Pharyngula

Easter brings out the insipid

Take, for instance, Richard Harries:

This Easter, as usual, the Christian church will proclaim its central theme that, in Jesus, God shares our human anguish to the full and, through the resurrection, gives us hope that in the end all evil, including death, will be left behind. This God calls us to let the divine purpose of compassion work in and through us, to do what Jewish tradition calls repairing the world. It is the most sublime story of God ever told, the most deeply moving account of what it is for God to be God. No one doubts that there are real difficulties in believing it, but for atheism to ring true, it must at least betray the occasional sigh of pity that it’s not true.

Why, no, no sighs of pity here. The resurrection is a made-up story; it gives me no hope at all. It does give hope to con-artists everywhere, though, I’m sure.

I don’t find the story particularly sublime, either. “Absurd” is a better word for it, and for that reason I don’t find it moving at all. How does it tell us anything about the nature of this god? He’s simultaneously omnipotent and human, killable and not killable, capable of creating whole universes yet unable to pull out a few nails. If Christians weren’t so thoroughly indoctrinated into the whole mess from an early age, instead of being moved they’d be baffled.

Comments

  1. #1 Manson's Cellmate
    April 16, 2006

    What’s baffling to me is how adults can come to believe these fairy tales without having been indoctrinated as children. You’re right: nothing at all sublime about the whole sordid business.

  2. #2 wamba
    April 16, 2006

    Harries’ essay is the usual dreck, but some of the responses are of very high quality.

  3. #3 William
    April 16, 2006

    I don’t find the story particularly sublime, either. “Absurd” is a better word for it, and for that reason I don’t find it moving at all.

    Of course it is absurd, but so was Kafka. Totally seperate from believing in the Jesus myth, I find it hard to dismiss the literary pull it has. I don’t quite agree with Harries’ conclusion, but I will nevertheless make the argument for appreciating Christian mythology as a pretty good (if not always consistent) story.

  4. #4 PZ Myers
    April 16, 2006

    I think the pull of the story is the business of self-sacrifice: we social animals find that to be powerful stuff, and it crops up in lots of myths. Where it goes awry, though, is when it gets coupled to the god business, and suddenly it’s a sacrifice story where the hero really doesn’t sacrifice anything.

    Maybe it’s a Mary Sue thing.

  5. #5 poke
    April 16, 2006

    It’s funny how every theist is an expert on how atheists feel. None of my immediate family are religious and I have never had the slightest desire to believe in religious nonsense. I was never completely shielded from Christianity since, thanks to the British school system, I was exposed to several years of morning prayer, the occasional church visit, and Religious Education that spends about as much time on Islam and Hinduism as it does on a single Bible story. But I’ve never believed any of it, not for a single moment. And never wanted to. Because unless you’re indoctrinated it makes absolutely no sense.

  6. #6 isabelita
    April 16, 2006

    As for the quality of Christian myths and legends, I say, “Meh.” Recycled hash.
    Give me a good round of Australian Aboriginal lore any day, or a re-read of Gilgamesh.

  7. #7 Aa
    April 16, 2006

    Some of us, however, do break from from the indoctrination or perhaps it never really took hold.

  8. #8 melior (in Austin)
    April 16, 2006

    In this respect, [religious belief] is not totally different from making a judgment, for example, that Beckett is a great playwright…

    Well, that’s quite a ways from the “You’ll burn in hell if you don’t believe what I say the Bible says” style of Christians I live around. Perhaps Mr. Harries could help straighten their thinking out?

    He can explain to them that it’s actually just a taste preference which delusion you choose to hold with no reason for doing so except faith, like which shade of purple looks more aesthetically pleasing.

    Make mine black, please.

  9. #9 Hal
    April 16, 2006

    What self-sacrifice? It may be powerful, to some, but the Christian transaction with humanity is, “I’m going to get myself killed for reasons that I invent, and you must buy into. I’m also peddling a fairy tale, among hundreds of other fairy tales, outlining a form of godism that I expect you to submit to in preference to all the other fairy tales. And because I’m getting myself killed, you owe me big time, for ever. Regrettably, this hoohah tends to obscure the meritorious rules for behavior that Christianity sometimes acknowledges and promotes.

  10. #10 RickD
    April 16, 2006

    It’s sublime because they say it’s sublime, dammit!

  11. #11 JonJ
    April 16, 2006

    Atheism is never going to “ring true” to people like this guy. But going on and on about how “moving” it all is just confirms that it is really fiction for them, too, basically. They don’t have the slightest evidence, as we usually use the term, for it; they just read it in a book, or heard it told to them as children. Their hearts go pit-a-pat every time they hear it. And when they say they “believe” and are “deeply moved” by it, they simply mean that it makes a very strong emotional impression on them.

    That’s my Easter message.

  12. #12 Dave Eaton
    April 16, 2006

    Perhaps it is a function of childhood indoctrination, but I understand the pull. I understood the story as meaning that god purposely gave up all his magical powers to identify with people, suffering, and being uncertain, and all the limitations that being human entails. Humanizing god in this way could have been an important step, giving the god empathy for humans, on the road to civilizing religion. No, none of it made sense, really. God kills his son/self to atone for rules he made that he knew would be broken by beings that knew no better.

    But believing that the ontological basis for the universe, mighty and glorious and mysterious, shares the pain and worries of people, and in some inexplicable way will fix everything that is wrong with the world, even death, is easy to understand, if that is the right word. Those of us who demand reasons, who submit to the implications of empirical fact and logical deduction, are the unusual ones. Some version of the sacrificial god-man or something that more or less maps onto it has been around for a long time.

    I agree with prevailing assessment of the truth of religion expressed here. But I never expect atheism to be other than a very minor current in human culture, generally despised and feared. Not because religion is true, but because human minds work in a way that encourages religion to take root. So I will try to get along with it except when it encroaches on science or does some obvious evil. This might make me an appeaser or sellout, but what sense does an atheist jihad or agnostic fundamentalism make?

  13. #13 Baruch Grazer
    April 16, 2006

    Actually, the reductionism seems always to me to work both ways. Yes, when people of faith talk about atheism, they describe it in ways that most atheists don’t recognize as their true point of view. But, come on, look at the way atheists describe religious faith: I don’t know any Christians who would describe their belief system the way it is represented by atheists.

    Both sides are preoccupied with their strawmen instead of with the real people on the other side, perhaps because being affirmed in one’s prejudices is so much more gratifying than the long-haul committment required of genuine conversation.

  14. #14 PZ Myers
    April 16, 2006

    Please do explain the belief system of Christians as they understand it.

  15. #15 Dr. Spinoza
    April 16, 2006

    Lately I’ve been teaching Kierkegaard to undergraduates (another thankless task). Most of my student self-identify as Christian of some version or other. It’s been very difficult to get them to see that the absurdity of Christianity is, for Kierkegaard, the whole point of it. (As it was for Augustine.) They don’t want to acknowledge the absurdity of their beliefs; they believe that their beliefs make sense. It’s very curious, to say the least.

    But that there could be some entity who is both fully divine and fully human, both eternal and temporal, both outside of nature and a part of it — yes, the absurdity of it is precisely the point. It’s not supposed to make sense, and it was never intended to. Christianity has been misological from the beginning. The reason why Gnosticism is a heresy is because Gnosticism is what happens when you try to make sense of Christianity.

    What’s really striking, to me, are the various apologists who try to reconcile the absurdity of Christianity with ordinary, “common-sense” logic and experience. (And this is precisely what all fundamentalists try to do — fundies do not like Kierkegaard.)

    The reconciliation of Christianity and experience is the intellectual complement to the reconcilation of Christianity and power. Theology needs theocracy, and vice-versa. We saw this in Aquinas’ theology that justified the feudal order of the late middle ages, and we see it today in fundamentalist theocracy.

  16. #16 wamba
    April 16, 2006

    But, come on, look at the way atheists describe religious faith: I don’t know any Christians who would describe their belief system the way it is represented by atheists.

    Right. That’s because atheists will point out the rational insufficiency of theism, whereas theists will either make up evidence to support their beliefs (e.g. the Creationists whom Harries disowns) or retreat into emotional language.

    And yet, look at the title of Harries essay: Science does not challenge my faith – it strengthens it

    Now, has he made a case for science supporting his belief, either by providing evidence or by fostering a mindset that values evidence? No.

