Another book I haven't read

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Another book I haven't read

Post #1  Postby Lausten » Mon Jul 12, 2010 4:28 pm

I caught this on The Daily Show today.  It generated a bit of discussion on Jon Stewart's ability to engage in the science vs religion debate. I don't care too much about that, it is a comedy show, they cover a ton of difficult material and I'm not going to fault him for not knowing the difference between anti-matter and dark energy. Marilynne Robinson doesn't seem terribly impressive either, although I did find one review that was impressed with her prose, and this one that rips most of what she says, but speaks well to the one or two things she gets right.

http://camelswithhammers.com/2010/07/09/how-jon-stewart-dropped-the-ball-on-the-faith-and-science-quesiton-but-how-religion-can-be-redeemed-nonetheless/
As some of you know, I have tried to steer away from science vs religion with just one winner, toward finding the value in both. This article counters Jeff's "there is no baby in the bath water (of religion)" with the baby is in some very dirty water. Norma has accused me of attempting to twist my religion into something that my modern mind can accept. It would be more accurate to say that the current culture of atheism does not offer acceptable ground to grow ideas and enhance humanity. I see some change, such as CFI's S.H.A.R.E. fund, but not enough to convince me. And I admit the case for my side has not been made in a way that will convince the unbelievers.

In this review, the statement is made:

I would say that various practices called religious, if stripped of all their dogmatism, traditionalism, literalism, and authoritarianism, can and do certainly coexist with and complement science in the overall scope of human lives.  There is a place for ritual, for myth, for shared community, for groupings oriented around concern for charity and ethical formation, for meditation, for metaphysical speculation, for rites of passage, for wonder and gratitude at nature, for solemnity, for pageantry, for ecstatic experiences, and for strong identification with previous generations of members of various institutions and one’s culture itself.

An atheism that abandons all those life-enhancing parts of the human experience and the human possibility because of their cultural and institutional associations with personal-God theism, faith, superstition, authoritarianism, and excessive traditionalism is one that would throw out a truly vital baby because it is presently drowning in some truly disgusting bathwater.  It is an easy mistake to make, but still a mistake
but nothing is said that really makes a case for these parts that are life-enhancing or how they do their enhancing.

An important distinction he makes is, religion knows nothing, it does things. When it does the wrong things, it should be judged by the same standards as anything else.  For now, when I go to work on feeding children or housing the homeless, I tend to be surrounded by a lot of religious people, not all of them, but most of them. That carries a lot of weight with me. Whether this is a function of people not thinking about what church membership means or are they truly getting something from that membership is a question that I don't think has been adequately addressed.
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Re: Another book I haven't read

Post #2  Postby nmblum » Mon Jul 12, 2010 7:07 pm

I'm sure it will come as no surprise to Lausten that when  *I* go to work feeding children and housing the homeless (not that I would ever compare my paltry efforts to his own) I am surrounded by either atheists like myself or people thoroughly indifferent to the foolish blandishments of religion...
Moreover, neither  I nor they  expect or even consider that we will be rewarded by eternal life, or even by  the   thanks  of those who have already been victimized enough by religion's success at making the lie of "the meek shall inherit the earth," into a mantra.
And none of us  does  what we do with a mind to either turn the dispossessed, or the hungry victims of either bad luck or an economic system that is so closely intertwined with Christianity into atheists.....
there are no bible and pamphlets that accompany secular soup kitchens and clinics.
There is no attempt to deflect the already downtrodden  from their own religious or social beliefs.

We do it, I suppose, for any number of reasons, the first and foremost is that it is simply the right, the only  thing  open to us to do

But well  understood to be merely a  stop-gap.
Charity, as an end in itself is worthless.
Charity, of which the religious are so weirdly proud,  does not change anything...
Nothing at all.
If anything it perpetuates systems into which inequities are hard wired... necessary, in fact.
For even in our democracy where anyone's success is supposedly possible, in order for one man to achieve his "god -given" triumphs,  on the grand scale that does occur here, many, often including children,  have to contribute to his good fortune at some cost to their own well being.
Let us take, and only as one  example, an historically  great success  in American life, a  prime beneficiary of American economic democracy, post Reformation style:   Andrew Mellon  (although you can substitute the robber baron of your choice, i.e, Rockefeller, Harriman, Carnegie, a whole assortment of Huns who accumulated uncounted fortunes at the expense of the (underpaid) blood, sweat and tears of millions of men, women, children as well as rape and pillage of the very land).

Where would the Christian and  truly great philanthropist Mellon,(who among other things endowed the magnificent National Gallery  of Art in Washington, D.C )  have been withoiut   the thousands of coal miners who worked his mines, even as they lived deprived lives in his company towns, buying from his company stores?  And dying by the scores from accidents that occurred in deliberately dangerous work places.
Christian philanthropy did not keep the Mellon family from hiring private police forces that militantly, violently prevented the miners from seeking to organize, to engage in collective bargaining...
And much of the propaganda that kept the miners virtually enslaved in those mines, came from the pulpits in the churches that were endowed, as well  by the Mellons even as their predatory practices turned the coal fields of Kentucky and West Virginia into outposts of permanenty depressed, poverty stricken land and people.
The Mellons, the Rockefellers,  the Harrimans, the Carnegies... all devoted Christians, all church goers, all donating well above the required tithes to churches all over the country... and even to medical research.
And all receiving world-wide kudos for their efforts... to first try to kill   and then help to try to cure the victims of their greed.
I guess Lausten selectively fails to actually read  about  but still chooses to report on a  magnanimous Christianity that he imagines exists, and a selfless  generosity that he wishes were real.

Norma Manna Blum
P.S. There are any number of substantive books, plays and even films about the destructive pieties (among other dynamics)  that attended the great familial  economic successes of American capitalism..
Just a brief sample, " Night Comes to the Cumberlands, " by Harry Caudill, about the continuing, the inherited horrors inflicted on the people and the land.
And the films, "Matewan" by John Sayles, and "The Molly Maguires," an (oddly) mainstream but very atmospheric film... both about coal mining before the unionization of the miners, but the effects of which are still visible today.
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As for your contemptful attitude towards philosophy, the very axioms upon which science rests are philosophical. Concepts like evidence, truth, and validation are all philosophical concepts, honed over the years by philosophers.
KennyC. replied: Wrong. Philosophy is dead, its time has passed. It needs to be buried, it stinks.
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Re: Another book I haven't read

Post #3  Postby Jeff D » Tue Jul 13, 2010 9:15 am

The first paragraph of this quote from blogger Daniel Fincke  --

I would say that various practices called religious, if stripped of all their dogmatism, traditionalism, literalism, and authoritarianism, can and do certainly coexist with and complement science in the overall scope of human lives.  There is a place for ritual, for myth, for shared community, for groupings oriented around concern for charity and ethical formation, for meditation, for metaphysical speculation, for rites of passage, for wonder and gratitude at nature, for solemnity, for pageantry, for ecstatic experiences, and for strong identification with previous generations of members of various institutions and one’s culture itself.

An atheism that abandons all those life-enhancing parts of the human experience and the human possibility because of their cultural and institutional associations with personal-God theism, faith, superstition, authoritarianism, and excessive traditionalism is one that would throw out a truly vital baby because it is presently drowning in some truly disgusting bathwater.  It is an easy mistake to make, but still a mistake


is beautifully worded and offers some valid (perhaps even profound) insights, despite a fundamental bit of dishonesty that I'll get to later on.

The second paragraph of the quote is just more of the same ol', same ol' piffle. I don't know any atheists  who "abandon"  or denigrate "myth," "shared community," "charity," "ethical formation," "meditation," "metaphysical speculation," "rights of passage," "wonder and gratitude at nature," "solemnity," "ecstatic experiences," OR "strong identification with previous generations."  (I know quite a few atheists and even more theists who criticize some "ritual" as empty or silly and who criticize some "pageantry" as kitsch or phony.)

