’t know. Darth Vader is just a fabrication of the human mind. However the last 3 movies has liberated me from the shackles of Star Wars fandom.

    But more seriously, why should human constructs be “shackling”? Yes, I grew up with the framework of a God-belief. And that shaped some of my development. And as such I probably have some spandrels in my brain where the God-belief used to support things.

    Still, having a child has forced me to a zen-like existence at times… I focus on the work of life: Chop wood, carry water. You know?

    Atheism is relaxing to me. I no longer have to struggle to reconcile perceived reality with my notions of a just lawgiver, or a merciful protector. At the same time, it means it’s up to us to fix what’s wrong. It’s the ultimate “serenity prayer.” But the serenity, the courage and the wisdom is up to us.

  200. Let me give a further example. In religion-as-metaphor, the opening of Genesis “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
    And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.”

    So many of us are used to reading that as though it contends as a literal account of the creation of the physical universe. No! If you read it like that, whether you believe it or not, you are missing the point; you are missing the God in it. The Bible, like all religious texts, is an allegory for human development.

    God exists in the opening scene with formless primordial waters. Suddenly, he speaks: light! This is the flash of consciousness we all experience as children when first become aware of our own awareness. Suddenly, we exist! We have consciousness! Until that point, there is just murky waters of experience and sensation, with no definite thought or form.

    Contrast the creation in Hinduism: In the beginning, there are the same primordial waters, dark and infinite. Lord Vishnu sleeps upon the thousand-headed serpent Ananta. As he dreams, a lotus flower grows from his navel, out of which emerges the Creator-God Brahma, who plays the role of Yahweh and gives form to the void.

    In Hinduism, the consciousness itself is explicitly an illusion, a dream, where in Christianity, it exists eternally alongside the waters, until it decides of its own volition to act.

    The point? There is more going on here than you might think at first.

  201. This is the first time a BoingBoing post made me feel not at home. Promoting anti-elitism, intellectual dishonesty and “y’all come to church” disguised as atheist trojan marketing? I’m sorry, but the “wonderful things” slogan just took an ominous turn towards “miraculos things”.

    As several people previously observed, Paul Spinrad just doesn’t get it: atheists aren’t people of a different faith; the defining characteristic is precisely the lack of belief. It’s a common misperception among religious people. Shifting paradigms is nigh impossible when the thinking apparatus is rusty and clogged.

    As for the idea that the atheists’ single hope for experiencing the warm feeling of belonging to a community is attending church and suppressing their thought and voice … this made me mad before I thought what a limited, sad life experience must lead to such a view.

  202. @245 – I meant just that: even if you can disprove the literal claims made in the Bible (Garden of Eden, Noah’s flood, Jesus’ resurrection, and so on), you have not suddenly rendered all religion obsolete or useless. It’s like whack-a-mole: dispatch one and another comes up somewhere else.

    It’s dangerous to make generalizations about religion, which is a complex topic, but I’ll go ahead and respond. No, religion is not completely like language. In some ways, it functions in a similar way to language: that is, every culture has one, and they are not innate. Not every culture has sci-fi, but every culture, as long as we have any archeological evidence, has had some religion of some kind.

    Now, I would go further and say that sci-fi is a religious practice. Oh yes. Now, nobody but the most hardcore geek actually believes any of that is true, but if you get really into a sci-fi story, there’s a minute where you suspend your disbelief and can almost imagine that the story is real. That’s what believing in God is like. That’s all. I would contend that most religious people live in that space, and “believe” but don’t really believe. If we could get to the point where we see religion as a form of sci-fi fandom, I think we’d all be in a better place.

    In fact, sci-fi (and fiction generally; think superheroes especially) gives us a mythic space to explore complex human issues. We fabricate it, even if we don’t believe it – because it is an expression of our humanity.

    Maybe now that we have fiction and movies and sci-fi we don’t need the Bible anymore.

    But I take an interest in the thousand-year traditions of monks and hermits meditating on these metaphysical ideas. I’m not so sure we should burn all those books just yet.

  203. @241 We are I think on common ground, you are right, when it comes to the first half of your response. Though a bit esoteric of concept, you are right in saying that since God can never be rationally defined, to say you are an ‘atheist’ or a ‘theist’ in that sense is an exercise in futility. I imagine it as the following conversation between two people:

    “Do you believe in 1q2poulkqahleskbhlkjbewrkljh??”

    “No, that would be absurd! Why would anyone believe in 1q2poulkqahleskbhlkjbewrkljh??”

    Semantically, the point you and I both seem to be making is sound for that reason. Without clear definition, it’s stupid to say you do or don’t believe in something.

    HOWEVER (you knew that was coming)

    The second half of your reply seems to then miss the point that you’ve made in your first half. You point out that there are mysteries and uncertainties in the universe that we must all deal with as human beings. This is correct. I don’t know what will happen when I die because it is untestable with current technology (and in all probability will always be untestable, no matter how sophisticated tech gets). You then point out that some folks deal with that in a cognizant way, by choosing to put their faith in religion/deity/etc. Ok, I’m with you so far. But then you seem to suggest that atheists themselves do something ‘religious’, even subconsciously, to deal with the same unknowns. Wrong, wrong, wrong, I’m sorry.

    First off, you need to define what you mean by that. Religion is systematic in some way shape or form; the same actions or observations being made in the absence of religion, we generally call spirituality (in other words worshiping in a group to a set of rules is religion, worshiping by yourself, with no set structure is spirituality — that’s a very rough way of saying it, but you get the idea).

    Secondly, you make an assumption that these ‘bigger questions’ HAVE to be dealt with in some way. I disagree. Do they need to be acknowledged? Yes, I think the human psyche and millions of years of evolutionary history demand that. But dealt with? I can speak from experience they don’t. I accept that I’m not going anywhere after I die, I accept that what I call my ‘mind’ is a system of electrical synapses no matter how much I try to memorize Shakespeare to fancy it up, I accept that life has no inherent meaning, only the meaning that I get out of it. I accept that in the end there is nothing special about humanity vs any other species on the planet or in the universe, nothing divine that separates us from anything else.

    My point is, it doesn’t take religious mumbo jumbo to make peace with the world, to make peace with death and to learn to live and enjoy, while knowing that you are not special, you don’t have a soul, etc. etc.

    It just takes accepting what you are. You can call that religion if you’d like, but that seems rather disingenuous. At any rate, I’m tired and babbling now, going to go give in to my biological need for sleep now — or go visit a magical land, depending on which way your persuasions lie ;).

  204. [SPINRAD] In politics, I think there are two competing motivations for voters to
    support a cause publicly. One is to influence the majority to agree, to
    make changes that you believe in, and the other is to distinguish your
    opinions as superior to most other peoples’. These two motivations
    generally cause people to act in similar ways, but I’ve found some
    “tells” that reveal the underlying elitist motivation:

    [SPINRAD] * Leaving up losing campaign stickers and signs long after the
    election is over. (I passed a Ron Paul window sign today…)

    [BRUJO FEO] Speaking as someone who still had his Ron Paul lawn sign up last week, and has no intention of giving up perfectly good T-shirts and baseball caps…

    [BRUJO FEO] Spinrad is spewing. And internally inconsistent, which is worse.

    [SPINRAD] * Dressing and behaving at political demonstrations in a
    non-respectful way (partying, trying to “shock people out of their
    complacency,” etc.).

    [BRUJO FEO] Does anyone else here see a necessary linkage between bozoism and an “underlying elitist motivation”?

    [SPINRAD] * Saying that it requires superior knowledge or compassion to arrive
    at the views you hold.

    [BRUJO FEO] I don’t know anyone who argues this. To the contrary, I think that my elitist views should be self-evident to even the unlettered. ;-)

    [SPINRAD] * Saying that it makes you “uncomfortable” or “scared” that a group
    you don’t identify with actually agrees with your view.

    [BRUJO FEO] Huh? Any member of a political minority finds him- or herself in strange bedfellows mode on a fairly regular basis. Greens-Libertarians is a common example, but there are many others. For example, the Ron Paul campaign was regularly pilloried for its support by white supremacists, Christian Identity types, 9/11 conspiracy wack-jobs, etc. Note that I say support by, not affinity for.

    [BRUJO FEO] And how could it be otherwise? A common thread among these groups is that our government has strayed far afield from the Constitution…one of those self-evident views that it does not require “superior knowledge or compassion to arrive at.” Now, these people might not actually recognize the Constitution if it bit them on the ass, but that’s not the point–the point is that Paul alone among the candidates showed any evidence at all of having ever read it. Therefore the support of the fringe shouldn’t have surprised anyone.

    [BRUJO FEO] So why would any supporter be “uncomfortable” or “scared” about such inevitable associations? If you run into a someone who wants to argue about such silliness, you make one attempt to explain the logical flaw of guilt by association, and if they’re too hard-headed to get it, move on.

    [SPINRAD] Under a democracy, the elitist motivation is self-defeating: If your
    true aim is to distinguish yourself from the masses, you really don’t
    want your side to win– your aim is better served when more people vote
    the other way, and then you can be disgusted with most peoples’
    stupidity and wash your hands of responsibility.

    [BRUJO FEO] More straw-man nonsense. I don’t know anyone like this…do you? Most of the people that I know who gave a fair amount of money to the Ron Paul campaign knew that it was a long shot, to say the least…but they weren’t pissing away coin to “distinguish [themselves] from the masses”; they were trying for the next best thing to getting their man elected–getting his ideas publicized and discussed in public.

    [BRUJO FEO] Spew, Spinrad–spew.

  205. It takes a lot of courage to publicly recant on an idea. And this thread has been thought-provoking for many people, no matter how it started. And Spinrad said upfront that he understands these kinds of conversations have been had before, but that he hasn’t been in the room, and he wants to learn more about them.

    Therefore, I grant Mr. Spinrad one (1) gold star and declare that he is a much better “controversial guest blogger” than certain others we have had recently, ahem.

  206. Davigoli,

    What you’re saying reminds me of what Philip Pullman wrote about religion in His Dark Materials.

    He said that God was like an imaginary number. Not real, but with it you could perform lots of useful mental experiments.

    I will point out that the people who run this world, and those trying to blow those same people up are not using God to perform thought-experiments. Nor are the people blocking stem-cell research because they think cells in a Petri-dish have a soul.

    In other words, you are perhaps talking about a form of religion only practiced by a handful of Jesuits, some monks on a mountain and a few stoned hippies. Meanwhile the masses suffer spiritual and physical starvation while awaiting the banquet in the next life.

  207. @#201 OLLYWOMPUS: It should be, yes, but I typed Root Toot and thought of Boot Scoot, so the ‘n Boogie just… happened.

    @#207 DAVIGOLI: your language comparison is applicable only if people derive conviction from language (they don’t). The rest of your post is equally unsound, but what the hell:

    “Religion’s… sheer universality among all humanity means that it taps into deep-seated structures in the brain that don’t go away just because you reject certain culturally dependent forms.”

    The ubiquity of religion means humans are hardwired to create religions? Is that what you’re saying? I think you’re missing the point — religion is fiction (made up stuff). Man has always been making stuff up and passing it on. You could just as easily say, “Because sci-fi is popular, human beings obviously have a physiological tendency towards the creation of sci-fi.”

    Grappling with religion means coping with its universal scope, not just discrediting certain claims made by certain faiths in certain cultures.

    What? I don’t understand this sentence.

    @thread: The basic problem I have with this hooey is the implied idea that religious convictions are rationally valid reasons for choices — they are not. Faith is not a rationally valid basis for anything.

    Also, I balk at the implication that religion needs some sort of “atheist religion” to replace it; it doesn’t. Perhaps the author equates atheism and humanism? I was quite passionately religious at one point on pain of chastisement and shunning but now I am irreligious. I didn’t replace my religion with something else, I just lost it. It’s as if I cut off a tumor.

  208. Did Pspinrad have a coherent idea here? I get the impression he started his writing process with a general urge to “Write something deep about atheism and religion” and his writerly skill made it happen, but in my opinion it is “not even wrong” vapor dressed up as sage advice.

    “Any successful new belief system must appreciate the beauty of what it’s replacing and strive for backwards-compatibility.”

    I don’t think he really has thought about and endorsed this sentence and what it means, but rather posted it because it was time to write a bridging sentence and this happened to be what his fingers typed. It’s completely unconvincing, and patently not true.

    The best thing I can say about the essay is that it provoked a very good discussion. So I do appreciate it, strange as it is.

  209. @251 – If it helps, here’s my Concise Theory of Religion:

    Religion (re-ligare, to bind together, rejoin; cf. “fascism”) addresses personal existential needs through a social apparatus that can potentially be hijacked to political ends. Religions are born as cults with a small following incited by visionary experiences had by an individual or small group of individuals; these visions and symbols of the subconscious get translated and codified and held as sacred as the cult becomes and institution. Then later on, somebody comes along and writes a book about the one time that guy had a vision, then two thousand years later a bunch of idiots in a country far away think that book is a literal description of the world.

    I’m interested not in religion-as-institution, but religion-as-vision, religion-as-metaphor. The metaphors resonate and hold people to it because of their resonance with the subconscious (this is why Christianity is an institution and not, say, the Flying Spaghetti Monster).

    Religion pours forth from the human mind like music and poetry. You don’t have to look for it – if you have it, it’s there.

    What was that old saw about “all disagreement is due to misunderstanding?” If only we had the right words, the very exact words to use, we could communicate better. But (as PSpinrad wrote earlier), verbage is a lossy codec. Without words defined with scientific precision, I can’t be sure that the message gets through. But I can use parables and metaphors.

    Anyways, I’m also tired and sleepy. So I’ll give up for now before I get further behind. Perhaps I’ll come back with more lucidity later.

  210. “I don’t think he really has thought about and endorsed this sentence and what it means, but rather posted it because it was time to write a bridging sentence and this happened to be what his fingers typed. ”

    WINNER.

  211. “It is “not even wrong” vapor dressed up as sage advice.”

    This is definitely the most apt description of Spinrad’s essay I’ve seen so far tonight. Thank you Sceadugenga. Goodnight, and may this very strange post rest in peace.

  212. I was just waiting for spinrad to show his true colors. The clue was when his religious affiliation was removed from the contributor descriptions after his first few posts. So disappointing, BoingBoing.

    Really, couldn’t you find an original theist thinker, rather than someone hauling out all these old atheist stereotypes that were already tired in the 1890’s?

    You could just run a word substitution and insert “Jew” instead of “atheist”, and “Christian” instead of “religious” – or “homosexual” paired with “straight” – and the real underlying sentiment of this generous post would be clear as day.

    Of course, no one would tolerate such overt bigotry in this day and age – unless it is towards atheists, us hateful folks who just won’t stay quietly in the closet.

    Stay in the closet. Participate in OUR activities and occasions, and just mouth “watermelon” when we pray to the real God. Oh, and stop your “hating”, atheists. Because to be an atheist and to say so IS just rude, it’s an act of hate. Be good little Negroes, and don’t rock the boat.

    All that was missing was the closing, “because, as we all know, there are no atheists in foxholes”.

    “Big tent atheism” indeed – as long as you don’t have to suffer us poking our hated heads into your American tent – unless, of course, we bow it in pretend prayer.

    Feh. Hate is as hate does.

  213. @DAVIGOLI: your argument is entirely semantic and based on the assumption that the word religion strictly refers to institutions (like, say, Catholicism). Here is Random House’s definition of religion:

    a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs

    The cause of the universe is the big bang, the nature of the universe is whatever can be rationally discerned and it has no overt purpose. Devotional and ritual observances are wastes of time and a humanistic moral code is best.

    You can certainly classify humanism as a religion depending on how you interpet the word, but it’s not an institution.

    Your post #257 is damned nutty. You assume that all cults are based on “visionary experiences” and furthermore that the translation of said experiences to communicative media are honest or exact. Who are you to say that some cults weren’t formed because certain folk just straight made crap up? Who are you to say that even if some guy had trippy visions that he elucidated it in a way that was worthwhile to his peers (maybe he modified his “vision” for the purposes of manipulating, controlling or otherwise taking advantage of his peers)?

    And this bit? This takes the motha-effin cake:

    Religion pours forth from the human mind like music and poetry. You don’t have to look for it – if you have it, it’s there.

    I enjoy discussing spirituality but you seem more a font of incoherent metaphysical ranting than a logically grounded, experienced individual. By the by, my experience with psilocin was the most significant event in my life (spiritually or otherwise).

  214. Spinrad’s post is bullshit on so many levels that I don’t know where to begin.

    Your “elitist motivations” list is embarrasingly superficial. Wouldn’t most proponents of the UN human rights charter fit your description perfectly? Uncompromising, fundamentalist, all the time making a fuzz and messing up others life with their human rights talk!

    The moral of this example is that the human rights proponent have GOOD MORAL REASONS on their side and that makes the whole difference. That is why it is perfectly fine and proper to push for human rights. To take a hard line stance against the human rights denying racist, misogynist and others…

    Now here’s a claim: there are almost as strong philosophical reasons for atheism. If you want to counter that then you need to do some actual intellectual work and engage with the arguments. So far you haven’t.

    You also seem to place unfair demands on how atheists should and should not act. You seem to think that any atheist must primarily act with the aim of promoting long term widespread adoption of atheism. Now, in your face atheism might not be the best strategy to get to that goal. But you need to give reasons for why individual atheists necessarily need to adopt that goal. They might simply want to in their short lives have the equal opportunity to voice their views about the world and about morality. They might also want to counter the years of endless theist based oppression that have permeated all parts of US culture in any way that they feel is worthwile, interesting or just plain amusing to them as individual (not optimific towards the grand goal of world atheist conversion). In short an individual atheist might have good reason to think: if I can’t get justice (in my lifetime), I might just settle for revenge. And then aim to frack shit up for any believers by being in your face. Again, given that the US has been and is a culture so utterly hostile and oppressive towards atheists, what reasons do you have to object to an individual choosing that?

  215. @#250 DAVIGOLI: I copied my post 245 in response to your post 250 (my post 255 is a copy of 245). Ugh, I’m tired! Here’s my response to your post #250:

    You seem to suggest that man cannot be irreligious: see my post #261 for a rebuttal of this suggestion. Proving or disproving religious claims has jack all to do with my posts in this thread; if persons are irreligious they need not prove or disprove religious (read: faith-based) claims. There are only two whack-a-mole scenarios imaginable: one where atheism is dominant and religion keeps popping up, only to be continually swatted down using the “YOUR ARGUMENTS ARE WHOLLY ILLOGICAL” card, and one where various religious folk engage in whack-a-mole behavior with and amongst each other.

    I agree that sci-fi is less ubiquitous than religion, but you’re diverting; the issue in question was your suggestion that the ubiquity of religion indicates that mankind has a physiological predispostion towards creating and practicing it. This suggestion is a bit removed.

    Mankind is naturally creative; we create science fiction, romantic fiction, fantasy, comics, films, etc. The fiction we create (whether interwoven with fact or not) is the basis for religion. You train of thought seems to be like so:

    man -> religious -> creation

    but logic allows us to see that the reality of the situation is thus:

    man -> creative -> religions

    @any mods: if you feel it necessary, my duplicate post #255 can be replaced with this post!

  216. That post is obviously well-meaning but is poorly though-out and insulting.

    Any successful new belief system must appreciate the beauty of what it’s replacing and strive for backwards-compatibility.

    I’ve no problem with beauty, what I fight against is the unending ugliness that religion spreads. You want to have hope, beauty, wonder? All these things exist and always have existed without religion, it is not necessary. Bombing abortion clinics, advising against condom use in AIDS-stricken regions with population problems, stoning people to death for their lifestyle choices? Yeah, that takes a good dose of religion.

    Do you think that most of humanity is A) hopeless and doomed to kill each other because of their stupid religious beliefs, or B) capable of coming to and benefiting from your views?

    Wow, nice false dichotomy you got there. Seriously, that’s pathetic.

    They know that prayer feels good without a needing brain scientist to tell them

    No, speaking to no-one feels stupid.

    I’m sure this article has been taken apart at length across the net so I’m not going to waste any more time. Shame to see something so intellectually vacuous appearing here though.

  217. I reread the original post, and Spinrad’s sporadic comments, to see if I took it the wrong way.

    No. It is hateful, sad bigotry through and through, clothed in condescending “tolerance”.

    Here is what it is *really* like to be an “out of the closet” atheist in parts of America, and to be an “out of the closet” daughter of an open atheist:

    http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=show_mesg&forum=173&topic_id=1263&mesg_id=1510

    The author of that forum message, Chester Francis Smalkowski Jr., was represented – in the bogus felony charge that his town stuck on him when he refused to be rid out on rail for his crime of atheism and defending his daughter from harassment and overt discrimination for atheism – by the American Atheists Foundation.

    The AAF worked in concert with attorney Tim Gungoll, a practicing Roman Catholic. Imagine that, loud, flaming atheists working with religious believers to protect the right of an atheist kid to be out of the closet at her public school.

    It took quite a while to work through prospective jurors to find 12 who would not take the word of an atheist as less credible on its face than the word of a theist, but they did, eventually, and the jury found for the defendent. They did not suggest he get back in the closet and come to their church and mouth the words. They honored his equal right to respect and dignity as an American.

    Now, Smalkowski is represented again by the American Atheists Foundation in a civil suit – filed once again in concert with a theist attorney, Oklahoma City attorney Richard Rice – a member of a Southern Baptist church. Another theist who refuses to insist we get back in the closet.

    Lest you delude yourself that this only happens in small towns in the Bible Belt, let me tell you that my own daugter was hauled up to the front of her elementary school classroom, right in Boston in the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, to explain to the other children “why she didn’t celebrate Christmas or Hannukah, because her family didn’t believe in anything”.

    We face that crap every day.

    Spinrad, can you point us to an example where hateful, strident atheists harassed a young girl beat up her father, and tried to drive them out of town, and then trumped up felony charges to cover their misdeed?

    Can you point us to an example where it took forever to find 12 nonbigoted atheist jurors who would not inherently trust an atheist over a theist?

    Of course not. Because your straw man reveals you to be the scarecrow, not us scary atheists.

  218. “They know that prayer feels good without a needing brain scientist to tell them”

    Speaking as someone raised catholic, I have to say that prayer never felt good to me. Going to church was an awful experience. It’s one of the main reasons I’m now more of an atheist than anything else.

  219. In the 21st century, with all the knowledge of the world our species has accumulated, religion for anyone of a reasonably sound mind can only fall into the category of lies-to-children or lies-to-self.

    The sooner religion withers away the better, so if there are atheists out there who want to actively oppose religion, I say good luck to them.

  220. God! – what a bizarre original post, but at least it sparked a great discussion. Just a comment from an atheist who teaches at a Catholic college:

    – I am definitely closeted at work, and continually feel that my beliefs are not valued (I’m not alone in this, since religions other than Catholicism get no respect either).

    – I miss the community that I had as a child and teenager at church (and the chance to sing!)

    – It would be cool to have something equivalent for atheists, though I don’t have any desire to spend a lot of time talking about how great atheism is (organizing to help others, singing, sharing optimism and hope would be great)

    – A big difference between atheism and religions: Someone has to teach you religion; no little kid is going to make up Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, etc… However, my guess is that most of the atheists here came to their beliefs on their own. I believed in what people said was God when I was 5, 6, 8, 10 years old…I started to wonder when I was a teenager (and tried to read the Bible to figure out what might be true, leading some to think I was a “Jesus freak”), and by the time I went to college had reached my own conclusion: that “God” was no more necessary for explaining anything than was phlogiston. Since I didn’t have a revelatory relationship with God (or any other putative deity), I no longer had the basis for religious belief.