  17. #17 flame821
    April 16, 2006

    meh, its a re-hash of the Greenman tales. Sacrificing one life (blood) so that others may be nourished, flourish and survive. I’ll take the pagan tales at least I’ve never had a pagan try to talk me into buying my way to ‘salvation’ or condem my soul to some firey hell for not agreeing with them.

  18. #18 Moses
    April 16, 2006

    Both sides are preoccupied with their strawmen instead of with the real people on the other side, perhaps because being affirmed in one’s prejudices is so much more gratifying than the long-haul committment required of genuine conversation.

    Just for the record, I’m ordained in a very large “main stream” Christian faith (though not practicing) and an atheist. (Of course, it’s all subjective as I’m taught that all the rest of you (not of my specific branch of Christianity) are doomed to burn in hell and are false Christians really in league with the Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christ Killing Jews.) Ordination preceded atheism and, the studies required of me, caused it. Nothing like getting a more in-depth than average education in the bible to start seeing just how messed up it is…

    And once you start with throwing out biblical inerrency… And see where things have been deliberately falsified with in the Bible (Old and New Testaments)… Then looking at the incredible rationalizations to make it fit into a modern world view… Then start looking outside the self-confirming literature…

    Well, you come to a crisis point. You either adult-up and admit you’ve been duped by scam or you just start denying the universe and develop fundamentalist schizophrenia.

    Anyway, my point is that some of us have been on both sides of the fence. And of the two, I see atheists (who are constantly assaulted by religion) to have the much greater understanding of the two populations. Both internally, and with their erstwhile opponents.

  19. #19 Jenna
    April 16, 2006

    Sighs of pity? Oh, whatever. My sighs of pity are for the bible-literalists. Atheism generated only sighs of RELIEF!

  20. #20 MJS
    April 16, 2006

    But that there could be some entity who is both fully divine and fully human, both eternal and temporal, both outside of nature and a part of it — yes, the absurdity of it is precisely the point. Carl Jung (yeah, I know, whatever) wrote an essay that I really enjoyed reading, wherein he posits that the precipitating event that brought about Christ (Greek for Savior) was the the Old Testament incident betwixt Yahweh and Job. The essay is titled “Answer to Job” and Jung approaches the subject with an “as if” credulity (he being of the mind that archtypal events reflect an undercurrent of collective factors). I do not believe in this stuff literally, but enjoy Jung’s approach.

    Briefly: indeed, if God is the One God then this god would be omniscient & omnipotent and therefore would know effects before causes so could never be surprised (what a drag). So why does this Old Testament Volcano Deity (google Freud and Midianite/Moses etc.) choose to not tap his own omniscience in the incident with Job? Surely, to make a human suffer for a wager with the Shadow of one’s self (Satan) is something a sociopath would do. To cause suffering, when one already knows the outcome, in some stupid bet with a dark angel “god keeps close”–wtf? It is in fact Yahweh acting like many other gods who rattle the skies before him, of which many were free from moral contraints (sexually, violently, etc.) as Yahweh himself seemed to be. Yahweh was quite busy breaking his own rules, killing people when the mood suited him, etc. When Job stands before this Middle Eastern god–a god who rants about powers and greatness and “who darkens counsel” and yadd-yadda: who is the show for? Yeah, you’re god, you can do whatever you want. And?

    Jung suggests that Yahweh sees he is missing a component that the puny man (Job) has: morality. And suffering. And pain. And (in Jung’s estimation) suddenly the creator is faced with a startling fact: he doesn’t know everything or does not reflect on everything: man, of small account, is more moral than he. This is big stuff, whether in the collective unconscious of a tribe of desert people cobbling their mythology on the fly or not. From this event Yawheh decides to become man, to “Get It.” Get it? Not as a redemption for man, but as a redemption (of sorts) for god. To become human in a way that this creator deity did not consider during the Adam and Eve days: now, he too would dive into our world as, indeed, both god and man. Big splash, yes?

    I read Answer to Job without ever once thinking that a literal sky-daddy and his trickster throne friend made a bet, etc., but I find this story interesting, one that resonates inside me to this day. I do not look at religion with a telescope expecting to see a literal god, and I do not look at the stars by kneeling and pressing my nose to cold tiles, praying for the sky to open the floor beneath me. But both acts can have meaning. Irrational, some of it? Undoubtedly.

    Beautiful day outside: regards to all.

    +++

  21. #21 speedwell
    April 16, 2006

    Please do explain the belief system of Christians as they understand it.

    Oh, boy. That sort of muddle can’t be explained, only described, and only from the point of view of an individual; every other Christian will poke a hole in the description and say, “See, I’m not like that, that’s why it didn’t work!” But I’ll try. I used to be a fairly devout Christian myself, until an Easter Sunday five years ago when I was reading the Bible, and it all stopped making sense. Here goes nothin’. This is what I used to be like.

    1. Mom and Dad, who I trust to deal with the big stuff, take me to church when I’m little. I can’t conceive of them being either liars or dupes at an age when I’m totally dependent on them and don’t understand anything about egos and power trips and pious fraud. I don’t have any incentive to change my mind as I get older.
    2. I love music and I love to sing, and the incredible wealth of church music from the past, Bach and Mozart and all, is so meaningful that it’s actually persuasive. God seems like a good fit for the things I feel when I’m hearing and singing music.
    3. All my friends and my friends’ parents go to church. They might go to different churches, but we’re all different and have different interests, and God would be OK with that and meant to set things up that way.
    4. The thoughts in my head often come from God or from bad spirits. I have to be careful to only listen to the right ones.
    5. Why would we have a Bible that’s so old and respected if it wasn’t true?
    6. God has to work invisibly or we would never seek for him and reach out to him. God doesn’t want us to stay babies; babies wouldn’t be any fun to be around. he wants people who understand how to love so they can love him better.
    7. I wish God would make an exception for me and show me he’s real so I don’t feel so abandoned. Maybe if I’m extra good, he’ll like me better.
    8. I’m not extra good so nothing I can do will change God’s mind. He’s big and can do whatever he pleases, so the reason I pray and try to be good is to avoid his displeasure.
    9. Where are all these church people getting all their certainty from? I guess I’d better get busy and work on my relationship with God [this said without irony] so I can have that certainty too. I’d better work really hard to think right and not let anyone get to me, or else.
    10. Heaven is a state of being in which we are placed in the environment that is exactly perfect for us, the way a lock perfectly fits its key. But we have to make sure we work to become a perfect key or we will not fit the perfect lock [this said, again, without irony].
    11. God really does love us and want what is best for us. Really.

    OK, OK, you’re probably begging me to stop now. but I think you get the drift. When I became an atheist, all those childish and stupid notions and more, all that brainwashing, all of that was cleaned straight out of my head, and I can’t tell you how good that felt.

  22. #22 Dr. Spinoza
    April 16, 2006

    Carl Jung is important because he has enogh respect for rationality and logic that when he uncovers something which flies in the face of rationality and logic, he admits it. And “the mystery of Christ” really does fly in the face of rationality, logic, and evidence. This has been acknowledged and celebrated by the greatest Christian thinkers and mystics (Augustine, Erigena, Pascal, Kierkegaard).

    The apologists and evangelicals, on the other hand, have insisted that it really does make sense, and if you don’t see that, then there’s something wrong with you.

    On the one hand, I do think that there’s something insidious and wrong about a religion which has, at its heart, the demand that one abdicate rationality, logic, and evidence.

    On the other hand, such a demand is hardly unique to Christianity. The other “revealed religions” (Judaism and Islam) have similar problems, and logical contradiction plays an important part in some versions of Buddhism.

    The question is, can truth be illogical? The battle-lines are drawn based on how one answers that question.

  23. #23 donna
    April 16, 2006

    The true “life after death” is life after losing the fear of death – living your life witohut being afraid of its ending.

    The rest is crap.

  24. #24 dr. dave
    April 16, 2006

    I’m as much an atheist as you PZ, but the problem I have with these rants of yours is that a statement like “I find these stories absurd, not sublime” is a statement like “I like Beethoven better than Mozart” or “I like Frost better than Whitman.” It’s not an opinion based on cold, hard scientific logic… it’s a statement about what moves you or doesn’t move you.

    I agree that when religion oversteps its bounds from being about ones INTERNAL life to being about the facts of the external world that it creates more problems than it solves. But if the idea of God or Easter or Xmas gives someone pleasure or comfort, I don’t see the value of going on a personal crusade to denigrate their private faith any more than I consider it proper to declare a Jihad against the noodly musical abomination that is “jazz”.