I don't really know what it means to say that there is an "atheism" that denies anything other than a belief in the existence of deities.

It's really interesting that the first paragraph in the quote refers to "various practices called religious,"  and goes on to speak of stripping away "dogmatism, traditionalism, literalism, and authoritarianism."   All of these have been and can be aspects of religion, or of "various practices called religious."  But what about "superstition"?  What about "irrational belief"?  What about fierce determination to maintain and perpetuate such belief and to discourage or prohibit doubt, investigation, or inquiry?   From where I sit, those are just as fundamental aspects of "religion" as "dogmatisim, traditionalism, literalism, and authoritarianism." In fact, without superstitious belief, I'd say that a system of cultural ideas and relationships isn't a religion at all.  

I think this is the dishonest aspect of the quotation.   And I think it's odd that Daniel Fincke would do this, even by mistake, because judging from other posts on his blog site, I suspect that Mr. Fincke and I would agree about many, many things on the subject of religion, the nature of "faith," etc.   Maybe those two paragraphs only seem dishonest when removed from the context of the rest of Mr. Fincke's post.

I disagree with Mr. Fincke (and perhaps with you, Lausten) about what the metaphorical "baby" is and whether it is "truly vital."  To me, if religion and all of its authoritarian, traditonalist, and dogmatic trappings (as well as the useful baggage of charity, empathy, etc.) is the "bathwater,"  the baby is the alleged truth of the superstitious claims that religions make about the world and human nature. There is no truth there.

Superstition, and the reflexive favoring of belief (usually primitive, ignorant belief) over empiricism --  consistently preferring the "will to believe" over the "desire to find out" -- is what makes religion incompatible with science.  

Fincke (in his blog review of Ms. Robinson's appearance on the Daily Show)  says that "religion knows nothing" but "does things."   Correct, as far as it goes, but I wish it were as easy as that.  Religion also pretends to know, with great certitude, all  sorts of things, many of them demonstrably untrue.  Even Fincke would concede that.

What is the opposite of "guilt by assocation"?  Virtue by association?   Organized religion has been associated for so long with ethics, morality, and charity that it is extremely difficult for most human beings -- at least in the part of the world in which I live -- to imagine that ethics, morality, and charity could exist without religion.  It's been a standard argument of religious apologists for centuries.  I don't think it's a valid argument. And I'm sick unto death of hearing it and reading it, even when it  is twisted slightly and dressed up in eloquent prose, as in the second paragraph of that quotation.
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Re: Another book I haven't read

Post #4  Postby CamelsWithHammers » Tue Jul 13, 2010 2:23 pm

The second paragraph of the quote is just more of the same ol', same ol' piffle. I don't know any atheists  who "abandon"  or denigrate "myth," "shared community," "charity," "ethical formation," "meditation," "metaphysical speculation," "rights of passage," "wonder and gratitude at nature," "solemnity," "ecstatic experiences," OR "strong identification with previous generations."  (I know quite a few atheists and even more theists who criticize some "ritual" as empty or silly and who criticize some "pageantry" as kitsch or phony.)

I don't really know what it means to say that there is an "atheism" that denies anything other than a belief in the existence of deities.

It's really interesting that the first paragraph in the quote refers to "various practices called religious,"  and goes on to speak of stripping away "dogmatism, traditionalism, literalism, and authoritarianism."   All of these have been and can be aspects of religion, or of "various practices called religious."  But what about "superstition"?  What about "irrational belief"?  What about fierce determination to maintain and perpetuate such belief and to discourage or prohibit doubt, investigation, or inquiry?   From where I sit, those are just as fundamental aspects of "religion" as "dogmatisim, traditionalism, literalism, and authoritarianism." In fact, without superstitious belief, I'd say that a system of cultural ideas and relationships isn't a religion at all.  

I think this is the dishonest aspect of the quotation.   And I think it's odd that Daniel Fincke would do this, even by mistake, because judging from other posts on his blog site, I suspect that Mr. Fincke and I would agree about many, many things on the subject of religion, the nature of "faith," etc.   Maybe those two paragraphs only seem dishonest when removed from the context of the rest of Mr. Fincke's post.

Superstition, and the reflexive favoring of belief (usually primitive, ignorant belief) over empiricism --  consistently preferring the "will to believe" over the "desire to find out" -- is what makes religion incompatible with science.  

Fincke (in his blog review of Ms. Robinson's appearance on the Daily Show)  says that "religion knows nothing" but "does things."   Correct, as far as it goes, but I wish it were as easy as that.  Religion also pretends to know, with great certitude, all  sorts of things, many of them demonstrably untrue.  Even Fincke would concede that.

What is the opposite of "guilt by assocation"?  Virtue by association?   Organized religion has been associated for so long with ethics, morality, and charity that it is extremely difficult for most human beings -- at least in the part of the world in which I live -- to imagine that ethics, morality, and charity could exist without religion.  It's been a standard argument of religious apologists for centuries.  I don't think it's a valid argument. And I'm sick unto death of hearing it and reading it, even when it  is twisted slightly and dressed up in eloquent prose, as in the second paragraph of that quotation.


My point in the criticized second paragraph you quoted, in context, was to say address the fact that many people hear atheists attack religion as incompatible with their rational understanding of the world.  And yet because viscerally and emotionally to them religion means the various social, imaginative, ethical, and "spiritual" things I listed above, they reflexively balk at the opposition between religion and science/knowledge.  To many people saying that you cannot be scientific and religious is like saying you cannot be a scientist and go swimming or you cannot be a scientist and go to your grandmother's house.  

Because in their minds, all these other good things are part of the religion package and, from a cultural standpoint, not specifically part of either a scientific or specifically atheist package, I think many people who do not really need the superstitious or authoritarian dimensions of religion and who either explicitly or implicitly eschew much of that, still see religion as an overall package of valuable parts of life.  And so you have Catholics who are on the pill, who get abortions, who don't attend confession or mass all that regularly and yet hang on to their Catholicism, even passionately.  They show up to hand over their babies for confirmation, they will go to priests for advice about spiritual matters, they will sign up to have their wedding and their funeral with all the powerfully symbolic and moving ritual and pageantry of the Roman Catholic tradition for such ceremonies.  There's nothing kitsch or phony in most people's minds about a Roman Catholic wedding, it's the freaking gold standard in the West.  And when they have old clothes to donate or are feeling charitable and want an infrastructure for finding charitable activities to get involved with, they go to the Church to get involved. And when they are in the hospital, the priest is seen as a spiritual person, a wise and compassionate counselor, devoted to people and ethical principle, who just maybe might be able to help with his prayers.  I mean, what could it hurt  to have him pray for you?  At least it calms the nerves and in playing along you might convince yourself you have a shot and hope is a good thing in life. And God is a word for their awe at the universe and sense of gratitude for it and hope within it.

And all of this ties people to grandma and grandpa.  And in America it is part of maintaining their identity as coming from Italian immigrants or Irish Catholic immigrants.  Religious myths are casually engaged as selectively appealed to ethical points for meditation and as a shared imagination in a community.  In certain contexts, everyone fantasizes along in the same only half-believed way that is not really clarified and in talking as though they believe, they sort of do.  "Is this true? is it false? are there reasons to believe this stuff?"  A whole lot of people either do not ask those questions or do not let themselves take them seriously.  

And their superstitions still have serious serious limits.  They indulge ghost fantasies (even those completely at odds with their actual faith's beliefs because logical consistency just is not the issue---solace is, through whatever rationalization will calm their subconscious mind) and they carry lucky relics, but at the end of the day, they still mourn their dead as bitterly as anyone else.