    I respect everyone’s right to believe what they want to believe, what makes sense to them. But there is no way I could date or marry someone with religious beliefs (and turned down a proposal for this reason) any more than I could marry someone who believed in the Tooth Fairy or astrology or intelligent design…

  221. I do not think anyone has really raised this so here goes. I find the whole concept of ‘god-bothering’ to be somewhat ridiculous. Were I to believe in a superior being I am sure that IT would not want me using the powers I have been endowed with in babbling incessantly or singing loudly archaic and misguided chants. I, along with the majority of human kind, have a brain that allows me to make choices. A simple analysis of religions of many types shows that they are codes of social conduct wrapped up in a whole series of fairly pointless (to me) ceremonies. For the majority of worshipers these rules of conduct work. Using a simple example of ‘Thou shalt not kill’ is pretty damn obvious. The REAL problem is that these tenets are used as justification for acts (physical or social) that are against the social norm. This false justification for war, hatred, social isolation and so on is where religion fails. Religion is hijacked by many to further their own personal agenda or to separate a group as being above or better than another. This is where religions fails as far as I am concerned. It is why many countries with a large religious following establish secular forms of government. It’s the only way for anything to be done pragmatically.

    If people wish to follow these ceremonies and beliefs and feel better for it, all well and good. If they start proselytising and name calling (which is what it basically is) when someone does not believe in their view it is a different matter. Some of the beliefs held by ‘mainstrean’ religions are quite frankly ludicrous and make Scientology look positively sane.

    I get on with my life in a ‘christian’ way. If anyone can come up with positive proof that there is a ‘superior’ being then perhaps they will post here. Alternatively, were this superior being truly superior they would actively involve themselves in this relatively pointless discussion. There are no gods, simply people imagining that this pitiful thing we call Life has a plan to it whereby they abjugate responsibility, control, and common sense when phased with the shocking reality of “This is all there is”. The self-doubt and lack of ‘confidence’ that most ‘religious’ people have is mainly geared around a fear of death. This is why the population of most churches has a demographic in the 60+ range.

    What does it say with regard to false prophets?

  222. belief in anything these days is compromised.
    we have to get over that.

    univeral free education
    universal free health care
    regardless.

    let’s take it from there, i say

  223. “With religion, I think atheists have the same dissonance going on.”

    Says the contributor to the glossy lifestyle magazine for anti-capitalists.

    “I think closeted atheists who participate in other religious activities are the future of atheism.”

    Wow yes. Let’s confirm political theists in their belief that atheists are immoral and untrustworthy, that there is something wrong and shameful about them that needs hiding, and that theism is the only cause in society worthy of material support.

    Using your logic the future of your criticism of the New Atheism would be to shut up, to not say that you disagree with it even if asked, and to hand over cash to the Dawkins Foundation.

    You are calling for hypocrisy and collusion. This isn’t a big tent, it’s an outhouse.

  224. AREA 51, Roswell, Sunday (UNN) — A tortilla has been found bearing an image in the shape of the face of Richard Dawkins.

    Atheists from around the world have united in claiming this as an important sign. “It’s a sign of pareidolia, which is what it’s called when you see faces in random things — clouds, the moon, Mars, tortillas. Truly, this is a miraculously improbable confluence of random chance.”

    Over 35,000 atheists and sceptics have flocked to the town, bringing photographs of sick loved ones so that the image of Professor Dawkins may have no scientifically detectable effect upon them. Atheist irreligious nonservices have been packed out with people coming together to fail to worship a lack of God. Sales are at an all-time high of “WWDD” bracelets (“What Would Dawkins Do?”), which atheists look at when confronted by superstition and irrationality. (The usual answer is “shag Lalla Ward.”)

    Agnostic apparitions are most often associated with skeptical tradition, wherein there is a special emphasis on tangible examples and replicable proof. Today, scientists are usually quick to dismiss such images, one physicist wisely attributing them to “prosaic imagination.” However, they remain intensely popular among the practical faithless, as evidence of the cosmic rule that “stuff just happens.”

    Plans to sell the tortilla on eBay have unfortunately been delayed after it was eaten by a particularly religious poodle. After its emergence, the face on the tortilla now resembles Andrew Schlafly.

    (from http://rationalwiki.com/wiki/Fun:Richard_Dawkins%27_face_found_on_tortilla )

  225. Church is no place for a free person

    You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free…

  226. If religion brings people some solace I would not seek to deny them that. On the other hand, I am aware of the utter misery the imposition of religious observance (usually as interpreted by overbearing and self-righteous men) has delivered into millions upon millions of lives down the millennia. For myself, I have no religious belief, and I find the idea of an overseeing supernatural Governor Of All Things basically risible. These are my views, and I hope with all my heart that I will always have the courage to express them when and where and to whom I want.

  227. “In politics, I think there are two competing motivations for voters to support a cause publicly. One is to influence the majority to agree, to make changes that you believe in, and the other is to distinguish your opinions as superior to most other peoples”

    Your metaphor is specious for two reasons. 1) The choice / spread of religion is non democratic. It’s a) individuated and b) frequently compulsory – through childhood indoctrination, community pressure or church-state combination.
    2) Your two proposed reasons behind continuing support of a ‘failed candidate’ a) don’t apply outside of politics: In the ‘election’ of religion, the choice is ongoing, and never completely determined, and b) don’t apply within politics. There are numerous reasons why an individual might continue to display their support for a failed cause. For example not being ‘closeted’ helps keep the issue or ‘candidate’ in the public eye (as in the case of gay folks continued campaigning after the passage of legislation banning gay teachers and adoption in the 1970’s), and changes the terms of the debate so that it may at least include the issue / individual in question.

    Spinrad’s post above is trolling on a grand scale. It’s what Daniel Dennett might call an intuition pump, in that it fails to map usefully to the argument in question, and in doing so confuses the issue.

  228. > I think closeted atheists who participate in other
    > religious activities are the future of atheism.

    The analogy with homosexuality was good. How about “closeted abolitionists who own slaves and keep their beliefs to themselves are the future of abolitionism?”

    > They know that prayer feels good

    Er, no, actually we know no such thing. Perhaps what we have here is a closeted Christian making his last awkward attempts to resolve his cognitive dissonance problems in front of his old peer group.

    > What if they simply stopped reciting the words that they didn’t agree
    > with during religious services, without calling attention to it?

    If you happened to be in church with, for example, a family member who was actually a real believer, you would probably be tolerated. Otherwise the community you were invading would correctly conclude you had some sort of hidden agenda.

    > In many places I don’t think they would be kicked out

    Then you simply fail to understand what a church is and what it’s for. It’s definitely not a social club from which you are invited to recruit “new atheists.” On the other hand, it does have a standing organizational plan to deal with initiatives just like what you’re describing — it’s called a “witch hunt.”

    > For a new atheism, the miracle-we-believe function would be served by the question of whether
    > the whole scheme could actually succeed. If the “us” people say yes and are excited at the prospect
    > while the “them” people view it as absurd, that’s the identical, effective dynamic.

    Yeah, good luck with that. Don’t be discouraged if you run into quite a few “them” people who think you’re not making any damn sense at all.

  229. Another great source for commentary.
    Anyway,
    @ #9 Chrome
    Thank you for that, very concise.
    #270 Rob Myers
    Thanks for that too.

    I guess there isn’t much for me to add to this.

    Essentially, atheism isn’t an evangelical organization– the self excluding group has no moral obligation to be the only side to make a compromise.

  230. I think Mr. Spinrad has a narrow view of the facts. While there are a few vocal atheists out there this is nothing more than a normal reaction to the thousands of militant theists.

    I live in the United States where freedom of religion is my constitutional right, but to be a good citizen I have to swear fealty to God (thanks to congress in 1954).

    Invariable when ever I sneeze someone takes it upon themselves to impose there religion on me.

    Hardly a day goes by that I am not accosted by some religious zealot in there attempt to proselyte me.

    I have no problems with letting every and anyone to believe what they want. The problem is that most theists see my non-believe as an attack on there belief system. They are incapable of leaving me alone. I have never attempted to convert any theists. Nor have I expressed my views to anyone with out them FIRST attempting to convert me.

    RGombert

  231. I guess this is why I am the “quiet” atheist, “flying the flag” must be exhausting. I just want to get on with my life. I do take some behavioral/spiritual pointers from my dog, though, and I think he’s a Buddhist.

  232. Shorter PSPINRAD:

    “Atheists need to sit down and shut the hell up.”

    Next step – separate water fountains?

  233. Paul, you’ve missed a fundamental fact about athiests regarding your suggestion we go to church and just not mouth the words.

    Athiests don’t do meetings.

  234. As an atheist who doesn’t “fly the flag”, I can tell you that, to quite a few religious people, it makes no difference whether you are a vocal atheist or not. The mere fact that you deny their religion and god is an affront them. The only way to not offend is to lie about your beliefs, and I refuse to do that.

    “What if they simply stopped reciting the words that they didn’t agree with during religious services, without calling attention to it? In many places I don’t think they would be kicked out or turned upon and beaten just for that.”

    I don’t understand this at all. What part of the Nicene Creed or the Lord’s Prayer is agreeable to an atheist?

    I’ve gone to church many times with my family since becoming an atheist, and on more than one occasion the sermon has attacked atheism. Do you think the churchgoers thought that was arrogant, elitist or close-minded? Hell no. Why the double standard?

  235. @192, sure, that’s easy: nihilism is where an actor stops making any effective or accurate judgments concerning reality, and adheres to a fixed idea or ideology to the point where they leave behind any commonly-agreed-upon, rational goalpost or standard. So your idea that Obama=Bush, departing as it does from any rationally conceivable political-historical standard of fact or belief, is nihilism, pure and simple: you compare two completely different people and come up with nothing, hence, nihilism.

    To wit:

    They both believe, utterly and absolutely, that they can ‘fix what’s wrong’ with this country. They both believe that ‘more of the same’ somehow is an answer to problems (Bush raises our deficit to ridiculous levels, and sends troops to fight; Obama does the same). They both are surrounded by fanatical folks who act like they are the second coming of Christ (nice how I tied that one back to this post, eh?).

    Kindly adduce facts showing Obama’s “utter and absolute” belief in his powers. It may just be clever rhetoric, but he’s disavowed himself from that kind of blind hero worship from day one. And why is a belief in one’s powers to effect change hubristic or otherwise crazy? Maybe he wants to help people, and maybe he has some good ideas?

    To speak of Obama’s policies as “more of the same” (despite the JD’s adoption of a few choice Bush Co. arguments regarding state secrets and the like) is flat out false. The troop drawdown in Iraq, the recent budget, the plethora of domestic policy decisions, such as reversing that ridiculous “conscience” clause for doctors: there couldn’t be much more daylight between the two. Sure, they’ve both increased the deficit, Bush to enrich his fatcat handlers, Obama to right the devastation wrought by his predecessor. That’s the same to you?

    Same with Afghanistan: disagree with Obama’s aims, but you cannot argue that increasing the hunt for Bin Laden, the pressure on Al Quaeda, etc., is anything like Bush’s embroilment of the US in Iraq. Again, completely different wars, completely different aims, completely different policy.

    Kindly adduce, too, proof of Obama’s messianic followers. Rahm Emmanuel? David Axelrod? Robert Gibbs? Hillary Clinton? Really, who are you talking about? I don’t see a starry-eyed follower among the entire bunch: indeed, they seem to be completely hard-headed, pragmatic, rational, not the crusading neocons of the last eight years.

    So, yes, nihilism: you start with nothing (a specious comparison), you work with nothing (shoddy reasoning blind to facts), and you end with nothing (an easily disprovable set of “arguments”). And all for the pleasure of intoning “aux barricades, citoyens!” to the digital rabble: pure doom-and-gloom posturing. In a word, nihilism.

  236. “Any successful new belief system must appreciate the beauty of what it’s replacing and strive for backwards-compatibility.”

    You’ve missed the point: Atheism is not a belief system, it is the absence of a belief system.

    In many cases, atheists do appreciate the beauty of religion and its traditions, but we also recognize the narrow-mindedness and destruction it brings. Just because it has positive qualities doesn’t mean we can ignore the negative (or vice-versa).

  237. #149 True, unless you spend a lot of time thinking and talking about how you don’t collect stamps.

  238. “Closeted atheists”…”they know you don’t need God to want to feed the hungry, heal the sick, and provide homes for the orphaned.”

    As one of the quiet, non-confrontational atheists out there, I also know that I don’t need to associate with a religious institution do to any of those things either. There are plenty of secular groups and individuals in my community who do these things, and I support them as much as I can.

    Yes, I appreciate that religion brings comfort to many. Humans need ritual — our brains seem to be wired that way. But it’s also hypocritical to attend religious services when you don’t agree with the basic tenants of the faith (you know, that whole god thing) just because you want beauty and ritual. If you want rituals, go out and create ones that work for you.

  239. @#14 serasonho:

    Habitat for Humanity is a Christian organization. Their own website says they are “A nonprofit, ecumenical Christian housing organization”.

  240. @240
    Come to Italy man.
    We are taxed and we (atheists, non-believers and de-facto non catholics) pay for churces, christian schools, christian hospitals, christian hotels… christian .

  241. If you’re looking for flag flying atheists, don’t look at the US, look at China and the former USSR.

    Okay, it sounds really bad at first, when you think of it, as Americans. Both regimes are (were) corrupt, power hungry and flagrant with human rights abuses. But they were(are) some of the most powerful nations of our time.

    But even in China with state sponsored atheism, people have a highly developed sense of community via history and culture WITHOUT religion. For community without religion, see immigrant groups, geek culture, music culture. We don’t ALL need to goto church to have friends/social lives/people that care about us.

    Take away the human rights abuses, corruption, authoritarian nonsense from China and you have a pretty good idea about what a country can be when a majority of people are atheist. Well, what you would have is Taiwan, which is not bad at all.

    See Taiwan, or France for religionless states.

    Religion is going to be here for a long time. But it’s certainly possible for an atheist to live a productive, non-closeted life where he isn’t shackled by an oppressive state-sponsored culture of superstition.

    We know it can be done- frankly, bringing a country like China to a first world democratic state seems a lot more possible (Even inevitable considering the grinding dynamic of the haves and have nots.) then trying to ‘fight’ against established religion.

    A huge issue is that religion is entrenched in the government and politics. If the state actually took a stance at least in being non-religious, then maybe some of our prominent politicians wouldn’t have to be FORMER hindus or Muslims to actually become big players.

    The fact of the matter is we don’t NEED religion for anything, it’s an old goat. We have secular charity services. It’s been proven that the uneducated, unwashed masses can get along without it. Political dogma works just as well (and bad) as religious.
    There are cultures and communities that have that community you are longing for in a church.

    The crux here is that many US athiests come from a religious culture, and know not where to find it outside in the rest of the world.

    What’s neccessary is not complete nontheism, but a complete seperation of church and state.

  242. I suppose we should shut up, then we wouldn’t hurt feelings and we wouldn’t have rights eroded like this?

    What about the offenses to my sensibilities, the affronts to my intellect and (dis)beliefs? Atheists aren’t trying to squelch opposition or discussion of our own viewpoints.

    http://www.slate.com/id/2212662/

  243. Elite: I do not think it means what you think it means. Elite is not a title you give yourself to feel better when comparing yourself to others. The elite doesn’t need to “distinguish itself” because it is distinguished by superior functioning. Let’s apply poplism vs. elitism to the hypothetical brain surgeon scenario. Do you want a brain surgeon who has an average sucess rate, or a brain surgeon who is one of the best in the country?

    You define “elite” as some one who holds and voices a minority view. I believe you mean contrarian, or some other word.

    Your argument comes off a petulant and insecure, but it is also startlingly inaaccurate. You are confusing democracy with majority rule. They are different, and in the United States the constitution itself is a part of the implementation of anti-majoritarian politics.
    Majority rule leads to tyrrany, and then to the scenario you describe, where those who do not agree with the majority must be silenced, silence themselves, or change their views to suite the majority.

    Personally, I do not find beautiful what you find beautiful. To me, one of the most beautiful things I can imagine is the elegant and yet intensely dependent relationships that have led to life as we know it and to the vastness, most of which I do not understand. I attribute none of this to divinity. In my opinion, attributing the unknown to the divine cheapens both.

    The illogical “bonding” processes you refer to are exactly what keep me from religion and it betrays another problem in your argument. You have ignored a third option in your miracle scheme. Things that are easy to believe are easy to believe because they are easily observed, falsifiable, testable, and have obvious evidence. There are also phenomena that are difficult to understand, but more can be learned about them through observation, evidence, falsifiable claims. Then there are unfalsifiable claims, those things people call miracles.

    Belief in them can be a tribal process because it implies trust and shared vulnerability.

    Atheism, to me, is the rejection of that entire last camp, so there is no sense of competition with other people’s “beliefs”. There is also no need to go along with the majority. Provide good evidence of your God and I will convert gladly.

  244. I see I am far from the only one who was severely pissed off by “I think closeted atheists who participate in other religious activities are the future of atheism.” and further more “. What if they simply stopped reciting the words that they didn’t agree with during religious services, without calling attention to it? In many places I don’t think they would be kicked out or turned upon and beaten just for that.”

    What a horrible thing to say. Can you even listen to yourself? Really? You seem to be an intelligent guy, but what you just advocated is “well just PRETEND to be what you arent and it will be FINE! By ADMITTING you have different beliefs you invite trouble!!!”

    Alas, attitudes like this are exactly WHY we atheists feel the need to speak up. This is bigotry and small mindedness in one of its most subtle forms – disguised as being for the “well being” of atheists.

    Yeah. Well. Your idea of well being and mine are different, apparently. Mine doesn’t involve lying to myself and everyone else. Thanks.

    This is the most personally offensive, smallminded thing I’ve ever read on BB.

  245. Tarlss, what are you talking about? The countries you’ve referred to as being religion-free are quite the opposite.

    Chinese people I know say that non-European Chinese religious observations have never been suppressed by the Maoists, only European religions have been actively suppressed. Everyone honors their ancestor spirits just like they always have.

    And FRANCE as an example of an ATHEIST state? Come now. My sister lives there.

  246. I think that a lot of this discussion could be avoided by restating the premise.
    The problem, for me, is not religion per se, it is dogma. It is only a mere and unfortunate coincidence that religion is based solely, from my strong agnostic pov at least, on dogma.

    Stalin and Hitler were both dogmatic as well, join or die, different and die, so I would never claim that religion is the sole proprietor of dogma, merely its most common modern form in America.

    It is dogma that throws me off from religion, like when my mom says that I’m going to hell if I don’t accept jesus before I die. Well, I’ll accept him when he takes some responsibility for all of the wrongs that have been committed in this world he supposedly created, but hey, what’s the point of omniscience if you don’t get to watch your children suffer.

    Sorry for the rant, grew up in a uber religious household and have been ostracized by my overly proselytizing family ever since.

  247. What are you talking about prayer feeling good? Prayer, like the rest of religious practice is a crutch for the weak-minded. I believe humanity is likely to destroy itself over their stupid, petty religious differences, hopefully when enough of the “faithful” have died, atheism and science can prevail.

  248. “Any successful new belief system must appreciate the beauty of what it’s replacing and strive for backwards-compatibility”

    Certainly worked for Christianity! Just ask the Native Americans.

  249. “Any successful new belief system must appreciate the beauty of what it’s replacing and strive for backwards-compatibility.”

    Atheism ISN’T a belief system. It’s the lack thereof. Is it really that hard to understand?

    It’s like the quote says, “if atheism is a religion, then not collecting stamps is a hobby.”

    There is no “new” or “old” atheism, no “radical” or “conservative” atheism. We just don’t believe in any diety. I’m not trying to sell you on that. The only time I care at all what you believe in is when your beliefs infringe on my freedoms (abortion, gay marriage, etc).

  250. I apologize if I came across as nasty, by the way. This article smacked of an attack to me, veiled as intellectual discourse, and I got defensive.

    As a lifelong atheist, I have come to expect being attacked as a matter of course. We’re one of the few minorities its still OK to attack/deride through words. I’m sick of it. :/

  251. Shorter PSPINRAD:
    “Atheists need to sit down and shut the hell up.”
    Next step – separate water fountains?

    Yes, this seems to be exactly what the author of this mostly incoherent post seems to be saying. There is a great article on this passive-aggressive theist tactic at Greta Christina’s blog. She calls it the “Shut Up, That’s Why” argument against atheism:

    http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2009/02/shut-up-thats-why.html

    The curious thing is that many of the proponents of this form of religious censorship generally tend to be moderates or liberals. I wonder what Spinrad’s views on gay rights or racial equality are. Should those groups have shut up too since their views were considered “offensive” to the status quo at the time?

  252. OK, minority was probably the wrong word, I shouldnt have used it (dont want someone to eviscerate me on that point so I thought I’d better clarify).

    #294: I concur!

  253. Let me clarify my statement about Stalin and Hitler, it was not meant as a side by side comparison with modern religion. Only as a laying out of the attacks that religious folk throw whenever the crusades or inquisition are brought up. All of these things were bad, duh, and all of them placed dogma above human life.

    -never never

  254. I just want to call a variant of Godwin’s Law on the arguments about Stalin/Mao imposing Atheistic Rule. It is a strawman, just as citing all American abuses of power as Christain Rule would also be.

    Stalin and Mao were not particularly interested in Promoting Atheism. They were interested in preventing anyone from having a dissenting opinion with them. They were equally brutal to non-religious groups to which people had loyalty. Religious groups were just another “anti-revolutionary group”.

    I think that is a non-starter.

  255. from the original post: With religion, I think atheists have the same dissonance going on. If they really think the world would be better off without religion, they shouldn’t hate religion and call believers fools. Any successful new belief system must appreciate the beauty of what it’s replacing and strive for backwards-compatibility.

    If there is such a thing as “backward compatibility” I think it is this: Atheists would reject religion but allow for spirituality. The thing is some atheists can’t tell the difference between religion and spirituality, and so reject both. The spirituality I’m talking about is how you relate to the universe.

    The point being that there is no “right” way to relate to the universe, but everyone relates to the universe in some way. Those familiar with the device in hitchiker’s guide to the universe might remember the device that allowed a person to see how infinitesimally small they are to the universe, and the machine is used to destroy a person’s mind.

    But that isn’t the only way to relate to the universe. Happy Buddha is another way to relate to teh universe. Others try not to think about it. Others explore it and change their views over time. Others dress in black and call themselves goths.

    Unfortunately, some atheists see “spirituality” and can’t distinguish it from religion and belief in god and so on. Religion isn’t the same as spirituality. And if you’re an atheist who does NOT hold a believe in god or if you’re an atheist who believes that god does NOT exist, that is orthogonal to how you relate to the universe.

    There is no backward compatibility between atheism and religion. But Atheism does not exclude spirituality. And while it isn’t truly backward compatible, the lack of spirituality, or the denial of spirituality, is probably one of the main issues with preventing some from adopting it going forward.

    Some atheists present atheism as devoid of spirtuality or as having whatever spirituality they have, mostly because these atheists haven’t distinguished between religion and spirituality.

  256. This morning, I finally put my finger on what was so horribly wrong with this post. It is fundamentally un-American, and antithetical to the founding principles of our nation.
    The basis for the relationship between church and state in America is that there is no state religion and no religious test for office. In essence, the US does not assume the existence of a specific religion or God, i.e. in the public square we are tolerant agnostics. The faithful essentially act as “closet faithful” who are not allowed to impose their faith on others but in exchange have freedom to practice their own faith.

    Of course practicing faith in a closeted manner has some supporters, to quote a Jewish Carpenter:
    “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:5-6

  257. And..
    Now that Psinrad has retracted the idea that Atheists go to church and keep quiet during the offensive bits. I am interested to know what he does suggest.
    Possibilities:
    1. Stop being dicks.–I support the end to being a dick everywhere (This is Antinous’s position I take it.)
    2. Don’t do like the Ron Paul people and assert your superiority. If we can distinguish this from point 1 (don’t be a dick) I guess it means something like “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar”.

