Pharyngula

i-40619c18cd0722ed1e920522e1fee0ce-bamyan.jpg

When the Buddhas of Bamyan were dynamited, it wasn’t an atheist who lit the fuse. These modern atheists that have stirred up so much resentment among the apologists for religion are not destroyers who seek to demolish the past or who want to advance a destructive ideology — they aren’t philistines who reject literature and art and music, and they aren’t monsters who will exterminate people to achieve their ends. We aren’t out to eradicate the world of ideas or obliterate the vestiges of our religious history in art and architecture, although we have been accused of such nefarious plans; such claims are easy to dismiss as the ravings of the delusional.

Stanley Fish doesn’t go quite so far in damning these “new atheists,” perhaps to avoid the easily ridiculed paranoid martyr-complex of the mob. Instead of being the ‘new communists’ who are planning to march the orthodox to Siberia, we’re merely unlettered, unschooled near-illiterates with no appreciation of the depths of religious thought. We don’t understand the nuances, he cries; we dismiss all of the texts and traditions as “naive, simpleminded and ignorant.” We just don’t understand, period.

Suppose, says Hitchens, you were a religious believer; you would then be persuaded that a benign and all-powerful creator supervises everything, and that “if you obey the rules and commandments that he has lovingly prescribed, you will qualify for an eternity of bliss and repose.”

I know of no religious framework that offers such a complacent picture of the life of faith, a life that is always presented as a minefield of the difficulties, obstacles and temptations that must be negotiated by a limited creature in his or her efforts to become aligned (and allied) with the Infinite. St Paul’s lament can stand in for many: “The good that I would, I do not; but the evil which I would not, I do?. Who shall deliver me?” (Romans, 7: 19,24). The anguish of this question and the incredibly nuanced and elegant writings of those who have tried to answer it are what the three atheists miss; and it is by missing so much that they are able to produce such a jolly debunking of a way of thinking they do not begin to understand.

Stanley Fish is a blind man.

First of all, that “complacent” faith he claims does not exist is everywhere: turn on your television, Stanley. Watch a football game and see the Christian players credit God with their touchdowns. Watch our politicians piously declare that they are praying for our troops. Watch the televangelists milk their audience with blatant hucksterism; haven’t you ever heard of the “prosperity gospel?” Give the good reverend a portion of your social security check, and the wealth will come back to you tenfold. The bulk of religious thought is “naive, simpleminded and ignorant.” Turn off your television and walk down to the local converted grocery store that is being used by one of those fast-growing, evangelical/charismatic/pentecostalist churches and ask anyone in attendance, and they will tell you (as long as you don’t mention him by name) that Hitchens’ characterization is correct. By faith will you be rewarded with paradise.

It’s that second accusation, that we “do not begin to understand,” that is the more subtle and more dishonest claim here. Rather, it’s clear that Fish does not understand.

His article is littered with literary allusions: there’s Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, with it’s hero fleeing towards a dream of salvation; he uses Milton’s Paradise Lost to rationalize the existence of evil with the concept of “free will”; he references the book of Job and Jesus’ pain on the cross as evidence that the religious have been grappling with the problems of suffering. And of course they have. We all have.

What Fish ignores is that these are entirely human sufferings, human strivings, human efforts to find meaning. He, like so many other apologists for religion, glosses over the origin of these fears and aspirations in our existence, and tries to justify it all in the terms of his imaginary deity. Why does the church expect us to praise a god? Because it’s all we can do “in the face of his omnipotence and omnipresence.” Why did god condemn all of his creation and all of their descendants to sin and suffering for the trivial offense of eating a forbidden fruit? Because if it wasn’t a trivial infraction, it wouldn’t have been a test of obedience to the deity. How can a beneficent god allow the Holocaust to happen, and how can people retain their faith when confronted with overwhelming evil? Because it is all our fault, our own polluting sin and corruption. In every case, Fish elides over the human consequences and the human struggle and instead digs up an etiolated theological excuse, some thin anodyne from the facile world of the priests to build a case for the entirely imaginary workings of an invisible and impotent cosmic mind; an excuse for that loving all-powerful agent to do nothing at all, to keep his postulated power indiscernible.

What we atheists are saying is that we need to turn away from those powerless rationalizations, no matter how poetic they might be, and recognize that their power and their appeal flows from their humanity, not their religiosity. Forget god, that empty hulk, that great vacuum that humanity has stocked with its fears and dreams, and look at what we have created and felt instead. When someone weeps over a dead child or creates a great poem, it should matter not at all what some priest imagines his pantheon is doing. Take your eyes off your hallucination of heaven—what’s real are that woman’s tears, that child’s triumph, that grain of sand, that bird on wing. The meaning is derived from the reality of what we see and feel, not some convoluted vapor and self-serving puffery about an abstract concept like “god”.

Fish confuses the rejection of the supernatural pretext with the rejection of the depth of real feeling. He is mistaken. In my case, I read his superficial theological gloss with loathing because I see him substituting the wishful thinking of millennia of shamans and priests for the reality of the human condition—his conciliatory apologies are support for generations of lies. He confuses the efforts of the writers of those texts to grapple with suffering and doubt with the legitimacy of the religious answer; I can respect the beauty of religious literature and the struggle put into it while at the same time realizing that falling back on the will of an imaginary being is an admission of failure. I don’t consider the believers to be simple-minded—I think life can be hard, and that the great minds of history have endeavored to articulate some sense of meaning to pain and beauty, because that’s what human minds do. But I also think that passing the buck and inventing an ineffable universal will as an ultimate cause is a seductive trap, one that Fish has readily fallen into, where we try to project our mental state onto the universe as a whole. St Paul’s anguish was real, but the supernatural entity to which he directed it was not. When an atheist rejects the entity, it does not mean the anguish is denied.

There is some great work in that Bible Fish quotes, some wonderfully lyric writing, and it reflects a few thousand years of people straining to make sense of their world. What diminishes it is not the atheists who reject the answer it gives — that there is an all-powerful magic man behind the universe — but those who accept it, who seek meaning in rote recitations of its words without concern for how the minds of human beings could find some solace in the struggle to explain. Instead of a representation of thought, it’s treated as a recipe book for salvation. Perhaps Fish should turn some of his pious tut-tutting against the blind believers who want nothing but an answer, rather than against those few who can still appreciate the question.

That baggage of superstitious, religious thinking is what Dawkins calls the delusion, and what Hitchens says “poisons everything”—not the book itself, not the literary qualities of the writing, not the pain expressed in the book of Job or the love shared in the book of Solomon. None of those writers want the Bible burned or denied to readers. What we want is for people to think of it as a great hodge-podge of human expression which doesn’t so much vindicate a nonsensical image of a divine being as it does the complex, earthy, sometimes soaring and sometimes hateful picture of us. But no, we instead get the inanities of chatter about the personal desires of that ludicrous god, the same kind of febrile blitherings that Fish offers as a justification for accusing atheists of not understanding the depths of the deity.

Let me give you an example of the godless view of your holy books. There’s one book I turn to when I’m feeling the pain of grief; I first found it when my grandmother died many years ago, and I’ve read it several times since, usually when I’ve lost someone I cared about. It isn’t really a religious text, although it has gods in it, and a few religious concepts, but fortunately it’s free of the mystical baggage with which our culture loads the Bible — it’s easier to shake off the superstitious connotations when the god isn’t named Jesus and isn’t some being that your aunt believes is real, and there’s no literary critic somewhere ready to accuse you of lacking an understanding of nuance because you don’t believe in an old prophet’s conjuring tricks.

The book is the epic poem, Gilgamesh. I very much like the Herbert Mason verse narrative(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), which isn’t so much a literal translation (the original is a collection of 2500 year old Babylonian tablets) as an attempt to catch the spirit of the story. If you aren’t familiar with it, put that Bible down and go read it—it’s basically a lament to mortality. It’s about a king, Gilgamesh, whose beloved friend Enkidu dies, and leaves him wracked with grief.

Enkidu, whom I love so much,
Who went through everything with me.
He died — like any ordinary man.
I have cried both day and night.
I did not want to put him in a grave.
He will rise, I know, one day.
But then I saw that he was dead.
His face collapsed within
After several days,
Like cobwebs I have touched
With my finger.

There is the touchstone, the common element that atheists and theists share, and that lies at the heart of those works that Fish praises and thinks the godless philistines neglect. We bond in the human experience; it is only the superficial and bigoted critic who thinks some of us miss the point because we do not believe in the divinity of Anu and Marduk … or Jesus or Mohammed.

The rest of the story is a quest, as Gilgamesh tries to find a way to bring his friend back from the dead, or win immortality for himself. There are deities and monsters involved, some interesting mythical figures, trips to the underworld, etc.—all quite thrilling stuff, as long as you are willing to recognize that it’s all poetry and allegory and storytelling. What I, as an atheist, find most satisfying, though, is the reality. It’s a story of loss, and most importantly, the quest fails—his friend is not returned to him, he realizes that he’s going to die someday, too, and there is no glib empty promise that if only you do the right rituals everyone will get together again in a paradisal afterlife. We live, we die, people grieve; that’s the hard truth.

In time he recognized this loss
As the end of his journey
And returned to Uruk.

Perhaps, he feared,
His people would not share
The sorrow that he knew.

He entered the city and asked a blind man
If he had ever heard the name Enkidu,
And the old man shrugged and shook his head,
Then turned away,
As if to say it is impossible
To keep the names of friends
Whom we have lost.

Gilgamesh said nothing more
To force his sorrow on another.

He looked at the walls,
Awed at the heights
His people had achieved
And for a moment — just a moment —
All that lay behind him
Passed from view.

There’s more to the godless view than just the “jolly debunking” and the assumed lack of understanding that Fish imparts to us. We do not escape sorrow, we do not lack for joys, and we try as hard (I think even harder) as the believers to find meaning in our lives. We simply do not accept the short cut of magical thinking that allows the lazy-minded to follow the path of religious escapism.

We stand awed at the heights our people have achieved. No gods, no religion. Us.

Comments

  1. #1 Stanton
    June 12, 2007

    They’re going to rebuild the Buddhas of Bamiyan, aren’t they?

  2. #2 NC Paul
    June 12, 2007

    Perhaps one of the most lyrical and best things you’ve written here, PZ. You have my huzzahs!

  3. #3 coturnix
    June 12, 2007

    Duke campus sighed a sigh of relief when Stanley Fish left. There was much rejoicing.

  4. #4 spondee
    June 12, 2007

    That was beautiful, PZ. Well said.

  5. #5 mojojojo
    June 12, 2007

    Pay no mind to Stanley Fish…he’s a Miltonian, he can’t help having a skewed view of literature, religion AND humanity.

  6. #6 H. Humbert
    June 12, 2007

    Wow, I’m awed PZ. You should have been a professor of literature, at least on weekends. Well written, moving, and sensible. It is pieces like these that remind me, despite all theistic protests, that they are the ones living empty, shallow lives. It is them who simply “just don’t understand, period.”

  7. #7 john
    June 12, 2007

    that is one of the most powerful, eloquent and meaningful pieces i have read on this question of reason vs faith. you have captured, i believe, the essence of how atheism proceeds naturally from what it is to be human, and of how it can lead not only to a recognition, but to a celebration, of our true nature.

  8. #8 Ray S
    June 12, 2007

    Instead of a representation of thought, it’s treated as a recipe book for salvation.

    A recipe only required because of the book itself.

  9. #9 Andre
    June 12, 2007

    Beautiful!

    I have heard about Gilgamesh many times before, but had never read it. After reading this post I just bought one at amazon.

    Thanks!

  10. #10 cm
    June 12, 2007

    Excellent, heartfelt, real. Thank you.

    I was angered at Stanley Fish’s essay too. He ought to know better. I’m sick of people tut-tutting clear-minded rational discussions such as the three atheist books because they think the naive authors miss the spiritual big picture that only religion is able to address. Fish’s muddy and at times childish piece did this in such a smarmy way.

    And these ivory tower types need to get out more and see how many people on this Earth interact with religious beliefs not as a trove of human intellectuo-mystical wisdom, but as a wraith on their finances, health decisions, civic responsibility, and intellectual development.

  11. #11 Andrew
    June 12, 2007

    Don’t quite know what to say, PZ.

    But “wow” seems to cover it.

    I’m sure you’ve managed to articulate here what many of us were unable to put into words.

    It always strikes me as deeply ironic when theists complain that we ‘don’t understand religion’ and this post is the best response I’ve seen.