Now, to most people all of this is just in a completely different universe from science and knowledge.  They do not think that religiously based superstitious beliefs affect the law of gravity or can be used to get them out of having to pay their taxes or will fix their leaking roof.  And most of them go to the doctor and not to faith healers.  

So, the point is that they live an entire life that uses religion for what they can gain from it emotionally, socially, and ethically, etc., and they use science for what they can get out of it practically and, in some cases, intellectually.

They live this life of compartmentalized complementarity between religion and scientific modern living.  When we skeptical atheists say they cannot they say, but we do.

Fundamentalists, be they Evangelicals or Muslims, are propositionalists, they believe the Bible or the Koran is about true statements about the world more than anything and so they have a harder time with this compartmentalization than Jews or Catholics do.  

Now, since what people mean by religion are all these things with all these practical benefits, when atheists speak broadly about having to choose between science and religion, I think people assume the choice is supposed to be between science and all the stuff they are getting out of religion because it's all knotted up together.  

So, what I was trying to say to such people is most of this good stuff you like about your religious experience is indeed good and can be made compatible with modernity and science if you give up on the notion that religion is teaching you truth.  Religion has little to nothing to do with truth.  The only truths in religion are mythic and even many of the myths are bad myths that should be abandoned or radically reunderstood.  

My point was also not that that religion actually has been on the side of ethical progress or a better source of ethics than secular philosophical ethics which is based on reason and progressive responsiveness to evidence and growing knowledge.  I am as adamantly against being religious authorities being taken as ethical authorities simply out of customary habit of seeing them as such.  That's what I lambast as authoritarian, traditionalistic, regressive, ignorant, etc.

What I am saying, in essence is that what is called "religion"---all these practical dimensions of life can be retained and reconciled with science if, or only to the extent that, people reject religion as a source of intellectual and moral authority.  I am not trying to say that religion has not historically also purported to know things.  I am not trying to deny in the least that it has been dogmatic.   Religious institutions have used religious techniques and practices to cultivate pretty much all of humanity's cognitive biases so that they could exploit those biases for their power over people.  This is the depressing history of religious institutions.

But we have this set of practices and parts of life which people love that for centuries have been most efficiently controlled and manipulated by false intellectual and moral authorities. They have exploited people's natural cognitive errors, including their superstitiousness and their poor skills at discerning justified authorities from unjustified ones, exploited people's fears, needs for community, ritualistic natures, etc., and used a range of practices for reinforcing their control over people.  

Now, my point is this, we must insist that religious authorities and institutions be granted no special intellectual or moral authority beyond what they can justify according to reason.  Unless they can show the truth of their beliefs they must be abandoned, unless they can philosophically persuade that their view on a moral issue is correct, they must be morally rejected on that issue.  Unless they dismantle their authoritarian structures of belief and institutional organization, they should be judged as harshly as any other attempted tyrannies.  

But we atheists need to be abundantly clear with religious people that we do not oppose ritual itself, traditional identities themselves, ethical community itself, meditation itself, hope itself, metaphysics itself, ecstatic experiences themselves,  myth-making itself (as long as it is not confused for truth telling, but is understood as literature), etc.  Now, you can say, "Of course we don't, atheists aren't inhuman idiots!" Well, the point is that whether or not they should, many religious people do reflexively and prejudicially see those an either/or between religion which contains all these sorts of non-cognitive, emotional, social, moral, and indeterminately speculative and imaginative parts of life on the one hand and rationality which is scientific and impersonal on the other.  For most of them, they're just different compartments that fit together in a whole human life.  When they hear people say religion and science are incompatible, they hear we can only have cold impersonal logic and must reject all the rest of these parts of life.  Of course they should not think that.  There is nothing inherently irrational about the non-cognitive, emotional, spiritual, moral, social, and speculative parts of life.  But they think that anyone attacking religion is attacking whatever cannot be produced in a laboratory or whatever is experientially known rather than mathematically formulated.

Now, I agree completely with Jeff D that all the goods people are equating with institutional religions are generally parts of human psychology and culture which need no necessary tie to those religions to be developed.  In a great many cases people not only get ethical community, metaphysical speculation, meditation, ritual, ecstatic experiences, ties to past generations, hope, identity formation, etc., from non-religious cultural and psychological sources but they even get these things better without religious institutions than they do with them.  

But we atheists need to do several things.  We need to affirm people that in the cases in which their religiosity is giving them all of these things well that that's great that they get those benefits and distinguish that what we are challenging is not their traditional identity that binds them to grandma but just the beliefs which are false.  We need to affirm that we appreciate that they associate their religion with all the charity they do (or receive) through their church, but that that does not give them their religion the moral authority to claim that homosexuals should be forced into either celibacy or heterosexual relationships morally.  We need to affirm that we appreciate their correct point that science does not know everything but we need to remind them that that does not mean their priest knows anything that a scientist or a philosopher or they themselves could not know.  We need to make clear that if they want metaphysics they can do philosophy, but they cannot just make stuff up or believe what ancient peoples just made up.  We need to say we appreciate that your rituals or mediations or prayers calm your nerves and orient your mind, but that it is important you not superstitiously make any choices which depend on those practices having magic power and that you not encourage your children and others to abandon proven methods of inference for false ones long surpassed.

In other words, people cling to religion for the good parts and accept the bad parts because of them.  So rather than target "religion" which for many people connotes all sorts of redeemable parts of life and turn people off, we need to relentlessly target faith (belief in what is either insufficiently proven or belief which ignores clear counter-evidence), dogmatism, literalism, traditionalism, ethical authoritarianism, intellectual authoritarianism, political authoritarianism, superstition, anti-intellectualism, irrationalism, wishful thinking, and all the other cognitive biases which religious institutions exploit.  

And, secondly, I understand that atheism logically speaking is just the lack of belief in deities (though I would more specifically put it as "living without deities, usually because one lacks belief in them") and, as such, has no other necessary implications for whether one adopts or neglects to adopt any of those other good (or bad!) things that are part of religions.  

But atheists would do well to not only point out that you can personally have all the beneficial emotional, spiritual, ritualistic, speculative, traditional, identity-forming, etc., benefits people presently turn to religion for without actually having religion.  But atheists would do well to recognize that part of what people love about their religions or think they need religion in specific to do is to unite all these things.  Powerful religions give people's lives a sense of coherence because they interconnect their views of everything.  It is because people associate their ethics, their personal identity, their familial identity, their meditative practices, their social network, etc. in deep ways with their religions that when forced to choose between religion and science they either punt the question and just compartmentalize or, when push comes to shove, they twist what they think science is so that it does not disrupt everything else that is balled up together.

So this is what is uncomfortable for atheists.  As atheists all most of us are really worried about is that people be rationally scrupulous and morally good for moral goodness's sake.  And we see long legacies of people deliberately instituting religious practices---group understandings of ethics, group-based rituals, group-defining myths, group-shared meditations, etc.  as tools for controlling and manipulating people through irrational means.  There is nothing rationally necessary about not eating meat on Fridays.  To make it a rule for the sake of making everyone share a common ritual is needlessly suffocating.  It's so arbitrary.  But if you do not lay down arbitrary rules, you lose the bonding effect it has on people. There is no rational reason to not eat meat on Fridays that has anything to do with the nature of meat and the nature of Fridays.  But there are rational reasons to get everyone in a group to do the same ritual (or in this case the same ritual abstention) on the same day.  It creates identity, community, loyalty, discipline, etc.  