    If something like #2 is his plan, what sort of things would that be. A typical Christian has no problem telling you that he volunteers at the soup Kitchen because he is a christian. But if you say. I volunteer at the kitchen because I am an Atheist (1) it sounds weird, and possibly confrontational, and (2) is false, Atheism doesn’t ask you to be charitable, that comes from somewhere else.

    So what exactly is the plan here?

  258. “Atheism is not a belief system, it is the absence of a belief system.”

    How belief actually functions:

    Belief

    “In our officially atheistic, hedonistic, post-traditional secular culture, where nobody is ready to confess his belief in public, the underlying structure of belief is al the more pervasive – we all secretly believe.”

    “Lacan’s position here is clear and unambiguous: God is unconscious, this is, it is natural for the human being to succumb to the temptation to believe.”

    So by all means, keep talking incessantly about those stamps you’re not collecting. Keep conducting flamewars about the markings on this stamp vs. that other stamp. Continue to worry about the latest goings on in the Philatelic Society and by all means involve yourself in their never ending debates about the proper handling and display of that stamp collection you don’t have.

    You’ve got me convinced alright.

  259. “So what exactly is the plan here?”

    Why do you need a plan? Where are you going to? If as some say atheism is not “this one thing” then what is there to worry about? If it is true that charitable actions are in no way connected to your lack of belief then why do you (3rd person) connect them?

  260. @ Noen (303):
    I really don’t get what you’re trying to say, so I’ll just ask:

    Is this a snarky way to say “you act like belivers, so you are”?

  261. They know that prayer feels good

    Er, no. We know no such thing. If prayer felt good, we would do it. Meditation, on the other hand, feels just fine, but meditation is not prayer. It doesn’t gain anything from being done in a group.

  262. Given a choice, I prefer the company of atheists who don’t enjoy yelling at me and chastising me for not sharing their belief system.

    I was at a church dinner last week and sat across from an atheist lady who was nearly insufferable. I kept my equanimity, and tried to have a conversation with her that might benefit us both, but she would have none of it.

    Among her more, um, interesting moral absolutes was the idea that playing paintball is horribly immoral and wrong, but shooting a deer for sport isn’t.

  263. @Noen and Mark Frauenfelder

    The stamp collecting analogy is an apt one, if we imagine that, in order to be a credible candidate for office or, in many communities, be seen as a decent member of the community you have to collect stamps. Imagine further that when you meet someone new, you might ask them casually “So what stamps do you collect” or that people would go around knocking on strangers’ doors to tell them about how important it was that you collect their variety of stamps.

    In such a world, it would make sense for non-stamp-collectors to make websites and start conversations about how they weren’t stamp collectors. But even then, not-collecting-stamps wouldn’t itself be a hobby. Some non-stamp-collectors might collect butterflies, others might prefer to read books, others would prefer long walks, etc.

    Atheism isn’t a belief system in EXACTLY the same way that not-collecting-stamps isn’t a hobby.

  264. Any successful new belief system must appreciate the beauty of what it’s replacing and strive for backwards-compatibility

    Certainly worked for Christianity’s relationship with Native American traditions.

    Look, in a few decades this will all be a moot point anyways because science is going to realize that they have been saying the same thing as the world’s religions and everyone will be happy and unified in belief in a real and magic universe.

    What is the “Big Bang” if not a scientific translation of “What God did”?

  265. Noen #304…
    It as PSpinrad that said “I think closeted atheists who participate in other religious activities are the future of atheism.” Not me. I am asking him what he thinks we ought to do now that he retracted that. I thought I was clear.
    Why do you need a plan?
    I guess, if you (like PSpinrad) thinks Atheists ought to stop being like Dawkins and Dennett, how would you (he) have us act?

    Where are you going to?
    I don’t follow you here. I just want to live my life unmolested by religion or the religious.

    If as some say atheism is not “this one thing” then what is there to worry about?
    I am not the one with the worry (except for my children, and self when confronted by anti-atheists). PSpinrad thinks the current approaches are bad, elitist and damaging to Atheists now (right?)

    If it is true that charitable actions are in no way connected to your lack of belief then why do you (3rd person) connect them?

    I don’t, but if PSpinrad thinks we Atheists need to work from within Relgious groups to sway the tide of religiosity toward non-religiousity, I wonder how exactly he propose we do so.

    I guess, my points boil down to asking what the point of his essay was in light of his retractions.

  266. What is meteorology if not a scientific translation of “what storm gods do?”

    I guess the difference is that one instructs you to bring an umbrella to work while the other one instructs you to murder innocent people until the weather improves.

  267. Ok, so religion is a sensitive topic on BB, who would have guessed?

    The comments have been fantastic, and all worth reading, thank you so much everyone. Now this is a community!

    So for the record, I feel that Spinrad’s idea that atheists should participate in theist-based religious ceremonies and just stop moving their mouths when stuff they don’t agree with comes up is completely bullcrap. Like staying-in-a-heterosexual-marriage-if-you-are-gay level of bullcrap. And actually the analogy is a pretty good one I think, given the benefits of family/community and social acceptability between the two. The main tenant of any church, the one for their existence, is that there is a god or god, and the main tenant of atheism is that there is no god, or that a god is completely unnecessary in order to explain the world. So unless you’re going for the social benefits or as an intellectual exercise, there’s no reason to be in church.

    I’m not even sure if Spinrad’s intentions are good or not, which is really problematic. “Can’t we all just get along” is maybe what he’s saying, but he’s not asking theists to make emotional, spiritual, or social sacrifices to function in the society. If a theist living in a somewhat secular society such as the US feels they’re already sacrificing enough of their beliefs, then they have a lot in common with me who feels that living in this somewhat secular society is enough of a sacrifice for me as well. He’s not sacrificing anything himself, he’s asking the minority to, and I think most of us in the minority already feel we’re put upon enough. I don’t ask anything of theists except they be open-minded and accepting of others. I don’t think he can call himself very open-minded if he thinks about his proposals in terms of other minority groups based on religion or ethnicity, in fact it sounds very bigoted as many have pointed out, which is heartbreaking, especially since he’d probably consider himself anything but.

    I can only speak for myself since I don’t belong to an organization, like, say, a church, and I don’t meet regularly with atheists like millions of church-goers do every week, so I can’t make a lot of generalizations about my fellow atheists.

    I was scarred by my religious experience, mostly by being forced to attend church, being coerced to believe magical theory as fact, and being continually told to deny what is completely logical and obvious to me. I also strongly feel that organizing spirituality automatically and almost always fatally corrupts it. Religious organizations seek to perpetuate themselves, and they’ll naturally do anything to prevent their irrelevancy, marginalization or destruction, including suppress the rights and thoughts of individuals.

    I grew up as a Christian Scientist, going to church with my family until I left for college and into my 20’s when I went on my own until I stopped going in my mid-20’s. I understand the lovely sense of community that many experience and seek when they attend church. That’s mainly why I went to church when I didn’t have to, it was nice to have a structured method for spending time with interesting people, going to events, lunch after church, etc. Ultimately, as I got more honest with myself about who I was and what felt right to me, I stopped going. As my perceptions got better, I felt a judgmental undercurrent that I think is natural to all theistic religions, and which I feel is ultimately not helpful in trying to understand ourselves and each other as fellow human beings. I also had a problem specifically with CS, which encourages ignorance and ultimately fear about the physical world and imposes this ignorance on children, particularly regarding how they are allowed to deal with their health, having to deny the physical body as a reality. I can remember in high school, having extensive oral surgery, and afterwards my raw and painful hamburger of a mouth. Pain medication was not an option for me, I had to pray my way through it. That’s fortunately my most extreme example, but there are hundreds of other little things, like headaches, infections, vaccinations, and so on.

    I don’t think I’m bitter about it, and I still love my parents because I feel their intentions were loving, and their spirituality works for them, but their beliefs were imposed on me, and I did suffer for them. If I had children, I’d be open to them finding their own way long before my parents allowed me to stop attending church. I wouldn’t care if they wanted to be theists, I would just want their spirituality to work for them. That’s it. For me, spirituality is an intensely private affair, and nobody has a right to impose theirs on anybody else or judge anyone else for theirs as long as it doesn’t harm anyone. Judgment seems to be a natural part of organized spirituality, and judgment turns any relationship into a waste of my time.

    I think my life is too short to try and “convert” anyone to atheism. If we all lived for 10,000 years, then it might seem more important, but I’m just working on myself, doing what works for me, and trying to accept everyone else, recognize their humanity, commiserate with them and help them alleviate their suffering when possible. I don’t shy away from discussions about my beliefs, which I feel are atheist/Buddhist, but I don’t put on a sandwich board and march around town looking to provoke a fight. As mentioned before, I’ve never had an atheist knock on my door, be an insistent pain in the ass, and hand me literature, that’s religion.

    Religion does do much good, as far as organizing charity and helping people goes. If many people need structure and a catalyst to do good, then I’m happy churches provide that. Yes, religion has caused countless deaths, and will continue to cause deaths. So what. So will guns and knives and drugs and cars and cigarettes and frying pans, most without any religious impetus at all, completely secular. Let’s just keep evolving folks, and put up with each other better.

    And Mr. Spinrad, please think again about your level of acceptance for atheists, I think that despite your good intentions, it’s much too low.

    Thanks for listening, and thanks again for all the comments, they, not the original post, are wonderful things.

  268. I got relatively sick of reading all this about a quarter of the way down the page so forgive me if I’ve been beaten to the punch here.

    I’m not one to get into these discussions anymore, I don’t really see the point. But from time to time it can be good fun. Inevitably I get asked if i believe in God. I say no, because I don’t. But if they ask me if I’m an an Atheist, I say no. Because I’m not.

    Look at the word, Atheist. the A Thei part literately means without God. Not there is no God, not I don’t believe. The word itself assumes to existence or importance of God. That’s pure semantics of course but it does strike at something more valid.

    Look at someone like Richard Dawkins, and his brand of atheism. His life is still dictated by religion and God. Because his beliefs, actions, and public career are driven by and active conscious rejection religion and God. It really makes me wonder where he really stands, you can’t reject something that’s not there or valid in some way. You can’t hate something that much if its really insignificant and pointless.

    So many of the loud and proud, organized atheists I meet fall into this category. Living their life as a reaction, stuck in the juvenile “I hate jesus” stage (I finished with this phase before i finished high school.

    The fact is that no matter what the activist atheist tells you (or his religious counterpart: Atheism is not a system of beliefs. It is not a community. It is the lack (or rejection) of a single belief.

    When I ask you to describe some one you don’t say “well he has skin, and is not transparent”. Thats just to general.

    Dawkins and his pals are Anti-religious (christian specifically)activists. The closet or quiet atheist in church is (I like this term from before)a secular Christian. There are too many different variations that are largely unrelated. There are espoused atheists out there who truly believe in vampires, black magic, or other ridiculous things. Are all these people universally better, and smarter than everyone else? Would they even be able to stand each other if they were in one room.

    All the arguments sited above are just more of the same. People trying to define what they are by a word that describes nothing, an absence. I’m fine with the absence, just like I’m fine with my absence of an 11th toe.

    Rather than providing reasons, or trying to win the argument, or loudly proving to myself and everyone around me.

    All things considered I’d rather get a hot dog.

  269. Moderator / whoever,

    I’ve got a picture that I’m pretty sure we’ll all enjoy. Where and how is the best way to post it so you guys can see it?

  270. if you had to spend eternity with one of the following three, who would you choose?
    1. fundamentalist christian
    2. rabid atheist
    3. hockey fan

  271. I think Paul Spinrad is über1334, and I bet he had a big tent writing the article.

    #181 posted by Antinous
    “Can you tell from reading my comments whether I’m atheist, agnostic, a member of any known religion?”

    My guess is you are an agnostic ex-catholic.
    Am I right?

  272. #285 posted by Mark Frauenfelder:

    “True, unless you spend a lot of time thinking and talking about how you don’t collect stamps.”

    As I said before, this is where the analogy breaks down. That is, unless your definition of “Religion” begins and ends with “talking about religion.” That’s actually a very belittling attitude to take about religion. I give it much more respect than that, much as someone might “respect” a large, dangerous animal. I think it actually matters what religion is.

    Talking about religion, isn’t a religion any more than talking about sex can get you pregnant.

    Atheism is not a religion any more than demonstrating against government surveillance makes you a spy.

    …any more than talking about how you hate poverty makes you a robber-baron.

    …any more than talking about disliking pollution makes you a polluter.

    I realize it’s what the cool kids on the internet seem to do… in order to prove you’re cooler than everyone else on the internet you need to adopt of pose of “meh” on every subject, just as John Hodgman tells us. So I guess the truly “cool” response to religion, Mark Frauenfelder, would be to say “meh”, and not actually grapple with the ideas contained therein, nor how its adherents interact with other members of society, nor what political and social ramifications come from that, both positive and negative.

    I believe that in America religious people, by and large, are far too intolerant of people with dissenting views, and are far too often promoting ignorance. I guess in order to be “cool,” I should not do anything about that, lest my actions be called a religion.

    But I guess I’m not cool.

  273. Where are you going to?
    “I don’t follow you here. I just want to live my life unmolested by religion or the religious.”

    Well that’s a goal isn’t it? In order to achieve a goal one has to have a strategy for getting there. Which is more likely to work, A or B? It should be obvious that B is the better strategy but of course there are always limits.

    SirDook makes some good points but if one finds oneself in a stamp collecting society how should one behave? Well, again it depends on what your goals are. If your goal is to transform that society then one strategy might be to keep quiet until your numbers are large enough that you can safely come out of hiding. Paul Spinrad says this in a comment upthread. Incidentally, this is a strategy successfully employed by Evangelicals to infiltrate and take over mainline Christian congregations.

    I think that inflaming the stamp collectors and constantly giving them an object to attach their hate towards is not likely to succeed. (Can we say blowback?) Unless you have superior numbers or more power, which you don’t. All you have right now is the protection of the state. I have to wonder what the real goals are of those who pursue this strategy.

  274. Takuan,

    That list is why I’m glad I won’t be spending eternity anywhere!

    It reminds me of my rule of fanaticism: Anyone with more than two bumper-stickers is someone I wouldn’t want to have lunch with.

    I don’t care if they’re liberal, conservative, christian, atheist, monty python, hockey… it doesn’t matter. Two’s the limit. Over two, and I can tell that lunch with them would be hell!

    And THAT would seem like an eternity!

  275. Noen #318 “If your goal is to transform that society then one strategy might be to keep quiet until your numbers are large enough that you can safely come out of hiding.”

    I think that time is now.

    “Unless you have superior numbers or more power, which you don’t. All you have right now is the protection of the state.”

    That’s all any minority has. Good thing Martin Luther King shut up until blacks were the majority, huh?

    “I have to wonder what the real goals are of those who pursue this strategy.”

    Well, obviously we’re all closet Christians who want atheism to fail. Duh.

  276. I think two things need to be stated as an atheist.

    1. I do not respect in any way someone’s religious beliefs. Those beliefs are ridiculous and shouldn’t be respected.

    2. When was this magical time when atheists were nice and not annoying to the devout? If this time period ever existed those atheists were douches (barring those who would have been killed or severely mistreated for being honest about what they think).

    We need to all stop being pansies and freaking out about being “annoyed” by proselytizing. Guess what, no one has the right to be not annoyed. However everyone has the right to be annoying to everyone else. I’m not going to respect your religious belief or opinions if I think they are ridiculous. If I choose to I may not respect you as a person period (but I doubt I will ever come to that). However, I will always tolerate your ideas. I will concede that if you wish to believe something no matter how stupid, you may. Hell, you may even try to convince me your right; that’s annoying but too bad for me wah wah. I also have the right to disagree with you openly.

    There seems to be some sort of misconception about the words tolerance and respect. I will tolerate your beliefs, but I sure as well don’t have to respect them. Tolerance is a given. You don’t earn it or deserve it, it is your right. Respect is earned. You’re not entitled to it, you have to deserve it.

    Any religious people out there who wish for me to “respect” there beliefs… SCREW YOU! My criticisms upset you… TOO BAD! HOW BOUT YOU BRING UP SOME POINTS THAT MAKE MY CRITICISM MUTE INSTEAD OF CRYING ABOUT HOW I”M RUDE.

    Also what is this about atheism becoming more aggressive as a back lash against Bush? Nostalgia much? There were plenty of screaming rabid atheists ten, twenty and 100 years ago. This country was founded by some of these “new atheists” (USA). Most of this culture war is manufactured poppycock. Guess what FOX NEWS, there is no war an Christmas other then the one you insist on creating. 50 years ago people said “Happy holidays” sometimes instead of “Merry Christmas”. Those atheist bastards (and when I say atheists I mean Jews and immigrants, but its not O.K. for me to criticize them for not staying in there proper second-class place so I’m going to bitch about atheists, cause everyone still hates uppity atheists) are really getting out of control forcing (what?) me to say Happy Holidays.

    If it is true that 50 years ago atheists weren’t so outspoken its probably for the same reason that blacks weren’t so outspoken. Those were the good old days huh. Now we got all these agitators who don’t know their place.

    Now if anyone has a problem with what I think about the subject based on my post:

    1. Rationally point out how my opinion is incorrect. That will lead to an intelligent discussion.

    2. Don’t whine and complain about how my post is rude. What the hell does that accomplish? So I’m rude, does that mean my statements are wrong?

    P.S. Go ahead and do #2, but make sure #1 is in there too.

  277. Atheism is only successful in this life.

    Try not to die, because then you will have to face the Creator you all so adamantly deny.

  278. @Zawan #322

    I just think a belief in a “creator” is irrelevant for treating people with kindness, and if you believe there is an afterlife, the “creator” would have to be a really big shithead to grant judgmental, narrow-minded, and hateful religious folks entry into heaven merely for believing in “him” as opposed to compassionate and non-judgmental people who didn’t need a “creator” to be a decent human being. Respect and decency is successful in EVERY life.

  279. What about those of us who genuinely hold the opinion that the teachings and practical applications of authoritarian religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc are fundamentally evil, immoral, and unethical by all reasonable human standards?

    What about those of us who genuinely oppose these authoritarian religions because they contradict observed reality and actively seek to limit if not stop human progress?

    What about those of us who genuinely fear there is a good chance that, given the opportunity, these authoritarian religions could bring about the complete enslavement of humanity and/or the complete destruction of all life on Earth?

    Should we just shut up and go to church and keep our opinions to ourselves? Should we really?

    I think not.

  280. #332 ZAWAN

    I doubt I’ll be facing anyone when I’m dead, cause I’ll be dead. It is possible (trying not to laugh) that I will not really be dead and will float around in some magic other dimension where I will meet cosmic superhero despot. If that happens (seriously though, c’mon) it looks like you were right. Congratulations you won.

    I guess I’ll just have to take your advice and try not to die. Before I wasn’t trying hard enough to not die, but you’ve really inspired me to put my full effort into it.

  281. Noen, it sounds very much like you are saying:

    A) People should hide their true nature; that which they innately are, when among a general populace who appear to be a bit different – because they are in a minority.

    B) That your individual happiness (including a sense of self-acceptance, and the feeling that society accepts you as you are), pales in comparison to being perceived as a-bit-shrill, so you should hush-up and be like everyone else.

    I’m pretty sure you don’t believe either of these things.

    Maybe you were talking about some small minority of annoying, militant atheists. But that makes your communication decidedly narrow-beam, and unhelpful in the larger context.

    Care to clarify?

  282. God lives; I know it. I have never been able to understand how any one could look upon the beauty, symmetry, complexity and order of the natural world and not at least suspect that a powerful, intelligent being must have created it. This is simple intuition to me. However, my knowledge that God lives is the fruit of personal experience and revelation, which is accessible to everyone. God lives; He is our father. His kingdom has been reestablished upon the earth as foretold in Daniel 2. It is growing and will continue to grow with vitality and dynamism, all in anticipation of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer.

  283. “That’s all any minority has. Good thing Martin Luther King shut up until blacks were the majority, huh?”

    Ah no, that didn’t exactly work out well for him personally, not for Malcom X either. Did it advance the cause though? Maybe, maybe there were better alternatives.

    There are different types of power. One doesn’t have to play the dominance game, there are other power games to play. The Competition/Dominance game is the first one people think of and is conceived as power over/against others. The Partnership/Nurturance game is the other option and is conceived of as power to/with others.

    The latter game is usually thought of as a long term strategy. When species enter into a mutually beneficial or reciprocal relationship, or even a symbiotic one, they are playing this game.

    So in the long run King might have been more successful pursuing the latter game. This is BTW the game that Obama is playing, consciously and deliberately and is having great success with it too.

    So… that might be a good direction to go in, if one is interested in that. Or not, that’s up to you (3rd person).

  284. #324 and everyone else whos shitting on PSPINRAD.

    Were the ideas in the original post stupid? Yes

    Has PSPINRAD come to understand this? Probably, and if not hes at least rethinking them.

    Should he have just kept his mouth shut and never posted? No. Although I don’t think Boing Boing was the best place to field such discussion, I think discussion period is a good thing.

    Thank you PSPINRAD for producing your ridiculous thoughts on the subject so that everyone here could have a civilized (really such topics can get heated on the internet but this thread has been too polite if you ask me) discussion about atheism/ new atheism/ total irrational belief in the supernatural/ voting Nader.

    I’m not trying to be nice. I think my previous posts have established that I don’t consider being rude to be a horrific sin. I’m just saying thanks for spouting what I think of as bullshit instead of keeping quite about it. I appreciate the talk.

    Now, can you spot the irony?

  285. SaintHoliday

    My intuition says “look at the wonders of physics!” Science makes me fuzzy :)

  286. Wow, 322 comments before a religious fanatic condemned us to hell for merely believing something different from him/her, and 327 posts before we got a cut-and-paste prayer-post that didn’t address anyone or any topic in the thread!

    That’s got to be a new record for any thread on atheism on the internet!

    …and also: Gee… aren’t those atheists shrill and strident? They really need to get their act together!

  287. in the case of America anyway, the office of president should require the holder to be an atheist. The law supports it and justice demands it.

  288. Noen @ 328

    So, because you assume that atheists (all of them) are pursuing a Competition/Dominance strategy, we must be?

    You don’t think there have been many altuistic, selfless things done by atheists, without waving a flag for their beliefs?

    The problem with your analogy, is that Obama can passively promote Black people’s status (by just being a good man), because he is overtly black.

    An atheist who quietly contributes to society has no way of passively promoting her worldview, without accusations of being over-vocal.

  289. What evidence do we have that, e.g., MLK Jr, believed in the supernatural? Is it really that hard to look at someone who was a religious figure, who lived in the public eye and spoke to the public and see that their speech was about nothing other than hope and community rather than any sort of FSM-type figure?

  290. I’m still waiting to hear who these militant atheists are supposed to be. The most rabid atheists I can think of nowadays are Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, neither of which qualify as “militant,” I think. Unlike Rat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and that GOD HATES FAGS douche, they don’t advocate violence against anyone or anything. Furthermore, their rabidity is justified in my eyes by the shit they put up with from day to day.

    Storytime!

    A year ago, I had the good fortune to attend a debate with Hitchens, who was doing it partially to plug his latest book, The God Delusion, available at bookstores everywhere. His opponent was a Christian preacher. So was the moderator. The host was Ben Stein, there to plug his anti-Science movie.

    The debate was sponsored by a Christian student group, who screened all the audience questions so (naturally) there weren’t any atheist-made ones. Thinking back on it, I highly suspect the questions were staged. They all had that infomercial pitch tone – “Gosh Charlie, what ELSE can we use this for?” – at which the preacher would launch a five minute speech perfectly tailored to the question asked. At any rate, Hitchens was outnumbered by at least three to one.

    Motherfucker held his own, considerably pissed but much more gracious than I would have been.