    I hate jazz, so I don’t listen to it. But the idea of trying to argue logically with an aficionado that jazz is inferior to classical music or blues music or heavy metal is an absurd exercise, becuase theior love for jazz is not based on any sort of logical or factual basis. And while I agree that nobody should be teaching Jazz as the “one true music” in our public schools, and such a crusade should be actively fought against, I think that much of the discussion that goes on here about religion is just pointless at best, and mean-spirited and bitter at its worst.

  25. #25 Bretty
    April 16, 2006


    He’s simultaneously omnipotent and human, killable and not killable…

    Of course, one of the great problems with a branch of Christianity is that they believe that the holy trinity (God, the Son and the Holy Spirit) are all manifestations of the same thing, which of course means that when Jesus died, so did God.

    Doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it? :P

  26. #26 Baruch Grazer
    April 16, 2006

    Please do explain the belief system of Christians as they understand it.

    First thing: I keep coming back ‘cuz I love the blog; if I taught Christian mission or ecumenics, I’d probably make you compulsory reading, because Christians should see how they are (at least in large part) perceived among the scientifically literate.

    That said, I suppose I should have written, “belief systems” (plural). My point is, I couldn’t possibly, and with respect, neither can you or anybody else. By the same token, no Christian could, in full, “explain the belief systems of atheists/Jews/Muslims/anybody as they understand it.”

    As Dr. Dave comments above, I happily grant that when religion starts trying to style itself as having explanatory power concerning natural phenomena, it needs to be spanked. Happens too damn much, especially in our culture.

    My only point was, you were appalled at the hubris of a religious person who thinks they know all about the atheistic viewpoint. Yet you so often project a certainty that you understand these benighted, superstitious religious people’s motives and belief systems better than they do themselves. I simply wished to call out what struck me as a double standard.

    Crap, I’ve almost got myself into Christian apologetics, which I have no desire to do. My time is better spent trying to encourage critical thinking among my seminary students (whatever anyone else thinks of such a project!).

    Thanks, P.Z.

  27. #27 Dustin
    April 16, 2006

    I like this line:

    No one doubts that there are real difficulties in believing it…

    Dude’s obviously never been to Colorado Springs. If you suggest that it’s even mildly or slightly absurd that God should have become incarnate to die to grant forgiveness of sins that he’s the judge of anyway, and then that he came back to life and shot like a rocket into space declaring that he’d be back within a generation — the person you’re talking to looks at you like you have a second head or something.

    SPAAAACE JESUS… AWAY!

  28. #28 miriam
    April 16, 2006

    hey.. um well i found ur blog on google wen randomly searching for something… just thought i’d say i really don’t agree.. u say christians must have been indoctrinated from an early age.. but do you actually know any truly born again believers? i don’t think theres any way i could make u understand wot u think is contradictory (he can create universe but can’t pull out a few nails) bcos u don’t understand or know God or know about His character. Salvation. He could have pulled out the nails but He didn’t because it was in his plan.. it was the only way he cud atone for all our sins and so that we can be forgiven by God and enter Heaven when we die. hmm neway.. please feel free to get in touch.. but please dont be horrible lol bcos im only 16 and im jus interestd in ur point of view.

  29. #29 Mumon
    April 16, 2006

    How does it tell us anything about the nature of this god? He’s simultaneously omnipotent and human, killable and not killable, capable of creating whole universes yet unable to pull out a few nails.

    Suicidal. Filicidal. But not really suicidal. Sacrificing but not really sacrificing.

    Not interested in following its own rules.

  30. #30 RickD
    April 16, 2006

    Do the trolls try to intentionally come across as illiterate?
    I’m thinking yes.

    All I know is that I’ve known how to spell the word “could” since I was about 4 years old. Who can spell words like “indoctrinated” and “randomly” but has problems with “you”, “your”, and “just”?

    DrDave, the problem is that religion does not sell itself as jazz does. Jazz doesn’t prescribe or proscribe anything. It is an art form. Religions are selling themselves as the exclusive purveyors of the truth. And sure, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that they exist more on the basic emotional drives of humans rather than any long-lasting coherent theology. See the response above posted by Moses, for example.

    Dave, you say that the posts here are bitter. Personally, I find them hopeful. PZ espouses a viewpoint that a lot of people find reasonable. While it is true that the number represents a minority, it is a growing majority according to many measures. Also, it typically is a minority disproportionately represented in the best-educated individuals.

  31. #31 memphisfran
    April 16, 2006

    Even if all you say is false about christianity, the values and virtues that it teaches people to care about one another might be worth it enough…..just think if everyone lived by the ten commandments how much better a place this world would be….it can’t be all bad. See, christianity takes something you don’t have, with all due respect, FAITH. If it were easy to believe in, what would be the point? If it didn’t take sacrifice on your own part and maybe even some ridicule by those who believe like you, what would be the point? If you truly experienced the LOVE of God, you would have no doubt. Even if it’s totally dubious to you, I would much rather HOPE and have FAITH that I will be in Heaven with my Father than the alternate choice of being in Hell with the Father of lies. So, be careful, who’s the master of lies? He’s so good he has you believing the lie that Jesus did not raise from the dead that it would be impossible. Open you heart and your mind and you might see how it is possible to believe even though it seems so impossible. God bless you and keep you! He loves even you!

  32. #32 Lefter
    April 16, 2006

    My daughter and I were talking about the Easter bunny yesterday (she’s seven). We talked about colored eggs and where the bunny would hide them, etc. and she was very excited. She loves he whole idea.

    She wanted to know if the Easter bunny went to every house and I sad no, some of our neighbors are Jehovah’s Witnesses and other sects and explained the general concept of Christian Easter to her. I told here about Jesus and the crucifiction and resurrection and how this was supposedly to forgive our sins.

    She paused and pondered this for a moment and then looked at me and said “Daddy, that doesn’t make any sense”.

  33. #33 Anton Mates
    April 16, 2006

    If it were easy to believe in, what would be the point? If it didn’t take sacrifice on your own part and maybe even some ridicule by those who believe like you, what would be the point?

    Er, that it would then be more likely to be true?

    I mean, it would be hard to believe that a giant invisible squirrel lives on top of the Eiffel Tower, and I’d probably get ridiculed if I professed that belief, but I don’t really see those as reasons to believe that. If something is really difficult to believe, that’s usually a point against it.

    And, for that matter, you don’t honestly believe that you sacrifice more and suffer more ridicule by being a Christian than by being an atheist, do you? Particularly in America?

  34. #34 Tiskel
    April 16, 2006

    I keep laughing every time I see someone scolding PZ for writing essays on HIS site that disturb them…

    In response to several comments that complain about athiests making claims about understanding how christians think, I, as an athiest, think that I understand how christians think better than they do themselves. I grew up in a religious family, yet was an athiest from about 10. I observed all of the people around me and, as a budding scientist, began to form ideas of why people would believe all of this crap that I was supposed to believe. I then began asking people why they believed what they did. After 20 more years of this, I think I can say with some accuracy that I understand them better than they understand themselves, and definately better than they understand me or most other athiests.

    Most christians who I talk to cannot actually understand that I do not believe in god or any other deity. They tend to think that I am just angry with god, or some other thing they have been through themselves at some point in their lives. They cannot step outside of their own perspective and see that other people might think in a completely different way. It’s part of the reason that they are christians, and why I am not. Our brains just work differently. All people cannot think logically, and most people cannot break away from the indoctrination that they experienced as a child. Those who do tend to be people who fought back their natural tendency to question through most of their childhood and only after letting themselves actually think about the issue did the rational person inside them break through.

    As for the ‘born again’ people, all that I have met and talked with are irrational people who just happened to not grow up in a church or had some bad experience while young that kept them from considering religion. They would have been typical loyal christians from birth given the opportunity.

    People think differently. Some people are rational and are lucky enough to not be psychologically brow beaten by parent s or peers as children. Others are irrational and will gravitation to supernatural explanations no matter what situation they are exposed to. None of this has anything to do with how smart they are or if they are good people or not.

    It’s odd how often people forget how much variability there is between organisms of the same species. We talk about how babies have their own personality from their first day, but seem to ignore that there are other deeply fundamental differences that change how we think, learn, and interact with the world. I wouldn’t even get angry about it, except it is the irrational people who keep being put in charge and keep fucking up the world. Not that it really matters, in the grand scheme of things… we were all going to die sometime anyway.