There are relatively rational ways though for atheists to establish rituals and a liturgical calendar, etc.  The way to do that is to acknowledge that valuable things rationally deserve celebration and that it both trains and satisfies us emotionally to set up specific days of celebration for them.  So, celebrating days in which we honor the earth, honor evolution, honor the solar system, etc. all as ways of reminding ourselves and future generations of our dependency on them is possibly a good thing to do.  Maybe a rite of passage where 13 year olds have to have a pet monkey for a month so that they can learn to appreciate our shared ancestry.  

Are you rolling your eyes yet, my fellow atheists?  The challenge here is that human minds learn through rituals, symbolic rites of passages, holy days, etc.  Religious institutions have no real reason on their side so they exploit whatever irrational messaging system they can get their hands on.  If atheists want to compete with that, it might benefit us to develop our own irrational messaging systems that point people towards primary allegiances to scientific and philosophical truths and to scrupulously rational practices.  We need to use the tools for irrationally persuading people to lead them to explicitly embrace reason and rational truths.  We do not need noble lies, myths which tell them a truth in symbolic form.  That method of inculcating the truth in irrational people has failed for centuries since people have fetishized the symbols and let them resist reformulations as new truths were discovered.

But what we might need are noble atheist rituals, noble atheist communities, noble atheist meditative practices, etc. that train people through irrational means to have explicitly, self-consciously, and truly rational practices and habits of thought and belief.  This means, though, convincing atheists to work together and form an alternative community to present religious institutions.  Some may call this religious atheism and others might say it's an alternative to religion.  This is semantics.  What matters is that an atheist community be defined by its scrupulous and unqualified rejection of faith (belief in what is either insufficiently proven or belief which ignores clear counter-evidence), dogmatism, literalism, traditionalism, ethical authoritarianism, intellectual authoritarianism, political authoritarianism, superstition, anti-intellectualism, irrationalism, wishful thinking, and all other cognitive biases.  To the extent that religion means any of those things, then atheists can have no religion.  But to the extent that religion means to people a community for ethics, mediation, philosophy, meditation, ritual, rites of passage, pageantry, hope, traditional identity, group-identity, solemnity, ecstatic experiences, gratitude and wonder at the universe, then atheists should not be embarrassed to openly build such a "religious" community that provides atheists in common all these things in organized ways but without any of the abusive irrationalism or authoritarianism of faith-based, theistic religions.

A lot of atheists will be squeamish about this.  Some associate any group organizations with the worst possibilities for group-think and so refuse to join other atheists in this task thinking it can only lead bad places.  Other atheists just do not care about community along atheist lines since they have other avenues for community in life.  And other atheists will think since they personally can get all those other goods in life in an individualistic way they have no need to associate with other atheists for them.  

But if we as atheists do not imaginatively and rationalistically construct positive alternatives to religion for the numerous people who do turn to religion for its "full package" of beliefs, practices, ethics, and community, then we will lose those people to the inferior beliefs, practices, ethics, and community that authoritarian forms of religion offers.

So, what is it atheists?  Do we only want to harp on the ways that we are skeptical and a default negative with no other specific content necessary or do we want to risk adding to our atheism all the constructive stuff that would make for an "atheist religion" for those convinced that "religion" in some sense is a necessary good?  Can we persuade them that they can have most or all of what they really want to DO with religion without any of the superstition, dogmatism, fideism, or authoritarianism?  Should we even try?  Your Thoughts?
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Re: Another book I haven't read

Post #5  Postby CamelsWithHammers » Tue Jul 13, 2010 3:26 pm

By the way, thanks Jeff D for the provocation (and Lausten for posting my article here in the first place).  I have just published a polished up and slightly revised version of my reply to you on Camels With Hammers.  http://camelswithhammers.com/2010/07/13 ... religions/
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Re: Another book I haven't read

Post #6  Postby Jeff D » Tue Jul 13, 2010 4:15 pm

Daniel (Camels With Hammers),

I am (really, no kidding) gratified that you would post a long reply here. . . . A reply that I am going to have to take much more time to read carefully.  But here is my preliminary response to one of your points.

Now, to most people all of this is just in a completely different universe from science and knowledge.  They do not think that religiously based superstitious beliefs affect the law of gravity or can be used to get them out of having to pay their taxes or will fix their leaking roof.  And most of them go to the doctor and not to faith healers.  

So, the point is that they live an entire life that uses religion for what they can gain from it emotionally, socially, and ethically, etc., and they use science for what they can get out of it practically and, in some cases, intellectually.

They live this life of compartmentalized complementarity between religion and scientific modern living.  When we skeptical atheists say they cannot they say, but we do.


I agree, people -- not just religious people, but people -- do compartmentalize their lives.  And nominally or sincerely religious people do conduct major parts of their lives in ways that use or benefit from religion, because they have a social or emotional stake in believing (or in professing to believe) and in belonging.  They are welcome to it; I have no such social or emotional stake in pretending to believe.  My sense of intellectual integrity won't let me do it.

I have never said that religious people cannot live compartmentalized lives, and I don't know any atheists who claim that they cannot. It would be possible to argue about what "fully complementary" means. Human beings are capable of living with all sorts of contradictions and paradoxes in their beliefs, maintained in either superb or precarious balance.   I like what Robert M. Price has written about religious experience (worship) being an aesthetic or dramaturgic experience, where "the play is the thing":   The rituals of worship are conducted in a frame or context ("play" is another such frame) that gives rich meaning or significance to what happens within the frame. Within the frame, gods are real, wine becomes blood, carbohydrate crackers become flesh, a man came back to some sort of life 3 days after dying, etc.  And when the churchgoers depart from the "frame," leave the church, and go home, they re-enter the world in which wine does not turn to blood and angels and demons and gods don't really intervene in the world. I have no objection to this. If that is "full complementarity," so be it.

But especially in my part of the U.S. (here in the Midwest), there are many, many religious people -- a majority of the self-labeled Christians, in fact -- who do more than this. They claim to know, with certainty, that the truth claims of their particular religion are true.  And these are not just truth claims about what is right and wrong, ethical or unethical.    These are truth claims about the age of the Earth, about human nature, and about human beings' place in or relationship to nature. For these folks, religion is not just about doing. It's about pretending to know things that aren't so.

As you might have guessed by now, I am one of those anti-accommodationist bastards. I'm quite happy to live and let live in my many interactions with religious folks.  But I don't concede that there is any epistemic compatibility between "religion" on the one hand and "science" or "empricism," on the other.  If such compatibility existed, we'd be able to cite numerous examples from human history where some theological or superstitious claim about the nature and strructure of the universe or life or the nature of human beings was proven to be correct against the claims of some observer or experimenter using scientific methods.  I've asked and I've looked for such examples.  But I've found none.

This is as good  a place as any to link to Jerry Coyne's brief summary of some survey results detailing what religious Americans believe regarding a variety of perennially-controversial scientific issues, and how their relgious beliefs and upbringing affect their beliefs on those scientific issues.  The full survey results (59 pages) are here.  

Of those see the Bible as the Actual Word of God, 62% see evolution in conflict with their faith, 22% see it as mostly compatible, and 17% don’t know.

Of those who see the Bible as the Word of God, but not all of it should be taken literally, 35% see evolution in conflict with their faith, 53% see it as mostly compatible, and 12% don’t know.

And of those who see the Bible as written by men, 20% see evolution in conflict with their faith, 68% see it as mostly compatible, and 12% don’t know.


{See p. 10 of the survey report, p. 11 of the pdf}

Thus, one of the bottom line results is that when push comes to shove, when itch comes to scratch, and when a well-established scientific principle (normally, I dare to call this a "fact") conflicts with some core truth-claim of a religious person's faith, that religious person is more likely to reject the well-established scientific principle in order to "stay true" to the truth claim of his or her religion.  