    I think that most Christians who might complain about the rude behavior of outspoken atheists don’t really understand what these guys go through. They’re under attack every time they do anything in public, with the same uninformed preacher-told-me assaults that they’ve rebutted a thousand times. At some point, you’ve just got to throw genteel etiquette out the window. In the real world you can’t ban people you don’t like, and if you want to get stuff done you can’t ignore them either. You have to answer unchanging ignorance with outright scorn. “NO, your argument sucks. I’m not humoring you. Get a better one or get the fuck out.”

  291. #327 Saint Holiday

    I know you were just a drive by and won’t actually read this, (I doubt you even read the OP or comments) but what the hey.

    “God lives; I know it.” He does? I thought he died on good Friday, came back to life and then died again later. Wait he didn’t die again he just floated up to heaven. So did he actually come back to life in the first place or was he only half alive? Are we talking about the same dude? Does any of this make sense? Regardless how do you know? I mean I don’t actually know you’re alive you could be just a made up joke from a Poe. I’m going to need some more proof of your existence.
    “I have never been able to understand how any one could look upon the beauty, symmetry, complexity and order of the natural world and not at least suspect that a powerful, intelligent being must have created it.” I suspect this all the time. Anyone who doesn’t is either not human or suffering from a cognitive disorder. This doesn’t mean its true. I often suspect things that I know for a fact aren’t true.
    “This is simple intuition to me.” And to me too. I think imagination might be a more fitting word though.
    “However, my knowledge that God lives is the fruit of personal experience and revelation, which is accessible to everyone.” I have access to your personal experience and your revelations? What about my own personal experiences and revelations that contradict the existence of god. Wait a minute… what are your personal experiences that prove God’s existence? The Sunrise huh? How does the sunrise prove… wait this makes no sense.
    “God lives; He is our father.” My mom is such a slut.
    “His kingdom has been reestablished upon the earth as foretold in Daniel 2.” Really, where? I’m not a fan of monarchies so I’d like to know where this backward nation is.
    “It is growing and will continue to grow with vitality and dynamism, all in anticipation of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer.” Shit this totalitarian nation is expanding. I’ve got to go to the enlistment office and do my part to combat this aggressive country. Wait, Jesus is coming back again. Did he screw it up the first time? Will he be a zombie like last time, or will an Angel rape his teenage mom and conceive him?

  292. Noen wrote: “One doesn’t have to play the dominance game, there are other power games to play.”

    I think that comes back to a lot of people’s objection to the OP,(including mine).

    I’m not playing a game. I don’t think you can engineer a societal subset to play a game-theory game, especially atheists who are like the proverbial herd of cats.

    Further, I think “Hey all you atheists, you’ll get what you want if you all just adopt strategy X” fundamentally MISSES so much about how dynamic groups work that it calls into question your grasp of people.

    Let’s try it out. First you say “Hey, atheists, this is how you gain acceptance, I’m starting a club/political party/facebook group to implement and promote my ideas. Here’s my plan….”

    Then, start marching in a direction. In 6 months, look behind you and see who’s marching with you. That’s your movement, you brilliant social engineer, you.

    I fully reserve the right to retract this condemnation of your grasp of dynamic groups, people skills and leadership if you de-anonomize and reveal yourself as Barack Obama, Ron Paul, The Jonas Brothers or any other entity with a large and loyal following. If you’re just another anonymous internet poster with no political power whatsoever, just like me, I’ll dismiss you as yet another social engineering theortician with delusions of grandeur.

  293. Beelz…

    Dawkins wrote “The God Delusion”. Perhaps you meant Hitchens’ book “God Is Not Great”?

  294. Carnac:

    First 1) How do you know that your knowledge of religious belief systems is complete? When you baldly state that something you are completely ignorant of is not worthy of respect, that’s magical thinking, religion, or at least an unwarranted faith. Not logical, and not science. Not even a philosphy – just faith. Are you claiming you know everything worth knowing?

    First 2) Many atheists attend my church. We welcome them. Most of them are polite, and all of the ones I choose to know on a personal level are very nice. There are many kind, gentle atheists who aren’t annoying at all. I don’t consider them all to be “douches” as you put it.

    Second 1) because you are characterizing all religious people as having attributes which are in fact only shared by a subset of religious people. You are making false accusations.

    Second 2) politesse is social lubricant; it lets us have a conversation without our respective rough edges irritating each other. If we are not offending or irritating each other on a personal level, each of us is more likely to make a cogent exposition of our points. Angry people get sloppy and often misrepresent themselves or others.

    I think PSpinrad has clearly made a great post, since it has provoked a conversation that may be illuminating to someone somewhere.

  295. Religion is obviously an evolutionarily stable strategy, since it has been with humanity since the dawn of recorded history. Whether society based on atheism is similarly stable has yet to be seen; there hasn’t been a long term society that survived on pure atheism for hundreds of years that I am aware of.

    Perhaps it would be more instructive not to give labels to beliefs, but to examine belief itself, and its benefits and detriments to humans. At the most basic level that I can think of, humans desire good things, and wish to avoid bad things. A major portion of human desire is the desire for good things in the future. Belief in the idea that good things will happen in the future seems to be vital for healthy human life. People with nothing to look forward to suffer from depression and other forms of mental anguish.

    Based on this, I think that until naturalistic science can provide indefinite life extension religion will remain the only viable belief system for some people. Something in these people’s minds causes them to strongly desire an infinite (or practically infinite) life full of good things, where their friends and relatives can share in their joy. Without such belief, those people lose their will to live or participate in society. Nihilism is a potential word for this condition, but I think it’s probably a deeper emotional response than rational nihilism. Based on the statistics of religious or spiritual belief, I would say that a majority of people feel this way. That is a very important fact that cannot be denied if atheists wish to spread their belief; they have to either counter religious belief with something at least as good, or get rid of the religious people. In those stark terms, I think it’s fairly obvious that atheists would do better to spend their time researching life extension and cures for disease, instead of harassing people who need religion to handle life. Simply pointing out the atheistic point of view, contrary to harassing people, is very important because religion is obviously not for everyone. It is better for the overall happiness of humanity for people to find a belief system that most suits them.

  296. SPIDERMAN & Carnac the Magnificent (freakin’ superheroes):

    Belief in yourself is an empty belief. No matter how good you think you are, you are that way because of your essence. Which you yourself could not have made. Your essence exists before you are brought into this world, and after you leave your body.

    I’m not trying to bring a specific religion into this by any means, I am just dumbfounded by all of these smart people that say when “I’m dead, I am dead, that’s it, forever, period.”

    You really think ALL OF THIS is for nothing? All of the good and bad people do, they will not be held accountable for?

    Well that right there defeats the basic principle of Science boys and girls.

    Action= reaction… cause = effect

    So the essence of Gandhi and the essence of Hitler are one and the same, what differentiates them?

    In this life the good one lived the life of a peasant, and the bad one ruled empires. Do you not see that the reward for the good is never in this life?

    This is just one of those things that some people get, and some people will never let themselves get. Because only the tangible is proof to these people.

    Rational reflection will prove to you that Atheism is a dead end.

  297. You really think ALL OF THIS is for nothing?

    YOU really think WE are everything?

    And Cause != Effect

  298. “You really think ALL OF THIS is for nothing? All of the good and bad people do, they will not be held accountable for?

    Do you not see that the reward for the good is never in this life?”

    Isn’t a good deed more commendable if it’s not done with the expectation of a reward?

    If the fear of hell and the promise of heaven is your only motivation for doing good, then I hope you do keep your faith, because I fear what you’d do without it.

  299. #341 ITO

    I don’t know if your number system is in response to my specific bullets, or a parody on my poor execution of them so I’ll try to respond as best as I can surmise.

    First 1) My knowledge of religious belief is not complete. If I ever claimed to have complete certain knowledge then I was wrong. However this does not mean that I’m am totally ignorant on the subject. I do not wish to make a claim to special knowledge or expertise on the subject. To do so would be not Logical and not Science. I am not claiming omnipotence. I am stating based on my knowledge that supernatural phenomena (namely God) do not exist. This is an assumption. I am by no means certain that I am faultless in my estimations.

    First 2) They are not annoying to you because you are a big boy who can accept the existence of opposing views. I think some (not all) Christians might be consider there views annoying. My original statement was no that polite atheists are douches, but that there was never a magical era when atheists were magically polite as opposed to now when they are all magically rude. (I doubt you actually think there was ever a time like this). The douche comment was meant to
    a) be rude cause I’m allowed to be which was one of my big points.
    b) being secretive and dishonest is kind of douchy.

    Second 1) I’m characterize all religious people as believing in the supernatural. I consider this belief ridiculous. As far as my second 2, I was not characterizing religious people. I was characterizing people who were responding to my rude post.

    Second 2) Politeness is not bad. Censorship for the sake of politeness is bad. I am actually very polite. I am intentionally writing like a jerk to make a point. That point is that I have the right to be rude. It sucks for you, and it might be counterproductive for me, but it doesn’t make my arguments less or more valid.

  300. @44, Cicada,

    “If you tell people that there’s no point or purpose to existance apart from what they make up themselves, many of them will be unhappy.”

    Realising that the Universe is inherently meaningless except for that we project onto it was, in a moment of Gnosis, probably the most spiritually profound moment of my entire life.

    I am a proud and somewhat militant atheist who associates with nature worshippers. Somedays I get out of bed and I’m a pantheist. It depends. It’s all the same anyway.

    In my opinion, personal spirituality is usually a good thing. The problem arises when people start organising and telling everybody else what they should think.

    Therein lies the source of far too much evil in this world.

  301. Woo took a while but the god-botherers are here radiating disapproval. Good job everyone, that’s a wrap!

    I officially declare this thread DEAD.

    <3

  302. A general announcement:

    Argument is fine. You’re all welcome to argue your beliefs. However, calling people names, accusing them of lying, and generally using this thread as an excuse to blow off steam is NOT welcome. It also doesn’t demonstrate much commitment to charity or reason. I’m calling on both sides to suck it up and/or repent and/or rethink your rhetoric (take your pick).

    Carnac the Magnificent, it’s probably just as well if Saint Holiday turns out to be a drive-by, since otherwise he or she would have a rough time of it here. On the other hand, that would mostly be a problem if he or she were the only one defending his or her viewpoint. … In fact, (lightbulb goes on) it’s a shame we can’t advertise this thread as a Lenten mortification, and pick ourselves up an assortment along the same lines as Saint Holiday. It would give the atheists a bigger selection of chew toys to play with.

  303. Wastrel, do you think you might be overstepping your authority just a bit?

  304. #352
    I wasn’t actually debating you, I was just making fun of you. Lets continue:

    “Belief in yourself is an empty belief.”
    What the hell is belief in myself. I personally define belief in self as that thing that guy got in the movie Step Up that allowed him to win the girl and get out of the slums.

    “No matter how good you think you are, you are that way because of your essence. Which you yourself could not have made. Your essence exists before you are brought into this world, and after you leave your body.”
    What essence. Your assuming I have a soul or something or whatnot. Do I have a etherel spirit? Can you prove that I do.

    “I’m not trying to bring a specific religion into this by any means, I am just dumbfounded by all of these smart people that say when “I’m dead, I am dead, that’s it, forever, period.”
    How is death dumbfounding. Its pretty common. I know I’m going to die. It isn’t confusing.

    “You really think ALL OF THIS is for nothing? All of the good and bad people do, they will not be held accountable for?”
    Do I think there is some superpowered giant in the sky making the world just? Hell no. The universe is a hell of a lot bigger then petty human strife (not that I agree with strife, but I don’t don’t consider it the be all end all of existence).

    “Well that right there defeats the basic principle of Science boys and girls.”
    Can you tell me the basic principle of Science? I don’t think you know what Science actually is. Clue: its not a rocket ship.

    “Action= reaction… cause = effect”
    Huh?

    “So the essence of Gandhi and the essence of Hitler are one and the same”
    What fucking essence?

    what differentiates them?”
    Their actions, their names, their philosophy, their penis size, their height, their countries, their skin color, their facial hair… do I need to go on.

    “In this life the good one lived the life of a peasant, and the bad one ruled empires.”
    Are we talking about to people specifically or people in general. If general aren’t there bad peasants and good emperors?

    “Do you not see that the reward for the good is never in this life?”
    I do good things all the time and get rewarded IN THIS LIFE.

    “This is just one of those things that some people get, and some people will never let themselves get. Because only the tangible is proof to these people.”
    I don’t get it.

    “Rational reflection will prove to you that Atheism is a dead end.”
    Well you are the master of rational reflection.

  305. Yes, Carnac, I was indeed responding to your numbers/bullets. I understand your points better now; thank you for the clarifications!

    In re: the existence of god – I am a pantheist. There are millions of us. Our God physically exists and is always present with us; we experience the divine as participants, not as supplicants. We don’t have very much in common with Christians or Agnostics, and we share many beliefs with Atheists.

    I suppose you are right about the whining (I’ve probably been guilty of it myself occasionally). There was never, ever a time when atheists were a unified group who were universally either polite, rude, or whatever. It’s just as misleading to assign universal characteristics to all atheists as it would be to assign them to all theists.

    Personally, I like Dawkins and respect his viewpoint, but I don’t care for Hitchens at all. He’s too noisily fundamentalist for me!

    Harking back to the first comment in this thread: Takuan, when did you ever dodge?

    ^_^

  306. In my observation, many of the worst atricities of man are committed under the banner “It’s for their own good!”. And all too often, it’s done in God’s name.
    People with sincere religion, any religion, in their hearts don’t wish evil upon others. People who do wish evil upon others, to take their land, gold, crops, resources… often get sponsored by religious groups. They’re easy to deceive. And among religious groups are the beaurocrats, who are there for personal gain. Never more true than during the Columbian Land Grab. True religious people were feeding, clothing and teaching the children of the exploited, while the evil bastards were out conquoring in the name of some king.
    The religions get the blame, while the people who committed the atrocities got the wealth.

  307. @ Siamang
    “I’m not playing a game.”

    But of course you are, just as you’re playing one even now. There are some games that you really can’t opt out of. Sometimes not to choose is to choose.

    Arkizzle – I didn’t globalize my statements, I thought I put in enough conditionals to make that clear..

  308. Hey there Mr. Spinrad,

    I hope you’re not upset by the people who are upset with you. I would hate to see you leave early because of the pressure of controversy. You did mention earlier that you enjoy controversy and the discussion it brings though, so I’m not too worried.

    There is a lot of argument over the phrase, “I think closeted atheists who participate in other religious activities are the future of atheism.”

    I don’t think he meant that atheists should hide themselves. I think he meant that, since atheists in general lack the prejudice of certain other religions (prejudice being, “I BELIEVE IN THIS ONE THING ONLY AND IF YOU DON’T BELIEVE IN IT TOO YOU’RE WRONG AND YOU CAN’T CONVINCE ME OTHERWISE CUZ I WON’T LISTEN LALALALALALA”), they have the ability to view other religions and their rituals from a curious, objective standpoint. Whereas, for example, a radical christian would never even step foot into a mosque for fear of all the pagan rituals and such. An atheist would presumably be comfortable setting foot into any kind of religious building, be it a christian church, a Jewish synagogue, a Muslim mosque, or a Buddhist temple and what have you.

    So, this puts them in the unique position of being able to see these places the same way one would see a museum. Considering the artwork and stories, discussing the artists’ motives, and so on. Not hiding and pretending.

    Also, please be aware that here in San Francisco, we see little to no prejudice against atheism. Some of you from less fortunate areas have seen atheists get as much prejudice as gays and blacks and such, but if you grew up in the city, that point wouldn’t really occur to you. Thus, the OP is speaking with the idea that atheists are an accepted majority, the whole argument of replacing the word “atheist” with “jew/gay/black etc” is moot and doesn’t really apply well in this case. Sometimes a mind can be so open that to others it is perceived as ignorance.

    If somebody made these points already, I apologize for repeating. I kinda skimmed through since I don’t have 3 hours to go and read every post!

  309. #356

    Am I being too Snarky? Cause I’m kind of trying to be. It is true that I’m just having some fun (which I guess is blowing off steam), but I’m also trying to make a point here and there.

    If you think I’m stepping out of bounds just say so.

  310. To ITO

    I appreciate your politeness and willingness to consider my words and offer up your own.

    Hitchens is crazy (which is very entertaining), but he makes a good point now and then.

    Also in regards to pantheism, I will concede that I do not consider your beliefs ridiculous. A redefinition of the traditional word God to mean what you believe in is not a belief in what I call the supernatural. I do think it is unnecessary to refer to what you call God as God, but that’s semantics. All in all we probably agree on most things concerning spirituality. You are correct in your assessment that I was lumping all religious people into a mold that was not accurate. I think this is because you and I simply have different understanding of the word religious.

    Clarification can be a bitch.

  311. Zawan (#352), you are making a fundamental mistake in that you seem to think that the nature of reality is somehow subject to my choice. Sure, a just, loving God who rewards everyone properly in the afterlife would be nice. But there’s no real evidence for it. And wishing for it to be the case won’t make it so.

  312. I’m not a drive-by poster. I love BoingBoing and have been reading it daily for years. I find it to be very stimulating. I rarely post anything anywhere, but today, I thought this particular thread needed a little balance from others who have a different perspective. I have no bad feelings for anyone here. I don’t mind being ridiculed for my witness. This is a great community.

  313. O ye of little faith, try reading the Bible with an open mind. I did this a year ago and found JHVH to be a weak deity and an abusive father figure. And not a very believable one at that. For all his ‘omnipotence’ he can barely (putting it generously) manage his own creation.

  314. Wow. 370+ posts about atheism and religion.

    I’m sure a lot got accomplished here.

    Now, time to download some porn.

  315. For the record, I agree with everything MKULTRA has to say on the matter.

    While I’m generally tolerant of people believing whatever makes them happy, regardless of how retarded it sounds, my own experience of being intellectually persecuted throughout my school career (in the UK) has left me with a deep and visceral hatred of the Abrahamic faiths. No good can possibly come from a belief system which holds that a] it is the only acceptable path to Enlightenment, and b] that it is okay to inflict it on other people “for their own good”. To my mind, that is evil.

  316. I see the way you didn’t get anything I was saying as being the flashing bright light to stop wasting my time.

    But apparently I love punishment, so here we go:

    “What the hell is belief in myself. I personally define belief in self as that thing that guy got in the movie Step Up that allowed him to win the girl and get out of the slums.”

    I meant believing that you are it, and that’s it. That Step Up belief is only good for dance-offs

    “What essence. Your assuming I have a soul or something or whatnot. Do I have a etherel spirit? Can you prove that I do.”

    Yes, Yes, and Yes. But what value does proof hold to the person that has already veiled themselves from it?

    “How is death dumbfounding. Its pretty common. I know I’m going to die. It isn’t confusing.”

    I said “I am just dumbfounded by all of these smart people that say when I’m dead, I am dead” not by death. Read before you rant. And death is very common, but understanding it and what lies on the other side is the rarest thing on earth.

    “Do I think there is some superpowered giant in the sky making the world just? Hell no. The universe is a hell of a lot bigger then petty human strife.”

    Unless you can prove without a doubt that any other life in this universe exists/matters to us then you have to admit that the strife of Humans is the main thing fucking the Earth up. You say “Some giant in the sky” I say The Creator. Respect the Creator. Because everything you see on Earth has been created, and though I do not claim to know the Creator personally, I know one exists.

    “Can you tell me the basic principle of Science?”

    TO SEEK TRUTH. And aside from Dawkins and a few other self-righteous humans, a majority of the scientific community believe in a Supreme Being.

    Oh and a quick FYI, the founder of the scientific method believed in God.

    “I don’t think you know what Science actually is. Clue: its not a rocket ship.”

    from your statement below, I think you may lack a bit of scientific knowledge yourself.

    and I quote: “Huh?”

    “What fucking essence?”
    The part of your mind and heart that tell you not to kill, but to help, to be kind; the words that come out when you open your mouth; that is your fucking essence.

    “Their actions, their names, their philosophy, their penis size, their height, their countries, their skin color, their facial hair… do I need to go on.”

    Oh yes those things are so important, just don’t forget about one other tiny differentiation: the fact that one of them killed millions and the other freed millions.

    “Are we talking about to people specifically or people in general. If general aren’t there bad peasants and good emperors?”

    If you just read thoroughly you will see I was speaking of Gandhi and Hitler.

    “I do good things all the time and get rewarded IN THIS LIFE.”

    What reward do you get when you give a homeless person $50 dollars and just keep walking? And what reward do you get when you save a dying animal? Or help a friend?
    The reward for these things is not material. It makes one feel good and this is why The Creator asks us to do them. In every religion you are to help the needy. Not because you wouldn’t do it otherwise, but because YOUR CREATOR is telling how what helps YOU feel good ABOUT YOURSELF. WHY? Because the basic premise is that since The Creator created you he knows how you work.

    “I don’t get it.”

    Tell me about it..

    “Well you are the master of rational reflection.”

    I am me, and I am you. I am here until I am not, but when I am not I still am.

    Now you try it. Reflect.

  317. Saint Holiday

    You have now provided further evidence that you exist. I am prepared to consider more on the issue of whether you are in fact real.

    Now if only Yahweh could do the same.

    By the way I was/am ridiculing your “witness”. Thank you or being an adult about it. I appreciate mature responses to my sophomoric behavior.

    And as to my claim that you were a driveby:
    Touche

  318. You have now provided further evidence that you exist. I am prepared to consider more on the issue of whether you are in fact real.

    Now if only Yahweh could do the same.

    Out of interest (or perhaps just a catalyst for more sophomoric behaviour) what would it take to convince you?

    Someone rising from the dead?

  319. “I have never been able to understand how any one could look upon the beauty, symmetry, complexity and order of the natural world and not at least suspect that a powerful, intelligent being must have created it. ”

    So interesting. I have never been able to fathom a creator for it without losing my sense of wonder.

  320. Blackpanda:

    Compulsion in any form is contrary to the laws of heaven. Neither Abraham, nor any of his righteous successors, ever imposed their religion on anyone. They won their adherents through kindness and persuasion, a reflection of the character of God. My reading of ancient scripture convinces me that God is very kind and tender-hearted. The Enoch literature describes Him as weeping over the evil behavior of His children. God can not force the human will. We are all in a period of probation, and it is temporary and very brief relative to eternity. The issue is how each of us will respond to spiritual promptings and divine invitations to keep the commandments of God, foremost of which is to love one another.

    Carnac the Magnificent:

    Would you concede the possibility that I have indeed had true and self-authenticating experiences, which have invested me with the witness I claim to have? Or would you say this is not possible?

  321. Holy shit Zawan what part of “I’m not debating you, I’m making fun of you” did you misconstrue.

    “I see the way you didn’t get anything I was saying as being the flashing bright light to stop wasting my time.” If you don’t want to waste your time don’t. My response was not a serious discussion, (which I thought I made clear with the first sentence) but me being a derisive asshole. Why you chose to respond to me I don’t know.

    “I meant believing that you are it, and that’s it.”
    Who actually believes that they are it. Do you think I believe that I am all that is?
    If you are suggesting that I only believe in the material (everything that is demonstratively true) then your correct. That is the definition of exist. If something isn’t material (provably real) it is called nonexistent or imaginary. God is a great example.

    “What value does proof hold to the person that has already veiled themselves from it?”
    Great point, but wheres the actual proof. You didn’t offer something and I just ignored it; you offered nothing in terms of proof. Obviously I’m not seeing your proof because you haven’t given me any.

    “death is very common, but understanding it and what lies on the other side is the rarest thing on earth.”
    Death is common. Understanding it is easy unless you over complicate it with pretend stuff about THE OTHER SIDE. When you are dead you have died. There isn’t really much to understand.

    “Unless you can prove without a doubt that any other life in this universe exists/matters to us then you have to admit that the strife of Humans is the main thing fucking the Earth up.”
    Whats this about Aliens? I said human strife is not the be all end all of the universe. I will now clarify that human strife is not the be all end all of the earth. Just because you want to be important in the grand scheme of things doesn’t mean you are (seriously though human strife is not a laughing matter). Guess what, humans haven’t been around that long and we won’t be around that long. We are not the meaning or purpose of the universe or earth or life.