    -Tiskel

  35. #35 Anton Mates
    April 16, 2006

    So when Richard Harries says

    It is the most sublime story of God ever told, the most deeply moving account of what it is for God to be God. No one doubts that there are real difficulties in believing it, but for atheism to ring true, it must at least betray the occasional sigh of pity that it’s not true.

    does he mean to imply that the adherents of all those other religions must be sighing as well? After all, many already share some doctrines with Christianity, so they’d have less difficulty believing it. And according to him, their stories about God aren’t as sublime and deeply moving. So does he think there’s lots of, say, Hindus sitting around going “Gosh, if only Vishnu were more like Jesus?”

    (Personally, I think the most affecting portrayal of a supreme-ish deity is that of Odin. The guy knows that the universe is destined to end in war, fire and ruin, and he constantly labours, studies and sacrifices to make sure the good guys will just barely squeak out a win, so that the few survivors can start up a better world. That’s someone you can respect. Of course it helps that he’s not omnipotent.)

  36. #36 Pete K
    April 16, 2006

    Well, y’know, electrons are simultaneously particle and wave…and nothing is more “absurd” than a universe existing, and existing in the form that it does, reasonlessly….things are far from simple

  37. #37 chuko
    April 16, 2006

    Hey Miriam, hang around a bit, try to read around the vitriol, and see if you can get a feel for what makes us tick. Pay attention when people carefully reason out answers. Check their work – do the steps follow? can you confirm the factual statements? Ask some questions.

  38. #38 chuko
    April 16, 2006

    In the US, it’s possible to be a christian and never run into someone you know to be an atheist. Atheists can’t help running into christians. That’s a pretty good reason to think that we understand them more than they understand us.

    (RickD – miriam’s using shorthand, it’s common for teenagers and younger. Just ’cause we’re a bunch of old people…)

  39. #39 AndyS
    April 16, 2006

    PZ,

    I don’t comment on this blog any more than I do because you already have many people to cheer you on and I basically agree with your politics if not your style. It’s part of your style to condemn Christianity with a broad brush: some (many, most?) Christians are stupid (idiots, fools?) therefore they all are. I know you don’t say it that explicitly and at time give the usual disclaimer that Christians can be nice people too and some are good scientists — still that’s the basic takeaway.

    Tiskel writes: I keep laughing every time I see someone scolding PZ for writing essays on HIS site that disturb them…

    Be a pretty boring blog if only the converted replied and then in only glowing tones.

    Tiskel again: In response to several comments that complain about athiests making claims about understanding how christians think, I, as an athiest, think that I understand how christians think better than they do themselves. I grew up in a religious family,…

    Another broad brush. Didn’t we get over that sort of thing long ago? “All Jews are ….” “All blacks are ….” “I know how all members of group X think.” It’s just Rush Limbaugh from the atheist side — and even more annoying coming from a scientist and an atheist who has likely experienced being the subject of just that sort of ignorant speach pattern.

    I’m an atheist with a graduate degree in science and I object. There are many Christians who are not fooled for a second by the talk of miracles and resurrection, who are not dupes, idiots, or fools. For many it is a wholesome social and regilious experience. If you haven’t met them you are not looking or maybe trapped in your own preconceived notions based on your own limited experience.

  40. #40 Dustin
    April 16, 2006

    Actually, come to think of it, I can’t think of a single thing in all of Christianity that I would call sublime, and I’m not just saying that because I’m not religious either: some of the assorted flavors of Zen have their sublime moments, I’ve seen it once or twice in Hinduism, Taoists are all over that whole sublime thing too.

    Christianity, its stories, its laws, and its morals are as sublime as an angry and arthritic elephant with a damaged inner-ear in a china shop. The whole religion has this ugly cosmology built up piecewise and willy-nilly by an all-powerful entity with the emotional maturity of a two year old. I mean, shouldn’t a religion that presents the entire world as this static, ugly thing just be immediately discredited? I don’t think I’d be able to subscribe to a religion that professes that “there is nothing new under the sun” without becoming chronically depressed.

    Sublime. Pfft.

  41. #41 Pastor Maker
    April 16, 2006

    Now Odin’s death and resurrection truly rock!

    Could you imagine the bitchin’ chocolate stuff we’d get if Norse religion ruled the day!

  42. #42 John C. Randolph
    April 16, 2006

    I give the easter story precisely the same weight as Leonard Nimoy’s dying scene in that Star Trek movie, where he tossed off that obnoxious socialist homily as he kicked the bucket (only to be resurrected in the next movie).

    -jcr

  43. #43 chuko
    April 16, 2006

    Baruch Grazer – you’ve got your work cut out for you if you want to teach critical thinking to seminary students. Let me tell you a story.

    A friend, a baptist seminary student, suddenly broke into a silly creationist argument while driving. It was the “all phylum appearing during the cambrian explosion” canard for those keeping score. I answered it calmly and honestly, and offered to source it. A little later, I asked her if she thought I’d adequately addressed that particular issue. (Not creationism, but just that one argument.) She said no. I asked her what she thought the difficiency in the argument was, what she would need to have the argument answered. She thought, then said that there was nothing. That there was no way she’d believe any answer to a side point in a larger issue that many christians have no problem with.

    I suppose it was good that she was honest. But in the end, every argument with a christian comes down to this. (This story is hardly unique…) They’ve decided there’s no way to change their minds. They have “faith” – defined as a refusal to reason on some subjects.

    And there’s your problem. You’re trying to get these students to think critically outside of certain subject like belief in god. (If you’re at SW Baptist in Fort Worth, you also include creationism and literal biblical truth.) But once people give up reasoning somewhere, how can you convince them to apply it elsewhere, or to see why developing critical thinking is important?

    Good luck.

  44. #44 John C. Randolph
    April 16, 2006

    Justin,

    FWIW, Cadbury Creme Eggs are sublime.

    -jcr

  45. #45 Dustin
    April 16, 2006

    There are many Christians who are not fooled for a second by the talk of miracles and resurrection

    There is, as a matter of definition, no such thing as a Christian who doesn’t believe in the resurrection and divinity of Christ.

    Roman Soldier: Spear hits Jesus for 15 damage.
    Roman Soldier: Spear crits Jesus for 78 damage.
    Jesus: Stunned.
    Jesus: Dies.
    [General] Jesus says: OMG HAX!
    [Party] Jesus says: DAD, U NOOB PRIEST! REZ!!!!
    [Party] Yahweh says: …3 day cooldown. =(

  46. #46 AndyS
    April 16, 2006

    Here’s another take on what I’m trying to say, written in a style that’s become quite popular on blogs.

    [begin example].

    How to dehumanize people in a few easy steps:

    1. collect a lot of people who share your opinions in one place. A blog will do.

    2. crank up the echo chamber praising the quality of your belief system — be it science-and-atheism or conservative evangelical Christianity

    3. use the language of ridicule and condescension toward the beliefs of some other group

    Excellent! Now you can blame the ills of the world on the other group and feel good about it. With any luck your group will start growing and your most cutting phrases and buzzwords will begin to spread beyond your members. If you’re really fortunate young people will come to think this is how good adult members of society behave and you’ll get still more converts.

    The Nazis did this so well they got otherwise good people to build a whole national industry around crematoria. The Catholic church was able to get people to torture others to death to save their souls — Protestants did that too a little later. Endless examples abound.

    [end example]

    Language is a powerful medium. Use it with care and you can help solve important problems. Use it carelessly and you contribute to dehumanizing other people and create more chaos and ignorance.

    Science and atheism are important concepts. I’d like to more people come to understand why. When scientists and atheists use the language of dehumanization, it creates such a negative association with the ideas they stand for people who may otherwise be swayed turned away.

  47. #47 Josh
    April 16, 2006

    I don’t see why there is all this talk about Jesus and religion. Isn’t Easter all about a bunny who hides colored eggs? Sure, the Christians may claim it like they claim the Winter Solitice but follow the money and follow the press. It’s really all about the bunny.

  48. #48 Dustin
    April 16, 2006

    Now you can blame the ills of the world on the other group and feel good about it.

    And how, just how is it that the ills of the modern world are not the fault of religion or nationalism? Really… sit down, think about it, and then name a single war or atrocity in Europe or the Middle-East since the spread of those religions that didn’t have one or two or all three of them as the cause. And anyway, what do you think a good adult member of society is supposed to do? Tiptoe around idocies? Shut his mouth and allow atrocities because he doesn’t want to upset anyone? Wandering around like a placid cow isn’t particularly adult, is it? No, dear me, we just can’t risk offending anyone.