This is a serious problem. And when, for example, sincerely religious parents withhold available medical treatment from one of their own children because they believe in prayer and Divine Providence as the sole permissible remedies, and when that child dies from an easily treatable illness or condition, this serious problem turns deadly.   I don't think the deadly result is due to incomplete or imperfect "complementarity" in how those parents have compartmentalized the religious and the secular aspects of their lives.
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Re: Another book I haven't read

Post #7  Postby OlegTheBatty » Tue Jul 13, 2010 5:01 pm

CamelsWithHammers wrote:A lot of atheists will be squeamish about this.  Some associate any group organizations with the worst possibilities for group-think and so refuse to join other atheists in this task thinking it can only lead bad places.  Other atheists just do not care about community along atheist lines since they have other avenues for community in life.  And other atheists will think since they personally can get all those other goods in life in an individualistic way they have no need to associate with other atheists for them.  

But if we as atheists do not imaginatively and rationalistically construct positive alternatives to religion for the numerous people who do turn to religion for its "full package" of beliefs, practices, ethics, and community, then we will lose those people to the inferior beliefs, practices, ethics, and community that authoritarian forms of religion offers.


Reducing atheism to cult status so that it becomes more attractive to members of other cults seems counterproductive to me.
Nor does it appear necessary even as a short term tactic.

Perhaps that's my Canadian bias showing. I live in an environment where religion does not have a lot of politcal power. Religious organizations can rarely muster more than 1/3 of the electorate to support their measures - enough to be heard, but not enough to control outcomes.

From my perspective, persistence will prevail. Drastic measures may backfire.
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Re: Another book I haven't read

Post #8  Postby CamelsWithHammers » Tue Jul 13, 2010 6:17 pm

I agree, people -- not just religious people, but people -- do compartmentalize their lives.  And nominally or sincerely religious people do conduct major parts of their lives in ways that use or benefit from religion, because they have a social or emotional stake in believing (or in professing to believe) and in belonging.  They are welcome to it; I have no such social or emotional stake in pretending to believe.  My sense of intellectual integrity won't let me do it.

I have never said that religious people cannot live compartmentalized lives, and I don't know any atheists who claim that they cannot. It would be possible to argue about what "fully complementary" means. Human beings are capable of living with all sorts of contradictions and paradoxes in their beliefs, maintained in either superb or precarious balance.   I like what Robert M. Price has written about religious experience (worship) being an aesthetic or dramaturgic experience, where "the play is the thing":   The rituals of worship are conducted in a frame or context ("play" is another such frame) that gives rich meaning or significance to what happens within the frame. Within the frame, gods are real, wine becomes blood, carbohydrate crackers become flesh, a man came back to some sort of life 3 days after dying, etc.  And when the churchgoers depart from the "frame," leave the church, and go home, they re-enter the world in which wine does not turn to blood and angels and demons and gods don't really intervene in the world. I have no objection to this. If that is "full complementarity," so be it.

But especially in my part of the U.S. (here in the Midwest), there are many, many religious people -- a majority of the self-labeled Christians, in fact -- who do more than this. They claim to know, with certainty, that the truth claims of their particular religion are true.  And these are not just truth claims about what is right and wrong, ethical or unethical.    These are truth claims about the age of the Earth, about human nature, and about human beings' place in or relationship to nature. For these folks, religion is not just about doing. It's about pretending to know things that aren't so.

As you might have guessed by now, I am one of those anti-accommodationist bastards. I'm quite happy to live and let live in my many interactions with religious folks.  But I don't concede that there is any epistemic compatibility between "religion" on the one hand and "science" or "empricism," on the other.  If such compatibility existed, we'd be able to cite numerous examples from human history where some theological or superstitious claim about the nature and strructure of the universe or life or the nature of human beings was proven to be correct against the claims of some observer or experimenter using scientific methods.  I've asked and I've looked for such examples.  But I've found none.


I am in complete agreement, I am an anti-accommodationist bastard too.  I am not talking about accommodating people's superstitions or their faith-based beliefs.  I am talking about accommodating their religiosity with secular forms that direct their religious feeling and expression towards truth, rather than away from it.
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Re: Another book I haven't read

Post #9  Postby CamelsWithHammers » Tue Jul 13, 2010 6:24 pm

OlegTheBatty wrote:
Reducing atheism to cult status so that it becomes more attractive to members of other cults seems counterproductive to me.
Nor does it appear necessary even as a short term tactic.

Perhaps that's my Canadian bias showing. I live in an environment where religion does not have a lot of politcal power. Religious organizations can rarely muster more than 1/3 of the electorate to support their measures - enough to be heard, but not enough to control outcomes.

From my perspective, persistence will prevail. Drastic measures may backfire.

I am not talking about reducing atheism to cult status. What I am talking about is atheists being constructive about developing secular, rationalistic forms, through which people can express valuable parts of their nature that many get a lot of benefit out of, without having to sacrifice their reason to do it.

If on the long haul the slow secularization of Canada and Europe can sustain itself without ever finding new avenues for meeting people's religious inclinations, then more power to them.  There is just a whole lot of religious feeling and responsiveness to religious bonding techniques that I would rather encourage people to subordinate to their reason than to their traditional religions.
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Re: Another book I haven't read

Post #10  Postby Lausten » Tue Jul 13, 2010 7:04 pm

CamelsWIthHammers,
Thanks for jumping in.  I’m not sure how familiar you are with this forum, but I can anticipate some of the objections. I am a pro-accommodationist bastard, but otherwise agree with most of what you said. I was working on my response to Jeff before I saw your post, so responses to you are at the bottom.


JeffD wrote:I don't know any atheists  who "abandon"  or denigrate "myth," "shared community," "charity," "ethical formation," "meditation," "metaphysical speculation," "rights of passage," "wonder and gratitude at nature," "solemnity," "ecstatic experiences," OR "strong identification with previous generations."

I don’t share that experience, unless you count going golfing and talking about your dead friends you used to golf with.

JeffD wrote:I know quite a few atheists and even more theists who criticize some "ritual" as empty or silly and who criticize some "pageantry" as kitsch or phony.

True

JeffD wrote:But what about "superstition"?  What about "irrational belief"?  What about fierce determination to maintain and perpetuate such belief and to discourage or prohibit doubt, investigation, or inquiry?

You draw the line well here. Unfortunately, many confuse myth with superstition, wonder at nature with irrational belief, and perpetuation of belief with identifying with ancestors. At least, that’s what I see locally and globally.

JeffD wrote: To me, if religion and all of its authoritarian, traditionalist, and dogmatic trappings (as well as the useful baggage of charity, empathy, etc.) is the "bathwater,"  the baby is the alleged truth of the superstitious claims that religions make about the world and human nature. There is no truth there.

By definition, there is no truth in superstition. I think Daniel is including that in the murkiness, not to mention the power structures and cover ups. The murkiness that I am talking about is that the very thing that has value, take a right of passage for example, is an opportunity for abuse.  Paedophiles seek out groups that are doing them, especially the ones that do poor background checks. So a ritual where a young man could learn that there is more to life than video games gets associated with creepy old men and it is discarded. We are left with bringing our boys to their first football game or buying them their first alcohol.

JeffD wrote:Superstition, and the reflexive favoring of belief (usually primitive, ignorant belief) over empiricism --  consistently preferring the "will to believe" over the "desire to find out" -- is what makes religion incompatible with science.  
Fincke (in his blog review of Ms. Robinson's appearance on the Daily Show)  says that "religion knows nothing" but "does things."   Correct, as far as it goes, but I wish it were as easy as that.  Religion also pretends to know, with great certitude, all  sorts of things, many of them demonstrably untrue.  Even Fincke would concede that.

Right again, and I can’t explain why Daniel leaves that out, but I think he cleared it up in his post here.  Again, you draw the lines better than most.