    “You say “Some giant in the sky” I say The Creator. Respect the Creator.” No I will not. Among the many reasons I will not is because I doubt he exists. Respect Santa Clause. Can’t really do it can you.

    “Because everything you see on Earth has been created, and though I do not claim to know the Creator personally, I know one exists.”
    Well if everything was created then obviously there is a creator. That is perfectly logical. Wait there’s a problem… how do you know everything was created… oh because there’s a creator… wait how do you know there’s a creator… wait somethings not right here.

    “Can you tell me the basic principle of Science?”

    “TO SEEK TRUTH”
    close enough, but I’d say science is more about how we seek the truth. You can SEEK THE TRUTH pretty easily, but to do it well you need science.

    “And aside from Dawkins and a few other self-righteous humans, a majority of the scientific community believe in a Supreme Being.”
    You sure about that one. I’d have to say the vast majority of the scientific community do not believe in a creator much less a personal God. It doesn’t really matter anyway. Reality is reality; it isn’t determined by a majority.

    “Oh and a quick FYI, the founder of the scientific method believed in God.”
    Why thank you, I didn’t know that. So what? News flash Abraham Lincoln believed blacks were inferior to whites. I am fully aware that people can think and do good things and also think and do bad things.

    “The part of your mind and heart that tell you not to kill, but to help, to be kind; the words that come out when you open your mouth; that is your fucking essence.”
    Oh so you mean my moral conscience plus my ability to talk. Those things are real, and they both can be adequately explained using a naturalistic/materialistic understanding of the world.

    “Oh yes those things are so important, just don’t forget about one other tiny differentiation: the fact that one of them killed millions and the other freed millions.”
    That would fall under my first statement “their actions” which is why I started with that. The rest were also true, but I wrote them just for fun.

    “If you just read thoroughly you will see I was speaking of Gandhi and Hitler.”
    I’m sorry I didn’t take the time to scrutinize your post completely. You should be sorry that you haven’t taken the time to scrutinize your beliefs completely. By the way did you read the first sentence of my post.

    “What reward do you get when you give a homeless person $50 dollars and just keep walking? And what reward do you get when you save a dying animal? Or help a friend?
    The reward for these things is not material. It makes one feel good and this is why The Creator asks us to do them. In every religion you are to help the needy. Not because you wouldn’t do it otherwise, but because YOUR CREATOR is telling how what helps YOU feel good ABOUT YOURSELF. WHY? Because the basic premise is that since The Creator created you he knows how you work.”

    Your absolutely almost right. I do feel good when I do good things. I don’t presume that this good feeling is caused by something immaterial. Being happy is not some magic juju, there are adequate scientific explanations. Also I’m confused because your original post talked about how my reward for good behavior was in the next life and that this one was empty. That’s why I said I get rewarded in this life. Are you now agreeing with me? Are you rewarded in this life for your good actions in this life?

    “”I don’t get it.”

    Tell me about it..”
    O.K. I don’t get it. You have now been told.

    “”Well you are the master of rational reflection.”

    I am me, and I am you. I am here until I am not, but when I am not I still am.

    Now you try it. Reflect.”

    Try what, reflecting? Being the am you me not still am? Is that a Beatles song?

    This is a response to your big flashing light that says not to waste your time. This is my big flashing light that says if you want to waste your time continue posting in an internet atheist thread, cause that is never a waste of time.

  322. Compulsion in any form is contrary to the laws of heaven. Neither Abraham, nor any of his righteous successors, ever imposed their religion on anyone. They won their adherents through kindness and persuasion, a reflection of the character of God. My reading of ancient scripture convinces me that God is very kind and tender-hearted.

    Re-read the Book of Ezra, making sure to consider carefully the explicit endorsements of ethnic cleansing and racialist murder.

  323. Davidould wrote: “Out of interest (or perhaps just a catalyst for more sophomoric behaviour) what would it take to convince you?

    Someone rising from the dead?”

    Nah. Too easy to fake. Especially when you get to write your own holy book.

    Harry Potter came back from the dead, too. At least according to all the fictional characters who saw him.

    I’m sure if I saw someone come back from the dead with my own eyes, it would let me know that there was something amazing going on.

    According to the story, even Thomas had to put his hand on the evidence. And he knew the Guy. All I have is a book that says he did, written thousands of years ago by people who were, let’s face it, cult members following a charismatic leader who preached about the end of the world.

    But given that God is supposedly who he is, He should be quite able to provide the evidence I require. It’s quite easy. Have Him tell you the number I just wrote down in my journal.

    I’m serious. I just wrote down a number. Get it right and I’ll know instantly that God exists and you’ve got the right path to Him.

    See, I have an open mind about this. I really did write a number. What is it?

    This should be really, really easy if there is a God.

    If you can’t play the number game, all it would take would be a feeling in my heart. But that never happens. I’ve done what religious people tell me to do. I’ve attended mass, humbled my heart, said prayers, read the Bible. Nothing. I’ve done every single thing people have asked me to do. Nothing.

    And then the Christian usually complains that I must have done the prayer wrong. ‘Oh, you didn’t say “In Jesus’ name I repent from all my sins”‘ or something. I’m always doing it exactly the way they say, then when it doesn’t work, Oh, I didn’t do it like THIS…”

    The magic incantation doesn’t work. I cannot be moved to believe by anything other than evidence. As yet, I have not seen evidence sufficient to compel me that the supernatural claims of any religion are true. If I had, I’d have no choice but to believe.

    But as it is, belief isn’t something I can decide to do. I cannot put on belief as one would put on a sweater.

  324. “This should be really, really easy if there is a God.”

    I should clarify. I mean “This should be really really easy if there is a God and if you indeed have reliable two-way communication with Him. If you do not have reliable two-way-communication with Him, I should not believe anything you say about Him.”

  325. Mr. Ito, it was a very different world in Ezra’s time, and we have neither the perspective nor the right to pass judgement on the way people behaved back then. We can’t be sure that we would have acted differently.

    Carnac and St. Holiday, get a room!

  326. There are so many things to say in response to an article like this – and so many things that have been said, and quite well, already. I love boingboing, and this directory of awesome things seemed a little dimmer this morning when I read this – but then the articulate discussion in the comments made up for it. This, this is the wonderful thing.

    There is a quote from Joseph Campbell which I really think applies to what the original poster was suggesting: “The profession of views that are not one’s own and the living of life according to such views – no matter what the resultant sense of social participation, fulfillment, or even euphoria may be – eventuates inevitably in self-loss and falsification.”

    Yes, people find value in religion. Of course they do. Yes, I could keep quiet, and try to have some of that value in community and validation and social participation for myself. But it’s worth far less to me if I’m there faking it. It’s not only rude, it’s downright wrong and I wouldn’t expect any theist to be grateful for my presence in a house of worship if I’m there to btohappreciate the ambience and quietly protest what they’ve gathered there to do. Going to a church to learn about other people’s belief systems – that’s one thing. Going to make a statement and simultaneously profit from the existing social structures and undermine them… that’s quite another. I note that the author has since rescinded his call for atheists to, uh, go to church not to worship but to (eventually) start sit-ins in the hope of convincing believers that non-believers have value. Um. Right. It was a poorly thought out suggestion, and I’m glad that idea has been tanked.

    The real problem with this article is a fundamental lack of understanding of the atheist (quiet, noisy or otherwise) position. I do not speak out because I “hate religion”, although some do. I do not keep quiet because I’m hoping to politely convince others (and that still makes absolutely no sense). I do not deny that others find worth in worship and prayer. I have a viewpoint which I don’t need validated; I’ve come to it through a great deal of introspection and analysis and thought and I’m comfortable with it. I’m *not* necessarily comfortable with the ways other people treat me for my belief. I do not necessarily concede that all beliefs *deserve* respect – many do harm, and many atheists and agnostics firmly believe that they should speak out against viewpoints they feel are doing harm. So do many theists for that matter. We speak out because we believe it’s the right thing to do.

    Sure, some atheists have slightly wonky agendas. People, they have agendas. Welcome to the human race. Most of us aren’t out there actively not believing in god and denying the beauty and worth of religions (such as it is, where it exists) because we’re just spiteful people who don’t get it, though. We’re not just being elitist snobs and thumbing our noses at others and shouting nyah nyah, and that’s still the overwhelming (and condescending) tone of this article. Dude, get out more. Read these comments. Start discussions with people who have radically different beliefs than yourself. That will do us all a favor.

  327. The Antfarm
    Some ants feel that there must be more to life, out there, beyond the Antfarm.
    Many ants have theories about what lies out there, beyond the Antfarm.
    Some ants believe you have to be good enough to exist out there.
    Some believe there is a way to get out there, that one once left and left a trail.
    Some say there is nothing out there, beyond the Antfarm.

  328. @saint holiday

    Would you concede the possibility that I have indeed had true and self-authenticating experiences, which have invested me with the witness I claim to have? Or would you say this is not possible?

    I respect your self-authenticating experiences and thoughts, and I hope that you can respect my self-authenticating experiences, thoughts and science’s lack of proof in the other direction. Hopefully we can each do what works for us without being jerks to anyone else about it. If you really want to fight about it, I would just say that being part of a majority and having only self-authenticating experiences that affirms your membership in that majority is not evidence that would hold up anywhere.

    You’re trying to provide balance in a post that doesn’t particularly require it. Atheists are obviously in the minority, we get quite enough of the theistic viewpoint. It seems most of us grew up in religious households, and it wasn’t a good fit for us, so we looked to something else. But no matter what we believe now, we are still surrounded by it, it is infused in most cultures of the world, and we breathe it in and out everyday. Most people take it for granted, atheists probably don’t as much, we’re probably much more aware of it, whether we smile about it or whether we scream about it. Despite my experience with religion, I try not to simply react to what is being imposed or assumed, I try to handle it with as much grace as I can muster. Do not assume I feel I’m any better than you are because of my beliefs, or that you are because of yours. “By their fruits ye shall know them.”

    I also understand the angry atheists, I just choose not to be that way, and I can’t endorse hurtful behavior no matter who does it.

    Being atheist is just a part of who we are, and is usually only one part of what defines us spiritually.

    As for Zawan, what Carnac said.

  329. Zawan,

    Who the heck are you talking about when you say the founder of the scientific method believed in God? Science as a process has developed over hundreds of years. It has no single founder. Do you mean Francis Bacon? There’s the minor detail that pretty much everyone in Bacon’s time period believed in God.

    Even if there were a single founder of the scientific method and that person believed in God, it would be absolutely irrelevant. Science doesn’t work off of authority figures, and certainly not people who have been dead for hundreds of years when science has changed.

    Moreover, I’d be inclined (and I suspect many others) to argue that the question of God’s existence is not a proper scientific question but a philosophical one. So why one would care about what the founder of science believed is even more irrelevant.

    As to your comment about the reward I get for helping a poor person; I get an award because I have altruistic tendencies. So helping people makes me feel good. This has nothing to do with God. We are a social species and like many social species have evolved to be altruists because groups with altruists prosper more than groups without altruists. We see altruistic behavior in ants too for example. I’m not aware of anyone claiming that the ants are doing it because they are getting messages from God.

  330. OK I was going to go away and let this thing be, but I have to chime in with one more observation:

    It sure sucks to be you if you’re an atheist in the US.

    Like I really love Americans, but man, it sounds like Rednecksville Hickstown from some of the shit described here.

    If any of you want to seek political assylum, I can tell you with all sincerity that no one will give a flying fuck that you’re an atheist in Australia.

    As for being beaten up and run out of town, I seriously cannot imagine that happening in the most remote backwaters of this country.

    Mind boggling.

  331. Davidould:

    If your making a reference to Jesus then your going to have to provide some good evidence that he actually rose from the dead (and don’t say the Bible, you know better than that). Since that was a long time ago I doubt there would be any that has survived to this day. He could have died and risen but that’s a pretty spectacular claim and it would require some pretty spectacular evidence. Since you’ve got none then I’m going to have to assume that Jesus, just like everyone else in the history of the world, did not come back from the dead.

    Now if someone were to irrefutably come back to life. I don’t see how that would mean there was a God but if the dead/alive guy said there was a God I’d be close to convinced. I would be very skeptical but I’d be much farther along to believing in God.

    If you can pass Saimang’s test that would actually be more definitive. You would of course have to reproduce the feat a few more times and any possible extra factors would need to be taken into account and reviewed by old guys with PHDs. But if you can do it once you’re well on your way to proving the existence of God.

    Saint Holiday:

    “Would you concede the possibility that I have indeed had true and self-authenticating experiences, which have invested me with the witness I claim to have? Or would you say this is not possible?”
    Of course I would. I concede that you had an experience. Is that experience true… well if something happened something happened so yes there was a “real” experience I guess. Do I concede that your interpretation of that experience is correct. Hell NO. I don’t even know what particular experience you are talking about much less your interpretation of it. Considering I know nothing about these preported events you’ve had I can’t very well say they happened how you describe them or meant what you think they meant. Is it possible that your experience happened? Yes. Is it possible that your conclusions based on it are true. Yes. Notice how I separated the two statements.

    I guess what your asking whether its possible that your religious beliefs are actually the state of reality. It is certainly possible. Probable is a different story, but possible sure.

    I’m willing to admit that it is possible for there to be a God and that he’s got a son who is also himself who has a virgin 13 year old mom who then died came back to life then floated away and will come again in 2012 to usher in the apocalypse.
    I hope you can understand why I would seriously doubt that such a tale were true.

    Troofsayer:
    It was a different time back then, but I am uncomfortable giving my ancestors carte blanche because of it. Regardless of that should we really be applying their rules and beliefs from that “different time” to the modern world. I say NO and NO.

    Siamang my guess is 300214.

  332. According to the story, even Thomas had to put his hand on the evidence. And he knew the Guy. All I have is a book that says he did, written thousands of years ago by people who were, let’s face it, cult members following a charismatic leader who preached about the end of the world.

    Actually no. You have at least 5 seperate sources recorded in the New Testament which is what historians refer to as “multiple atestation”.

    It is quite curious that no other event in antiquity has comparable atestation.

    Plus, if the Resurrection of Jesus was faked then how come
    1. So many witnesses are recorded? As Paul writes to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 15:6)
    “After that he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living…”
    The point he is making to the church in Corinth is that the factual claim of the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection was eminently testable. They had living witnesses (loads of them) they could query.

    2. There is no contemporaneous refutation? It would have been remarkably easy to produce the body and deny the claim. The Roman governer Pilate had guards placed upon it who were punished with death for desertion of their post. Someone could have easily produced the corpse and put an end to the story.

    And yet we have nothing contemporaneous to refute the claim. Nothing at all.

    When it comes to the historical claims of the resurrection of Jesus if we place it under the same scrutiny that we place other ancient witnesses (e.g Pliny, Philo, Josephus) we have a remarkably well-attested and transmitted historical event.

    Now I don’t expect that to convince anyone who has a priori decided about this matter but there will be a whole number of more open-minded rational people who, upon investigation, will at least concede that the historical claims on which Christianity is founded cannot be simply dismissed as fanciful. If they were to do so they would have to pretty much dismiss everything we know about antiquity on the same basis.

  333. Pointless to argue against personal revelation, or the doctrines and lessons learnt at the knee of a beloved and caring parent.
    The forms of religion are infinite, it appears: some are atheistic, some are not: some affirm the immortality of the soul, some deny such immortality; some hold that people ought to help others without reward, others hold that one should only help one’s co-religionists; some religions say that peace is an end in itself, others hold that holy war is hateful, but necessary, others treat war as the only thing.
    This is along long thread, son I’ll just add:
    To the common man, all religions are equally true;
    To the philosopher, all religions are equally false;
    To the magistrate, all religions are equally useful.

  334. Josh: “I’m not aware of anyone claiming that the ants are doing it because they are getting messages from God.”

    I am. Who wrote the code in the DNA? Who put the bop in the bop-she-bop? DNA spelled backwards is GOD.
    …uh, well, not in English, but maybe some other language…

    Do you buy Attenborough’s theory that there were convenient strands of DNA laying around the primordial pool with clear instructions on how to ingest life-sustaining nutrition from bits of flotsam around you, double your internals and divide into two seperate entities, both capable of re-producing? Sounds like a fairy tale… you demanded proof before you accepted that, right?

    Life is magic, my friends.

  335. Troofseeker…

    About your antfarm.

    I’d add this:

    Nobody has ever been outside the antfarm. There are those who say that thousands of years ago one went and returned. There is no proof of this.

    However, now all the ants kick the shit out of any ant who dares say “there is no proof anyone ever left. All obey the Queen, who insists She and She alone has all the answers about what’s outside the ant farm. And war after war we fight for the Queen, for she alone knows the will of the antmaker.

    And the little worker ants all fall in line, and never, ever, ask any embarrassing questions, lest they get squished.

    I think Kissing Hank’s Ass is the best rebuttal to your antfarm.

    http://www.jhuger.com/kisshank.php

  336. Robulus

    All of America isn’t like that. Sure some places and people can be a little hard but I still think we’re pretty cool about it. I like being an American and I’m proud to be so. I’ve traveled a bit and come to learn that analytical individualistic western culture is my bag. I learned not to be ashamed of being American and am now quite proud to be a member of this country and culture. This country is by no means perfect, but we are not a bunch of redneck loons who lynch anyone we disagree with. I’ve run across a few Aussies in my time and we’re pretty much the same, both drastically inferior to kiwis.

  337. ::Do I have a etherel spirit? Can you prove that I do.

    what value does proof hold to the person that has already veiled themselves from it?

    I don’t think you quite get what “prove” means.

    ::“Can you tell me the basic principle of Science?”

    TO SEEK TRUTH. And aside from Dawkins and a few other self-righteous humans, a majority of the scientific community believe in a Supreme Being.

    If you think “science” and “supreme being” are on the same plane of reality, you really don’t know what “science” means.

    If you claim you can “prove” the existence of a “soul”, then you really don’t know what “science” or “proof” means.

  338. Troofseeker

    that’s a pretty crappy explanation of abiogenesis.

    Knowing very little on the subject I will state I DO NOT KNOW WHERE LIFE CAME FROM. I have some vague ideas that might be the possible beginning of life, but I’m going to have to stick with I DON”T KNOW WHERE LIFE CAME FROM.

    I have now exposed my ignorance. I am not going to try and cover my ignorance with a huge logical leap like GOD DID IT. Just because I don’t know something or can’t explain something doesn’t mean that God exists. The concept that I am fallible does not lead to the conclusion that there is something that is infallible.

  339. Troofseeker, that wasn’t the claim being made at all. The claim that was apparently made by the poster I was responding seemed to imply that there was direct intervention by a deity.

    If your problem is restricted to abiogenesis then that doesn’t help matters at all. It doesn’t deal with abiogenesis at all. Moreover, whether or not we understand abiogenesis isn’t terrible relevant. We didn’t understand planetary orbits prior to Newton so we assumed that God did it. We didn’t understand star formation. Saying God did it is a really bad response. First, it is dangerous because you risk having the foundation for your faith falling apart just as it has for those who claimed it was based on other unsolved problems. Second, it is likely explainable as we have explained well so much. Third and most seriously, there is at this point some pretty interesting hypotheses about abiogenesis. See for example the RNA world hypothesis which hypothesises that life arose as self-replicating RNA strings which eventually picked up DNA as an aid to stable replication. (As an aside until we find abiogenesis occuring or recent abiogenesis occurring on another planet we likely not have a good understanding of this).

  340. Siamang- “…And the little worker ants all fall in line, and never, ever, ask any embarrassing questions, lest they get squished.”

    thank God we don’t live in those days, eh?

    Carnac The Enlightened,
    wow. Thank you. Thank you admitting that you don’t know- I didn’t think you had it in you. My bad for making that judgement.

    “I am not going to try and cover my ignorance with a huge logical leap like GOD DID IT.”

    Isn’t it a huge logical leap to say God didn’t do it? That Life made itself?

  341. Isn’t it a huge logical leap to say God didn’t do it? That Life made itself?

    No. First, if we are talking about science then the God hypothesis isn’t a valid hypothesis. It isn’t falsifiable (under a Popperian definition of science) and it doesn’t produce a useful research program (in the style of Lakatos). Aside from that, as a general issue, saying that an entity created life is simply pushing the matter back one step. It isn’t at all helpful. All you’ve done is say “So we don’t know how X occurred so I instead am going to assume that Y did X where Y is vague and ill-defined excepting that Y caused X.”

  342. this is really good and dovetails well with the “big tent liberalism” talk from TED not too long ago.

  343. #351 posted by Anonymous

    Religion is obviously an evolutionarily stable strategy

    Social Darwinism is a long-discredited theory.

  344. Ugh. I can’t believe I read the whole thing. . .

    My summary:

    Antinous: “Atheists sure are annoying.”

    Self-declared atheists: “We’re not the annoying ones.”

    Takuan: Generally apt snark

    Carnac: OMG Carnac, that was my guess too!!! Wanna start a religion?

    MKultra: Emotionally charged arguments that are in line with the roots of the atheism espoused by others throughout the thread (i.e. The Church fucks a lot of stuff up, don’t believe the hype).

    OP: Recants on his argument and runs away, which amounts to throwing a firecracker into a powderkeg and then saying the firecracker was probably a bad idea.

    And then a bunch of semantic arguments about what atheism and religion are and what we’re actually arguing about.

    I thoroughly enjoyed it, everyone. Thanks for playing.

  345. Josuaz: indeed.
    Every thing has a proximate cause, which upon examination turns out not to be God….in fact one can go back through the entire chain of causation and not find God as a cause.

  346. The Antfarm as a parable for our world.

    Some ants feel that there must be more to life, out there, beyond the Antfarm. These ants are curios and there questions should be explored. They develop methods to ascertain information about existence. These methods are not perfect but no one can seem to come up with a more reliable way of grasping reality.

    Many ants have theories about what lies out there, beyond the Antfarm. These Ants repeatedly test these theories. The theories that are shown to be false are either thrown away or modified and tested again.

    Some ants believe you have to be good enough to exist out there. These ants never seem to have an satisfactory explanation as to what their idea of “good” is much less how it allows you to exist outside the ant farm.

    Some believe there is a way to get out there, that one once left and left a trail. These Ants are considering an unconfirmed belief, deciding they want it to be true and then insisting it is without providing any evidence that this is the reality.

    Some say there is nothing out there, beyond the Antfarm. These Ants are either guilty of Dogmatism, or have not been provided with any evidence that there is anything outside the Antfarm and thus choose to tenuously assume that there is noting else. Most of these Ants are the latter.

    Which Ants are the cool guys?

    This metaphor flounders if it’s supposed to be about those who don’t believe in a God. The ants who believe there is more outside the antfarm are talking about material reality outside the confines of there farm. It would be like humans discussing whether or not outer-space exists. The Ants are not dreaming up some other realm where magic exists and so forth and blah blah.

  347. Thanks Carnac, I kind of thought that was the case. Perhaps there’s been a teeny bit of dramatic overstatement of the traumatic struggle of the American atheist in this thread.

    I’m just going to completely ignore what you said about New Zealand, I’d like us to be friends.

  348. Isn’t it a huge logical leap to say God didn’t do it? That Life made itself?

    first of all, logic isn’t science.

    Science starts with the epistomology that that you observe, find repeatable processes, and from those repeatable processes you extract knowledge.

    Epistomology: the study or a theory of the nature and grounds of knowledge especially with reference to its limits and validity

    How do you know something scientifically? You observe, you see repeatable processes, you extrapolate, you “know”.

    We will never be able to observe how life was actually created on Earth. But we can observe chemistry and extrapolate possible conditions on earth and see if we can come up with something that is explainable. If we can’t, we don’t know how it happened.