    If only Fish and his ilk would actually take the time to read what people like yourself have to say and then try to understand….. or is this too much to hope for?

  12. #12 waldteufel
    June 12, 2007

    Religion is really only good for one thing: ridicule.

    Great post, PZ. Thanks.

  13. #13 matthew
    June 12, 2007

    wonderful post, thank you

  14. #14 John Rynne
    June 12, 2007

    Superb, PZ! This is one to pin on the wall. You cut to the heart of the issue: in the end, it’s just people trying to make sense of their world. And a good question unanswered is much better than a trite answer.

  15. #15 Richard Clayton
    June 12, 2007

    This post is particularly wise and beautiful writing, Professor Myers. And you’ve inspired me to read the translation of Gilgamesh you quoted.

  16. #16 Ex Patriot
    June 12, 2007

    P.Z thank you, that was a fantastic post. It makes me proud to be an atheist

  17. #17 Firemancarl
    June 12, 2007

    PZ,

    Reading your blog and the responses posted on here, I have great hope that maybe one day we’ll wake up from the religious coup that has taken over our nation while responsible people slept.

  18. #18 Blake Stacey, OM
    June 12, 2007

    One of your best, Prof. Myers.

    Now, about that book with which you keep tantalizing us. . .

    (-:

  19. #19 Magpie
    June 12, 2007

    I agree with the above – great post PZ!

  20. #20 Jon
    June 12, 2007

    Amen PZ! RAmen.

  21. #21 Nullifidian
    June 12, 2007

    Blake Stacey,

    No kidding! This is some of the best prose I’ve read since the passing of Edward Abbey. If I were a publisher, I’d be salivating over material like this.

  22. #22 Shiftlessbum
    June 12, 2007

    Thanks, PZ.

  23. #23 Jon Eccles
    June 12, 2007

    The way I like to put it is that we’re not trying to abolish religion, we’re trying to Make Religion History. I always capitalise it, in the hope that someone more industrious than me will make it into a T-shirt.

    We are free to savour the poetry in the story of Gilgamesh, or in the Iliad (my personal favourite), because we are no longer subject to the tyrannies of that age. If half of all Americans believed that fire reached humans from Prometheus, and demanded equal time in physics classes, such works would be much harder to appreciate.

  24. #24 Mark Borok
    June 12, 2007

    Beautifully said, but there is also something to say for the conciseness of Twain:

    (The Bible) is full of interest. It has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies.

  25. #25 wright
    June 12, 2007

    One of the things that helped me move from Christianity to atheism was the Bible. As I read and reread it, it became clearer that this was an utterly HUMAN document. Eventually I could no longer rationalize that it had been inspired by a god, let alone “written” by one.

    Thanks PZ, for restating that realization. And for exploding the idea that atheists are somehow lacking emotional and moral depth.

  26. #26 386sx
    June 12, 2007

    It’s that second accusation, that we “do not begin to understand,” that is the more subtle and more dishonest claim here. Rather, it’s clear that Fish does not understand.

    Oh he understands alright. He’s just trying to think up something out of the blue so he can belittle the atheists he doesn’t like. If he wants to lament something maybe he should lament that his god doesn’t abolish hell or that Satan doesn’t convert to his religion. Lol.

  27. #27 raven
    June 12, 2007

    Duke campus sighed a sigh of relief when Stanley Fish left. There was much rejoicing.

    Sounds like the beginnings of a bible chapter.

    Realityist 2.1-4

    1. Duke campus sighed a sigh of relief.
    2. When Stanly fish left. He hobnobs with the dull and deluded still.
    3. There was much rejoicing. Many casks of beer and wine were opened and tears of joy flowed.
    4. The false priests and new Pharisees looked up from counting their money and said, “Plenty of Fish in the sea, no big deal”.

    [OK, so it isn’t in the same league with Gilgamesh]

  28. #28 Will Von Wizzlepig
    June 12, 2007

    Organized religion and multinational corporations are to society and economy as cancer is to flesh.

    Even if it is cured, more is right around the corner- flesh is weak.

  29. #29 Don
    June 12, 2007

    Bravo!

    And I almost never use exclamation marks.

  30. #30 Opisthokont
    June 12, 2007

    I am compelled to join in the praise: that was beautiful and incisive and true. It always amazes me when people call you “shrill” or accuse you (or us atheists in general) of lacking sensitivity or understanding. This is the sort of writing to which such people should be directed; after reading this, any further such protestations would be evidence of pathologically closed minds. Thank you for this.

  31. #31 Madhu
    June 12, 2007

    O what a wonderful read to start the day! Thank you, PZ, for another essay that should count among your classics. And I hope more of your god-bothering critics read this before they continue to mis-characterize you (and fellow atheists).

  32. #32 Jud
    June 12, 2007

    How noble in reason! how infinite in faculties! in form and moving, how express and admirable!

    Thanks, PZ.

  33. #33 AJ Milne
    June 12, 2007

    Lovely. When someone weeps over a dead child or creates a great poem, it should matter not at all what some priest imagines his pantheon is doing, on its own, is beautifully quotable.

    Me, I’d push Fish’s criticism back at him… It is not that unbelievers do not appreciate beauty; it is rather that there is little or no beauty where he claims there is, and, rather, much, much more that is deeply, even profoundly, ugly. I believe much of what drove me from religion in the first place was the very tackiness of so much of it, the very crassness of it, the very tastelessness of it. I could spend cold nights at the telescope gazing deep into the stellar nurseries in M42, long nights poring over Burnham’s, ponder an image of a planetary nebula from Hubble, think upon the lives of stars… And if I make the mistake of mentioning any of these things in front of a certain deeply superstitious and religious Moslem I know, she’d be going on about the website she’d just found, in which a whackjob numerologist is excitedly declaring that the number of known planetary nebular was foretold in the Qur’an. At the death of my (deeply skeptical, in the way of his generation, and very independent-minded) grandfather, I would think of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Dirge Without Music… I know. But I do not approve…’ as reflection on his life, on what we had lost, what remained… But when I made the mistake of mentioning this meditation in front of a certain relative I will not deign to name, she will take it as invitation to make a deeply crass conversion appeal… her segue: to say to how her dear saviour doesn’t ‘approve’, either…

    I find such efforts disgusting, frankly, cheap, and cheapening. Thinking of them, I’m more than sympathetic to Hitchens’ comment about religion poisoning everything. Likewise, I find it quite offensive, taking everything that is wonderful and fascinating and intricate and bizarre in the natural world as we discover it, and reflexively ascribing it to the mind of some imaginary invisible friend or other, speaking breathlessly of ‘holy mysteries’ when the world is more than lovely and fascinating enough without adding such a cheap and obvious gloss to it–like throwing a coat of cheap, thick off-white latex over a freshly bloomed rose.

  34. #34 Zeno
    June 12, 2007

    They really think we don’t know. How difficult it is for them to realize we know and reject. I have had encounters with people who think they are more knowledgeable about religion because they can cite more Bible verses from memory than I can. They may be well-versed, but a conversation often reveals them to be exceedingly narrow, as well as profoundly ignorant about anything outside their own particular cult. It’s especially fascinating to listen to them explain what I or other non-believers supposedly think. They are also singularly lacking in gratitude when shown to be full of crap.

  35. #35 tharding
    June 12, 2007

    Outstanding writing. Some of the best on the subject I have ever read.

    One quibble, only because I always find this irritating when I see it. It is popular for both unbelievers and liberal theists to use the word allegory for works like Gilgamesh and Genesis. But to be an allegory, the author must intend that it be allegorical and that his audience see it that way. I just don’t buy that. We don’t know much about the authorship of the Gilgamesh epic, but we can clearly see that Genesis was written by three or four competing groups of priests. I cannot accept that priests in the second and first centuries BCE had so much greater respect for truth than modern religious types. We can never know exactly what their motives were, but I have to think that they intended and expected these works to be accepted as truth. Maybe the authors believed what they wrote, perhaps they just mad shit up, most likely a little of each., but if it was written to be believed, it is not allegory.

  36. #36 dorid
    June 12, 2007

    I can do nothing more than add my voice to the chorus here:

    Well said.

  37. #37 Stephen Wells
    June 12, 2007

    Write the book already!

  38. #38 CalGeorge
    June 12, 2007

    Fish is a great Milton scholar and an able propounder of reader-response criticism, but he’s making an ass of himself if he thinks that the views of outsiders like Dawkins and Hitchens are less worthy of attention than the endlessly solipsistic views propounded by religion addicts.

    That’s just dumb.

  39. #39 Sonja
    June 12, 2007

    To understand religion you only need to understand behavior modification.

    This is not to say that all religious people are practicing behavior modification — they are however repeating the behavior modification that worked on them.

    What “worked” on Stanley Fish were the shared foibles of human existence and humanities eternal struggle with them.

    I love how PZ has approached this. He has shown Mr. Fish that indeed even atheists and non-Christians share the pain and struggle of being mortal, flawed humans and are capable of expressing themselves with great emotion, eloquence, and wisdom about the experience.

  40. #40 Bill E
    June 12, 2007

    PZ great stuff. You hit one of the points I always try to make when a god-botherer asks what I believe in, I always say Us. We are the source of many of our problems, but we are also the only help we are going to get in sovling them.

    In the end, we are what makes our existance as a spcieces possible and worthwhile.

    Cheers

  41. #41 Sastra
    June 12, 2007

    They are also singularly lacking in gratitude when shown to be full of crap.

    PZ gets the Eloquence Award today, but Zeno made me snicker root beer out my nose…

  42. #42 Blake Stacey, OM
    June 12, 2007

    Addendum to my previous remark:

    Maybe I’ve just been hanging around these parts too long and therefore have an instinctive response to Courtier’s Replies, but this reminds me irresistibly of a comparison Mark Liberman once made: “like shooting Fish in a barrel.”

  43. #43 Spaulding
    June 12, 2007

    Very nicely said. Unless you’re reserving them for publication (which would be welcome news too), I strongly recommend that you permanently link this article as well as your post “Christianity’s Sins Against Science”.

  44. #44 DragonScholar
    June 12, 2007

    I’ve read your posts PZ, sometimes informed and awed, sometimes feeling you’ve degenerated into snark and condescention. This is perhaps your most heartfelt post I’ve seen from you in ages – a human work (dare I say humanistic?) with real passion and connection. Really, you could make a book out of this.

    There is the touchstone, the common element that atheists and theists share, and that lies at the heart of those works that Fish praises and thinks the godless philistines neglect. We bond in the human experience;

    Which is what it comes down to. Before our theologies and theories and all that – we’re people. That’s where we start, like it or not. That’s what we all have in common. That’s not the end – that’s the beginning. Us.

    And, aside from much stupidity and brutality, we humans have done some pretty damn amazing things. It is awesome, it is entrhalling.

  45. #45 CalGeorge
    June 12, 2007

    Fish: It’s the poetry, stupid.

    Dawkins and Hitchens: It’s the stupidity, stupid.

  46. #46 Kristine
    June 12, 2007

    Heh. This is hilarious. I will match my knowledge of world religions (discussed with me by practicing members of faith) against that of little suburban-minded, “I never associate with anyone unlike myself but I embrace all faiths because they’re all just different flavors of Christianity, right?” Stanley Fish, any time, any day.

    No googling.

    What do Muslims mean when they refer to the “people of the book”, Fish? (Hint: the “book” does not refer to the Bible.)

    Do Muslims believe that Jesus will come back, Stanley Fish? Think hard, now.

    Which Hindu god stole the butter?

    A certain sect of followers of Kali contributed a common word to our vocabulary. What was that?

    Do Jews emphasize the afterlife? What do they think should be done with an abandoned synagogue when a Heritage Preservation Commission wants to refurbish it? (Actual situation for me.)

    What do Tibetan Buddhists think about the destruction of the statues of Bamyan?

    What does a Somali man (I know some Somali) never say to any woman, ever, and why?

    No googling. ๐Ÿ™‚

  47. #47 MikeM
    June 12, 2007

    What you’re saying definitely rings true for me. I feel I can honestly say that I’d disagree with Beethoven’s views on religion, and yet I’m not sure there are many higher musical achievements than his Ninth Symphony.

    I can disagree with the message while appreciating the artistry.

    But you said it better than I did…

  48. #48 Matt Penfold
    June 12, 2007

    PZ,

    Although I hope you live for many years to come you may well never write something so moving.