JeffD wrote:Organized religion has been associated for so long with ethics, morality, and charity that it is extremely difficult for most human beings -- at least in the part of the world in which I live -- to imagine that ethics, morality, and charity could exist without religion.

I don’t believe you’re part of the world is unique.  It is an easy sell, and given the average person’s understanding of history, difficult to disprove.  It would seem the mere fact of many religions should be enough to demonstrate that morality comes first, then it is packaged in religion. Maybe it just takes many generations for everyone to get it. There were once stories of the dog-headed men who lived just over the mountains to the east, then people travelled past the mountains and found people who had stories of the dog-headed men, just over the mountains to the west. The dog-headed men disappeared.  The question of “why should I be charitable” is a little more complicated than dog-headed men.

JeffD wrote:And I'm sick unto death of hearing it and reading it, even when it  is twisted slightly and dressed up in eloquent prose…


Sorry, I don’t think this is going away. You and I may part ways someday, but there will be others.  

Camels wrote:My point was also not that that religion actually has been on the side of ethical progress or a better source of ethics than secular philosophical ethics which is based on reason and progressive responsiveness to evidence and growing knowledge.


I think I got that from the original, but it is worth repeating.

Camels wrote:Powerful religions give people's lives a sense of coherence because they interconnect their views of everything.  It is because people associate their ethics, their personal identity, their familial identity, their meditative practices, their social network, etc. in deep ways with their religions that when forced to choose between religion and science they either punt the question and just compartmentalize or, when push comes to shove, they twist what they think science is so that it does not disrupt everything else that is balled up together.

I think you got it in a nutshell.

Camels wrote:Maybe a rite of passage where 13 year olds have to have a pet monkey for a month so that they can learn to appreciate our shared ancestry.  


Okay now you’re just getting silly, but I get the point.
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Re: Another book I haven't read

Post #11  Postby numan » Tue Jul 13, 2010 7:34 pm

CamelsWithHammers wrote:So, what I was trying to say to such people is most of this good stuff you like about your religious experience is indeed good and can be made compatible with modernity and science if you give up on the notion that religion is teaching you truth.  

I am all for traditional religion --- in some circumstances. I will view religion as above contempt, IF IT SATISFIES TWO CONDITIONS!

1. That religious people regard their dogmas and beliefs as metaphors, NOT as Literal, ABSOLUTE TRUTH.

2. That they butt out of other people's affairs. I don't care what they think or do --- as long as they are not harming other people. When they start telling other people how to reproduce, what they should eat, what they should do, how they should think --- then I have no respect for them. Why should I respect people who have no respect for me or others? But if religious people can just manage to live and let live, then they are fine by me.

I remain very suspicious of organized religion, and I think any religious adherent with his or her head screwed on should be suspicious, too. All human organizations have a tendency to become corrupted, and religion is certainly no exception!

I regard religion as a part of culture, not as a source of Absolute Truth. I am very much in favor of variety of culture --- so as far as ways of making sense of this wild, mysterious, beautiful universe we live in, I say, the more the merrier! We already live in a social, political and economic world of deadening uniformity, so let's preserve as much variety as we can!

P.S.  I will even grant that there can be truth in religion---just not Absolute Truth!

.
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Re: Another book I haven't read

Post #12  Postby Jeff D » Tue Jul 13, 2010 7:43 pm

CamelsWithHammers wrote,
If on the long haul the slow secularization of Canada and Europe can sustain itself without ever finding new avenues for meeting people's religious inclinations, then more power to them.  


In the context of his (Daniel's, C.W.H.'s) earlier post on this thread, what he seems to be referring to here is the need to find new avenues for meeting people's communitarian inclinations, for enhancing and expressing a sense of belonging, and for cooperating on worthwhile "good works" that express shared values . . . values that I'd call humanistic.   I think it's a category mistake -- an understandable one, but a mistake -- to call these inclinations or yearnings "religious," when the only thing that's "religious" about them is the centuries-old association of various activities  (pot-luck suppers in the church basement, neighborhood charity fund drives) with religious organizations.  

No one has demonstrated to my satisfaction that holding or pretending to hold religious belief in general, or a particular set of religious beliefs, is either a necessary or a sufficient condition for a person to engage in communtarian or humanistic activities. What we have is a long-standing correlation, especially in the Christianized world, and over time the correlation has become mistaken for a sine qua non causal connection.

There is another problem with urging atheists, as overt, "out" atheists, to band together and engage in good works in the community and to develop and practice their shared rituals . . . and the problem isn't just that atheism is a narrow stance and a slender reed to use as a means of bringing disparate people together.   The problem is that atheists are intensely disliked and distrusted by significant parts of the U.S. population.   This tends to make atheists reluctant to show a high public profile.

It seems to me that atheists and other "nones"  will achieve better results if they join forces with both believers and non-believers on charitable and community projects whose ends and means are agreed to be worthwhile.
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Re: Another book I haven't read

Post #13  Postby CamelsWithHammers » Tue Jul 13, 2010 8:12 pm

numan wrote:
CamelsWithHammers wrote:So, what I was trying to say to such people is most of this good stuff you like about your religious experience is indeed good and can be made compatible with modernity and science if you give up on the notion that religion is teaching you truth.  

I am all for traditional religion --- in some circumstances. I will view religion as above contempt, IF IT SATISFIES TWO CONDITIONS!

1. That religious people regard their dogmas and beliefs as metaphors, NOT as Literal, ABSOLUTE TRUTH.


Well, this is where the bastard anti-accommodationist comes out in me, I do not think that even as metaphors much of them are true and I wish religious people would take the attitude that maybe Jesus or the Bible is wrong rather than "Jesus and the Bible must be right, even if only metaphorically".  

I want full critical thinking, not traditionalism which makes the minimal necessary concessions to critical thought necessary but still defers to traditional sources otherwise.
2. That they butt out of other people's affairs. I don't care what they think or do --- as long as they are not harming other people. When they start telling other people how to reproduce, what they should eat, what they should do, how they should think --- then I have no respect for them. Why should I respect people who have no respect for me or others? But if religious people can just manage to live and let live, then they are fine by me.


Again, let me go a bastard anti-accommodationist step further.  I do care what they think because they teach it to their kids.  Politically I advocate no laws whatsoever to stop them from teaching anything they want to their kids (unless, of course, it's demonstrably violent and dangerous), but from a cultural standpoint and a philosophical standpoint, it very much matters to me that religious people stop believing false things, stop indoctrinating their kids into false beliefs, and stop training their kids in counter-rational habits of thought which only exacerbate, rather than rectify, their natural cognitive errors we all come packed with as human babies.

So, I'm less "live and let live" about this than most people.  I am all about living and letting live legally, but not philosophically.  Falsehoods and training in counter-rational habits of inference should be denounced forthrightly.

All I am saying is that I get why religious people are attached to these other things they call religious and saying, maybe, if these are things that enhance human lives and which inculcate beliefs, just maybe atheists should think about how to let people have these life-enhancing parts of life as atheists and just maybe atheists could use some of these techniques not to manipulate people into falsehoods but to help train them to think clearly and conscientiously instead.  That's all I'm saying when I defend "religion" as a way of "doing" rather than "thinking".  I mean there are techniques and practices that can be salvaged and put to better use, even as we oppose domatism, faith, ethical authoritarianism---you know, all that lying and bullying that gives the current religions such awful names.


I remain very suspicious of organized religion, and I think any religious adherent with his or her head screwed on should be suspicious, too. All human organizations have a tendency to become corrupted, and religion is certainly no exception!

I regard religion as a part of culture, not as a source of Absolute Truth. I am very much in favor of variety of culture --- so as far as ways of making sense of this wild, mysterious, beautiful universe we live in, I say, the more the merrier! We already live in a social, political and economic world of deadening uniformity, so let's preserve as much variety as we can!