    That isn’t the same as saying “god did NOT do it”. And that isn’t the same as saying “life created itself”.

    It turns out that evolution is pretty much an observable process and other than some specific evolutionary links, we can see how it works and it is a fairly repeatable process.

    How abiogenisis came about isn’t quite so solid. If you put some basic raw chemical elements in a beaker, heat it, add electrical sparks to simulate lightning, and let it percolate, you can get some basic proteins and RNA and other building blocks of life, but no one has seen a single cell come out of an experiment yet. And the scientific position on abiogenesis (last I read anyway) was that “we don’t exactly know”.

    That isn’t the same as saying “god did it” or “life did it by itself”. That’s the tricky part of the epistomology of science. There is the “don’t know” phase.

    Thing is, if God did come in and create life, then science will never be able to “know” that, because if science can never explain it from repeatable chemical processes, science will stay in the “don’t know” phase. Science will not go into the “god did it” based on a lack of knowledge.

    Which doesn’t mean Science couldn’t “know” God. If god were willing to teleport a live, fully grown t-rex into a lab, and do so repeatedly, and on command, science would pretty much say, “OK, God, you got me on that one, we can’t explain it in any objective, empirical way”. It’s just that God doesn’t like showing up and performing miracles on command.

    The thing is that the epistomology of science isnt’ the only epistemology. And science doesn’t claim to be the only way to know something, it just claims to be one way to know things in the physical, empirical realm. If you allow for other forms of knowledge in other realms, then the realm of spirituality has its own epistomology. You just have to remember that what you know spiritually isn’t something that you can transfer to knowledge in the empirical world, or vice versa. The two are orthogonal.

    What a lot of religious folks seem to conflate is the idea that scientific knowledge and spiritual knowledge are the same kind of knowledge. That we can know that God created life the same way we know the second law of thermodynamics. We can’t. They’re not the same.

  349. I consider the statement “God didn’t do it” illogical because:

    After stating I DON”T KNOW I can’t really surmise that it wasn’t God who DID IT. I don’t know if God did or didn’t do it. I don’t even know if there is a God to do it or not do it. Why even bring this might be real might be pretend dude into the whole equation. How about we crack open the books, fire up the Bunsens and start researching what really happened instead of throwing out random guesses.

  350. Saint Holiday wrote: Would you concede the possibility that I have indeed had true and self-authenticating experiences, which have invested me with the witness I claim to have? Or would you say this is not possible?

    No experience self-authenticates. For example, I have sleep paralysis on a semi-regular basis. I’ve seen ghosts, aliens, demons, and even the Borg and on one occasion a Dalek. At the time they always seem to be extremely real and very scary. Human sensory phenomena are simply not a reliable method of gathering data beyond a very cursory level.

    Furthermore, there is the curious paradox that people from a myriad of different religions all make nearly identical claims about personal experience or relevation. They can’t all be right. What’s more likely, that one of them is correct and all the others are having nearly identical experiences that can be explained through physical means, or that they all experiencing the same thing?

  351. If you put some basic raw chemical elements in a beaker, heat it, add electrical sparks to simulate lightning, and let it percolate, you can get some basic proteins and RNA and other building blocks of life, but no one has seen a single cell come out of an experiment yet. And the scientific position on abiogenesis (last I read anyway) was that “we don’t exactly know”.

    Of course, that isn’t even a remotely reasonable comparison of the circumstances we believe are most likely to have seen life arise on our planet (or on the planet where it first arose).

    The key difference is vast quantities of organic material in flux, and unimagineably vast amounts of time.

    It is highly unlikely we’ll be able to recreate this event in a beaker. This does not mean that it is unlikely, or even rare, for it to happen in the vastness of the universe with the abundance of organic compounds we know exist here.

  352. @Crashgrab 144:
    Ah, thanks for the explanation.

    What is different about church? Well, I guess I’ve had a different experience than you. As I mentioned in another comment, the parish I went to helped my family out a lot when my dad was laid off, giving us food, allowing us to delay tuition payments. (And if you’re wondering why we needed to pay tuition for Catholic school, I would invite you to become familiar with the public school I would have gone to, and ask yourself if you would send your kids there. But that’s another story.) So I have found them to be more generous, loving, and kind than the population in general.

    But I also know enough to know that this is not everybody’s experience. So why, then, do I find the church different? Just luck of the draw, I suppose.

    But I take exception to you suggesting that I’m acting on someone else’s judgement by going to church. I’ve thought about it a lot, and have decided that this is a community that, for all its faults, I want to be part of. Yes, there are good people and bad people everywhere. I choose to associate with this particular group of people, who I believe to be mostly good.

    One similarity I see between your experience and mine is that we can both look forward to some mass gathering, where all of us will be in the same place at once. Mine is weekly, yours is yearly; probably that makes yours a little more exciting and dear to you. But I think the mass gathering is essential. And I wonder if that’s what the original post was trying to get at.

  353. Also, Greg, really, really good point. I would add that the epistomology of spirituality or mysticism is often dismissed off-handedly by people who only see a need for the epistomology of science, and that’s a shame.

  354. I would add that the epistomology of spirituality or mysticism is often dismissed off-handedly by people who only see a need for the epistomology of science, and that’s a shame.

    Wrong at multiple levels. First of all, no one operates on just a scientific epistemology. People don’t perform systematic experiments to determine that what they see as a staircase in front of them is actually a staircase. When growing up children don’t perform systematic experiments with controls and rigorous protocols (although they certainly do a lot of informal experimentation to better understand the world. Look at block building for example).

    However, if there is one epistemology that over thousands of years has shown itself to be not terribly useful it is that of mysticism. Navel gazing doesn’t accomplish anything. And curiously, almost know two mystics agree on the same result. Sufi mystics are convinced they are mystically connected to Allah. Christian mystics are convinced they share a mystical connection to Jesus (or possibly Mary or possibly certain saints). Jewish mystics think they are in touch with the Ein Sof. I can go on. An epistemology which produces zero agreement between different individuals about what the heck is out there isn’t a useful epistemology. There are good reasons why most atheists and many theists reject mystical epistemologies.

    1. And curiously, almost know two mystics agree on the same result.

      At the core of mysticism is the idea that undifferentiated consciousness is the fundamental principle, material and creative force of the universe. Yoga (Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain…), Qabala (Jewish, Christian) and Sufism (Islam) have remarkably similar views on the subject. For the digestive ease of the masses, they may call it by Purusha or Allah, but at the mystic level, the philosophical concept is a nearly universal archetype.

  355. It is highly unlikely we’ll be able to recreate this event in a beaker. This does not mean that it is unlikely, or even rare, for it to happen in the vastness of the universe with the abundance of organic compounds we know exist here.

    Except that we can’t just handwave away something we don’t understand by saying “times a billion years and times a billion tons of matter”.

    YOu can’t “know” AI by saying “we’ll just increase processor speed until HAL starts singing Daisy”.

    You can’t “know” how to fly by handwaving how it works and essentially say “if we throw enough feathers in a pile, we’ll have something that flies”. If you don’t understand it, you don’t understand it.

    We don’t really understand abiogenisis. We can see some of the steps. but some fundamentals are missing. and we cannot legitimately fill in those gaps by waving our hands and saying “times a billion years”.

  356. Joshuaz, that’s not an off-handed dismissal, its a considered rejection.

    My symbolic spiritual world allows me a connection to an inner emotional life that I can’t get through science and pure rational thought.

    If you don’t place a high value on that, fair enough. My objection is when people start crapping on about pixie dust and lumping all spiritual thought in with Peter Pan. I think its glib and naive.

    Also, the whole “wrong at multiple levels” bit. Really? A bit condescending don’t you think, Poindexter?

  357. #392 Davidould says:
    Actually no. You have at least 5 seperate sources recorded in the New Testament which is what historians refer to as “multiple atestation”
    Can you name a source other than the new testament?


    It is quite curious that no other event in antiquity has comparable atestation.

    I think that is a totally true statement, in that no event that actually occurred has such little verifiable evidence.

    Plus, if the Resurrection of Jesus was faked then how come
    1. So many witnesses are recorded? As Paul writes to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 15:6)
    “After that he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living…”
    The point he is making to the church in Corinth is that the factual claim of the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection was eminently testable. They had living witnesses (loads of them) they could query.

    So many witnesses according to a text written later and yet where are the five hundred testaments of this occurring? And where are the statements from disinterested parties the also witnessed these events?

    2. There is no contemporaneous refutation? It would have been remarkably easy to produce the body and deny the claim. The Roman governer Pilate had guards placed upon it who were punished with death for desertion of their post. Someone could have easily produced the corpse and put an end to the story.

    And yet we have nothing contemporaneous to refute the claim. Nothing at all.

    And nothing contemporaneous to support it either.

    If there had of been anything contemporaneous that disproved the claims in the NT, do you really think they would have survived?

    There would be no contemporaneous refutation of the claim, anyway, because the claim did not exist at the time. Quite possibly because there’d never been the person supposedly put to death. Why refute a claim that no one was making until a generation or more later, and at the time only among a small Jewish mystical sect?

    When it comes to the historical claims of the resurrection of Jesus if we place it under the same scrutiny that we place other ancient witnesses (e.g Pliny, Philo, Josephus) we have a remarkably well-attested and transmitted historical event.
    No, we don’t.
    Funny how you mention Josephus. You forgot to bring up the claim that Josephus mentioned Jesus — I’m guessing you already knew how Atheists would react, given the claims only appear in one version of Josephus and where the claim appears it is obviously a later forgery.

    Now I don’t expect that to convince anyone who has a priori decided about this matter but there will be a whole number of more open-minded rational people who, upon investigation, will at least concede that the historical claims on which Christianity is founded cannot be simply dismissed as fanciful. If they were to do so they would have to pretty much dismiss everything we know about antiquity on the same basis.
    I’m hoping that open-minded, rational people will work out for themselves that there is little to no evidence for anything attested to in the gospels (let alone the sections where Jesus apparently did thing by himself but were somehow witnessed), that Paul doesn’t mention a huge amount of what Jesus was meant to have done even if it would have helped the argument he was trying to make (so why not bring it up?), that the gospels contradict each other in part (must be that “comparable atestation” you mentioned), and there’s a huge pile of no evidence for Jesus to have existed at all.

  358. Except that we can’t just handwave away something we don’t understand by saying “times a billion years and times a billion tons of matter”.

    YOu can’t “know” AI by saying “we’ll just increase processor speed until HAL starts singing Daisy”.

    Well, yeah. That’s why I was very careful to say the circumstances we believe are most likely to have seen life arise.

    Sorry the tone may have been ambiguous. That comment wasn’t meant to challenge yours, it was meant to point out that the gap in our knowledge you describe is one that may simply be impractical to fill. It is often cited by creationists as some huge failing of science, when it is really more of a limit to our testing capacity.

  359. joshuaz: First of all, no one operates on just a scientific epistemology.

    Some do. Anyone who dismisses any spiritual or emotional knowledge is operating on a purely empirical epistemology.

    People don’t perform systematic experiments to determine that what they see as a staircase in front of them is actually a staircase.

    Actually, after you’ve seen enough staircases repeatedly, you can scientifically assume if it looks like a staircase and you walk up it like a staircase, then its a staircase.

    Believers in the “Matrix” type double worlds aren’t actually positing scientific empiricism.

    Am I Lao Tzu dreaming I’m a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming I”m Lao Tzu?

    That is not a question answered by scientific epistomology.

    Zen surrenders to the notion that some thing simply cannot be “known” and therefore aren’t worth getting trapped into trying to “know”. It’s just a staircase.

    if there is one epistemology that over thousands of years has shown itself to be not terribly useful it is that of mysticism.

    How do you “know”?

    Navel gazing doesn’t accomplish anything

    Things are in the world of empiricism, not spirituality. Spirituality cannot “accomplish anything” because “anything” is empirical, not spiritual.

    almost know two mystics agree on the same result.

    If it is an empirical result, then it isn’t spiritualism you’re talking about.

    An epistemology which produces zero agreement between different individuals about what the heck is out there isn’t a useful epistemology.

    Agreement between two people is a part of scientific epistomology. Not neccessarily spiritual epistemology.

    what is the sound of one hand clapping?

    Think any two people will agree on the answer? If two people disagree does that mean they are wrong?

    Also what is “out there” is empirical. Spiritualism is an internal journey, how you relate to the universe, yourself, others. Not what is “out there”, but how you relate to what is out there.

    There are good reasons why most atheists and many theists reject mystical epistemologies.

  360. Robulus, wrong at multiple levels means just that; wrong at multiple levels. I come from a highly argumentative background so I don’t see statements of opinion like that as condescending. Moreover, whether a viewpoint makes one happy is distinct from whether or not the epistemology has any validity.

    Antinous, that’s a valid point. There are remarkable similarities between different mystical viewpoints. Given my own experiences with mystical frames of mind they did have that feeling of being at one with the world or something like that, but I never saw any evidence that it was anything other than an anomaly of human cognition. The fact that such feelings are also replicable in controlled settings using chemicals and other methods doesn’t help as evidence that there is anything real going on.

    Moreover, even if the overall idea that mystics have is frequently similar, the details are very very different. And most historical mystics would strenuously object to any sort of suggestion that they were doing anything that was accessible or similar to what mystics of other traditions were doing. So this epistemology at best is useful for one very vague statement about how some (not all) humans consistently feel part of some greater whole. That’s not a terribly useful epistemology either if all it does is add a single data point of unclear meaning.

    1. That’s not a terribly useful epistemology either if all it does is add a single data point of unclear meaning.

      The notion that a few kilos of variety meat could understand the nature of existence or compass the vastness of all that is seems a bit silly. Common sense dictates that we expunge ‘impossible’ from the language and stick to probabilities.

  361. Ya know, when folks start talkin’ bout epistemology… that’s when I reach for my revolver.

  362. the tone may have been ambiguous.

    I misread it to say we could “know” abigenesis.

    It is often cited by creationists as some huge failing of science, when it is really more of a limit to our testing capacity.

    Probably the biggest red flag that someone doesn’t understand science is that they take “not knowing” as a failure. Not knowing is a perfectly acceptable condition of science.

    It is when a person cannot stand not knowing that they reach for dogma to fill in the missing knowledge.

  363. The Unknown
    As we know,
    There are known knowns.
    There are things we know we know.
    We also know
    There are known unknowns.
    That is to say
    We know there are some things
    We do not know.
    But there are also unknown unknowns,
    The ones we don’t know
    We don’t know.

    —Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing

  364. Some do. Anyone who dismisses any spiritual or emotional knowledge is operating on a purely empirical epistemology.

    Empirical epistemology and scientific epistemology are not at all the same thing. Many different epistemologies have empirical elements. That doesn’t make them scientific. Moreover, science is not purely empirical. We see patterns in data, construct new hypotheses to explain that data, and then think of clever experiments that might test the new hypotheses. These steps are vital to science and they rely very much on human cognition, not just empirical data. This distinction between science and empiricism is lost in the rest of your post which makes much of it not very useful but I’ll respond to the remainder under the assumption that this important distinction is not being addressed. I will endeavor to note briefly where it matters.

    In any event, human don’t operate under purely empirical epistemologies either. People have emotional states for example. People don’t perform experiments to verify when they feel happy or sad or annoyed due to someone conflating science with all forms of empirical knowledge. Or to use another example, mathematics is seen by many as inherently non-empirical. It is still universal (like the standard scientific epistemology) in that people who repeat the same things will (generally) get the same results.

    How do you “know”?

    See my later remark. It hasn’t produced any agreed results. That suggests it isn’t a great epistemology. If however, you want to continue in this regard, my own experiences with mysticism have simply not useful. Deep feelings of the numinous don’t give me anything. Indeed, if anything, in my experience the feelings of the numinous are generated by discoveries in other epistemologies.

    For example, the most deep feeling of awe I have ever had in my life was back in 8th grade when I really understood just how massive sets created by the axiom of replacement could be. But the numinous feeling didn’t tell me anything other than that this was a fun topic.

    I’ve had feelings of the numinous in other contexts, even classical religious contexts, but that never helped at all either. I’ve never had a kasha (an apparent contradiction in halachah(Jewish law)) or shaila (a difficult question in halachah about the specific thing to do in a certain case) although certainly there have been great Rabbis who claimed to have such experiences (most notably Yosef Karo).

    Actually, after you’ve seen enough staircases repeatedly, you can scientifically assume if it looks like a staircase and you walk up it like a staircase, then its a staircase.

    Again, conflating empiricism with science. Moreover, I can’t assume that. Maybe I’m hallucinating. Maybe it is an optical illusion. All we can say is that within our experience this has a high probability of being a staircase.

    Things are in the world of empiricism, not spirituality. Spirituality cannot “accomplish anything” because “anything” is empirical, not spiritual.

    Word games. Spirituality has not given us more understanding about metaphysics. Nor has spirituality done any of the accomplishments that it was classically capable of doing. Mystics in many religions were supposed to be able to raise the dead, to heal the sick, to see great distances, to levitate and to do hundreds of other feats. And yet, they can’t. If spirituality has no connection to the world around us then all it is is what you get when you take a classical mystical system and chop off everything that was falsifiable.

    If it is an empirical result, then it isn’t spiritualism you’re talking about.

    These don’t need to be empirical results. Simply what entity they are getting their revelations from would be nice. Yet as we discussed earlier, they can’t agree. They have radically different ideas about the number, nature and intent of such entities.

    Agreement between two people is a part of scientific epistomology. Not neccessarily spiritual epistemology.

    I’m not sure how to respond to this comment. Epistemologies should reflect what is actually out there in some sense yes? If an epistemology doesn’t produced the same results between different people, what justification do you have for that epistemology other than it makes you personally feel good?

    what is the sound of one hand clapping? Think any two people will agree on the answer? If two people disagree does that mean they are wrong?

    No, it means that the question wasn’t well-defined. Asking ill-posed questions isn’t evidence of anything. (Marginally related XKCD – http://xkcd.com/169/ ).

    Also what is “out there” is empirical. Spiritualism is an internal journey, how you relate to the universe, yourself, others. Not what is “out there”, but how you relate to what is out there.

    What does this even mean? If it is internal then it isn’t about how I relate to others. If it is about how I relate to others then they should be able by the same methods to reach the same conclusions about how we are related.

  365. Antinous, no disagreement there but it isn’t clear to me how that’s connected to the sentence quoted.

  366. what I really love about all this is I can refute so many by simply existing and being happy!

  367. Robulus, wrong at multiple levels means just that; wrong at multiple levels. I come from a highly argumentative background so I don’t see statements of opinion like that as condescending.

    Oh, I haven’t met many people from “highly argumentative backgrounds”, so perhaps I’m out of my depth with a pro like you. I came from a moderately argumentative background, and apparently have a slightly different condescension threshold. Quite a lot of my friends had little or no argumentativity at all, and are patronised by the tiniest word.

    But I’m a glutton for punishment. So let me see if I can frame this in the sort of program logic that will enter your highly argumentative mind without being immediately rejected:

    The epistomology of spirituality or mysticism is often dismissed off-handedly by people who only see a need for the epistomology of science to understand those aspects of the universe historically understood with spirituality or mysticism.

    There is great value to be found in spiritual epistomology for personal understanding and growth, as described by psychologists such as Jung.

    It is unfortunate that in recognising the superiority of scientific epistomology for understanding the empirically observable universe, many people disregard the practical usefulness of spiritual epistomology without thoughtful consideration.

  368. Sorry about that. Italics seem to have gotten lost somehow in the above comment. It should be clear from context which paragraphs are mine and which are being quoted.

  369. Robulus, I said I came from a highly argumentative background, I never claimed to be good at it…

    Anyways, phrased that way I don’t have strong disagreement with what you said.

  370. @ #405(!): I think it’s hilarious that you consider my arguments ’emotionally charged.’ If you think that’s something, you should talk to some people I know on the other side of the debate. On second thought, maybe not–you might have a heart attack!

    The reason I stopped posting to this thread was because I realized that I had committed the ultimate breech of forum etiquette: I fed the troll. I took the flamebait. I strongly suspect that a certain individual doesn’t really believe much if any of what they are posting in here. They poke the wasp’s nest with a stick, just for the sheer gleeful joy of the chaos that it brings.

    It’s disheartening to realize that one has wasted time crafting a thoughtful, measured argument, only to figure out that you’re arguing with the intellectual equivalent of a flaming bag of poo on the doorstep.

  371. It was better before. It looked like you were just pacing back and forth yelling at yourself like a zen smeagol.

  372. greg: what is the sound of one hand clapping? Think any two people will agree on the answer? If two people disagree does that mean they are wrong?

    joshua: No, it means that the question wasn’t well-defined.

    Yeah, welcome to the spiritual world of zen.

    greg: Agreement between two people is a part of scientific epistomology. Not neccessarily spiritual epistemology.

    joshua: I’m not sure how to respond to this comment.

    Good, maybe you’re learning.

    Epistemologies should reflect what is actually out there in some sense yes?

    Spirituality isn’t “out there”. The epistemology of spirituality has nothing to do with “out there”. “out there” is empirical, in the objective world.

    greg: Also what is “out there” is empirical. Spiritualism is an internal journey, how you relate to the universe, yourself, others. Not what is “out there”, but how you relate to what is out there.

    joshua: What does this even mean?

    It means the difference between satori and a monk who doesn’t yet understand zen.

    If you want me to explain zen to you, then you don’t understand zen. Zen cannot be explained.

    This is the fundamental issue with spirituality. You have to find your own path. No one can tell you the correct way. Every person might have a different answer to a question, and every person might be fully enlightened.

    Word games.

    Yes. And through words and games sometimes satori is possible.

    Spirituality has not given us more understanding about metaphysics.

    Who said it was supposed to?

    Nor has spirituality done any of the accomplishments that it was classically capable of doing. Mystics in many religions were supposed to be able to raise the dead, to heal the sick, to see great distances, to levitate and to do hundreds of other feats. And yet, they can’t.

    You’re focusing on various religious aspects, not spirituality itself.

    If spirituality has no connection to the world around us then all it is is what you get when you take a classical mystical system and chop off everything that was falsifiable.

    who demanded that the proper epistemology of spirituality must include falsifiability? Says who? Just because it may give you empirical knowledge of the objective world doesn’t mean it’s worth squat trying to learn anything about spirituality.

    If you want spirituality to do something like raise the dead or let you levitate, then you’re not talking about spirituality. If you want it to bend to the rules of falsifiability because that’s what works with empirical objective knowledge, then you’ll not find spirituality.

    and as long as you know there is no such thing as spirituality, then that is your spirituality: nothing.

    You’re posts haven’t been trying to gain spirituality, but to disprove it. And that is the spirituality you will get. You’ve disproved it for yourself, but you cannot disprove it or prove it for me. We have different answers to the same question, and both of us are correct. I for me. You for yourself.

  373. “yelling at yourself like a zen smeagol.” ! ah thank you! See, its worth hanging around here because every now and then something like that comes down the pike. (I’m still chortling over “shrieking, fight-picking trolly-pants”)

    Is anyone out there collecting these bon mots?

  374. Anti’453

    Yeah, I had to back-trace all of MKs comments to find out.. Seems obvious in a weasely, non-obvious way.

    MK, at least stand proud and say j’accuse!

  375. Antinous, thanks for that. Now it looks all nice and pretty. Of course, this probably teaches me precisely the wrong message: If I write a long comment and format it badly then I’ll get a moderator to make it look really pretty. This may not be the lesson intended…

    Robulus, Stupid stinking epistemologies! You ruins it! … we shall get Precious back from science won’t we Precious?

    1. This may not be the lesson intended

      Next time, I’ll fill it with links to plushie porn.

  376. #392 POSTED BY DAVIDOULD:

    “Actually no. You have at least 5 seperate sources recorded in the New Testament which is what historians refer to as “multiple atestation”.”