    When has one of those “Neville Chamberlain” atheist written anything so good ? And they accuse you of being intolerant and lacking compassion! Fuck ’em!

  49. #49 Jaycubed
    June 12, 2007

    One thing that has always struck me is the level of ignorance that Believers have in their own religious texts. This is particularly true for christians, even those who carry a bible around with them.

    For over 20 years I have done Tavistock Group Relations conferences (A.K. Rice, GREX & others). These are workshops where people learn what actually happens when a group of people sit in a room together by actually sitting in a room together with other people. Trust me, it is much more educational & fascinating than it might sound.

    Many of the sponsoring organizations and participants in these conferences are religious in nature. It is a lot of fun to tell people that you spent a week living in a convent in Chicago with the Cennicle Sisters. When you are sitting (in the library of Dominican College) in a circle being “killed” by other participants for your ideas and beliefs and you look up and see the seal of the Dominican order (a circle surrounding three dogs, the Hounds of the Inquisition), it is an enlightening experience.

    What I have found is that the priests & ministers I meet & work with typically have very little idea of what is in the bible. They seem to select a few passages as meaningful and then ignore the rest. Those bible thumpers typically have bibles that have spines broken only on a few tracts (often Revelations, Leviticus, Daniel & John), and it is a lot of fun to counter their ideas with a superior knowledge of their source text.

    Knowledge of other religious texts & folklore, such as Gilgamesh & Homer or Egyptian, Indian, Mesopotamian, Islamic, African, “Pagan” European/Asian & Chinese, also is quite handy in countering their belief in the “singular nature” of their religion/Sect/Cult.

    Those of you who believe that, “Religion is really only good for one thing: ridicule”, are as blind as the Believers. Even wrong ideas can have benefits. Even correct ideas can be destructive.

  50. #50 Matt Penfold
    June 12, 2007

    MikeM,

    On a similar note Douglas Adams wrote that Bach often moved him to tears, yet you will find no one who was more adamant about not believing in god(s) that Douglas.

    Composers such as Bach and Beethoven, although on the face of it they compose religious music, in fact did something far more powerful: they composed music that spoke directly to what it is to be human.

  51. #51 Bachalon
    June 12, 2007

    PZ, that was amazing, and it touches on something that’s been bothering me.

    I’ve seen that response quite a bit lately: that Dawkins et al don’t appreciate “nuanced” faith, the kind that you find from scholars.

    It seems like nothing more than a chance for them to show off how well read they are of arcana and to see how many names they can drop. I just roll my eyes when I read that and think, “Right, because Joe Blow down the street has read those same documents.” Do they not realize that their faith is the one that’s radically different from the way it’s practiced by most people?

  52. #52 tony
    June 12, 2007

    Kristine…

    GIVE!! PLEASE???

    If I can’t google – I’d need to recover my college bookshelf of comparitive religion books (as a ‘practicing athiest’ it was quite a hoot)… and they’re “scattered to the four winds” to use a literary allusion!

    If I can’t google I’ll be suffering pain and angst all day (and I wouldn’t cheat — that’s not how humanists operate!)

    Please– spare us the suffering!

    ?

  53. #53 Paul Merda
    June 12, 2007

    Great Post PZ! You are dead-on on this one. Thanks!

  54. #54 Hairhead
    June 12, 2007

    Since I was an early teen and experienced the epiphanies of wonder at the infinite complexities of the universe, from quarks to quasars, I have always felt that the practical among us, whether scientists or craftsmen or those in between have a deeper and more complex appreciation of the realities of life than the priests or the self-proclaimed spiritual leaders who surround themselves and muffle their minds with their fatuous fluffy dreams.

    Well, that was run-on, but your piece was stimulating PZ, thank you.

  55. #55 Robert
    June 12, 2007

    PZ, this is just proof that you need to deliver on that book you promised. I will certainly buy it.

    Kristine: you had better post the answers before to long!

  56. #56 Norman Doering
    June 12, 2007

    Your Stanley Fish smack down sounds a bit like my Chris Hedges snarker.

    But of Hedges I say: “with enemies like Chris Hedges you don’t need friends.”

    Here’s PZ on Fish:

    First of all, that “complacent” faith he claims does not exist is everywhere: turn on your television, Stanley. Watch our politicians piously declare that they are praying for our troops. Watch the televangelists milk their audience with blatant hucksterism; haven’t you ever heard of the “prosperity gospel?” Give the good reverend a portion of your social security check, and the wealth will come back to you tenfold. The bulk of religious thought is “naive, simpleminded and ignorant.”

    Here’s me on Hedges:

    Consider this simple claim made by Hedges during his debate with Hitchens: “biblical literalists do not exist.” Doesn’t that contradict the premise of Hedges own book, “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America”? Isn’t the Christian Right that Hedges reports on, with Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, made up of literal creationists? Does he not report that the very name for the Dominist movement comes from Genesis and God telling Adam you shall have dominion over the Earth?

    Hedges also said things like “to argue whether or not God exists is futile,” but that was why Hedges was supposedly there to debate these guys. He had to change the rules because he knew he couldn’t win that debate.

    And Hedges also said “Jesus never talks about starting a church”, as if churches were just an invention of Constantine. Most atheists know the Bible better than Hedges. Didn’t Jesus tell Peter, “and on this rock I shall build my church…” in Matthew 16:18? Aren’t the later books of the New Testament Paul’s letters to the churches?

  57. #57 CalGeorge
    June 12, 2007

    Even correct ideas can be destructive.

    I fail to see what is destructive about understanding that there is no god.

    If one understands this, what is one to do: shut up? Leave the religious kooks alone? Let them introduce religion into government and science classrooms or spread their ignorance until more than half the country cannot accept the facts of evolution?

    Come on!

  58. #58 Steven Carr
    June 12, 2007

    Curiously, I recently posted http://stevencarrwork.blogspot.com/2007/06/who-will-rescue-me-from-this-body-of.html on how Christians deliberately misquote Paul in Romans 7:24, and here we have another example :-

    ‘The good that I would, I do not; but the evil which I would not, I do…. Who shall deliver me?”‘

    Paul wrote ‘Who shall deliver me from this body of death?’

    Paul wanted to be rescued from his body. Fish drops the last part of the quote.

    Because Christians teach that Paul claimed the body would be saved and resurrected, they simply truncate what Paul said.

    No wonder creationists quote-mine, out of context, and dropping important phrases.

    Theologians do that to the Bible, so why should creationists treat other writers differently?

    They simply replicate the standards they are used to seeing in religious debate.

  59. #59 Josh Schraiber
    June 12, 2007

    Awesome. One of the best things I’ve read in a long time…

  60. #60 Jim Baerg
    June 12, 2007

    Put this one beside “The proper reverence due those who have gone before” http://pharyngula.org/index/weblog/comments/the_proper_reverence_due_those_who_have_gone_before/

    & I consider that high praise.

  61. #61 Steven Carr
    June 12, 2007

    Curiously, I recently posted http://stevencarrwork.blogspot.com/2007/06/who-will-rescue-me-from-this-body-of.html on how Christians deliberately misquote Paul in Romans 7:24, and here we have another example :-

    ‘The good that I would, I do not; but the evil which I would not, I do…. Who shall deliver me?”‘

    Paul wrote ‘Who shall deliver me from this body of death?’

    Paul wanted to be rescued from his body. Fish drops the last part of the quote.

    Because Christians teach that Paul claimed the body would be saved and resurrected, they simply truncate what Paul said.

    No wonder creationists quote-mine, out of context, and dropping important phrases.

    Theologians do that to the Bible, so why should creationists treat other writers differently?

    They simply replicate the standards they are used to seeing in religious debate.

  62. #62 Raging Braytard
    June 12, 2007

    God you atheists think you are all so smart, but you are at the level of teenagers. I’m going to start calling you sheePZ!!! Get it, haha. Try the veal, tip your waitress.

  63. #63 Matt Penfold
    June 12, 2007

    Some once said PZ was not a good communicator. The person was one of those “Neville Chamberlain Atheists” PZ and others have written about. I remember that I had a bit of a spat with the person, on the grounds I thought they were totally misunderstanding what PZ was saying. I am sure some the regulars here can remind me who it was, because I would really love to go back to that person and invite them to read this. (If I recall it was in the comments in a blog by the Horse’s Arse, sorry, Ed Brayton.

  64. #64 Ron Richardsono
    June 12, 2007

    “The good that I would, I do not; but the evil which I would not, I do…. Who shall deliver me?” (Romans, 7: 19,24).

    The essence of this passage seems to be: “hmm, life is hard, i make mistakes…i guess i’m a big failure…but if I choose to put faith in something for which I have no evidence, that will make it all ok.”
    So how does this help?

  65. #65 CalGeorge
    June 12, 2007

    I liked this Fish line:

    And they toss little bouquets to one another along the way.

    The entire Bible is one giant bouquet toss, for crying out loud. They’re quoting each other continually, or plagiarizing each other’s thought, and generally failing to come up with original ideas about anything!

  66. #66 Steve LaBonne
    June 12, 2007

    Figures somebody who made his name with a blatantly tendentious and unsupportable misreading of Milton would not grasp the point that one can perfectly well appreciate religious poetry (I love Dante myself) while wishing that the beliefs behind it no longer persisted (as beliefs, not as cultural history, obviously) in today’s world. Misunderstanding is what Fish does, he’s made a career of it.

  67. #67 Ian Menzies
    June 12, 2007

    As perfectly said as any explanation of the atheist position.

  68. #68 Matt Penfold
    June 12, 2007

    Jaycubed said “Even correct ideas can be destructive”.

    I think what you mean is inappropriate responses to bad ideas can be destructive. If we take what you say at face value you must think that it is sometimes better to embrace bad ideas rather than the truth.

    Sometimes, in the everyday details of life, not being entirely honest can be a good thing. Telling your wife she is fat is NOT a good idea if (1) you wish to remain married and (2) remain in possession of your testicles. This not about about everyday details though, it is far for fundamental than that.

    If PZ came across a person breathing their last in the street he would not tell them there was no afterlife. To do so would be cruel, and PZ in not cruel. But again we are not dealing with such a situation, we are having a discussion about what it is be human, and what humans can ligitimetly think is true. And in this case PZ is right.

  69. #69 inkadu
    June 12, 2007

    It’s especially irritating to be told by God-botherer’s that I must not understand religion when I have been raised religious. I went to a Christian school, evangelical summer camps, and Catholic Sunday School. I went through the entire painful process of deconverting myself with all the benefits of a religious education. I think I have a pretty good idea of what religion is.

    And I have read religious writing. I have no doubts that a lot of those medieval guys could think the pants off of me. Unfortunately, I can also see that for all their brilliance, they are shackled by a completely idiotic slavish obedience to Catholicism. It is because I respect their intelligence that it is such a painful experience to read them — like watching a thoroughbred spend its entire life in a stall.

    PZ – Thanks for separating humanity from religion. Just because we don’t believe in God, doesn’t mean we don’t have a metaphorical soul — a point I think Dawkins makes right at the outset of the God Delusion.

    Oh, yeah, and thank goodness for clay tablets. I can imagine at a few thousand BC people were saying, “What? Are you still reading that Gilgamesh stuff? That’s for old people. Check out the NEW shiznet — stories of people who becomes gods and live FOREVER.” Gilgamesh might have been the first victim of middle-of-the-road consumerism.

  70. #70 Brian W.
    June 12, 2007

    Fish seems like one of those people that if you don’t laugh at a bad joke insists it’s because you didn’t get it. And then can’t possibly accept that maybe the joke just wasn’t funny.

  71. #71 ctenotrish, FCD
    June 12, 2007

    Oh. Wow. Excellent post! It read like a coherent version of various thoughts I have had during (and often after) discussions about religion with friends and family. Your essay is spot-on. Thanks for the great writing!

    Umm, I also am refraining from google-ing, and also hoping that Kristine will put us out of our curiosity misery. Especially about the hindu god that stole the butter! ๐Ÿ™‚

  72. #72 Ric
    June 12, 2007

    Wonderfully well written!

  73. #73 JLM ++
    June 12, 2007

    This moved me to order Gilgamesh. Thanks for the words PZ.

  74. #74 The Uppity Atheist
    June 12, 2007

    Bravo, PZ, bravo.

    This one’s a keeper.