    It also bothers me a little that you seem to think of atheism and science as belief systems. They’re both, and you should know this if you identify with them as you claim to, very staunch rejections of belief. And no, rejection of beliefs is not a belief system, so don’t suggest that it is.

  49. #49 yonatron
    April 16, 2006

    Science, I can maybe see construed as a belief system: it’s a system of methods for deciding what things to believe. But I’d certainly agree that more importantly, it’s anything but a system of specific beliefs.

    Atheism as a belief system, though, that’s just patently ridiculous. It’s not a system of anything, it’s the specific lack of exactly one belief. Beautiful in its simplicity and probably the only -ism I would apply to myself without hesitation.

  50. #50 coturnix
    April 16, 2006

    There are many ways to lose one’s religion. But insomnia? Whatever rocks your boat, I guess…

  51. #51 Dan
    April 16, 2006

    Fran:

    See, christianity takes something you don’t have, with all due respect, FAITH.

    Faith is, with all due respect, little more than an apologia for helplessness. It’s what you use to make “sense” out of the shit you don’t understand. In short, an appeal to faith is a cop-out. It conveniently absolves you of any obligation to have the slightest clue what you’re talking about, but somehow does not preclude you from expressing absolute, unshakeable certainty in that which you do not understand. It is a socially glorified form of unapologetic intellectual laziness.

    If it were easy to believe in, what would be the point?

    This isn’t the fucking Olympics. You don’t get bonus points for degree of difficulty.

    If you truly experienced the LOVE of God, you would have no doubt. Even if it’s totally dubious to you, I would much rather HOPE and have FAITH that I will be in Heaven with my Father than the alternate choice of being in Hell with the Father of lies. So, be careful, who’s the master of lies? He’s so good he has you believing the lie that Jesus did not raise from the dead that it would be impossible. Open you heart and your mind and you might see how it is possible to believe even though it seems so impossible. God bless you and keep you! He loves even you!

    Yay! Lobotomies for everyone!

  52. #52 Tiskel
    April 16, 2006

    AndyS,

    I notice that you quoted a very short section of my comment where I noted things that I think and referred to christians that I have met and talked to, and then claimed that I was applying a broad brush to all christians. I don’t now how much more clearly I could have stated that I was referring to the people who I have actually talked to about these subjects without naming them.

    I have stated that I believe that I understand how and why christians think the way they do because I have some knowledge of how our brain works. I have some understaning about how society and culture work to shape the plastic parts of our minds to think in specific ways. I have some understanding about how societies work in general, and why religions exist. I also have no particular stake in any religion, so thus can try thought experiments and run apply logical reasoning to the issues at hand without getting all emotionally involved.

    As such, I can empathize with those who wish for the world to be a crappy prelude to a happy forever, but I cannot turn off the part of my mind that knows Heaven is just as likely as Valhalla or Nirvana (or, just as childishly foolish).

    On to your statements regarding my scope of contact with christians:

    Membership in every christian church I have ever attended or have been in any way associated with requires one accept the statement that they have accepted Jesus into their hearts and accepted them as their personal saviour. I don’t know what your definition of christian is, but mine pretty much includes this belief. I know there are variants of this, but they all have christ as the core, otherwise they aren’t really christian, are they?

    In my opinion, someone who can make this statement truthfully is a fool. All others who say it are liars. This isn’t necessarily permanent, as my wife can attest to, but sadly, it mostly is.

    AndyS said:

    There are many Christians who are not fooled for a second by the talk of miracles and resurrection, who are not dupes, idiots, or fools. For many it is a wholesome social and regilious experience. If you haven’t met them you are not looking or maybe trapped in your own preconceived notions based on your own limited experience.

    If someone goes to a christian church without believing the things that makes one a christian, they aren’t christians. They are just going to church. I know plenty of those people as well. I was forced to be one of them when I was growing up. I liked talking to all of the people there, and sometimes I liked the food at potlucks as well. None of this changes the fact that I was not a christian, and at 10, I was aware enough to know and admit that. There were 80 year olds there who knew that it was all a lie as well, but who weren’t willing to risk being ostracized.

    I think that I have met many of the same kinds of people you are citing, it’s just that I could see that they were just at church for the company.

  53. #53 AndyS
    April 16, 2006

    Dustin: There is, as a matter of definition, no such thing as a Christian who doesn’t believe in the resurrection and divinity of Christ.

    And you know this from what authority? I know, for example, that the typical evangelical would agree with you, but I’m not aware of an ultimate authority who gets to decide for everyone. I know a Presbyterian engineer (if it is necessary to specify subgroups) who interprets the miracles and resurrection as metaphors. He’s a member of a church, even acts as a lay minister at times, and thinks of himself as a Christian.

    What I think is happening is atheists taking what they hear in the media about the rise of the conservative evangelism as the one way to be a Christian — maybe add Catholicism since the new Pope gets an inordinate amount of attention. But there are nearly as many kinds of Christians as, well, there are Christians. Look at the United Church of Christ or the Unitarians or any number of people not aligned with a particular group. (I’d provide some links but that would put this comment in the Black Hole for Comments With Links from which there is no exit.)

    And how, just how is it that the ills of the modern world are not the fault of religion or nationalism? Really… sit down, think about it, and then name a single war or atrocity in Europe or the Middle-East since the spread of those religions that didn’t have one or two or all three of them as the cause.

    Sadly, anyone can use my 3-step process of dehumanization be they religous, nationalist, or atheist — or a combination. It’s that process which is responsible for most wars. However, it doesn’t follow that because some religious people, for example, start a war, that all religious people are war-starters.

    And anyway, what do you think a good adult member of society is supposed to do? Tiptoe around idocies? Shut his mouth and allow atrocities because he doesn’t want to upset anyone? Wandering around like a placid cow isn’t particularly adult, is it? No, dear me, we just can’t risk offending anyone.

    Whatever did I say that led you to ask these questions? In short, I suggested that using dehumanizing language like ridicule, condescension, and generalization leads to very negative ends and thus is a bad example of our children. That doesn’t imply that when the Nazis are committing the Holocaust you should be sensitive to their emotional state. No, in that case you kill them.

    It also bothers me a little that you seem to think of atheism and science as belief systems. They’re both, and you should know this if you identify with them as you claim to, very staunch rejections of belief. And no, rejection of beliefs is not a belief system, so don’t suggest that it is.

    Let’s think about that for a second. I think you’ve hit on something fundamental and important — and you are right that I strongly identify with both science and atheism.

    Science is a huge belief system. Do you believe in gravity? If so, Newton’s or Einstein’s? How about evolution? Which version? Why? Everyone has a huge number of beliefs about science. I believe there are two scientific rovers on Mars and that it’s an incredible achievement to have placed them there and have them working so long. I believe there is a black hole at the center of our galaxy and probably all galaxies. I believe what we call the scientific method is an enourmously effective tool.

    My, rather absolute, atheism is part of a web of beliefs about what is meaningful and useful. It is not at all a rejection of belief. I do not believe the notion of God is a useful concept for modern civilization because I do believe that useful concepts require clear definition to have meaningful utility. I do beleive that our lives are made more, not less, meaningful by choosing to believe what we can provide good evidence for, rather than what gives us a good feeling. David Hume was on to this more than two centuries ago.

    What I think you might mean by belief is what is often referred to today as faith or, perjoratively, blind faith. That is the sort of belief supported by statements like “the Bible says so” or “just because” or “because I or some other authority you should respect or be scared of says so” or “because I would feel hopeless/fearful/desparate otherwise.”

    One important point in all of this, I think, is that having faith in some things we atheists think are silly often is of no consequence at all. My mother-in-law was, in her terms, a “good Catholic” and subscribed to most of the usual beliefs you might of expect of someone so self-described. Fine by me. Some people throw salt over their shoulder when they spill it–a supertious behavior. Who cares? There are all sorts of weird beliefs that cause no real harm in the world. I am ready, however, to go toe-to-toe with anyone that wants to ban abortion, to make prayer to their God complusory, or use force to compell respect for any silly beleif.

    I’m also ready to engage with anyone who thinks that science as we know it today offers to an individual much guidance in ethics or how to make decisions on a day-to-day basis. For that we look to other sources and there’s the mystery.