P.S.  I will even grant that there can be truth in religion---just not Absolute Truth!

.

I don't agree that there is much truth in it, but of course myths can have some value.

I don't mind the diversity religion brings but insofar as it comes with intellectual price tags and lots of repression for those involves, particularly those raised in them as kids, I don't like them.  If all they were were sets of traditional rituals that marked unique communities, then that would be wonderful.  But they're not, they claim to know things and they impose unjustified codes on people and so should be opposed for that.  

I make the latter two points clear over and over on my blog.  The one post where I filled out the positive possibilities for the rest of religions' non-cognitive and non-code-giving dimensions seemed to obscure this point.  But it is primary to me.  Religion gets to dictate nothing about truth or morality. THAT'S what I meant when I said in the original post at hand that religion "knows" nothing.  I didn't say that it claimed to know nothing, I said that it can only be redeemed when it starts admitting it knows nothing and serves only rational ends.
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Re: Another book I haven't read

Post #14  Postby CamelsWithHammers » Tue Jul 13, 2010 8:18 pm

Jeff D wrote:CamelsWithHammers wrote,
If on the long haul the slow secularization of Canada and Europe can sustain itself without ever finding new avenues for meeting people's religious inclinations, then more power to them.  


In the context of his (Daniel's, C.W.H.'s) earlier post on this thread, what he seems to be referring to here is the need to find new avenues for meeting people's communitarian inclinations, for enhancing and expressing a sense of belonging, and for cooperating on worthwhile "good works" that express shared values . . . values that I'd call humanistic.   I think it's a category mistake -- an understandable one, but a mistake -- to call these inclinations or yearnings "religious," when the only thing that's "religious" about them is the centuries-old association of various activities  (pot-luck suppers in the church basement, neighborhood charity fund drives) with religious organizations.  

No one has demonstrated to my satisfaction that holding or pretending to hold religious belief in general, or a particular set of religious beliefs, is either a necessary or a sufficient condition for a person to engage in communtarian or humanistic activities. What we have is a long-standing correlation, especially in the Christianized world, and over time the correlation has become mistaken for a sine qua non causal connection.

There is another problem with urging atheists, as overt, "out" atheists, to band together and engage in good works in the community and to develop and practice their shared rituals . . . and the problem isn't just that atheism is a narrow stance and a slender reed to use as a means of bringing disparate people together.   The problem is that atheists are intensely disliked and distrusted by significant parts of the U.S. population.   This tends to make atheists reluctant to show a high public profile.

It seems to me that atheists and other "nones"  will achieve better results if they join forces with both believers and non-believers on charitable and community projects whose ends and means are agreed to be worthwhile.


My point is that what we call religion is semantics. I am not saying at all that apart from religion we cannot have all these things or that people have not always had these other things.  I am talking strategically about communicating more clearly.  I want to say to people, no you cannot force science or philosophy to bend to religion.  There is no "theistic evolution", the Bible is not even metaphorically true in all cases (let alone literally true in all cases), theologians and priests and prophets have no special source of divine knowledge, sacred texts are just old books whose wisdom is subject to contemporary philosophical and scientific reassessment, and religious traditions have no special claim to moral authority (in fact, they are on the whole disasterously immoral and regressive, and, no, faith is not intellectually acceptable ever.  BUT, if you want to engage in rituals and meditate and mythically represent your awe at the universe and have a community based around charity and mutual moral education of children, etc., etc. AND you want to call THAT religion, well then maybe we atheists should help you find a replacement so you don't go do all that intellectually and morally dubious stuff.
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Re: Another book I haven't read

Post #15  Postby CamelsWithHammers » Tue Jul 13, 2010 8:19 pm

Lausten wrote:
Camels wrote:Maybe a rite of passage where 13 year olds have to have a pet monkey for a month so that they can learn to appreciate our shared ancestry.  


Okay now you’re just getting silly, but I get the point.

Yes, 100% silly there.   :D
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Re: Another book I haven't read

Post #16  Postby Jeff D » Tue Jul 13, 2010 8:55 pm

What we call "religion" may be "semantics" . . .But I prefer that definitions be narrow and that they bear some reasonable relation to how the defined words are customarily used.

If "Thursday night bowling" can be a religion, or if we feel free to slap the label "relgion" on some other social system that does not entail a profession or avowal of belief in the existence of supernatural agents, then I think we are creating HumptyDumptysims, and the discussion soon grows pointless.

This has implications for how I (and other atheists or non-believers) might be asked to try to build bridges to and find common ground with "people of faith," to communicate more effectively with them.

If I am asked to concede that "having a community based on charity [and empathy and kindness] and the moral education of children" is, without more, a "religion,"

or If am asked to concede that expressing or experiencing profound awe and wonder at the order and structure of the universe (something that I have done often throughout my life and continue to do, to my great satisfaction) is, without more, a "religion,"

then I'm sorry, no thank you, I'm being asked to concede too much to those who would con successive future generations of children into accepting the falsehood that human beings can't have and keep these things unless they accept, on faith, one or another set of myths and fairy tales dreamt up by Bronze Age or early Iron Age illiterates.
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Re: Another book I haven't read

Post #17  Postby CamelsWithHammers » Tue Jul 13, 2010 10:37 pm

Jeff D wrote:What we call "religion" may be "semantics" . . .But I prefer that definitions be narrow and that they bear some reasonable relation to how the defined words are customarily used.


What I'm saying is that it is unclear what the word means in "customary use" since religions only share family resemblances among each other, not a specific set of properties that they all have.  Buddhism is widely understood to be a religion, even though it is, in most cases, atheistic.  Lots of Asian religions lack the sorts of god emphasis we find in the West, they are superstitious perhaps but they're not necessarily centered on belief.

My point is not to abuse the word "religion" and make it mean something it does not.  My point is to say that you can have things which have all the marks of religion but for the superstitions, the dogmatism, the faith, the ethical authoritarianism, etc. and some people will say, "that's a religion then" and all I want to say is, they can call it whatever they want as long as they understand that it is completely against intellectual and ethical authoritarianism.  THIS is what matters to me, not whether or not someone calls their participation in rites and ethical community "religious" or an alternative to religion.  That's just arguing about words.

If "Thursday night bowling" can be a religion, or if we feel free to slap the label "relgion" on some other social system that does not entail a profession or avowal of belief in the existence of supernatural agents, then I think we are creating HumptyDumptysims, and the discussion soon grows pointless.

Okay, so Buddhists who do not believe in the existence of supernatural agents just do not belong to a religion?  I mean you might say that, AC Grayling tries to argue that, but what's the point?  To try to convince people that there is no way to reconcile anything remotely religious with truth?  What good does that do?  Why not more narrowly specify that we're against these particular cancers common to religion (intellectual and ethical authoritarianism) and the rest of it we recognize can be put to good or to ill to the extent that it serves truth and justice or counteracts them?  

This has implications for how I (and other atheists or non-believers) might be asked to try to build bridges to and find common ground with "people of faith," to communicate more effectively with them.


Yes, if we say to them, "we understand and appreciate the worth of all these things you do and we recognize that we too have what you're calling "spiritual natures", but we oppose letting people make up false stories and call them true and we oppose people adhering to outdated or flat out barbaric ethical codes and calling them moral based on tradition.  Otherwise, we are not scary inhuman atheist monsters, we are quite happy to participate in rituals, group together for charity, explore metaphysical questions, wonder at the universe, meditate, live ethical lives, etc."  Then I think we can establish much, much more common ground and basis for discussion than if we put alll the good things people THINK OF as religious on the religious side and say atheism either does not have that stuff or that atheists are just on their own on all that because, you know, we're just anti-social and disorderly about things that people think are pretty important.