  75. #75 forsen
    June 12, 2007

    Fish seems to be completely oblivious of the fact that many “radical atheists” either was raised Christian or held such beliefs at some point in their lives – Dawkins, Dennett and PZ included. Many of us have went through the deconversion process (and all it’s shades – “sophisticated, nuanced academic faith” included) and have thought more about religion than the current religionists themselves. I still consider myself a comparative religions buff (especially obscure mythologies), and would join the wi… er, Kristine’s challenge to Fish any given day.

  76. #76 jeepinci
    June 12, 2007

    thanks PZ,, that piece made me very happy,,, you completely nailed it ๐Ÿ™‚

  77. #77 Carl Flygare
    June 12, 2007

    Erudite, evocative, eloquent – and more deeply spiritual (in the ineffable sense of the word) than an entire lifetime of fundamentalist detritus.

  78. #78 Ellen Fremedon
    June 12, 2007

    (Long-time lurker, first-time (I think) commenter):

    Lovely post, PZ. I have that translation of Gilgamesh at home; I need to get it out and reread it soon.

    I tend to look a little farther north for my own literature of consolation, though:

    Deyr f้,
    deyja frๆndr,
    deyr sjalfr it sama.
    Ek veit einn
    at aldrei deyr:
    d๓mr um dau๐an hvern.

    “Cattle die,
    kinsmen die,
    the self dies likewise.
    I know one thing
    that never dies:
    the reputation of each dead man.”

  79. #79 Strange Forces
    June 12, 2007

    Very well said, sir.

    I have at home, a pressed copper postcard showing those Buddhas you mention at the beginning of this piece. I got it from an old co-worker of mine, who was from Afghanistan. He was selling them for his uncle, who when he retired, decided that he was going to work to restore those statues. He helped raise funds and find restoration workers and the like. Before the project could start, however, the Taleban destroyed the statues because they were graven images. I keep the postcard on my desk as a reminder.

  80. #80 stogoe
    June 12, 2007

    I actually had Gilgamesh on my Wish List already but now I’m thinking of getting this translation rather than the Norton Critical edition. Thanks.

  81. #81 stogoe
    June 12, 2007

    Also, Kristine, I need the answers, please! We are not a kewl as you, obviously.

  82. #82 Dave Carlson
    June 12, 2007

    PZ –
    That was amazing. Thank you.

  83. #83 Skemono
    June 12, 2007

    What do Muslims mean when they refer to the “people of the book”, Fish? (Hint: the “book” does not refer to the Bible.)

    I believe that’s a phrase to refer to adherents of the Abrahamic religions: Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

    Do Muslims believe that Jesus will come back, Stanley Fish? Think hard, now.

    Not that I know of; he was just a prophet, not a messiah or a god, and his message was replaced by Mohammed’s.

    Which Hindu god stole the butter?

    Oooh, tricky. I’m thinking Shiva, partly using the “if you don’t know who said it, guess ‘Shakespeare'” technique.

    A certain sect of followers of Kali contributed a common word to our vocabulary. What was that?

    Thug. Duh.

    Do Jews emphasize the afterlife? What do they think should be done with an abandoned synagogue when a Heritage Preservation Commission wants to refurbish it? (Actual situation for me.)

    No, Jews don’t emphasize the afterlife, and there’s a lot of difference of opinion about what happens when we die (well, you know what they say about Jews). As for the abandoned synagogue being refurbished… I’m guessing that there’d be a plurality of opinions, but that the answer you’re looking for is that they’d be against it. Possibly because it’s no longer halakhically pure and would have to be reconsecrated?

    What do Tibetan Buddhists think about the destruction of the statues of Bamyan?

    Dunno exactly, but I’m betting they weren’t pleased.

    What does a Somali man (I know some Somali) never say to any woman, ever, and why?

    Uh… no clue.

  84. #84 Blake Stacey, OM
    June 12, 2007

    Kristine asked,

    Which Hindu god stole the butter?

    To which Skemono guessed,

    Oooh, tricky. I’m thinking Shiva, partly using the “if you don’t know who said it, guess ‘Shakespeare'” technique.

    Nope. That one was Krishna (the same one who made 99 duplicates of himself so he could simultaneously dally with a hundred cowgirls).

  85. #85 Alex
    June 12, 2007

    Fish derides the ‘new atheists’ as failing to appreciate the power and subtlety of religion as a means for creating personal meaning in a complex and confusing world. But one might make an analogous charge against Fish. As a literary theorist, Fish has spent his career analyzing the subtleties of fictitious texts. It’s thus reasonable to suppose that he has little personal experience of the depths of meaning that one can derive from the attempt to understand the nature of an objective, mind-independent reality. Indeed, his blog posting attests to that.

    The point is that Fish’s objection to the ‘new atheists’ is entirely idiosyncratic; it is based on his own personal experience of how religion can be invested with meaning. But he fails to appreciate that this doesn’t generalize to everyone, and that a life devoted to understanding reality can be every bit as meaningful as a life spent picking apart fictions. One would expect Fish, as a literary theorist, to be particularly sensitive to the fact that meaning doesn’t inhere in things, but rather arises from our personal engagement with them.

  86. #86 Jaycubed
    June 12, 2007

    “Even correct ideas can be destructive.
    I fail to see what is destructive about understanding that there is no god.
    If one understands this, what is one to do: shut up? Leave the religious kooks alone? Let them introduce religion into government and science classrooms or spread their ignorance until more than half the country cannot accept the facts of evolution?
    Come on!”

    Posted by: CalGeorge

    This rather angry response has nothing to do with my statement, but let me offer one reason that understanding that there is no god can be destructive. That is being stoned to death or burnt alive for realizing that fact by true believers. While this happened more frequently in the past, this kind of behavior continues to the present.

    “Jaycubed said ‘Even correct ideas can be destructive’.
    I think what you mean is inappropriate responses to bad ideas can be destructive. If we take what you say at face value you must think that it is sometimes better to embrace bad ideas rather than the truth.”

    Posted by: Matt Penfold

    No, what I mean is that even correct ideas can have destructive consequences. The correct ideas of physics have led to weapons capable of obliterating the complex forms of life on this planet. The correct ideas of chemistry & biology have led to gas chambers & biowarfare.

    If you take what I say “at face value” you might see that the correctness of an idea has little relation to the value of that idea. For example, it is a correct idea that a majority of Americans believe in the Big Fairy and do not believe in evolution. Being a correct idea doesn’t make it a good idea.

    At no point do I suggest one should “embrace bad ideas” or allow the “spread (of) ignorance”.

    “Come on”, think before responding with your emotions.

  87. #87 mike
    June 12, 2007

    i would think true budhists would not be too disturbed by the distruction, since nothing is permanent. thats the point of their sand mandalas, which they spend so much time creating, then cast onto the wind………

  88. #88 Gordon S
    June 12, 2007

    tl;dr

  89. #89 Clutch
    June 12, 2007

    Fish is just reciting the Master Narrative for self-styled nuanced thinkers when discussing atheism of any sort more definite than the mildest agnosticism: They just don’t understand the subtleties of religion, goes the story. He’s only about the thousandth reviewer of the recent spate of atheist books to read from this tried and true script, but I guess it never gets old for editors and readers.

  90. #90 Tulse
    June 12, 2007

    Kudos, PZ, kudos. This is one of the most moving and humane pieces of writing on this topic I have ever read. Profound and beautiful — kudos.

  91. #91 CalGeorge
    June 12, 2007

    Jaycubed, I still don’t get it.

    The “idea” is not destructive.

    The violent response to the idea is destructive.

  92. #92 Kseniya
    June 12, 2007

    “..the usual theistic excuses: but people are devoted to him! You just can’t comprehend the god! You don’t know anything about him! And then come the threats. It’s very familiar.”

  93. #93 Jaycubed
    June 12, 2007

    “i would think true budhists would not be too disturbed by the distruction, since nothing is permanent.”
    Posted by: mike
    .

    Buddhism:

    Life is suffering (Dukha).

    All action causes suffering, even acts of compassion.

    The only way out of suffering is annihilation of the self/species.

    Right action is impossible.

    The best one can do is sit & be still.

  94. #94 Jaycubed
    June 12, 2007

    “Jaycubed, I still don’t get it.
    The “idea” is not destructive.
    The violent response to the idea is destructive.”
    Posted by: CalGeorge
    .

    No, it is the USEFUL response to the idea that can be destructive.

    Speaking an unwanted truth to power can be destructive to the speaker.
    .

  95. #95 Kristine
    June 12, 2007

    Okay, class. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Q: What do Muslims mean when they refer to the “people of the book”, Fish? (Hint: the “book” does not refer to the Bible.)

    A: According to Islam, Allah maintains a “book” into which He writes the names of those who will be received into heaven. These people can be from any religion or from none, because according to the Koran there is no people on earth to which Allah has not in some way revealed himself, whether or not Islam has hit their shores. Of course Muslims are supposed to proselytize but, one’s neighbors not being Muslims is none of any Muslim’s business. Muslims are not to ask each other about or pass judgement on anyone’s beliefs or relationship (or lack thereof) with Allah.

    I’ll bet no one knew that one. (Osama bin Laden knows crap about his own religion.)

    Q: Do Muslims believe that Jesus will come back, Stanley Fish? Think hard, now.

    A. Yes.

    Q: Which Hindu god stole the butter?

    A. Krishna. Blake Stacey gets a shimmy.

    Q: A certain sect of followers of Kali contributed a common word to our vocabulary. What was that?

    A: Thugs. Shimmies to Skemono

    Q: Do Jews emphasize the afterlife? What do they think should be done with an abandoned synagogue when a Heritage Preservation Commission wants to refurbish it? (Actual situation for me.)

    A: No, and it should be desacralyzed, then destroyed. A preservationist’s nightmare.

    Q: What do Tibetan Buddhists think about the destruction of the statues of Bamyan?

    A: Whatever they want to think about it. ๐Ÿ˜‰ There is no specific doctrine, however – Tibetan Buddhists slave for days over a beautiful and complicated mandala, only to destroy it and throw the sand into a body of water, which signifies the transient nature of all things. They may not be happy about the destruction, but they accept that destruction of images will happen. Buddhists accept that stones crumble, but not that human hopes have to.

    Q: What does a Somali man (I know some Somali) never say to any woman, ever, and why?

    A: Warya (the equivalent of “Hey,” or “Hiya.”) It is too familiar and not respectful. Also, there is no Somali word for “please,” because it is always implied.

    As you can see by my answers, though I am not a believer I understand not only the facts about these religions, but the thoughts behind them. And that’s my real rebuke to Fish: not that I can rattle off more trivia than he can, but that I learned all of these ideas from people, not from books. Because I took the time to get to know believers. Who practice their religion.

    Religion is human, not divine, in origin; I know about religion because I want to know about human beings. Were religion really all about God, I wouldn’t give two shakes about it.

  96. #96 Azkyroth
    June 12, 2007

    Speaking an unwanted truth to power can be destructive to the speaker.

    If you object to this statement being compared to blaming women who wear short skirts for instances of rape, I suggest you rephrase it so it doesn’t implicitly place the responsibility for an evil act off of the one committing it.

  97. #97 Jaycubed
    June 12, 2007

    “I know about religion because I want to know about human beings.”
    Posted by: Kristine

    Exactly!
    .

    By the way, the Aramaic Bible, the Peshitta, is considered a holy text in Islam.

  98. #98 Jim Maughan
    June 12, 2007

    Kudos PZ

  99. #99 Dave Godfrey
    June 12, 2007

    Thank you PZ. Its posts like these (and the squid) that keep me coming back for more.

  100. #100 frog
    June 12, 2007

    One of the clearest examples of religious people not understanding the depths of their own writings is Job. It is well known that the current version is interpolated, specifically to turn the story into an asinine “moral” allegory about how Job, by showing faith throughout, in the end is rewarded. Talk about a shallow gloss that ignores human suffering.

    The original version, written by smarter or more honest shamans and priests, has YHWH destroy everything that Job holds dear — for no explicable reason at all. Job faces the reality of a universe that does not care for him personally with dignity, refusing to bend to his religious buddies who ask him to prostrate himself and beg the gods for protection like a worm, to accept responsibility for the gods punishment. Job not only refuses to accept responsibility for their cruelty, but demands that YHWH answer for himself.

    And the answer? That the universe has no answers – it is as it is.

    Now, which version is deep, and which shallow? Which version reflects a true understanding of reality, and which is fairy-tales for children taught by priests to justify stealing from their flocks? Which version is Fish’s “deep theology”?

  101. #101 Norman Doering
    June 12, 2007

    Kristine wrote:

    According to Islam, Allah maintains a “book” into which He writes the names of those who will be received into heaven.