  54. #54 Luis Cayetano
    April 16, 2006

    Myers, I’ve been reading your blog for a little while now and I just want to say: you’re a fucking champion! You capture what I feel everyday but am not eloquent enough to express in the way I’d like to. I’ve had to deal with creationist stupidity here in Australia, from people whos ideas about science and religion belong in the Middle Ages. It’s often no use talking to these zombies; they’re so jacked up on bullshit they can’t see what’s right in front of them. I have nothing but contempt for religion, and I’m going to do my best to help ensure that Australia doesn’t become another haven of creationist SHIT and religious dumbheadedness.

  55. #55 Pete K
    April 16, 2006

    Stirring words from Luis there. But of course, it’s equally a mistake to fall into the trap and lump religious people into the “dumbass” category. e.g. one can beleive in a DEISTIC god, and still agree creationism etc is stupid.

  56. #56 Kristine
    April 16, 2006

    “Richard Dawkins has produced two films suggesting that religion, not the love of money, is the root of all evil…”

    Well, those two “films” were actually two parts of a documentary that was too short–and no, he did not say that religion was the root of all evil. He merely posed the question if unquestioning faith could indeed be the root cause of so much suffering in the world.

    “…and he has a new book on the subject out later in the year.” Ooh, what’s the book?

    “Science doesn’t weaken my religion, it strengthens it.” Yes, yes, yes. Every believer has to say this. And every statement from the heath care community never does anything but strengthen Americans’ unhealthy eating habits. We can pick whatever we want to believe. La, la, la, I’m not listening!

  57. #57 John C. Randolph
    April 16, 2006

    Religion isn’t the root of all evil, but it is a means to wreak havoc on an enormous scale. Obedience to leaders is an intrisically dangerous thing, and religion is too often used to override an individual’s moral judgement.

    -jcr

  58. #58 jay denari
    April 16, 2006

    What it comes right down to, I think, is that secular/atheist folks essentially speak a different language than the truly religious folks. It just happens to share the same words.

    A case in point:

    “I would much rather HOPE and have FAITH that I will be in Heaven with my Father than the alternate choice of being in Hell with the Father of lies.”

    I have hope… but to me it’s much more important to hope for REAL things, for changes in THIS life, than for anything beyond this life that may never happen. If there IS an “afterlife,” it’s just a side benefit, one we can’t control at this point anyway, so why bother worrying about it?

    Furthermore, this outlook assumes only two alternatives, but the real world has FAR more than that in almost all situations.

    I think a belief in salvation is simply a person’s way of giving up on human creativity and ability to change things that have gone wrong. In part, it’s enforced from the top; those who have power don’t WANT their followers to challenge their authority in THIS world (which their behavior often clearly indicates is their primary concern, not any afterlife) or the fact that they perpetuate abuse in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

    Nobody denies society has problems, but salvationism is ultimately a very pessimistic view of life. Science, on the other hand, is not — it assumes we CAN understand why & make necessary changes.

  59. #59 Dustin
    April 16, 2006

    I’m also ready to engage with anyone who thinks that science as we know it today offers to an individual much guidance in ethics or how to make decisions on a day-to-day basis.

    Personally, I stand ready to take on the Easter Bunny in rhetorical combat at any time… and you’re going to be waiting for your opponent just as long as I’m going to be waiting for mine.

    What I think you might mean by belief is what is often referred to today as faith or, perjoratively, blind faith.

    You think I might have meant that, huh? Did it really take you as long as it probably took to type that sophistic jackoff session preceding the part where you say that you “think” that’s what I meant to figure that out? Man, you’re a quick one. And no, I do not believe in Einstein’s theories, Newton’s, or in gravity. Science is not about credulity, it’s about evidence. It isn’t a belief system, it’s more of a system of disbelief, if anything.

    There are all sorts of weird beliefs that cause no real harm in the world.

    The belief itself might not cause any harm, but you’re even more cracked than the people doing all of that salt throwing if you think for a second that the suspension of mental faculties required to adopt that belief is not the same one involved in the adoption of the damaging beliefs. Those “Good Catholics” are members of an organization that has operated for centuries on that same suspension of disbelief and critical thinking and, well, I don’t need to go into the history of the Catholic Church, do I?

  60. #60 Andy Groves
    April 16, 2006

    I’m an atheist with a graduate degree in science and I object. There are many Christians who are not fooled for a second by the talk of miracles and resurrection, who are not dupes, idiots, or fools. For many it is a wholesome social and regilious experience.

    Well said, Andy S…

    - AndyG

  61. #61 yonatron
    April 16, 2006

    AndyS:Science is a huge belief system. Do you believe in gravity? If so, Newton’s or Einstein’s? How about evolution? Which version? Why?

    Again, it seems to me that when you call a religion a “belief system”, you’re pretty much referring to an enumerable set of beliefs such that holding them, or at least some portion of them is what defines members of the religion. Like I said a few posts before you, science is a framework for evaluating beliefs, meaning you can use it do pick up new ones and discard old ones with pretty damned good justification. If you do that in theology, you change religions. So calling science a belief system that’s supposed to parallel religious ones in anyway is totally misleading.

    My, rather absolute, atheism is part of a web of beliefs about what is meaningful and useful. It is not at all a rejection of belief.

    Okay, it’s not a rejection of belief, but it is, like I said, the lack of exactly one belief. Hardly a “belief system”, as you seem to acknowledge by mentioning that it’s part of a web.

    I’m also ready to engage with anyone who thinks that science as we know it today offers to an individual much guidance in ethics or how to make decisions on a day-to-day basis. For that we look to other sources and there’s the mystery.

    Well, I certainly don’t think that science offers much ethical guidance, short of helping to find empirical answers to specific questions relevant to bigger ethical dilemmas. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I think any more of people who decide their ethical guidance should derive from the rantings of long-dead madmen.

  62. #62 Finback
    April 17, 2006

    “Of course it is absurd, but so was Kafka.”

    Heh. Heh heh heh. Now I have the image of them rolling away the stone, and a giant roach scuttering out.

  63. #63 Christopher
    April 17, 2006

    For heaven’s sake AndyS, the process of ostracism you’re describing isn’t always wrong.

    Let’s apply it to the Ku Klux Klan, shall we?

    Start by generalising a belief they all have: All Klan members believe black people are inferior to white people.

    Now, blame them for some social ill: The Klan’s actions terrorised black people and aided in keeping the institutions of racial discrimination intact.

    Last, get the echo chamber to support me: I imagine most people here think the Klan is a loathsome organisation that should die out sooner rather then later.

    So… there. I’ve just used this hideous technique that led to the holocaust on the Klan.

    I figure you have two choices, AndyS: Either explain why the Klan isn’t such a bad organiation, and why we shouldn’t just assume somebody is a racist for being a member, or you can just give up your goofy-ass criticism and move on to something that actually makes sense.

    Incidentally, for those Christians who wandered in here, I have utter faith that the being or force you call “The lord of lies” runs this world. Why shouldn’t I have faith in that?

    Or, hell, why not just have an unshakable faith in atheism?

    Once you abandon the idea that ideas can be evaluated in relation to each other, you lose any ability to effectively prosyletise.

  64. #64 Brian Miller
    April 17, 2006

    Andy S: Bollocks. You are absolutely incorrect when you deny that Christianity means the divinity and resurrection of Christ. This has been an element of Christian churches since at least the Nicene Creed. Name one single denomination or Christian sect that as a matter of theology or core principle denies the Easter Story as the heart of the faith? I’m not talking about skeptical individual jesuit scholars or wooly minded individual youth pastors at the local upper middle class Methodist church. I’m talking the expressed faith principles. I have family members who have been Lutherans, I know Catholics, and heck, even Unitarians use this definition in their opposition to “mainstream” Christian faith.

    As for broad brush demonizing of Christians? Is that REALLY happening here? I see this site, and a few others, as a bit of an oasis for us doubters. So, we may be a little harsh. So what. When your constantly surrounded by a religion that is not only not sublime, but downright toxic, imo, one needs a place to vent.

  65. #65 windy
    April 17, 2006

    “Of course it is absurd, but so was Kafka.”

    Heh. Heh heh heh. Now I have the image of them rolling away the stone, and a giant roach scuttering out.

    LOL… “They can check in, but only He checked out.”

  66. #66 G. Tingey
    April 17, 2006

    Actually, it isn’t a pull, it is a push – blackmail.

    All religion is blackmail, both moral and often physical.

  67. #67 John C. Randolph
    April 17, 2006

    Kafka knew he was writing fiction, and didn’t pretend otherwise.

    -jcr

  68. #68 John C. Randolph
    April 17, 2006

    TIngey, I have to take exception to your claim that all religion is blackmail.