If I am asked to concede that "having a community based on charity [and empathy and kindness] and the moral education of children" is, without more, a "religion,"

or If am asked to concede that expressing or experiencing profound awe and wonder at the order and structure of the universe (something that I have done often throughout my life and continue to do, to my great satisfaction) is, without more, a "religion,"

then I'm sorry, no thank you, I'm being asked to concede too much to those who would con successive future generations of children into accepting the falsehood that human beings can't have and keep these things unless they accept, on faith, one or another set of myths and fairy tales dreamt up by Bronze Age or early Iron Age illiterates.

No, you would not be conceding that awe itself is a religion or that community based on charity is a religion or anything like that.  I don't join a religion just by being in awe and I don't join a religion when I join the Peace Corps.  I am not religious just because I'm ethical.  I'm not saying any of that.

But, if we set up a community organization devoted to uniting charity, ethical formation of children, rites, rituals, celebrations of wonder, philosophy and science talks, meditation groups, art centers, festivals, camps for children, etc.  Then from an anthropological and historical and sociological perspective, if people want to look at all this we're doing and say, well, they have 12 out of 14 (or however many) features of religions, they're another strand of religion---an atheistic strand, that's all.

There is nothing wrong with having things in common with the Bronze Age or early Iron Age humans.  We just should not think the way they did or organize our politics as they did.  But if we, like them, form community organizations around character formation, metaphysics, rituals, etc., then we, like them, anthropologically speaking are expressing our "religious natures".  What's so horrible about the label?  It's just a word and it might be an accurate one.  As long as no intellectual or ethical authoritarianism is going on, what's the problem?
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Re: Another book I haven't read

Post #18  Postby Jeff D » Wed Jul 14, 2010 9:14 am

But if we, like them, form community organizations around character formation, metaphysics, rituals, etc., then we, like them, anthropologically speaking are expressing our "religious natures".  What's so horrible about the label?  It's just a word and it might be an accurate one.  As long as no intellectual or ethical authoritarianism is going on, what's the problem?


You say it ("religious," "religious natures") is just a word and that it might be an accurate one.  You've hedged your statement by saying "might."  I say that "religion" and "religious" are more than just words, and it's neither accurate nor honest to use them willy-nilly to label any social system that we wish.

Maybe you are an anthropologist by training, and not a philosopher.  I have had long conversations with quite a few anthropologists (My wife got her M.S. in anthropology), I have attended a couple of conferences, and I have read books by many other anthropologists.   I don't know any anthropologists who would use "religious" so broadly and so sloppily as to apply it to any social system, even if the implicit or explicit metaphysical base for the system has no superstitious or supernatural elements.

I understand that for most people, the point and the value of religion do not lie in the superstitions and and the "beliefs" that are ritualistically professed (if not always actually believed). The point and the value of religion come from the emotional investment that the believer makes in "believing" (quelling the fear of death's finality, placating and respecting elders and other loved ones, expressing guilt and forgiveness, offering punishment and embarrassment to non-cooperators and dissenters) and in the complex sociocultural relationships and rewards that result from "belonging."   I really do get it.

But I don't think that non-believers, either as individuals or in groups, should deliberately adopt and follow a strategy of designing and constructing -- from the ground up, as it were -- a new, competing secular social system that also has collective rituals, charitable works, sets of ethics, a sense of wonder and reverence toward nature, a vision of what it means to be human, etc., and that simply lacks the superstitions, the lies, the anti-intellectualism, the divisiveness, and the authoritarian B.S.   If one sets out to deliberately design a new social system, one might end up with a dysfunctional mess (Theoposophy?) or something more pernicious (Scientology?).

Such secular social systems are what we human beings need, but I think the way we are going to get these secular social systems is by letting them happen, letting them evolve, and by encouraging our fellow human beings to free their minds, one at a time.   The atheist billboard and bus sign campaigns ("Don't believe in God? You are not alone"; "You can be good without God") are part of this gradual consciousness-raising.  The relative success of the Non-Believers Giving Aid campaign after the Haitian earthquake is another aspect.  

It may be pointless to try to raise the consciousness of "religious" Westerners over a certain age (35?), but there have been several prominent atheists (Dan Barker, John Loftus, the Canadian Eric MacDonald) who not only freed their minds but left careers in "holy orders" when they were over 30. And there are a few regulars and semi-regulars here on this Forum who made the jump from committed, evangelizing believer to non-believer when they were over 30.  For Americans between, say, 16 and 30 years of age, it may be relatively easy to persuade them to say no to mystical bu11$h!t.

And I don't think that if non-believers did deliberately design and construct a secular social system from the ground up, we should call it a "religious" system . . . anymore than we should call it a "banana," or "yahtzee."  We would not be expressing our "religious natures."  We would be acting as social animals, but unless we were professing a belief in supernatural agents or in some supernatural spirit realm or afterlife, etc., we would not be creating a religion or acting religiously. I think that's using the word far too loosely, and perhaps dishonestly, in the view of the people whom the proponents of this secular social system want to attract.  We would not be offering prospective "customers" the false promise of an afterlife, or some new deity or pantheon to worship.  So why should we want to lie to others, or to ourselves, and say that we are expressing our religious natures?

"I say it's broccoli, and I say to hell with it."
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Re: Another book I haven't read

Post #19  Postby nmblum » Mon Jul 19, 2010 9:57 am

Addressed to Camels with Hammers:

Do I understand you correctly?
When you say what "we atheists have to do...." are  you seriously thinking of atheism as the basis for some sort of organized entity that will change the world?
And if so, could you devote a paragraph of two as to how that would be effected, first by what might be considered (to put it mildly) a motley crew, and second how  the infinite variety of beliefs other than those concerned with religion will be overcome?
I would like nothing more than for the world to be recreated ( or resuscitated) in my image, but unfortunately while I was raised by atheists, and live my social and personal life in an environment of non-belief, I am not particularly in agreement about much else with those whose attitudes toward religion is the same as mine.
And while it is true that from the point of view of most thoughtful and concern non-believers it is impossible to conceive  of any radical, improved  social and political changes in society that do not have at the core, an educated non-religious political base,  still  it is unrealistic to think  that infinite variety of subtextual approaches to social and political structure among atheists can be overcome to make atheists or atheism the forefront of what amounts to revolution.


Norma Manna Blum
Cygnus_X1 wrote:
As for your contemptful attitude towards philosophy, the very axioms upon which science rests are philosophical. Concepts like evidence, truth, and validation are all philosophical concepts, honed over the years by philosophers.
KennyC. replied: Wrong. Philosophy is dead, its time has passed. It needs to be buried, it stinks.
Frederick Douglass:" It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
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Re: Another book I haven't read

Post #20  Postby Gord » Mon Jul 19, 2010 10:38 am

Lausten wrote:...your dead friends you used to golf with.

Since I read this line, I've been dreaming about zombies golfing, thank you very much.  :beee:
"Knowledge grows through infinite timelessness" -- the random fictional Deepak Chopra quote site

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Re: Another book I haven't read

Post #21  Postby OlegTheBatty » Tue Jul 20, 2010 2:27 am

Gord wrote:
Lausten wrote:...your dead friends you used to golf with.

Since I read this line, I've been dreaming about zombies golfing, thank you very much.  :beee:

Oooohhhhh! I HATE that! They're so damn slow. And they won't let you play through. What a nightmare!
"We can learn more by analysing old data in new ways, than by analysing new data in old ways.” - Bjarte Hannisdal
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Re: Another book I haven't read

Post #22  Postby Gord » Tue Jul 20, 2010 3:30 am

Actually, they're still faster than I am. :oops: And they're grumpy about waiting.
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