    I don’t think there is any such thing as “According to Islam.” Islam doesn’t exist, only Muslims and copies of the Koran exist. Such thinking will lead you to the no true Scottsman fallacy. There is only according to this or that Muslim or according to someone’s interpretation of the Koran.

    Is that “book of people” in the Koran? I gave the Koran a partial reading (english translation only) and I don’t recall anything about it.

    Of course Muslims are supposed to proselytize but, one’s neighbors not being Muslims is none of any Muslim’s business. Muslims are not to ask each other about or pass judgement on anyone’s beliefs or relationship (or lack thereof) with Allah.

    So how is it they kill apostates, Christians and vocal atheists in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia? Where did Sharia come from?

  102. #102 Jaycubed
    June 12, 2007

    Speaking an unwanted truth to power can be destructive to the speaker.

    If you object to this statement being compared to blaming women who wear short skirts for instances of rape, I suggest you rephrase it so it doesn’t implicitly place the responsibility for an evil act off of the one committing it.
    Posted by: Azkyroth
    .

    This is similiar to the old question, “So, have you stopped beating your wife yet?”

    What an offensive characterization. My statement says absolutely nothing about reponsibility. That is a projection on your part of a desire to place blame.

  103. #103 Dan S.
    June 12, 2007

    Just to be the n+1th person to say it: excellent, PZ. (I also agree with Jim above re: “The proper reverence . . .” post).

    The best one can do is sit & be still.

    I’m working on it . . .

    Norman – I’m not certain how Hedges meant it, but I’d agree that literally speaking – haha :/ – there aren’t any “real” biblical literalists in the sense that the folks generally described by that term don’t actually read much of the Bible literally, either by taking certain bits (albeit far fewer than the rest of us) to be meant as parable, metaphor, analogy, etc,* or by having “literal” readings that are wildly inventive.

  104. #104 fish
    June 12, 2007

    And Gilgamesh – should absolutely be required reading. Right there is the root of world literature. Without it, it’s impossible to put any of the great religious works in context. The basic problems of human life were as obvious to our ancestors 5,000 years ago as they are today, with less BS to confuse the matter.

    It always amazes me when religious folks haven’t read it. What are they afraid of? That they might see that all their books were written up in different versions first?

  105. #105 Greg Peterson
    June 12, 2007

    Wonderful.

    The dodge I hear from some Christians, including those I attended Bible college with, is that I was never really a Christian in the first place, or I would not be ABLE to be an atheist now. (In Calvinism, this is even a point of doctrine.) And while this is a clear example of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy, maybe they are right. I mean–I gave up a lot to convert, including the marine biology program I was accepted into, so I could go to school to be a pastor.

    And I loved being a Christian, never had any of the bad experiences that some people seem to have had. But maybe despite my commitment, and my depth of feeling, and profundity of knowledge and seriousness of study, some magic element still eluded me. But as I took my faith far, far more serious than 95% of the Christians I have ever met do, I would like to challenge them that if I was not a “real Christian,” then they do not know that anyone they go to church with or even are married to is a “real Christian,” either.

    Some of us atheists do know faith, and religion, and theology, and “spirituality,” very, very well. And it was not always easy to give up all of that. Many of us have some scars, not least because of broken relationships. It is absurd and bigoted to state that we don’t know what we are talking about when we proclaim that atheism looks to us, more than anything else has managed to, like the truth. And that we prefer a bracing truth to a comforting mistake.

  106. #106 Norman Doering
    June 12, 2007

    Norman – I’m not certain how Hedges meant it,…

    I’m not sure either, but I think it was an attempt to dodge his own work about “Christian Fascists” by denying his own book existed.

    …but I’d agree that literally speaking – haha :/ – there aren’t any “real” biblical literalists in the sense that the folks generally described by that term don’t actually read much of the Bible literally,…

    I think you just have to take some of Genesis literally, the creation story, Adam, Eve, talking snakes, Noah, the flood, Moses turning his staff into a snake, Egypt’s frogs and locusts, God knocking down the tower of Babel… that kind of stuff.

  107. #107 Jaycubed
    June 12, 2007

    ” There aren’t any ‘real’ biblical literalists in the sense that the folks generally described by that term don’t actually read much of the Bible literally, either by taking certain bits (albeit far fewer than the rest of us) to be meant as parable, metaphor, analogy, etc,* or by having “literal” readings that are wildly inventive.”
    Posted by: Dan S

    The most biblically literalist of American religious groups would have to be Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church. You know, the “GOD HATES FAGS” church.

    Their literal readings are straightforward, and “parable, metaphor, analogy, etc” appears far beyond their capabilities.

    I’m sure they never eat at Red Lobster or wear mixed cloth apparel.

  108. #108 BruceJ
    June 12, 2007

    Norman sez:

    “So how is it they kill apostates, Christians and vocal atheists in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia? Where did Sharia come from?”

    Sigh. Because they’re ignorant religionist idiots who don’t even know the tenets of their own faith. Because this is dogma that’s been strapped onto the religion for their own purposes by sociopathic tyrants?

    Still, I find it amusing that you’re calling out someone pretty obviously well versed in many religious texts after saying “Well, I read a little bit about it last night”.

    Did you stay at a Holiday Inn, too?

  109. #109 Kristine
    June 12, 2007

    So how is it they kill apostates, Christians and vocal atheists in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia? Where did Sharia come from?

    Good questions. I might have to ask someone; although I’m sure to get a diversity of answers.

    Let me hazard one: unlike a lot of what passes for Islam today, Sharia is Koranic. I oppose it. I don’t agree with it. However, a lot of what is called “Sharia” is a mismash of pre-Islamic tribal laws and Koranic suryas subject to interpretation. Much of what is called Sharia – like what is going on in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia – is actually Wahabbist Islam, a relatively recent, very stern and fundie version of Islam, and just plain stupid and oppressive.

    There is nothing in the Koran, for example, that would mandate that uncovered girls remain in a burning school rather than expose themselves by escaping. I saw a poem performed at Intermedia Arts by a former student of that school about that event. Her outrage elicited thunderous applause from the largely Muslim audience. They’re sick of that crap!

    Even if Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, etc. conformed to what the Koran says (and they don’t, they follow pre-Islamic tribal customs which are just barbaric), I would still oppose their strictures, as well as the interference of religion in government, but their societies would be vastly more humane, especially toward women, than they are now.

  110. #110 Alan Kellogg
    June 12, 2007

    #101,

    Not so. Islam is the Koran, those who teach it, and those who follow it and the teachings. Islam is submission to the will of God. Or, rather, submission to what another human says is the will of God. Islam is as much a formal religion as Protestant Christianity in that you have an agreed upon doctrine, an agreed upon creed, and bodies of worshippers who follow a particular individual and his interpretation of scripture. The fact it has no central temporal authority means nothing in the long run. Simply because it is not organized and run as you think a religion should be doesn’t change a thing.

    As to Gilgamesh, death, and inevitability first let me ask. You ever notice how events in his quest mirror the 5 stages one goes through when one learns of one’s mortality?

    As to poetry, I now present a few lines by a fellow who’s name I’ve quite forgotten. (Clinical depresion has quite a talent for fucking with your memory. But I digress.)

    From too much love of living
    From hope and fear set free
    We thank with brief thanksgiving
    Whatever gods there be

    That no man lives forever
    That dead men rise up never
    That even the weariest river
    Winds somewhere save to sea< -i>

  111. #111 Norman Doering
    June 12, 2007

    BruceJ also fails to get it and credits non-existent entities for his claim to knowledge:

    Because they’re ignorant religionist idiots who don’t even know the tenets of their own faith.

    Their own faith is the only thing they can know. What they can’t know is Islam because it doesn’t exist. If you think it does, then you’re a Muslim.

    I find it amusing that you’re calling out someone pretty obviously well versed in many religious texts after saying “Well, I read a little bit about it last night”.

    And I find all your supposed knowledge when combined with an inability to grasp the logic of what you’re saying very amusing too.

  112. #112 Liam Clarke
    June 12, 2007

    When the Buddhas of Bamyan were dynamited, it wasn’t an atheist who lit the fuse.

    But when the Padmasambhava statue in Tibet was dynamited, it was by troops from an officially atheist state…

    People do good and bad things in the names of whatever ideology you can create.

  113. #113 greensmile
    June 12, 2007

    Nice post PZ. You fillet and fry Fish quite adroitly and I complement your writing. There has been a perfect storm of googling for “stanley fish”+”three atheists” over the last 24 hours and I am not sure what has triggered it. I just tossed Fish in a microwave by comparison to your thoroughness but at least writing less gave me a chance to post first. I have had something like ten times the normal daily traffic for that one post and while much of my later traffic is coming because I got a link in early in the thread on institutionalized ignorance…but the search hits were still several sigma out on the distribution. Did some print or broadcast outlet talk up the Fish piece in the NY Times? What else would generate a search? If it had been mentioned on a web site, there would have been a link, eliminating the need for a search. Curious. This post has gone up on the ScienceBlog “most active” list so I wonder how much of that traffic is google driven and therefore, not your regulars but a different crowd.

    Ok, I finished reading your post. Bravo! and Thank you for reminding any that may have forgotten [are you reading here Dr Fish?] that we may be, if anything, more human when we finally see that all the agonizing questions about mortality are purely human, as will be any of the answers.

    did you read my post?

    I also find it amazing that Fish gets a pulpit like the NY Times in which to post a whole series of articles, some as sloppy and sentimentally flawed as this we dicsuss. Why aren’t they puting up some of your posts, PZ?

  114. #114 frog
    June 12, 2007

    Norman, are you serious? Are you incapable of the abstract? The fact that no object exists that can be called Islam, doesn’t mean that there doesn’t exist formal systems that call themselves Islam, with varying amounts of historical legitimacy. “Islam” is an abstraction, with certain formal qualities, just as Judiasm and Christianity are. There may not be a single real Islam, but there are standards by which to judge something as more or less Islamic, there is an Islamic “logic”, so to speak.

    Are you still thinking in positivist terms? That was discredited fifty years ago, Norman.

    Remember, even though unicorns aren’t real, the idea of a unicorn is real. Read a little Wittgenstein before wading in these waters.

  115. #115 Scott Hatfield
    June 12, 2007

    PZ: Eloquent. I am particularly moved by the invocation of Gilgamesh. One hopes that such as this will make it into publication elsewhere. It deserves a wider audience.

  116. #116 Norman Doering
    June 12, 2007

    Kristine wrote:

    Even if Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, etc. conformed to what the Koran says (and they don’t, they follow pre-Islamic tribal customs which are just barbaric),…

    Wasn’t it the Prophet Mohammed’s own wives who started wearing veils and all covering garments? There is stuff in the Koran about modesty and dress… Are you actually familiar with the book, or are you trusting a Muslim friend?

  117. #117 Ichthyic
    June 12, 2007

    Nice post PZ. You fillet and fry Fish quite adroitly and I complement your writing. There has been a perfect storm of googling for “stanley fish”+”three atheists” over the last 24 hours and I am not sure what has triggered it. I just tossed Fish in a microwave by comparison to your thoroughness but at least writing less gave me a chance to post first.

    could ya all please refrain from all this talk about torturing fish.

    it’s quite disturbing to an ichthyologist, even if you really aren’t speaking of our finny friends.

    or hell, just get that guy to change his name. After all, it’s quite clear he has never embraced his inner fish.

    ๐Ÿ˜‰

  118. #118 Norman Doering
    June 12, 2007

    Are you incapable of the abstract?

    No. You are.

    The fact that no object exists that can be called Islam, doesn’t mean that there doesn’t exist formal systems that call themselves Islam,

    Note the “s” on your own term “formal systems.” The systems you say are so bad and ignorant are also “formal systems” and you’re the one who is claiming one of those systems is more right than the other without believing in any of those systems.

    Just because their “dogma been strapped onto the religion for their own purposes by sociopathic tyrants” doesn’t stop it from being such a system.

    There may not be a single real Islam, but there are standards by which to judge something as more or less Islamic, there is an Islamic “logic”, so to speak.

    Oh really? Can you describe how this Islamic “logic” works?

  119. #119 frog
    June 12, 2007

    Norman, once again, are you for real? Don’t you know that the veil is a very old custom in the ME, preceding the Koran by millenia?

    A Turkish archeologist claims that they were originally used by temple prostitutes in ancient Asia Minor. We know the ancient myth of Ishtar and her seven veils, which she had to remove before entering the highest heaven (recall the dance of the seven veils?). Head covering goes back into ancient Jewish history, and was used in Christian Europe.