    Taoism, Buddhism, and Hinduism, to name three, don’t threaten you with damnation for disobedience. Their premise is that we’re all on the road to enlightenment, and that some of us will figure it out sooner than others. The concept of Karma is a very different thing from the Christian idea of damnation or salvation.

    -jcr

  69. #69 Arun Gupta
    April 17, 2006

    From your random quote:

    ” Centuries of unique cultural development (“heathen artifacts,” as the missionary put it) had thus been destroyed in one morning.”

    The same has happened in India’s northeast, which has been a target of missionaries for over a century.

  70. #70 chuko
    April 17, 2006

    Non-judaic religions don’t threaten damnation, but they certainly have some threats to keep people in line. In most branches of Hinduism, your conduct in this life determines your position in the next – an explicit reward for being good (obedient) and punishment for being bad. Buddhism in much of southeast asia has a lot to do with placating evil spirits who threaten harm to disobedient humans. There are also some taoistic sects that blend in these sort of animistic beliefs.

    Zen Buddhism and Taoism don’t threaten so much, but they’re hardly religions in a western sense since the emphasis isn’t on answering questions about life after death or the origin of the universe, but rather on a philosophy for living.

  71. #71 Keith Douglas
    April 17, 2006

    I understand self-sacrifice, but as you pointed out on an earlier post, PZ, the Christian story isn’t really about a sacrifice at all. According to the version that gets presented Jesus knew he’d survive and did. Some sacrifice.

    Dr. Spinoza: I was first introduced to Kierkegaard as a way to get to understand Christians. (Mind you, not from a Christian.) To this day I think he’s the most internally consistent Christian writer ever. I pity your task – though it does illustrate the goal of philosophy classes well – to shake people up a little. Truth be illogical? The truth can be difficult to understand and weird, but how do you mean illogical? Or are you a dialetheist? ;) (If you’re not up on nonclassical logics, I don’t expect you to get that …)

    Pete K: It is actually probably more helpful to say that quantons are neither particle nor wave, though with some characteristics of both.

  72. #72 Dan S.
    April 17, 2006

    “Maybe it’s a Mary Sue thing.”

    “Heh. Heh heh heh. Now I have the image of them rolling away the stone, and a giant roach scuttering out.”

    You think I would have thought to put away the soda the first time I sprayed it all over the computer . . .

    sigh of pity that it’s not true? Nope. Think it’s – for some atheists – an emotionally moving story? OK. Though the same’s true for “The Notebook” . . .

    Now, what does everyone think of the Great Pumpkin bit in Peanuts? Emotionally moving? Subtle dig at religion? Deeply meaningful Kierkegaardian metaphor? ‘Great Pumpkin’ just sounds funny?

    Yes, I know it’s post-Bunny Day, not post-Pumpkin Day . . . but they’re pretty similar, at least in terms of sugar content . .

    chuko – nice reponse re: hanging around, learning : )

    If we all followed the 10 commandments, how would you be able to go anywhere for Sunday brunch? Even if you got all the non-Christians and 7th Day Adventists and all to cook, there still would be significant regions suffering a brunch deficit!

  73. #73 AndyS
    April 17, 2006

    Tiskel,

    I notice that you quoted a very short section of my comment where I noted things that I think and referred to christians that I have met and talked to, and then claimed that I was applying a broad brush to all christians. I don’t now how much more clearly I could have stated that I was referring to the people who I have actually talked to about these subjects without naming them.

    I stand corrected. Sorry. It was the “I, as an athiest, think that I understand how christians think better than they do themselves” comment that caused me to use the “broad brush” phrase.

    Dustin,

    Have you been reading the Little Green Footballs blog? You seem to have picked up their rhetorical flair. (If you are not aware of LGF, most people there seem to think the greater the quantity and quality of insults conveys a much stronger argument.)

    And no, I do not believe in Einstein’s theories, Newton’s, or in gravity. Science is not about credulity, it’s about evidence. It isn’t a belief system, it’s more of a system of disbelief, if anything.

    Apparently your “unique” definition of belief is something like “A statement or proposition for which there is little or no evidence.” Most people would say a proposition for which there is a lot of evidence is also a belief, albeit a pretty good one.

    yonatron,

    … science is a framework for evaluating beliefs, meaning you can use it do pick up new ones and discard old ones with pretty damned good justification. If you do that in theology, you change religions. So calling science a belief system that’s supposed to parallel religious ones in anyway is totally misleading.

    You are right and that was not my intent. My point, in part, is that both are belief systems (reacting to Dustin’s notion that science is about non-belief), and that many religious people have quite sound belief systems that address important aspects of living for which science offers little guidance.

    Christopher,

    For heaven’s sake AndyS, the process of ostracism you’re describing isn’t always wrong. …Let’s apply it to the Ku Klux Klan,…

    Fine, apply it to the KKK, you’ll get no pushback from me. Apply it to any group that activity goes about lynching and killing people for just being different. But to apply it to all monotheists or all religious people (all several billion of them) is more than a little ridiculous. Just because you can use a gun to shoot evil people doesn’t mean you get to shoot people you just don’t like.

    Brian Miller,

    As for broad brush demonizing of Christians? Is that REALLY happening here? I see this site, and a few others, as a bit of an oasis for us doubters. So, we may be a little harsh. So what. When your constantly surrounded by a religion that is not only not sublime, but downright toxic, imo, one needs a place to vent.

    I agree this is “a bit of an oasis for us doubters”, but the “venting” makes me feel like I’m in some junior high lockerroom rather than among a group of reasonable, intelligent adults who share some common beliefs about the nature and importance of science and atheism.

    Note the comment just a couple down from yours: All religion is blackmail, both moral and often physical.

    That’s about as broad brush as one can get, as well as incorrect.

  74. #74 greensmile
    April 17, 2006

    …gives us hope that in the end all evil, including death…

    It is in this quivering cowardly precept that I find the roots of what is most screwed up about the death denying religions. So obsessed with an absolutely universal fact of mortality that they worship an afterlife before improving anyone’s lot in this world. Death is the universal and beneficent garbage collector: can you imagine how little room there would be for Darwinian, or any, mechanisms to advance real life on a real planet if creatures never died?? Sheesh! the maddening illogic of it! If you see the rough and simple fact of universal mortality as “evil”, what stops you from denying all natural phenomena you find uncomfortable and turning everything else about life inside out?

  75. #75 george cauldron
    April 17, 2006

    I don’t see why there is all this talk about Jesus and religion. Isn’t Easter all about a bunny who hides colored eggs? Sure, the Christians may claim it like they claim the Winter Solstice but follow the money and follow the press. It’s really all about the bunny.

    Correct. And Christmas is when we all get together to celebrate the birth of Santa. I don’t understand what Bill O’Reilly was getting so bent out of shape about.

  76. #76 Chris
    April 17, 2006

    Most religions, especially monotheistic ones, *are* “group[s] that activ[ely] go about lynching and killing people for just being different.” Do I really have to list the historical examples for you?

    What exactly is the difference between characterizing one Christian based on the acts of other Christians and characterizing one Klansman based on the acts of other Klansmen? Or should we have a parable of the Good Klansman or the Good Terrorist? I don’t think it’s necessary to constantly point out that “not all Klansmen are like that”, even if it happens to be true. If a given Klansman isn’t going to take the trouble to separate *himself* from the group, I don’t think others have a responsibility to draw that line for him.

    Do you dispute the validity of statements like “Crows are black” or “Kittens have two eyes”? There are exceptions to both. But they remain useful as generalities. So what’s wrong with “Christians worship a god that condemns all non-Christians to hell, and believe that god is just” or “Islam advocates the subjugation of women and the murder of heretics and apostates” or “Judaism claims that one race of people are favored by god over all other races”?

    Has it, perhaps, escaped your notice that religions *invented* the dehumanizing method you described? And have been its most enthusiastic advocates and users for, well, pretty much all of recorded history? (If you don’t accept a cult of personality as a type of religion, then there may be a few exceptions.) You really, truly don’t see a pattern there, or consider it significant?

    The cross was an instrument of torture when Christians adopted it, but it’s ten times more bloodstained now (metaphorically speaking, of course) by the actions of two thousand years of Christians committing atrocities in its name.

    I happen to think that dehumanization is a weapon that we atheists *shouldn’t* just pick up and gleefully turn on its creators, poetic justice or no; but I also think that isn’t really what PZ is doing. He may occasionally overlook the difference between one sect and another, but I’ve never seen him intentionally obfuscate it.