    Big deal. 5 religious fanatics were fooled by a magic trick. Or even easier, one religious fanatic forged five documents. Or someone wrote down a legend a hundred years after it supposedly happened to someone’s great uncle’s neighbor’s sister in law’s bum of a husband.

    The testimony of five fallible human beings is not sufficient to establish the existence of an infallible, infinite super-being.

    However, said super-being can always prove He’s here. What’s that number I wrote down?

    Oh yeah. Crickets.

    “It is quite curious that no other event in antiquity has comparable atestation.”

    Wait. Are you seriously saying that NO OTHER EVENT in history has 5 people who wrote about it? You really believe that?

    You know what never happened? Nobody wrote about Jesus during his lifetime. Isn’t that weird? We’ve got no historical record of the dude written by any historian during his lifetime?

    It’s like he’s a phantom!

    “Plus, if the Resurrection of Jesus was faked then how come
    1. So many witnesses are recorded? As Paul writes to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 15:6)
    “After that he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living…””

    So ONE GUY says “500 people saw this…” and you take that as 500 separate corroborating accounts? 10,000 people just told me that’s bullshit!

    MAN are you easily fished in!

    “The point he is making to the church in Corinth is that the factual claim of the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection was eminently testable. They had living witnesses (loads of them) they could query.”

    If the Corinthians had written back “Funny thing, Paul, we checked into your 500 people thing. It didn’t check out” would that had made it into the book? Or would that have ended up on the cutting room floor? Hey, you know… maybe they DID say that… Did the Corinthians ever write Paul back?

    “The Roman governer Pilate had guards placed upon it who were punished with death for desertion of their post. Someone could have easily produced the corpse and put an end to the story.”

    Sorry but we’ve got no account by the Roman Governor Pilate about Jesus. All we’ve got are the self-serving claims of religious leaders.

    Listen, if Jesus wasn’t killed in the first place, there wouldn’t BE a body. What if he was just in a coma? What if Judas was crucified in his place? What if the whole thing was made up 50 years later based on old urban legends?

    “And yet we have nothing contemporaneous to refute the claim. Nothing at all.”

    Sure we do: The claim is without evidence. Anyone claiming that someone was brought back from the dead needs to show proof of death, and proof of life. You’ve got neither. You’ve got a book full of legends, written by a bunch of doomsday cultists from a time when people thought dragons and unicorns were real.

    “When it comes to the historical claims of the resurrection of Jesus if we place it under the same scrutiny that we place other ancient witnesses (e.g Pliny, Philo, Josephus) we have a remarkably well-attested and transmitted historical event.”

    Not sufficient for SUPERNATURAL occurances.

    It’s enough to establish whether or not a particular man was a king. It’s not enough to establish whether or not a man was a god. Why? Because religious cultists ALWAYS claim their dude did miracles.

    There are thousands of cultists in India right now who say their guru can fly and turn invisible. I guess to you, that must be irrefutable truth?

    But the most damning thing of all… the one that puts the whole Jesus thing in the fridge… is that this collection of legends written by one or five people or so… unsubstantiated by any physical evidence AT ALL… is the best that the Creator of the Universe can do! Clearly this guy never saw 2001 A Space Oddessey.

    Next time, LEAVE A MONOLITH, Yaweh! Not urban legends… those are too easily faked and manipulated by us power-hungry, small minded, damn dirty apes!

    Yaweh!!! You messed it all up! DANG YOU ALL TO HECK!!!

  377. One epistomology to rule them all, one epistomology to find them, one epistomology to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.

  378. martykay, I’ ll try and produce a detailed response to your comment:

    Actually no. You have at least 5 seperate sources recorded in the New Testament which is what historians refer to as “multiple atestation”
    Can you name a source other than the new testament?

    Yes. Josephus would be one example. I see below that you take issue with that but I’ll take that issue up below. The Talmud also makes a number of references (baraitha Shabbat 104b and baraitha Sanhedrin 43a-b). Those would be relatively contemporaneous sources. And then, of course, there is the New Testament itself.

    It is quite curious that no other event in antiquity has comparable atestation.
    I think that is a totally true statement, in that no event that actually occurred has such little verifiable evidence.

    Well, that is a very easy claim for you to prove. Can you provide an example of a contemporaneous event in antiquity featuring a historical figure for which we have a larger number of sources?

    Plus, if the Resurrection of Jesus was faked then how come
    1. So many witnesses are recorded? As Paul writes to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 15:6)
    “After that he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living…”
    The point he is making to the church in Corinth is that the factual claim of the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection was eminently testable. They had living witnesses (loads of them) they could query.

    So many witnesses according to a text written later and yet where are the five hundred testaments of this occurring? And where are the statements from disinterested parties the also witnessed these events?

    Well, first it depends what you mean by “later”. 1Corinthians dates from the early to mid 50s, hardly significant when one regards the typical distances between event and recitation of the period (so, for example, well over a hundred years between the death of Mohammed and the first biography of him, or Tacitus writing 77 years after emperor Tiberius). In its genre it is remarkable not for the distance but the lack of it.
    you next question assumes that every single witness is required to make a written testimony – I’m not sure that, on reflection, you would actually insist that was plausible.
    And finally you ask for “disinterested parties”. Well, there are a number of writings of the time that note the claims of Christians but as for those that Paul is writing about – how could you call anyone who saw a resurrected man “disinterested”? The question itself is flawed.

    2. There is no contemporaneous refutation? It would have been remarkably easy to produce the body and deny the claim. The Roman governer Pilate had guards placed upon it who were punished with death for desertion of their post. Someone could have easily produced the corpse and put an end to the story.

    And yet we have nothing contemporaneous to refute the claim. Nothing at all.

    And nothing contemporaneous to support it either.

    Not at all, in the standards of the writing of the time the New Testament documents are contemporaneous and claim to derive from eyewitness accounts.

    If there had of been anything contemporaneous that disproved the claims in the NT, do you really think they would have survived?

    yes, of course. The Christian church at the outset was a small and persectued Jewish sect. The Jewish authorities had every interest in refuting their claims and were in the position of power. If anyone had the greater possibility of their documents being preserved then it was those authorities.

    There would be no contemporaneous refutation of the claim, anyway, because the claim did not exist at the time.

    On the contrary – the testimony of the New Testament documents (and, “disinterested observers” such as Jospehus) runs against your claim (see below).

    Quite possibly because there’d never been the person supposedly put to death.

    I don’t think, with the greatest respect, there is much doubt at all amongst historians that Jesus lived and was executed in the manner described in the Bible.

    Why refute a claim that no one was making until a generation or more later, and at the time only among a small Jewish mystical sect?

    As I have noted above, they were claims made almost immediately.

    When it comes to the historical claims of the resurrection of Jesus if we place it under the same scrutiny that we place other ancient witnesses (e.g Pliny, Philo, Josephus) we have a remarkably well-attested and transmitted historical event.
    No, we don’t.
    Funny how you mention Josephus. You forgot to bring up the claim that Josephus mentioned Jesus — I’m guessing you already knew how Atheists would react, given the claims only appear in one version of Josephus and where the claim appears it is obviously a later forgery.

    Well, you’re obviously quite an expert at Josephus but you appear to be overstating your case. The actual text you are referring to is Antiquities 18.63-64 where there are a number of obvious insertions. I have italicised them below. The reader should then decide whether the original says nothing about Jesus or actually provides historical evidence:

    “At this time appeared Jesus , a wise man, if it be right to call him a man, for he worked miracles. he was the teacher of men who
    received the truth with joy, and He drew after Him many Jews and many Greeks. He was the Christ. On the denunciation of the first men
    of our nation, Pilate condemned Him to the cross; but those who loved Him from the beginning did not cease to love Him. For He
    appeared to them risen on the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold concerning Him, as also a thousand other marvels about
    Him.
    The sect which receives from Him the name of Christians exists even to this day.”

    Even without those insertions it is quite clear that “disinterested” Josephus provides a raft of historical statements. Some historians suggest a reconstruction would even include the statement

    …not cease to love Him. For they reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive. The secnt which…

    Now I don’t expect that to convince anyone who has a priori decided about this matter but there will be a whole number of more open-minded rational people who, upon investigation, will at least concede that the historical claims on which Christianity is founded cannot be simply dismissed as fanciful. If they were to do so they would have to pretty much dismiss everything we know about antiquity on the same basis.

    I’m hoping that open-minded, rational people will work out for themselves that there is little to no evidence for anything attested to in the gospels (let alone the sections where Jesus apparently did thing by himself but were somehow witnessed), that Paul doesn’t mention a huge amount of what Jesus was meant to have done even if it would have helped the argument he was trying to make (so why not bring it up?), that the gospels contradict each other in part (must be that “comparable atestation” you mentioned), and there’s a huge pile of no evidence for Jesus to have existed at all.

    Well, which one of those unsubstantiated claims would you like to back up first?
    That Paul does not mention everything?
    That the gospels contradict each other?
    Or that horrible lack of evidence (except, of course, for the New Testament documents, Josephus, the Talmud, Mara bar Serapion, Tacitus, Lucian of Samosata and even Celsus (a massive opponent of Christianity) who has no doubts about his existence).

  379. Josephus was born after Jesus died. Hardly a contemporary source.

    He wasn’t witness to the existence of Jesus. He was witness to the existence of Christians.

    I believe those exist.

    1. Arguing against the existence of an historical Jesus reeks of rhetorical desperation. One might almost call it a Hail Mary maneuver.

  380. Quick remark because I need to get back to work: David, the Talmudic references to Jesus are not at all contemporaneous. The sections in question date from around 500 c.e. or so at the earliest. Prior to that, most of the Talmud (excepting the Mishnah) was orally transmitted. The Talmud also just isn’t a terribly reliable source for historical details. See for example the end of Tamid which includes a convoluted story about Alexander the Great meeting the Amazons.

    Unreliable sources that are 500 years later and don’t seem to attest to a resurrection or any of the other miracles aren’t really helpful. They certainly don’t help at all establishing Jesus’ historical existence.

    There are problems with your other remarks as well: Yes, people who witnessed a ressurection wouldn’t be disinterested, but you still can’t claim that 1 source saying 500 saw something has nearly anywhere near the weight of 500 people independently saying they saw something.

    Heck, I think it is more likely than not that he’s a historical figure and I’m finding the arguments you are making unimpresive as given.

  381. Regarding the Jesus issue it may be useful to disconnect two questions: 1) Does the evidence support that Jesus existed? 2) Does the evidence support that Jesus worked miracles and was died and then reborn?

    It is much easier to argue for 1 than for 2. However, 1 does not imply 2.

  382. Oh, no. The Hail Mary Manoeuvre is a lot more strenuous, and involves less clothes and more beads. Watch your back, it’s a bit tricky.

  383. thanks Joshuaz,
    You’re correct that the written manuscripts we have for the Talmud come from 500AD but the actual material in the document itself comes from much earlier. It was not simply orally transmitted but also written down – the Jews were one culture that wrote and preserved. So we have, for example, Masoretic Texts from 1000AD that look almost identical to the Dead Sea Scroll texts (from around the time of Christ). Even if we want to posit only oral transmission then that was still considered a very effective means of transmission. It seems quite alien to us today but we still do it in other arenas. How many of us know the lyrics to favourite songs?

    As for the witnesses, I would only note that the culture wasn’t one where things were, across the board, written down – that was the preserve of the academics/clerics.

    Having said that, Paul’s claim isn’t that he has the backing of 500, but more specifically that Jesus appeared to 500 and many of those are still available for the readers of his letters to go and talk to themselves.

    A similar claim is made at the start of Luke’s gospel – that he has spoken to eyewitnesses. These documents began circulating not much more than 20 years after the death of Jesus – a ridiculously small scale of time for the era – and were easily verified or challenged. The authors would have known that.

    With that in mind, this consistent unproven accusation that either or both of the authors and eyewitnesses deliberated fabricated the accounts just looks massively overstated – particularly in the absence of any comparable refutation. The movement that grew around Jesus was a massive phenomenon – large enough to disrupt whole cities and give Nero someone to blame for the fire of Rome. This was no small movement, grounded on specific historical claims and yet for all the challenges that it was made up nothing is actually put on the table.

    Again, I’m not expecting readers here to throw their hands up in the air and give their lives to Christ (although I wouldn’t be upset by it!) but perhaps it will make open-minded readers reconsider a blanket (and, frankly, prejudicial) dismissal of the issues.

  384. Regarding the Jesus issue it may be useful to disconnect two questions: 1) Does the evidence support that Jesus existed? 2) Does the evidence support that Jesus worked miracles and was died and then reborn?

    It is much easier to argue for 1 than for 2. However, 1 does not imply 2.

    Thanks Joshuaz, I think that’s a very helpful distinctions. One might also want to distinguish between the evidence for his death and resurrection.

  385. Big deal. 5 religious fanatics were fooled by a magic trick. Or even easier, one religious fanatic forged five documents. Or someone wrote down a legend a hundred years after it supposedly happened to someone’s great uncle’s neighbor’s sister in law’s bum of a husband.

    Thanks for playing, siamang. I think we’re done.

  386. David, do you know how many people have claimed to see a statue of Mary weeping? Do you believe them? (not: do you believe they believe what they say. But: do you believe the statues were weeping?)

  387. Ok, David last remark on this matter. Regarding contemporaries of Jesus or about his time whom we have more sources:
    Julius Caesar. We have his own writings such as the Gallic Wars (which are really boring. Seriously, only Caesar could write such boring Latin as to make war boring the 7th graders), we have the writings of Cicero criticizing Caesar, we have Sallust. We have other writers on the Gallic Wars who mention and discuss Caesar. We have other contemporaries who write about or mention him in passing. We have also contemporary depictions of Caesar including many coins with his face on them and a handful of busts.

    This is not the only example. For Augustus we have even higher levels of evidence. We have many different physical depictions all of which agree. We have more sources than I can count about his life and impact.

    In all these cases the evidence for their existence is both backed up by multiple independent contemporaneous sources as well as archaeological evidence.

    The idea that Jesus is somehow one of the more well-documented people in his time period is simply false.

  388. David,

    The Talmud itself describes itself as being a set of orally transmitted documents that were then written down later around 500 c.e. So in that regard claiming the Talmud was written earlier than that doesn’t make much sense if you want it to be a minimally reliable source. The Masoretic texts are a distinct issue since there was a particular effort to preserve Tanach. I agree that once the Talmud was written down it is unlikely that there were that many substantial changes.

    And regardless of whether oral traditions can be transmitted well, the Talmud has observable problems. Again, I don’t think you would take seriously it telling a story about Alexander the Great visiting the Amazons.

    Also, it isn’t clear what happened with the Great Fire and Nero. Indeed, some contemporaneous sources don’t even mention the fire, which suggests that Tacitus may have exaggerated its size. Moreover, the Jews were already strongly disliked so it isn’t that surprising that Nero would have targeted an offshoot of the Jews as a useful scapegoat. Moreover, that’s still 25 years after Jesus’s death. There’s not much one can usefully say that late. (Look for example at Scientology which has grown as faster or possibly faster than early Christianity).

  389. Arkizzle Those aren’t comparable

    If there was one statue that was weeping for one day and 500 people say they saw that statue weeping on that day would be a comparable scenario to the resurrection.

    Heck might even give some credence to 500 witnesses to a single miraculous event. I would still look into it skeptically but I’d be well on my way to believing it.

    Now if someone said to me:
    About twenty years ago there was a statue that was weeping this one day and 500 people saw it. Go ahead and ask around it totally happened.

    Um… Sounds a lot like an urban legend to me.

  390. The idea that Jesus is somehow one of the more well-documented people in his time period is simply false.

    What, because those extensive witnesses were compiled together?

    I’m not sure what you’re arguing here, or (more accurately) what you’re responding to. I was arguing that if you dismiss the evidence for Jesus then you have to dismiss the evidence for others too.

    We could apply the same claims that have been made about Jesus to other figures you have named and have the same results. I’m not arguing for special treatment – on the contrary, that if you’re prepared to accept the evidence for Caesar then it’s pretty shallow to just dimiss the evidence for Jesus.

  391. David, no that’s precisely the point. There are far more sources and independent methods of verifying Caesar’s existence than Jesus’s. We have allies, opponents and neutral parties all writing about him while he lived. We have none of those things for Jesus. We have multiple depictions of Caesar from when he was around including coins minted with his picture on them by his order. We have no depictions of Jesus anytime near when he was alive. The evidence for Caesar is simply massive. The evidence for Jesus just isn’t on that scale.

  392. “What, because those extensive witnesses were compiled together?”
    The fact that all the historical evidence is compiled together in a book that has known historical inaccuracies, regularly contradicts itself (actually I don’t think different writers contradicting each other is that bad, but the subject manner is pretty important so maybe a higher standards should apply), was written long after the fact, makes supernatural claims, and has been edited and translated over and over and over does not speak well of the reliability of that evidence.

    I will dismiss this as evidence that Jesus had superpowers. I will concede that I think he was a real person, mostly out of compromise instead of rational study.
    I also dismiss the existence of Zeus and his dealing with the peoples of Greece. There is plenty of documentation and testimonies of his existence. I consider those stories (Ex. Illiad) to be about as historically accurate as the New Testament.

  393. I was arguing that if you dismiss the evidence for Jesus then you have to dismiss the evidence for others too.

    No, just the supernatural, never-seen-since bits. Caesar didn’t do anything we would consider ‘impossible’, so we generally accept what we can find out; moreso if it can be cross referenced. Heracles did do ‘impossible’ things, so we conclude that those deeds are a myth.

    Jesus may have existed, but that’s no reason to believe things we would presume to be impossible, based on fairly scant evidence (relative to the weight of the claim).

  394. thanks again, Joshuaz. I certainly don’t want to be accused of overstating the point.

    Nevertheless, there appear to be certain levels of attestation that appear acceptable in other arenas but not when it comes to Jesus. As you have noted this begins with claims as to his life and death and extends from there.

    And yes, your point with regards to Alexander certainly stands, I meant no dismissal of it by ignoring it, rather I took it as read. I’m sure we might find some sycophantic stuff about Caesar too, we certainly see a similar attempt in the revisions of Josephus’ work mentioned above.

    Most of all I have appreciated your courteous and serious responses. Many thanks.

  395. after a successful hunt, I always gave thanks with the entrails and trim from the kill: to the sea for sparing me and providing yet again, for the utsubo in the shallows with snapping jaws, to the rocky shore that received me, the itachi dancing amid the stones, to the sky that gave breath, the stooping misago that caught what hurled, we all ate and all were one.

  396. #470 POSTED BY DAVIDOULD ,

    First I, Siamang, wrote: “Big deal. 5 religious fanatics were fooled by a magic trick. Or even easier, one religious fanatic forged five documents. Or someone wrote down a legend a hundred years after it supposedly happened to someone’s great uncle’s neighbor’s sister in law’s bum of a husband.”

    Then you wrote:

    “Thanks for playing, siamang. I think we’re done.”

    I claim VICTORY!!!!

    Okay, Done kidding now.

    But then again, it was YOU who asked what it would take for us to believe. I didn’t get up here with a chip to ask you what it would take for you to give up your god belief.

    So consider that my answer: evidence of a miracle. And for me, five religious fanatics living in a superstitious time saying it’s true isn’t a sufficient level of evidence to compel me to believe an account of the temporary suspension of laws of physics, astrophysics, biology, conservation of matter and fluid dynamics, let alone the existence of a god who actually created the universe.

    If it were, I’d already be a believer, now wouldn’t I? “Five guys said it’s true? SIGN ME UP!”

    So I guess you got your answer. Notice I didn’t push it on you, YOU ASKED.

    I guess I’m not going to get a response. Not that I really need one. But if I could ask one question in fair return for all of us answering your question… it would be this:

    Did you ever anticipate that skeptical people would require a different standard to establish the existence of a historical mortal than to establish the existence of a historical demi-god and accept as fact accounts of supernatural daring-do?

    What I’m really asking is, before this conversation, did you consider that some people might require evidence *in proportion* to the claim made… the greater the claim, the greater the evidence required to establish it? And that the standard of evidence required to establish the existence of a king is not equal to the standard of evidence required to establish the existence of a God?

    If you want to write an elaborate answer, be my guest. But a simple yes/no would be helpful if that’s all you think you might be able to spare me.

    I’m not looking to set you up for any further argument. I really am just personally curious about how broadly these ideas have spread. Were they new to you in this thread? It’s not required that you attack them, or show why they fail, or they aren’t useful as ideas to you…. that’s actually beside my question. Answer it if you’d like, but please be sure to come around to answer my specific question: was the idea of proportionality of evidence new to you in this thread?

    Thanks in advance. And signing out of this thread now.

    Siamang.

  397. You’re not gonna get proof on issues of faith.
    You need faith to see some truths.
    Some truths can be life changing.

  398. I just need to rebut Troofseeker:

    Shorter Troofseeker:

    I aint’ got no proof.
    I ain’t got no evidence.
    I can’t convince you with my arguments.
    Just give up what you believe and believe what i believe anyway.

    I had faith, troofseeker. Until I discovered that “faith” was useless to me. Faith always tells you the same answer: your current belief system is correct. If you’re a Muslim, your faith tells you the same thing that it tells you if you’re a Mormon. It’s the magic 8-ball that has the same answer every time: “You are right! Keep believing!”

    So I don’t use faith as a guide as to what to believe. Too unreliable.

  399. Where did you get the faith to believe that Life willed itself into existance, without help from God? Does that make Life God?

  400. Oh come on, haven’t we got past the whole atheism is a belief system nonsense? It is a lack of belief. For those atheists that wish to bother trying to convert religious individuals, good luck, we all know you are probably doing it to just get a rise out of someone. The rest of us just get on with our lives (while trying to drown out the incessant burbling of religion – I use loud music:).

    The author needs to realize that religious fanatics far outweigh atheist fanatics and just take them as a counter measure.

  401. Why can’t life just occur naturally?

    Why does the existence of natural things imply a supernatural thing ?

    Honestly, I don’t know how you can make a leap like that.

    If life worked supernaturally (like if we had babies, not by biology, but by forming dust on the ground and breathing life into it), then I would expect that it began supernaturally.

    But life grows, new people are produced… all life is natural.

    At best for theists the answer is “we don’t currently know.” But we’re learning.

    They’ve got self-assembling, self-replicating, mutating, evolving rna strands at Harvard now. It just chemicals, but they build themselves, even evolve. Auto assembling just like crystals.

    Eventually the answer won’t be “we don’t currently know.”

    But anyway, i don’t know how you get from natural things and can extrapolate out to supernatural things.

    If you’ve got a supernatural thing, show me proof. But don’t hold up a rock, or some dirt or some chemicals that self-replicate naturally as proof of the supernatural. That’s like saying you’ve got proof of Superman because of the existence of the element krypton, or proof of the existence of Jacob Marley’s ghost because you found some chains.

  402. Dear Pspinrad;
    I got eight hundred and fifty words into a reply before I realized that it could be summed up in a single word. I think I’ll use that instead.

    Balderdash.

  403. Coincidence, by nature, is a destructive force.
    It does not build or create or animate.
    It corrodes, crushes, kills and destroys.
    It would require an opposing force to overcome it.
    That tiny thing wiggling in the primordial pool wouldn’t stand a chance alone.

  404. Getting my kicks as a teen in the 1980’s in New Mexico I was constantly hounded by evangilacals.

    Not one of them were athiest.

    I felt alone.

    It was the shout out of one who made me feel that life was worth living.

    To every obnoxious athiest: “Kudos!”

  405. Coincidence, by nature, is a destructive force. It does not build or create or animate.

    if you start with basic chemical elements, put them in a beaker, add heat, add lightning, let it percolate for a while, you do in fact get complex chemical creations out of it.

    basic chemicals + energy => complex chemicals

    it’s sort of the basis for chemistry.