    Really, are you going to start believing the myths that Muslims have about themselves now?

  120. #120 frog
    June 12, 2007
    The fact that no object exists that can be called Islam, doesn’t mean that there doesn’t exist formal systems that call themselves Islam,

    Note the “s” on your own term “formal systems.” The systems you say are so bad and ignorant are also “formal systems” and you’re the one who is claiming one of those systems is more right than the other without believing in any of those systems.

    Norman, Norman, Norman, you really didn’t get all the marbles in the genetic lottery, did you?

    I didn’t say that some Islams are more “right” than others. I said that some have more of a right to call themselves Islam than others. Just like Assyrian Christianity is closer to the logic of 4th century Christianity than Calvinism is. Just like Mormonism is theologically distinct from orthodox Christianity (but is in some ways close to early Gnostic Christianity).

    Really, you’re not very good at this. No one cares about your irrational hatreds. We can analyze systems of thought without judging their “truth”. It’s that abstraction thing.

  121. #121 Norman Doering
    June 12, 2007

    frog wrote:

    Don’t you know that the veil is a very old custom in the ME, preceding the Koran by millenia?

    You’re talking about the custom of purdah which dates back to 300 BC and certain aristocratic Assyrian families. Why is that relevant? What is relevant are the passages in the Koran that talk about modesty in dress and the passages about the Prophet’s wives wearing veils.

    This is what the Koran says:

    “Tell the faithful women that they must keep their gaze focused below/on the ground and cover their sexual organs. They must not put their beauty and their jewellery on display. They must hide their breasts behind a purdah. They must not exhibit their beauty to anybody except their husbands, brothers, nephews, womenfolk, servants, eunuch employees and children. They must not move their legs briskly while walking because then much of their bodies can get exposed.” (Sura Al Noor 24:31)

    “Oh nabi, please tell your wives and daughters and faithful women to wear a covering dress on their bodies. That would be good. Then nobody can recognise them and harrass them. Allah is merciful and kind.” (Sura Al Hijaab 33: 59)

    From here:
    http://yaleglobal.yale.edu/display.article?id=8633

    Even the Hadis –a collection of the words of Prophet Mohammed, his opinion on various subjects and also about his work, written by those close to him– talks extensively of the purdah for women. Women must cover their whole body before going out, they should not go before unknown men, they should not go to the mosque to read the namaaz, they should not go for any funeral.

  122. #122 David Marjanovi?
    June 12, 2007

    Er… just… two things.

    – I don’t search for meaning. I don’t have the slightest reason to assume there is one. More importantly, I don’t understand why I should feel relieved or anything if it turned out there was one. Isn’t it more interesting to just so exist?
    – I think you should have mentioned that the afterlife in the Babylonian religion was no heaven. The shadows live in the eternal darkness of the underworld, eat mud, and apparently suffer from eternal depression (coupled with infinite boredom, I presume). That is worse than the atheistic outlook.

    Now for one of my dreaded point-by-point comments on the comments:

    And if I make the mistake of mentioning any of these things in front of a certain deeply superstitious and religious Moslem I know, she’d be going on about the website she’d just found, in which a whackjob numerologist is excitedly declaring that the number of known planetary nebular was foretold in the Qur’an.

    BLASPHEMY! The Qur’an is written “in clear Arabic”. You don’t need no heathen numerology to figure out what it means.

    (Funny how extremely easy it always is to accuse religious literalists of blasphemy by their own criteria.)

    PZ great stuff. You hit one of the points I always try to make when a god-botherer asks what I believe in, I always say Us. We are the source of many of our problems, but we are also the only help we are going to get in sovling them.

    “To alcohol — the origin and the solution of all problems of life!”
    — Homer Simpson

    No googling. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Ehem. You forgot to forbid Wikipedia. ๐Ÿ˜Ž

    Not that I know of; he was just a prophet, not a messiah or a god, and his message was replaced by Mohammed’s.

    Well, he will sit in Judgment, so sorta kinda he will come back. (Written without Wikipedia, and before reading comment 95. Do I get a shimmy, whatever that is? :-} )

    The original version, written by smarter or more honest shamans and priests

    Sounds… interesting. Where can I read more about that?

  123. #123 David Marjanovi?
    June 12, 2007

    Er… just… two things.

    – I don’t search for meaning. I don’t have the slightest reason to assume there is one. More importantly, I don’t understand why I should feel relieved or anything if it turned out there was one. Isn’t it more interesting to just so exist?
    – I think you should have mentioned that the afterlife in the Babylonian religion was no heaven. The shadows live in the eternal darkness of the underworld, eat mud, and apparently suffer from eternal depression (coupled with infinite boredom, I presume). That is worse than the atheistic outlook.

    Now for one of my dreaded point-by-point comments on the comments:

    And if I make the mistake of mentioning any of these things in front of a certain deeply superstitious and religious Moslem I know, she’d be going on about the website she’d just found, in which a whackjob numerologist is excitedly declaring that the number of known planetary nebular was foretold in the Qur’an.

    BLASPHEMY! The Qur’an is written “in clear Arabic”. You don’t need no heathen numerology to figure out what it means.

    (Funny how extremely easy it always is to accuse religious literalists of blasphemy by their own criteria.)

    PZ great stuff. You hit one of the points I always try to make when a god-botherer asks what I believe in, I always say Us. We are the source of many of our problems, but we are also the only help we are going to get in sovling them.

    “To alcohol — the origin and the solution of all problems of life!”
    — Homer Simpson

    No googling. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Ehem. You forgot to forbid Wikipedia. ๐Ÿ˜Ž

    Not that I know of; he was just a prophet, not a messiah or a god, and his message was replaced by Mohammed’s.

    Well, he will sit in Judgment, so sorta kinda he will come back. (Written without Wikipedia, and before reading comment 95. Do I get a shimmy, whatever that is? :-} )

    The original version, written by smarter or more honest shamans and priests

    Sounds… interesting. Where can I read more about that?

  124. #124 Norman Doering
    June 12, 2007

    frog wrote:

    I didn’t say that some Islams are more “right” than others. I said that some have more of a right to call themselves Islam than others. Just like Assyrian Christianity is closer to the logic of 4th century Christianity than Calvinism is. Just like Mormonism is theologically distinct from orthodox Christianity (but is in some ways close to early Gnostic Christianity).

    Really, you’re not very good at this. No one cares about your irrational hatreds. We can analyze systems of thought without judging their “truth”. It’s that abstraction thing.

    You say some Christianities and Islams have more of a right to call themselves Islam or Christianity than others do. But you never tell us what the criteria for judging one more authentic than another is.

    If that can be done, wouldn’t it have to rest on interpreting the Bible and the Koran? Are you sure that’s you approach? Have you read either book?

  125. #125 AJ Milne
    June 12, 2007

    Re the veil stuff: I expect I’m as likely to settle this with a couple of references as I am to settle the squabble over the West Bank by offering to sit down over a beer with the offended parties… But anyhoo:

    To my knowledge (this is fresh off Google, but corresponds to what I already had bouncing around my brain), the Koran has two references to veils: 24:31 says women should pull them over their bosoms, and 33:59 says Mohammed’s wives should wrap them around themselves so they shouldn’t be recognized, harassed, etcetera. Neither passage explicitly says the veil should cover the face, though there are a number of injunctions that say women should be modest in their attire, and the traditional veil worn in Persia by the upper classes did cover the face. And yes, the veil does predate the Koran. I’d provide references, but trust me, that’s not something you’re going to find a lot of controversy on. Google it yourself, if you need to reassure yourself.

    As to whether the wearing of the veil is or is not ‘Islamic’, there’s a range of opinions, now, so I can’t call it. There are hadiths that are more explicit about the tradition, but theologians differ about whether or not these can be considered reliable, authoritative, so on. You could, I guess, look at the length and prevalance of the tradition, and I’m afraid that’s beyond the scope of my knowledge. I can tell you the range of current opinion–from those insisting the burka (whole body covering) is required, to those who think even the headscarf is optional for the devout, but I don’t know how much influence any of those ideas (a) has now, and (b) has had over the history of that religion.

  126. #126 AJ Milne
    June 12, 2007

    Oh. I see the references are already about, now.

    Never mind, then.

  127. #127 frog
    June 12, 2007

    Norman, and my point was? That the tradition is even older than the purdah. That Islam took on and justified an older tradition that was already accepted in the ME, and throughout much of the Roman world. That in some places, Islam was kinder to women than the preceding customs, and in some places was crueler.

    No one doubts that female “modesty” is a part of Islam. It was part of Judaism, and the other pre-Koranic ME religions – even the ones with temple prostitutes. It was part of a long-standing tradition, probably separating upper class women from lower class women. Since Islam is egalitarian in a certain sense, the traditions for upper class women were applied to all. Traditional Judaism required women to be covered (not the face, though, but then neither does Islam require that, except for some neo-orthodox cults and pre-Islamic traditions), separated women from men in services requiring them to sit in the back, and so on and so forth.

    Islam has problems modernizing, just like Christianity and Judaism have had. Only by castrating them is it possible for them to be compatible with modern civilization. So, what? How is Islam different than the multitudes of religions which start from false premises? It is better than some, it is worse than others, and we will have to tame them all to not end up destroying ourselves.

    But this hard-on for Islam is just crazy.

  128. #128 David Marjanovi?
    June 12, 2007

    Al Hijaab

    “The Headscarf”.

    Hadis

    I thought that word had a th, as in English “thick” or “thin”?

  129. #129 David Marjanovi?
    June 12, 2007

    Al Hijaab

    “The Headscarf”.

    Hadis

    I thought that word had a th, as in English “thick” or “thin”?

  130. #130 windy
    June 12, 2007

    More insipid god-baiting from some Douglas Wilson guy, debating Hitchens on Christianity Today.

    Your notion of morality, and the evolution it rode in on, can only concern itself with what is. But morality as Christians understand it, and the kind you surreptitiously draw upon, is concerned with ought. David Hume showed us that we cannot successfully derive ought from is. Have you discovered the error in his reasoning?

    Sigh. Have Christians figured out yet where their morality comes from? cough*Euthyphro*cough

    Your Christian name Christopher means “bearer of Christ,” your baptism means the same thing, and the Third Commandment requires you not to bear or carry that name in vain.

    Argument from etymology! How quaint. OK, we can grant you “Christ-bearer” Hitchens, but then I never want to hear another peep of protest against our rightful “Firm leader” Dawkins.

    Oh, and “Dark water” (dubh-glas) Wilson doesn’t sound that Christian. Perhaps converting to Celtic paganism would be more appropriate.

  131. #131 Norman Doering
    June 12, 2007

    frog, Kristine and BruceJ:

    It seems to me your interpretation of Islam is coming from a Stanley Fish or Chris Hedges version of a Muslim.

    Just answer this question: have any of you actually bothered to read the Koran?

  132. #132 RavenT
    June 12, 2007

    I thought that word had a th, as in English “thick” or “thin”?

    Classical Arabic has both “th” sounds that English has. Some regional dialects have lost them, and many of the languages that took Arabic loanwords (e.g., Farsi, Indonesian) don’t have those sounds, and collapsed them into “t”, “s”, or something else.

  133. #133 Jaycubed
    June 12, 2007

    “You’re talking about the custom of purdah which dates back to 300 BC and certain aristocratic Assyrian families. Why is that relevant?”
    Posted by: Norman Doering

    Well, those are merely two incidents in at least a 2000 year history of some women wearing veils in public for social or religious regions in the middle east.

    Women in classical Athens were also veiled when in public.

    Why is that irrelevant?

  134. #134 frog
    June 12, 2007

    You say some Christianities and Islams have more of a right to call themselves Islam or Christianity than others do. But you never tell us what the criteria for judging one more authentic than another is.

    If that can be done, wouldn’t it have to rest on interpreting the Bible and the Koran? Are you sure that’s you approach? Have you read either book?

    Norman, do you think a historical analysis is going to come down to a simple checklist of three criteria? People have written tomes and tomes on these subjects, following the transformation of ideas over the millenia. You’re not going to get “Islam for dummies” on a blog posting.

    And no, it doesn’t depend on “interpreting” the books in question. It depends a full historical knowledge of the sect, and what those books have meant over the centuries to the succeeding sects. You know, literary analysis, historical analysis, archeological analysis. You have to follow the logic, the systems of thought. Islam has a shape, just like Christianity does.