    Most religious people are the dupes and victims of their religions; only a few are intentional frauds. As a certain human being once said, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

    Nevertheless: I believe faith itself is evil. It shelters lies; it fosters intellectual laziness; it breeds delusions; it covers up mistakes; all regardless of the content of the actual beliefs that are accepted on faith. If religion is a virus as Dawkins suggests, faith is immunodeficiency. Inducing it in yourself is reckless; inducing it in others is harmful.

    P.S. Re the Dawkins special: “Root of a Whole Bloody Lot of Evil” isn’t nearly as catchy, although it is more accurate. Although I suspect he wasn’t referring to religion itself but to the irrational, uncritical acceptance of beliefs on authority that allows religions *and* other evils to exist. Religions are really just a branch of quite a lot of evil. You have to go deeper to find the root.

  77. #77 rrt
    April 17, 2006

    AndyS, I would suggest that this:

    Apparently your “unique” definition of belief is something like “A statement or proposition for which there is little or no evidence.”

    actually IS the case for a lot of us here, as well as for most creationists saying “well, evolution/science/atheism is just a belief too!” Especially when they say specifically that it requires “just as much faith” and actually CALL it a religion. As they often do.

    I agree that the usage of “belief” is so variable that it can cause general confusion.

  78. #78 AndyS
    April 17, 2006

    Chris,

    Most religions, especially monotheistic ones, are “group[s] that activ[ely] go about lynching and killing people for just being different.” Do I really have to list the historical examples for you?

    A little arthimetic goes a long way. From 2002 data, there were 3.3 billion monotheists (Christians, Muslims, Jews) or about 55% of the world population. Certainly you don’t mean to claim that a group that large can be meaningfully compared to the KKK in terms of “lynching and killing people for just being different.”

    What exactly is the difference between characterizing one Christian based on the acts of other Christians and characterizing one Klansman based on the acts of other Klansmen? ….

    This question I would hope you could answer yourself. You might also ask what is the root of bigotry.

    Christianity is a large and diverse collection of people, some 2 billion. Some sects are explicitly non-violent: Amish, Quakers, Mennonites, Seventh-day Adventists, to name a few. Perhaps you’ve heard of Christian leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr, Thomas Merton, Dan and Philip Berrigan, or the Southern Christian Leadership Conference organization — all explicitly nonviolent. In addition many Christians across all demoninations subscribe to nonviolence of the type that Gandhi promoted.

    So how can you go on with your broad brush painting Christianity and religion as violent and the inventors of dehumanization? The heart of a good scientific mind is the ability to describe what we see accurately and with attention to variation.

  79. #79 AndyS
    April 17, 2006

    rrt,

    If we take belief to mean blind faith or propositions with little evidence, how do we have any sensible discussion about any academic subject or even a typical water-cooler topic?

    When I look at the dark clouds rolling in, note the change in wind and humidity, and say “I believe it’s going to rain,” that’s not blind faith. Similarly when the engineer at JPL looks at the computer screen and says “I believe the sattelite has entered orbit around Saturn,” she’s talking with a wealth of science and engineering to back her up.

    I agree that the usage of “belief” is so variable that it can cause general confusion.

    I don’t. It can cause confusion in technical discussions among philosophers, but the only way it should be confusing in science is in the sense of “what’s your evidence for that belief?”

    Perhaps I missed the memo.

  80. #80 rrt
    April 17, 2006

    No offense, AndyS, and maybe I’M the one missing the obvious here, but…uh, that’s my whole point? “Belief” is used too widely by too many people, in some cases to indicate “blind faith”, in some cases “well, the satellite’s in orbit” and a spectrum in between. I’m suggesting it’s a limitation of either the English language or the limited vocabularies of users such as myself.

    Again, when we discuss belief here, it is very often the “blind faith” definition or close to it, because that is either what we’re criticizing, or protesting as a definition being thrust upon us. This very phenomenon is why I no longer say “I believe in evolution.” The word has an inherently different meaning depending on both interpreter and context, and some people are applying the wrong meaning to its usage on behalf of science.

  81. #81 AndyS
    April 17, 2006

    rrt,

    This very phenomenon is why I no longer say “I believe in evolution.”

    I say take back the word and go forth without fear! [smile]

    Seriously, you are of course right to point to context and audience as being part of meaning. It’s precisely what set me off on this tangent when, I think it was Dustin, said science and atheism were both about nonbelief. I just couldn’t imagine that on a science blog someone would say that science has to do with nonbelief when, to my mind, it is all about building up a huge pile of well-founded, interconnected beliefs — libraries full of them. I’d hate to see “belief” go the way of “liberal”; pretty soon we’ll just be mumbling at each other. Similarly, saying that “atheism” is about nonbelief rather than strong belief is, I think, giving into the vocal theists who are often rabid Christian fundamentalists.

    Stephen Bachelor, author of Buddhism Without Beliefs, contrasts Buddhism with religions of consolation (a term that goes back at least to Hegel). I would do the same with atheism. As many have noted here, not being able to appeal to a God for help or justification, the atheist has a longer row to hoe in many circumstances. That’s why I think it requires a strong set of beliefs which include beliefs about how and why science works, beliefs about how and when to change beliefs, beliefs about motivating ethical behavior, etc.

    An atheist who thinks atheism is just denying the existence of God(s) is not a very interesting atheist, just like a Christian who thinks Christianity is just Bible reading and going to church is not a very interesting Christian.

    PZ, when not in anti-religious ranting mode, is a pretty interesting atheist. I’d like to see more of that and find the rants counterproductive, tit-for-tat, throwing ignorance at ignorance even though I’m sure they feel good at the time and drive up the blog traffic.

  82. #82 CanuckRob
    April 17, 2006

    Why are so many people making this so complicated? You can believe (in the faith sense)in things are complete rubbish such as the xian and other mythologies or not. Most xians I know are okay people that frankly don’t really believe their own BS, they just accept that the stupid parts (resurrection, killing infidels etc)come with what they perceive as the good bits. However it becomes a problem when you refuse to accept what the real universe is telling you or when you think people that don’t share your relgion (and that is most people whatever your religon is)are in some way evil. It becomes a huge problem when you rely on your myths for moral guidance rather than looking at the other human being and thinking what I would like to be treated like if I was in that circumstance. If you have empathy it is pretty tough to do bad things. Xianity and other revealed religions (and others too)are toxic because of the way they treat humans,as tools and things that rather than as intelligent agents with their own motivations, wants, needs and foibles, most religions are anti-humanist. They are certainly not something you should expose innocent children to, all religions should come with a Restricted, No Admittance Under 18 warning.

  83. #83 Christopher
    April 17, 2006

    I’m sorry, AndyS, I’ve gotten to the point where I’m not sure what you’re complaining about.

    Mr. Meyers clearly believes that belief in nonsense is harmful. Since Christian dogma is nonsensical, it follows that Christianity is harmful.

    The generalisation we’re talking about is the generalisation that Christians believe at least a small part of the bible to be true. I think that’s fair; If you have a poll that states that most Christians believe that the whole entire story is made up and has no basis in fact, please share.

    I don’t see any desire here to make Christianity illegal, or hurt Christians. So I really don’t see what the problem is.

  84. #84 AndyS
    April 18, 2006

    Chris,

    My position isn’t complex or obscure. I’m objecting to the wholesale ridicule of a large group based on the actions of some, the mischaracterization of Christian beliefs based on the beliefs of a subset of Christians.

    Isn’t it obvious that Some X are Y does not imply All X are Y? Science doesn’t get very far with that sort of thinking.

  85. #85 potentilla
    April 18, 2006

    Let’s not lose the point about the meaning of the word “belief” because I think it’s very important (pace CanuckRob). Ideally, we could agree on

    “belief” = something you think is true because of inductive evidence (or perhaps deductive logic, although I’m not sure anyone really says “I have a belief that 2+2=4″). Therefore a belief is something susceptible to discussion as to whether the inductive evidence is sufficient to warrant the belief (or the deductive logic is correct).

    “faith” = somthing you think is true for another reason (and is not therefore susceptible to rational discussion)

    The problem with this is that many people would go on using the word “belief” as interchangeable with “faith”, which would continue to waste time on cross-purposes and essentially linguistic arguments (such as whether or not science is a belief system).

    So it would be better to have another word to replace “belief” above. How about “induct” as a verb? “I induct evolution”. And the equivalent noun. “One of my inductions is evolution”. Any better suggestions?

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