  406. Troofseeker, you’ve already been pointed to plausible explanations for abiogenesis. Please read up on the RNA world hypothesis and similar issues. No one is claiming life “willed itself into existence.”

    Now, as to Greg’s comment:

    I remarked that the one hand clapping cliche was ill-defined.
    Yeah, welcome to the spiritual world of zen.

    No. Poor use of language isn’t spiritual. It is simply poor use of language. See again the earlier linked xkcd.

    Also, when someone says “what does this mean” and then explains why what you said is nonsense, quoting the question and then repeating yourself is really not terribly helpful.

    If Robulus still wants to see an actual example of condescension he should probably read your comment.

    When someone says “I’m not sure how to respond to this comment” replying with “Good, maybe you’re learning” isn’t helpful and shows that you really didn’t pay attention to what I wrote. It is hard to respond because what you are saying is composed of words with close to zero content other than correct grammar.

    I’m not going to respond to the rest of your comment since it amounted to so much word salad and didn’t address a single issue I brought up.

    When you are willing to explain how “spirituality” can give different results for different people even though it is about how people are “related” to each other then we can talk.

  407. greg: Yeah, welcome to the spiritual world of zen.

    joshua: No. Poor use of language isn’t spiritual. It is simply poor use of language. See again the earlier linked xkcd.

    dude. seriously. you’re asserting that zen is not spiritual because you don’t understand the koans?

    yeah, see, this is where you pretty much proved that you only have one epistemology, (scientific empiricism, logical systems, or something) and anything that doesn’t fall into that epistemology is not knowledge.

    joshua@424: First of all, no one operates on just a scientific epistemology.

    Then explain to me why you insist on applying scientific epistemology to that which is spiritual?

    You’re operating exactly as someone who has only one epistemology and denies that anything not in your epistemology is knowledge.

    I’m not going to respond to the rest of your comment since it amounted to so much word salad and didn’t address a single issue I brought up.

    Your issues all boil down to the fact that spirituality doesn’t fit your definition of knowledge.

    You have a definition of knowledge. Spirituality doesn’t fit your definition. You want me to explain spirituality so that it fits inside your definition of knowledge.

    But it doesn’t. Spirituality is not something that can be known from your singular epistemology. Because you epistemology specifically rules out spirituality.

    To you, it’s just word salad.

    That isn’t a problem with spirituality. That’s a problem with your singular epistemology.

    When you are willing to explain how “spirituality” can give different results for different people even though it is about how people are “related” to each other then we can talk.

    You want me to explain zen so that it makes sense to you and so that it fits inside your idea of what is knowledge?

    It cannot be done. You do not allow for the sort of knowledge that zen and other forms of spirituality are about. You’ve already ruled it out. Your epistemology doesn’t allow for it.

    You assume you already know what you can know, and then you demand the teacher explain something to you in terms you already know. The problem is that you don’t know what spirituality is and you want me to explain it to you in terms of your epistemology which rules out the possibility of spirituality being anything more than a word salad. And when I succeed in translating zen into what you already understand of spirituality, then you say we can “talk”.

    There’s a thing in zen called “beginner’s mind”.

    You don’t have it.

    You already think you know, so you don’t think there is anything to learn.

  408. @Joshuaz,

    I think what some people mean by spirituality, when they don’t want to make weird metaphysical commitments, is just thinking seriously about how to live your life. At least this is what I take from talk about how we are related to others and to the world. Of course there are purely empirical facts about the various relations we have (e.g. taller, older, 3 meters away, etc). But above and beyond that are the relations which stem from our attitudes – what we care about, how we feel about others, etc. (I don’t mean to imply that our attitudes can’t themselves be detected via brain scans; their appearance in an fMRI scan just isn’t what’s most salient about them).

    There’s nothing mysterious about caring about others and thinking about how our actions affect the world around us. Of course I don’t see the value in calling it ‘spirituality’ rather than just ‘living,’ or ‘thinking about how to live,’ or ‘caring about others.’ But if I’m right, and that’s what people mean by ‘spirituality’ in the most general sense, I’m a very spiritual person, despite having no belief in the supernatural.

  409. Greg, no I’m asserting that poor use of language is just that. Moreover, repeating a pretty cliched koan that we’ve all heard before isn’t productive.

    Frankly, it doesn’t help matters that just after I explained that I don’t have a single epistemology and that science isn’t a completely empirical epistemology you say “this is where you pretty much proved that you only have one epistemology, (scientific empiricism, logical systems, or something).” If you aren’t able to understand this then it doesn’t bode well for your level of attention you are paying to what I am saying (or for that matter, your general level of comprehension).

    Frankly, after rereading what you’ve wrote, I’m most inclined to see your statements to be similar both in formula and in point to evangelical Christians who say that the reason I don’t understand details of their doctrine is because I lack faith or that I haven’t “opened up my heart to Jesus.” It is functionally identical. So why should I listen to your rhetoric more than I listen to theirs?

    Sirdock, that’s completely reasonable but that doesn’t for example seem to be what Greg is talking about.

  410. # 489
    “Where did you get the faith to believe that Life willed itself into existance, without help from God? Does that make Life God?”

    I think the problem is that you believe something had to will life into existence. I personally don’t see how the beginning (not CREATION) of life has to be associated with will or intelligence or creation.

    Your first question should be:
    For life to exist does something(what you really mean is someone) need to WILLingly start it?

    My answer:
    I DON’T KNOW

    That is very much not the same thing as yes.

    #495
    “Coincidence, by nature, is a destructive force.”
    That’s a nice little phrase, very poetic. Is it a factual statement? Listen I’m not some highly educated Physicist or Linguist or Poet; I am however not a moron. Your initial sentence is making my bullshit siren scream.

    Joshuaz

    There might be something to this mumbojumbo of not be enlightened enough to understand enlightenment crap. I think its bunk, but I’m not comfortable with equating it to evangelical “you gotta open your heart” crap. I think your are capable of considering the issue beyond Greglondon’s poor explanations. Again I think its all vagueness and linguistic slight of hand, but its possible there may be some points there.

    Greglondon

    Joshuaz is asking you legitimate questions. Just because you can’t respond to them for whatever reason doesn’t mean he’s being a meanie stupid jerk who JUST DOESN’T LISTEN. WAAAAAAAAAAAAH MAAAAAAMA! Instead of insulting his intelligence and his ignorance (it’s all I do and I can attest that it is fairly ineffective as an explanatory aid) why not help him to understand that he has some misconceptions. You seem to be saying that a bit but then following with YOUR A STUPID SQUARE. This makes me question your personal enlightenment.

  411. it doesn’t help matters that just after I explained that I don’t have a single epistemology and that science isn’t a completely empirical epistemology you say “this is where you pretty much proved that you only have one epistemology, (scientific empiricism, logical systems, or something).”

    That’s because you saying you don’t have a single epistemology doesn’t make it true. You’re insisting that spirituality fit into your definition of what is knowledge. It doesn’t. It is a word salad to you only because you insist on looking at it from your single epistemology.

    Moreover, repeating a pretty cliched koan that we’ve all heard before isn’t productive.

    Look, no one can force you to enlightenment. No one can actually explain it. Have you finished eating? Then wash you bowl. Next day. Have you finished eating? then wash your bowl. Next day. Have you finished eating? Then wash your bowl. It’s only a tired cliche as long as you don’t get it. And as long as you insist that it fit inside your singular epistemology, you won’t get it.

    Frankly, after rereading what you’ve wrote, I’m most inclined to see your statements to be similar both in formula and in point to evangelical Christians who say that the reason I don’t understand details of their doctrine is because I lack faith or that I haven’t “opened up my heart to Jesus.” It is functionally identical. So why should I listen to your rhetoric more than I listen to theirs?

    There is nothing “functional” about spirituality.

    I never promised you that you could raise the dead, levitate, have immortal life, or any other thing that you put on top of your version of “mysticism”. You know what you get from spirtual enlightenment? Nothing. No thing. No super powers. No key to heaven. No magical salvation. no special functionality. You want to tie it to something physical. It isn’t physical.

    But your epistemology demands that everything have some physical, objective effect, or it isn’t real, it isn’t knowledge. What good is it, you ask. It is functionaly identical to religion, you claim. What can you do with it, you demand. And all your questions say the same thing: you’re missing the point.

    It would take a beginner’s mind to give that up. You’re not willing.

    Guy gets up to give a sermon. He holds up a flower. Everyone simply stares at him blankly. Except for one, who smiles.

    What good is the flower, you would demand. What was his point, you would insist. It’s a tired cliche, you assert. It doesn’t do anything, you would complain. And yet the flower sermon is one of the pivotal stories that show the ineffability of zen. The fact that it is nothing but a word salad to you is a reflection of you, not zen.

    zen informs you of nothing but you.

    The monk asked “what is budda?”
    The master replied “six pounds of flax.”
    The monk became enlightened.

    You want spirituality to be something physical. You want it to be six pounds of flax. You want it to do something like let you levitate or raise the dead. Because your singular definition of knowledge demands that knowledge reflect something physical, reflect the ability to do something. So it will always be a word salad to you.

    In the koan the master answered “six pounds of flax” to reflect back the monk’s assumption that the budda was something physical. To you, it’s just word salad.

  412. Greg, reading comprehension doesn’t seem to be your strong suit. It doesn’t change the comment much so I’ll repeat my earlier question without the word that you seem to not understand:

    I’m most inclined to see your statements to be similar both in formula and in point to evangelical Christians who say that the reason I don’t understand details of their doctrine is because I lack faith or that I haven’t “opened up my heart to Jesus.” It is identical. So why should I listen to your rhetoric more than I listen to theirs?

    Notice that I’ve taken out the word functional. It wasn’t doing much in the sentence and you seem a bit hung up on it. So given that, what do you have to say?

    Also, regarding
    It is a word salad to you only because you insist on looking at it from your single epistemology.
    Please look up the word epistemology. Or if you are intending to use it in a non-standard fashion please explain what you mean when you assert that I have a single epistemology. You’ve made this claim repeatedly and yet I still don’t understand it.


    In the koan the master answered “six pounds of flax” to reflect back the monk’s assumption that the budda was something physical. To you, it’s just word salad.

    If that was all the master meant he presumably could have said so outright. (I’m also a bit confused by what you mean by physical in this context but that’s a separate issue). Moreover, if I’m not mistaken doesn’t Zen teach that the meaning of koans and the correct responses varies with time and place based on the student? So it seems a bit presumptuous for after everything you have said about the need for internal spirituality to then declare that this koan has a specific meaning relevant to our situation.

    Carnac,
    Possibly. I don’t consider that to be likely but I’m open to the possibility.

  413. Joshuaz is asking you legitimate questions.

    No. He isn’t. His questions boil down to “how do I understand spirituality in terms of the physical world? What will it allow me to do? How much does it weigh?”

    Just because you can’t respond to them for whatever reason

    monks may study zen at a monastary for years before achieving enlightenment. There is no single response I can give Joshua that will suddenly grant him enlightenment. A master might repeat the same zen koan every day for a year, and after a year, the monk might not get it. Or after a year, the monk might not get it, then go home and and wash his bowls and suddenly get it. Or he might get it on the first day.

    I’m responding exactly the same way I learned. Through koans. Through explanations. Trying to get inside his mind and understand where he is stuck. The questions he is asking and the epistemology he holds does not allow for spirituality. The reason I know is because I recognize what he is saying. Because I said the exact same things many years ago.

    I’m an electrical engineer and at one point, I applied the hard empiricism of science and engineering to every aspect of my life. What that did was wipe out any possibility of anything but the physical sciences. And yet, I knew somethign wasn’t right. So I read. I read about different religions. Different philosophies. Different spiritual pursuits. Somewhere along the line I stumbled upon Zen and the first thing it taught me was the limitations imposed by hard empiricism. It precludes anythign spiritual. Eventually, I read the Tao Te Ching and it gave me a sense of spirituality that worked for me.

    I can’t respond to his questions because he’s missing a fundamental point about spirituality. He’s trying to define what it is and what it does in terms of the physical realm. And he can’t learn anything about it until he gives that up. It took me about a decade.

  414. Spirituality cannot “accomplish anything” because “anything” is empirical, not spiritual.

    There is nothing “functional” about spirituality.

    You want spirituality to be something physical.

    *I* never promised you that you could raise the dead, levitate, have immortal life, or any other thing that you put on top of *your version* of “mysticism”.

    Greg, you are operating under a fairly narrow and specific version of mysticism too. Just because YOU don’t offer these wonderful things, doesn’t mean they haven’t been offered by others for centuries.

    What about Prayer Armies? What about gurus and witchdoctors, crystal hippys? They don’t exist now? Or they just don’t get to be ‘spiritual’ because they don’t fit your definition in this context? Lots of practioners promote spirituality and mysticism as being able to achieve ‘things’ and affect physical reality.

    Zen is not the only spirituality.

  415. If that was all the master meant he presumably could have said so outright.

    I tried the direct approach with you. You haven’t gotten it.

    (I’m also a bit confused by what you mean by physical in this context but that’s a separate issue).

    six pounds of flax is physical. spiritual isn’t physical.

    Moreover, if I’m not mistaken doesn’t Zen teach that the meaning of koans and the correct responses varies with time and place based on the student?

    My akido instructor from way back would say that you know about zen which isn’t the same thing as you knowing zen.

    Also, before you get too wrapped up in the specifics about zen, one more koan for you.

    The finger pointing at the moon is not the moon.

    zen points to spirituality. zen is not spirituality. koans point to spirituality. koans are not spirituality.

  416. “ah! what is this? I have found something. It makes me happy. What shall I do further with this that makes me happy? Here, let me show you it. Does it make you happy too? Oh good! And you? Let me show you it. No? I’ll have it here if you wish to look again later.”

  417. “Do you think that most of humanity is A) hopeless and doomed to kill each other because of their stupid religious beliefs, or B) capable of coming to and benefiting from your views?”

    A) I think that my atheism is a form of trust in humanity. It’s religion, e.g. among others Christianity, that preaches doomsday for all of us sinners. So no, I don’t think humanity is hopeless, but I think religious beliefs are capable to lead us in the mess they led us in. I don’t care to know if it’s capable of getting worse in the future. Fact is, it has already caused enough harm.

    B)Since I love individual freedoms, I wouldn’t want to “ban” religions, but I find a model similar to the French laicité a very good and reasonable first step to minimize the influence religion has had in our cultures and societies for thousands of years.

    To conclude, I as an atheist, feel a little offended by your post. Why? Because your questions do not only vulgarize certain aspects of atheist thoughts, but you put me into the same category as every other atheist too, as if we all had the same thoughts. As if atheism was a religion or an institution. The only thing that atheists share, is their common disbelief in any kind of supernatural being that would explain the origin of the world we live in.

    PS: sorry for my English, I hope you understand what I try to say anyway.

  418. TAKUAN- thanks for the link to Deep Time. I’ll spend some time there- I find all of this fascinating.

    GREGLONDON
    >”if you start with basic chemical elements, put them in a beaker, add heat, add lightning, let it percolate for a while, you do in fact get complex chemical creations out of it.”

    Yeah. You’ll get either a caustic slurry, toxic fumes, or maybe fire. Your arguement supports my suggestion that coincidence is destructive.

    CARNAC THE ENTERTAINER-
    >””Coincidence, by nature, is a destructive force.”
    That’s a nice little phrase, very poetic. Is it a factual statement? Listen I’m not some highly educated Physicist or Linguist or Poet; I am however not a moron. Your initial sentence is making my bullshit siren scream.”

    Huh. I thought you’d agree.

    Listen, guys, I don’t expect any of you to change your lives because of something I say. I’m delighted that you’ve given ample thought to the things you believe in, and that most of you acknowledge that you don’t know all the answers.

    There’s two things I want you to know. First, my life and my heart are filled with wonderful magic.
    On your darkest day, and in your darkest hour, call upon Jesus. He is nothing less than everything they say He is, and He can fix any mess your life can become.
    So mock me, then taunt me and try to humiliate me. That’s what I used to do to Christians. But on that dark day, you know Who to call.

  419. troofseeker: Yeah. You’ll get either a caustic slurry, toxic fumes, or maybe fire. Your arguement supports my suggestion that coincidence is destructive.

    No, from water, methane, ammonia, and hydrogen, in a flask, with heat and electrical discharge, one experiment produces about two dozen amino acids.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miller-Urey_experiment

    Chemistry isn’t always destructive.

    The second law of thermodynamics says a closed system tends towards increasing entropy. Which would generally be considered a destructive process. Complex things get broken down into simple things.

    Except the earth isn’t a closed system. The sun is like a bunsen burner adding heat, which among other things besides warming the biosphere, ends up creating weather patterns that generate lightning.

    As long as you’ve got a non-closed system, as long as you’ve got some source of energy adding to the system, you don’t have to obey the second law in its most rigid, pessimisstic, and destructive interpretation.

  420. “But on that dark day, you know Who to call.”

    General Kenobi. Years ago, you served my father in the Clone Wars. Now he begs you to help him in his struggle against the Empire. I regret that I am unable to present my father’s request to you in person, but my ship has fallen under attack and I’m afraid my mission to bring you to Alderaan has failed.

  421. As an atheist, I am offended by the ignorant stereotyping that dspinard’s posting makes.

    In particular:
    “your aim is better served when more people vote the other way, and then you can be disgusted with most peoples’ stupidity and wash your hands of responsibility.

    With religion, I think atheists have the same dissonance going on. If they really think the world would be better off without religion, they shouldn’t hate religion and call believers fools.”

    That statement makes two assumptions/generalizations about atheists:
    1. Atheists believe the world would be better withouth religion
    2. Atheists hate religion and call believers fools.

    I don’t agree with either of those statements. I haven’t read all of the posts (519 comments as I write this) but obviously I’m not the only one.

    I have to disagree with those of you who are thanking dspinrad for inciting a discussion on the topic. The discussion is mainly due to the offensive nature of the posting.

    I should think (hope) that most catholics are offended when they are lumped into the same category as ‘right wing fundamentalists’ (for lack of a better term). I think it fair that atheists are afforded the same respect that theists expect.

    Every group has their wingnuts. The best thing to do with them is to ignore them (unless, of course, they are endangering your well being.

    I believe that Mr. Spinrad should apologize.

  422. >”…from water, methane, ammonia, and hydrogen, in a flask, with heat and electrical discharge, one experiment produces about two dozen amino acids.”

    Greg, this stuff tastes awful.

    Let’s see if Hammy will eat it.

    Nope. He’s laying with his legs straight up.

    Greg London killed my hamster! Coincidence? I don’t think so.

  423. greg: “…from water, methane, ammonia, and hydrogen, in a flask, with heat and electrical discharge, one experiment produces about two dozen amino acids.”

    troofseeker: Greg, this stuff tastes awful.

    For someone named “troofseeker”, you seem quite intent on avoiding the “troof”.

    The troof is that natural processes on Earth aren’t always directed towards destruction, towards ever increasing entropy.

    Sometimes base chemicals and energy can combine to form lower entropy, more complex, components.

    like they say: The troof will set you three.

  424. Troofseeker, of course your hamster dies. Your hamster has evolved into a very narrow niche like most life currently on Earth. Don’t be obtuse.

    So Greg are you going to answer the question about why I should treat your claims differently than claims by Christians that I need to open my heart to Jesus?

  425. Oh, you know all the tricks – dramatic irony, metaphor, bathos, puns, parody, litotes, and satire!

  426. If Robulus still wants to see an actual example of condescension he should probably read your comment.

    I did, but it looked more like condensation.

    I can’t tell if we’re still talking about religion, or we’ve moved onto chemistry, or I’m watching re-runs of “Kung Fu”.

  427. So Greg are you going to answer the question about why I should treat your claims differently than claims by Christians that I need to open my heart to Jesus?

    If you feel at peace with the world, if you feel a sense of joy in your heart, if you feel a connection of some kind or another to the people around you, then stay where you are. that’s the furthest I’ve ever gotten myself and I can’t help you get any better than that.

    If you don’t feel that way, well, the first thing you’d have to do is acknowledge that.

    But, hey, if you’re feeling at peace, feel joy, and feel connected, then I can’t tell you anything you don’t already know, so, by all means, stay where you are and save yourself the trip.

  428. Condensation is precisely why you mustn’t wear the teledildonic suit into the orgasmatron.

  429. Greg, so let’s say hypothetically I’m not at peace. If I have choice between listening to you or the evangelical Christian, why should I listen to you?

  430. I can’t respond to his questions because he’s missing a fundamental point about spirituality. He’s trying to define what it is and what it does in terms of the physical realm. And he can’t learn anything about it until he gives that up. It took me about a decade.

    You can respond to his question (which you kinda did), you just can’t answer it (kinda). talking down to him doesn’t really get the message across though.

    If some one asks me:
    If God didn’t start Creation, then who did

    I can’t really answer that question. This is because that is a stupid question. I can’t say no one made Creation. That sentence makes no sense. But what I can do is respond with an explanation.

    The problem is not whether God did or did not make Creation. The problem is whether or not the universe is a “Creation”. If it is, then obviously someone made it. Was this Maker/Creator God? Thats a whole new question. If the universe is not a Creation then obviously no one made it. Is there a non-Creator God in the non-created universe? Again a whole new question.

    The problem wasn’t that the question was illegitimate. It was a stupid question but it still deserved an explanatory response.

    I also have to note that you seem to be pleaing that you have some special form of thinking that is currently inaccessible to Josh or myself. Your statements concerning your years of study and reflection do not impress me into submitting to your intellectual superiority. The statement You just can’t get it is pretty weak. It might be that you simply can’t explain it to us. The statement it can’t be explained is also a cop out. Are you sure that it isn’t just your incompetence to teach a concept rather than the rigid unteachableness of the concept.

    I am not trying to accuse you of being arrogant. I am merely suggesting that the possibilities humility provide might be advantageous. Maybe you are not the master and we are not the monk’s. Maybe we are trying to get into your head to see what is blocking you.

    In all actuality I think the concepts you are trying to describe are actually indescribable. This is because what you are trying to allude to is not a concept. It is not anything (and I don’t just mean a material anything, I mean an anything anything). What your are talking about is a nothing. It is not a nothing in that it doesn’t exist in my conception of reality, it is a nothing because it is simply a nothing. It is not a thing… a nothing.

  431. Failix

    PS: sorry for my English, I hope you understand what I try to say anyway.

    I think your English is better than mine, and It’s the only language I speak.

    CARNAC THE ENTERTAINER-
    >””Coincidence, by nature, is a destructive force.”
    That’s a nice little phrase, very poetic. Is it a factual statement? Listen I’m not some highly educated Physicist or Linguist or Poet; I am however not a moron. Your initial sentence is making my bullshit siren scream.”

    Huh. I thought you’d agree.

    Fist: IT’S CARNAC THE MAGNIFICENT; learn your late night references.

    Secondly: I still don’t know if you believe coincidence is a destructive force. Were you trying to be cute with a clever poem, or was that a statement concerning your opinion.

    If you believe that statement I’m unsure what you specifically mean. What specific coincidence are you referring to? What do you exactly mean by coincidence? My understanding of the word is that it is a situation in which two or more events appear to be related, but they are not. How is this destructive.

    Are you trying to talk about entropy. By: “Coincidence, by nature, is a destructive force.” do you mean: The universe, by nature, tends to move toward an increase of entropy

    Yes that is true (I should tell you I don’t know much about the subject, so forgive me any physicists who wish to correct me). If your using this concept to imply that an increase in order and a evolution from simple to complex is not possible, then you are mistaken. As a total the universe flies toward an increase in entropy. This does not mean that there are not fluctuations on a smaller scale. Increase’s in order and complexity are allowable as a small margin within the massive entropy increase of the universe as a whole. The existence of life on earth is well within these margins.

    Any real scientists want to clarify this for me?

    Arkizzle

    /Sorry, it was crying out for it..

    You beat me to it