    You’re oversimplifying things. Christianity has two major strands, the orthodox and the gnostic. Each interprets the same set of books (to oversimplify) diametrically opposed. You can still identify the borders of orthodox Christianity and Gnostic Christianity and distinguish them from later variations and additions. Some dude claiming to be a pope doesn’t make him a pope.

    In another field, there is a real “modernism”. It exists as an analytical tool. There is no sacred modernist scripture, but we can fairly easily differentiate modernist art, literature, fonts and architecture from other varieties. We can identify works that are transitional, say between modern and post-modern. It is a real idea, modernism, even though you can’t say “aha! Here are 3 simple criteria for being modern.” Anyone who gives you simple criteria, instead of a long extended description including historical context and philosophical background is BS’ing you.

  135. #135 Norman Doering
    June 12, 2007

    Jaycubed wrote:

    Women in classical Athens were also veiled when in public.

    Why is that irrelevant?

    It’s not relevant, as far as I can tell, that’s the point.

    What could be relevant is what the Prophet’s wives and the culture around them were wearing when the passages about modest dress were entered into the Koran. Since modesty is relative it would have locked what that culture considered modest into the religion.

  136. #136 Norman Doering
    June 12, 2007

    frog wrote:

    it doesn’t depend on “interpreting” the books in question. It depends a full historical knowledge of the sect, and what those books have meant over the centuries to the succeeding sects. You know, literary analysis, historical analysis, archeological analysis. You have to follow the logic, the systems of thought. Islam has a shape, just like Christianity does.

    I think that proves it. frog is listening to the Stanley Fish and Chris Hedges versions of Islam.

  137. #137 Tommykey
    June 12, 2007

    Great post PZ!

    As for the Buddhas of Bamiyan, I don’t think they should be rebuilt, because it just wouldn’t feel legitimate to me.

    The statues before they were destroyed were testament to a different culture that once existed in Afghanistan many centuries ago.

    Besides, the one of the essential teachings of Buddhism is that suffering results from our attachment to the things of this world. The Buddha himself would probably reject the idea of replacing the statues with new ones.

  138. #138 Jaycubed
    June 12, 2007

    “It’s not relevant, as far as I can tell, that’s the point.”
    Posted by: Norman Doering

    You must believe the only thing relevant is what you see when contemplating your own navel.

    History is relevant, even if you can’t see the connections yourself.

    The region has a long history of veiling women in some cultures.

    That is relevant to one specific culture’s practice of veiling women.

  139. #139 Greg McPherson
    June 12, 2007

    Fantastic, PZ. I was hoping someone was going to come out strongly against the blood-boiling Fish piece.

    Fish and others who take this poetic, literary line seem determined to not recognise that reasonable beliefs about the external world and our emotions are different things, even if they can and do influence each other to some extent. This article should herald the next step for us militant atheists to take: a positive campaign showing that religions have no monopoly on expressing the rich tapestry of human emotions that give life its real meaning.

  140. #140 Graculus
    June 12, 2007

    What is relevant are the passages in the Koran that talk about modesty in dress and the passages about the Prophet’s wives wearing veils.

    passages in the Bible forbid poly-cotton fabrics and shaving. Plenty of Jews and Christians ave managed to ignore those bits. There is no barrier to modern Islam to ignore the silly bits in the Koran, in fact some sects are very good at it.

  141. #141 Gerard Harbison
    June 12, 2007

    Oh, and “Dark water” (dubh-glas) Wilson doesn’t sound that Christian. Perhaps converting to Celtic paganism would be more appropriate.

    Dubh glas is dark grey or dark green. A lot of sites have glas=water, but I’ve never heard of that.

  142. #142 Gerard Harbison
    June 12, 2007

    Great article, PZ, far better than Fish deserves. Stanley is an anti-rational, anti-scientific pomo bore whose 15 minutes ran out 20 years ago.

  143. #143 Kristine
    June 12, 2007

    Wasn’t it the Prophet Mohammed’s own wives who started wearing veils and all covering garments? There is stuff in the Koran about modesty and dress… Are you actually familiar with the book, or are you trusting a Muslim friend?

    Actually, no, I’m not just trusting one Muslim friend. (And that would be…who?) Women in this climate dressed this way. The Hebrews also dressed this way. If you knew any of the history of the area you would know that. Also, I have more than one Muslim friend. Hello, Muslims disagree with each other about what the Koran teaches about women’s dress. The Koran states that a woman should cover her “bosom” and lists the specific people she should hide this from. Frankly, I know (personally) Muslim women who wear the hijab, and Muslim women who don’t and who walk around in miniskirts. Some women have danced with me; others won’t, but appreciate me dancing for them. (Hello! Remember that I am a belly dancer? We’re really real, not just a Hollywood creation!)

    But therein lies the problem, Norman Doering. The Koran was written (or “inscribed,” since Muslims believe that Muhammad was illiterate – interesting, in terms of Stanley Fish!) in Arabic and is only supposed to be understood in Arabic. I admit that I do not know Arabic (particularly fussia, the classic dialect in which poetry is written) sufficiently well to read the Koran in that language. Why, have you read it in Arabic?

    Just answer this question: have any of you actually bothered to read the Koran?

    Yes. And I brought my copy of it to the YWCA-sponsored dialogue about Islam just after September 11, presented by two local Muslims (who also told me that they were impressed by my knowledge of Islam). And I have never heard nor read Chris Hedges, so you don’t know what you’re talking about there, Bub.

    Indeed, you have no idea what you’re talking about.

  144. #144 Norman Doering
    June 12, 2007

    Jaycubed wrote:

    You must believe the only thing relevant is what you see when contemplating your own navel.

    You must be an asshole.

    I never said history was irrelevant, but I don’t think classical Athens, Greek culture, is as relevant to the question as what ancient nomads in what is now Saudi Arabian were wearing when the Koran was written is.

    What’s relevant is the Prophet’s culture. Athens is longer ago and far away.

    In other words — what you say isn’t relevant.

  145. #145 Kristine
    June 12, 2007

    That is relevant to one specific culture’s practice of veiling women.

    The Berbers are Muslim also but it is the men who veil themselves. The women tattoo their faces instead. They are matrilineal as well.

    Before the popular rise of the internet, I used to be able to tell where a Muslim woman was from by how she wore her hijab. Now, “Cairo chic” is everywhere. I’ve worn it, too. I’ve worn it by choice, just to see how people would react.
    ๐Ÿ™‚ As a matter of fact, I like headdresses and head coverings, of all cultures. I just believe in choice, that’s all.

  146. #146 AJ Milne
    June 12, 2007

    Re:

    BLASPHEMY! The Qur’an is written “in clear Arabic”. You don’t need no heathen numerology to figure out what it means.

    (Funny how extremely easy it always is to accuse religious literalists of blasphemy by their own criteria.)

    Heh. Indeed. Tho’ actually that kind of thing runs rampant in popular Islam/folk beliefs associated with the religion… Google Koran or Qur’an and science and hunt around, it gets wild and amusing quickly… the bit about the nebula is only too typical. I also had a certain in-law rave at me about how the Qur’an provides insights into how we may exceed the speed of light, and so on. Tander Edis’ covers it a bit in his An Illusion of Harmony.

  147. #147 AJ Milne
    June 12, 2007

    (That should be ‘Taner Edis’. Time to switch to decaf.)

  148. #148 Oceanicing
    June 12, 2007

    “As to poetry, I now present a few lines by a fellow who’s name I’ve quite forgotten. (Clinical depresion has quite a talent for fucking with your memory. But I digress.)”

    Lovely selection – it’s from Algernon Charles Swinburne’s “Garden of Proserpine”. I like the final verse as well:

    From too much love of living,
    From hope and fear set free,
    We thank with brief thanksgiving
    Whatever gods may be
    That no life lives for ever;
    That dead men rise up never;
    That even the weariest river
    Winds somewhere safe to sea.

    Then star nor sun shall waken,
    Nor any change of light:
    Nor sound of waters shaken,
    Nor any sound or sight:
    Nor wintry leaves nor vernal,
    Nor days nor things diurnal;
    Only the sleep eternal
    In an eternal night.

    I have an English lit background and work in the field of maritime history. I’ve never seen a more beautiful, eloquent refutation of the “Atheists are philistines” argument than in PZ’s post.

  149. #149 Jaycubed
    June 12, 2007

    “You must be an asshole.”
    Posted by: Norman Doering

    How erudite, or have you been looking in the mirror again?

    My comments stand. All of them. I notice you pick & choose random aspects of my comments rather than the totality, so I will repeat the main arguments for you:

    Well, those are merely two incidents in at least a 2000 year history of some women wearing veils in public for social or religious regions in the middle east.
    Women in classical Athens were also veiled when in public.
    Why is that irrelevant?

    History is relevant, even if you can’t see the connections yourself.
    The region has a long history of veiling women in some cultures.
    That is relevant to one specific culture’s practice of veiling women.

    You appear to have a small mind if you think several thousand years of history of a cultural practice in a region has no bearing on the specific cultural practices of one culture in that region.
    .

    “Just answer this question: have any of you actually bothered to read the Koran?”

    Yes, I have.

    I much prefer the Torah/Old Testament, much better writing. And the Epic of Gilgamesh is superior to either of them. Of course, translation does matter.
    .

  150. #150 Norman Doering
    June 12, 2007

    Why, have you read it in Arabic?

    Nope. Just because I question people’s judgements doesn’t mean I’m claiming to do better there. Sorry, I don’t accept you as an expert. I’ve heard too many contradictory experts to accept any. But you are doing better than frog as for as justifying why you think what you think.

    I couldn’t continue reading the Koran in English since I had trouble making sense of it. But I did pick up on how dictatorial the Koran was and that left me with a very negative impression of the religion. When the Koran wasn’t just weird magical fantasy (God turning people into pigs and monkeys as a punishment, winged horses flying to Heaven, Solomon flying around on a magic carpet) it was dictating all sorts of crazy things to believers. What I read did not give me the impression of any kind of enlightened discourse or the kind of tolerance towards other beliefs you were suggesting when you said “according to the Koran … one’s neighbors not being Muslims is none of any Muslim’s business.”

    : have any of you actually bothered to read the Koran?

    Yes.

    Thank you for answering that. What was your impression of the Koran? Did it seem like a sane book?

    Muslims (who also told me that they were impressed by my knowledge of Islam). And I have never heard nor read Chris Hedges, so you don’t know what you’re talking about there, Bub.

    I didn’t say you had heard or knew of Hedges. Your reading comprehension is either off or dishonest. I said: “It seems to me your interpretation of Islam is coming from a Stanley Fish or Chris Hedges version of a Muslim.” You don’t seem to know what that means.

    A Stanley Fish or Chris Hedges version of a Muslim would be someone like Reza Aslan.

    Which only means something if you know who Reza Aslan is.

  151. #151 Skeptic8
    June 12, 2007

    Hitchens: Christ-bearer. There is a funereal interpretation of the word here. Chuckle.

  152. #152 Brian
    June 12, 2007

    Brilliant PZ.

  153. #153 Ichthyic
    June 12, 2007

    I ordered that Gilgamesh translation as a perfect gift for my father for father’s day (he is turning 80 in a couple of months, and has seriously been struggling with the death of his friends of late).

    thanks, PZ.

  154. #154 Keith Douglas
    June 12, 2007

    frog: Interesting, given that PZ’s favourite, The Epic of Gilgamesh, also strikes me as being very modern in a lot of ways too. Gilgamesh thinks a lot, or at least that’s how I take the “found his voice and spoke” or whatever the translation is.

    And now my turn to put up some poetry (I’ll let people do their homework and figure out who I’m quoting) …

    Confess then, naught from nothing can become,
    Since all must have their seeds, wherefrom to grow,
    Wherefrom to reach the gentle fields of air.
    Hence too it comes that Nature all dissolves
    Into their primal bodies again, and naught
    Perishes ever to annihilation.

  155. #155 Jaycubed
    June 12, 2007

    “have any of you actually bothered to read the Koran?”
    Yes.
    Thank you for answering that. What was your impression of the Koran? Did it seem like a sane book?
    Posted by: Norman Doering

    It seems as sane as most other books of religion. Grains of insight hidden within tons of nonsense.

    What I found most fascinating was its insistence on the existence of the Djinn. As the monotheistic god of Abraham has the attributes of a Djinni (as described in folklore as well as the Koran) and Mohammed was unable to tell the difference between a Djinni (Satan) and an Angel, it has always struck me that the Koran was more likely dictated by a Djinni rather than a “God”, if one wants to posit a supernatural origin for the book.

  156. #156 Ichthyic
    June 12, 2007

    Thank you for answering that. What was your impression of the Koran? Did it seem like a sane book?

    aside from the fact that it sometimes seemed like an arson manual?

    so many infidels to burn, so little time.

    I think last year I even ran across some you-tube vid that had documented all the verses that include instructions to burn infidels of some kind… it ran for like 20 minutes or more, IIRC.

    could probably still find it out there.

    It’s been over 20 years since I last attempted to read an english translation of it. I remember being impressed with the prose in places, but like yourself, found myself completely baffled more often than not.

    er, not that you asked me or anything.

    just sayin.

  157. #157 Norman Doering
    June 12, 2007

    Jaycubed wrote:

    What I found most fascinating was its insistence on the existence of the Djinn.

    Yes! You have read it.

    I actually found a lot of that disturbing and creepy. A Muslim could blame any counter-evidence to the Koran on a Djinn — same way fundy Christians can blame UFOs and evolution on Satan’s trickery. No counter evidence is possible.

    Weird poetic description of them — their essence is smokeless fire and all.

  158. #158 Champ
    June 12, 2007

    Athe-idiots.

  159. #159 Fred Laird
    June 12, 2007

    From goo, through the zoo, to you.

  160. #160 rich (richmanwisco)
    June 12, 2007

    I merely parrot was dozens of others have already said. Profound stuff. Brilliantly written.

  161. #161 Ichthyic
    June 12, 2007

    Weird poetic description of them — their essence is smokeless fire and all.

    on the bright side, it lead to entire classes of DnD npcs.

    fire efreet, anyone?

  162. #162 Jaycubed
    June 12, 2007

    Thank you for answering that. What was your impression of the Koran? Did it seem like a sane book?

    “aside from the fact that it sometimes seemed like an arson manual?
    so many infidels to burn, so little time.”
    Posted by: Ichthyic

    The bible sounds like a stoning manual by that criteria.

  163. #163 Desert Donkey
    June 12, 2007

    Word!

  164. #164 Baratos
    June 12, 2007

    From goo, through the zoo, to you.

    Judging from the post above yours:

    Athe-idiots.

    Many people gave up at goo.

  165. #165 Ichthyic
    June 12, 2007

    The bible sounds like a stoning manual by that criteria

    what’s that you say?

    the bible sounds like an instruction manual on how to get stoned?

    groovy.

    I gotta read that thing again, man. Wait, let me get my bong…

  166. #166 Scott Hatfield, OM
    June 12, 2007

    Re: #143

    (enraptured by fantasy) Ah…Kristine, mistress of shimmies, wearing some sort of headdress. I wonder what sort?

    Surely not, as some might suggest, black, with a wide brim, and a long pointy crown? Maybe it’s just me, but I just can’t see the Margaret Hamilton look working for you.

    On the other hand, I’m no fashionista. As you may have noticed, the main use I find these days for headgear is to mask the shiny spot….:)

  167. #167 Blake Stacey, OM
    June 12, 2007

    The bible sounds like a stoning manual by that criteria.

    Now wait just a minute. Nobody, nobody is going to stone anybody until I blow this whistle! Even if — and I want to make this absolutely clear — even if they do say “Jehovah!”

  168. #168 Kristine
    June 12, 2007

    You know what, Norman – aside from the fact that your mother is calling you – I’m not an expert, nor do I claim to be. I do claim to be someone who does more than just read the Koran on her own, which I don’t think is enough for comprehension. But I am someone who’s read the Koran, I am learning Arabic, I am someone who’s participated in a lot of discussions with Muslims, Jews, and Christians regarding it in the context of American society, and I think these exchanges did a lot and these people gave their opinions of me and my ideas. They were not insulting, as you have been here. If you want to call me “dishonest” or castigate me for showing honest curiosity and engaging in ongoing learning and interfaith dialogue, that’s totally cool. You’re just being a pain, but that’s all right. I get criticism about nothing, like yours, a lot. Everyone is entitled to his opinion. But just because I’m interested in human beings does not I’m interested in every single human being, get me? That goes for you, and for Reza Aslan, who drives me nuts. (A “Chris Hedges version of a Muslim”? Come on. No, I don’t know what you mean. No, I don’t care.)

    Did it seem like a sane book?
    I’m not sure why you want my dishonest opinion, but not entirely. One-fifth of it is utterly incomprehensible. Frankly, for beauty of language and metaphor, it doesn’t compare to the Bible, and also it’s written in the puritanical first-person. It’s a banal how-to book (though I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s an infidel-killing instruction manual – perhaps a permission slip). Actually, it was more boring than I expected it to be. I first read it when I was fourteen.

    Happy? Feel free to dissect my answer to hell. I’ll try to remember to ask Farheen or Samir if they’re “Chris Hedges Muslims,” but I have a life. Bye now.

  169. #169 Azkyroth
    June 13, 2007
    Speaking an unwanted truth to power can be destructive to the speaker.

    If you object to this statement being compared to blaming women who wear short skirts for instances of rape, I suggest you rephrase it so it doesn’t implicitly place the responsibility for an evil act off of the one committing it.
    Posted by: Azkyroth

    This is similiar to the old question, “So, have you stopped beating your wife yet?”

    What an offensive characterization. My statement says absolutely nothing about reponsibility. That is a projection on your part of a desire to place blame.

    My statement says as much about blame as yours. It does point out that your phrasing is likely to be interpreted as blame. Perhaps I was overly succinct, based on assumptions derived from what was clear to me?

  170. #170 Crudely Wrott
    June 13, 2007

    WAY to many comments to read and digest, so here’s cutting to the chase.

    PZ, you said, “What Fish ignores is that these are entirely human sufferings, human strivings, human efforts to find meaning. He, like so many other apologists for religion, glosses over the origin of these fears and aspirations in our existence, and tries to justify it all in the terms of his imaginary deity.” (And how. Boy howdy! What else is new and vexing, Mr. Fish? )

    You have waxed eloquent, Professor Myers, and have reaffirmed the dignity, the uniqueness, the deep-down goodness of being an individual human being contemplating this vast anonymous business of trying humanity on like a suit, to see how it fits, and deciding how we should act while wearing it; that is, simply being human, as is our want. Thank you, very much.

    Endlessly we are counseled to relegate pure, human experience and discovery and delight to some nether region of improbability. We are encouraged, by the “faithful” (with faith in what?) to mortgage our humanity for the promise of pie in the sky. I got sick of that long ago. Sick, I tell you.

    We value the felinity of cats, the caninity of dogs, the equininity of horses (the squidginess of squids?) and celebrate, even wager, on these relative values. What about the humanity of humans, eh? (A jillion more examples are stomping about impatiently in the wings.)

    Some entertain the notion that because people can do poorly, and occasionally do so vigorously, that anything done humanly is contaminated and suspect.

    Pffwaaw! Malarky! Humbug! What quaking demi-fear fitfully stirs in the fetid warrens of ignorance that belabors us all? From Invisible Supernatural Spooks comes the answer: “We Are Evil! Incapable of doing good. Oh, the embarrassment! Yield, ye and confess!”

    This is patently not true. I know it, some others know it and you know it. Even so, man, it’s nice to hear such a forceful and concise declaration of humanity’s value.

    Fair winds ta ye, matey. Aaaarrrrrhhh!

  171. #171 Jaycubed
    June 13, 2007

    Speaking an unwanted truth to power can be destructive to the speaker.

    “If you object to this statement being compared to blaming women who wear short skirts for instances of rape, I suggest you rephrase it so it doesn’t implicitly place the responsibility for an evil act off of the one committing it.”
    Posted by: Azkyroth

    This is similiar to the old question, “So, have you stopped beating your wife yet?”
    What an offensive characterization. My statement says absolutely nothing about reponsibility. That is a projection on your part of a desire to place blame.

    “My statement says as much about blame as yours. It does point out that your phrasing is likely to be interpreted as blame. Perhaps I was overly succinct, based on assumptions derived from what was clear to me?”
    Posted by: Azkyroth
    .

    My initial statement is an observation that I assert has a basis in reality: I believe it is true . I contend that it can be dangerous and therefore “destructive to the speaker” to “(speak) an unwanted truth to power”.

    Your response was not directed towards my comments’ veracity. You did not debate the statement. You did not engage in discourse or disagree with my statement.

    instead, you implied by your statement that I would “blam(e) women who wear short skirts for instances of rape” by your assumption that I “implicitly place the responsibility for an evil act off of the one committing it”. Neither of these statements are true. You are attempting to build a straw man.

    Your clear intent is expressed in the challenge that opens your response, “If you object to this”, and the demand that follows, “I suggest you rephrase it”. Hence my observation that your statement is “an offensive characterization” similiar to “So, have you stopped beating your wife yet?”

    You projections are apparent by your comment, “assumptions derived from what was clear to me”. Your emphasis on blame is seen in your three comments on “blaming women for”, “as much about blame” and “likely to be interpreted as blame”. My one comment re. blame was to point out my observation that “a desire to place blame” seems to be your motivation. I believe the evidence supports my observation.

    As for being “overly succinct”, your statement is the opposite of succinctness. It consists mostly of irrelevance and personal projection. In no way does my statement “implicitly place the responsibility for an evil act” anywhere, except in your mind.

    My phrasing is succinct, “marked by compact precise expression without wasted words”. I do not believe my “phrasing is likely to be interpreted as blame” by a neutral reader.

  172. #172 ffakr
    June 13, 2007

    Stanley Fish’s last job, that I’m aware of, was the head of LAS at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I used to work there and I’ve got a buddy in LAS Admin. I’ve never met anyone at UIC that didn’t think Stanley Fish was an emormous dick of almost comical proportions.

    Stan got the job because he had a reputation for attracting top notch professors. That’s fine, but Stan caused a big bru-ha-ha in Chicago for his incredibly extravagant courting behavior. There were Stretch Limos, top notch hotel suites, care free nights out on the town. he very literally (not a pun in his case) treated professors like Rock Stars.. on the State’s dime.

    As an academic, it’s my understanding that Stan’s claim to fame was some interpretation of Dante’s Inferno. I’m not aware of any other academic fame but Literature is not my area of expertise.

    One more bit.. this is absolutely true because it happened to a long time friend that I’d trust with my life.
    That friend had to discuss some issues with Stanley. The scene is Stan, Stan’s assistant, and my friend (who isn’t a big wig but he is in a position of some import and certainly much expertise). They are standing in a relatively small hallway, just the three of them. Stanley would speak to his assistant who would then convey the the message to my friend. My friend would then have to reply to the assistant who would relay it the next foot to Stan. This went back and forth for the entire conversation.
    I’m not kidding, I’m not making this up.

    Stanley Fish is Comical in his detestability.

  173. #173 PZ fanboy #1
    June 13, 2007

    PZ et al. The words you quote seem fairly banal to me, as does your essay which is very threadbare indeed. I much prefer to read Kant, Plato or Hume than ancient and rather poor poetry. And what’s with the free will being in quotes? Don’t you have free will PZ? If not then how can you claim to have freely came to your worldview? Simply by good luck old boy?

    The search for meaning is an illusion. Third rate poetry doesn’t confere meaning; neither does third rate theology.

  174. #174 Bharat
    June 13, 2007

    Its one of the most passionate and heartfelt pieces I have read on this subject. I just wish I could put my thoughts into words so beautiful and powerful.

  175. #175 Jaycubed
    June 13, 2007

    “The words you quote seem fairly banal to me.
    “I much prefer to read Kant, Plato or Hume than ancient and rather poor poetry.
    The search for meaning is an illusion. Third rate poetry doesn’t confere meaning; neither does third rate theology.”
    Posted by: PZ fanboy #1

    Hume, OK, despite a turgid style.

    But Plato & Kant are fine examples of masturbating monkies dispensing third rate nonsense philosophy. Pretending to knowledge concerning nonsense strikes me as a threadbare activity. Plato would also qualify as banal and insipid.

    I’ll take the poetry of Gilgamesh, Diogenes or Chuang Tzu over them any day.

  176. #176 Norman Doering
    June 13, 2007

    Kristine wrote:

    They were not insulting, as you have been here.

    Sorry about that, but you don’t actually seem to grasp the entire insult or understand why I did it. I wasn’t trying to make you so extremely defensive. In part it was an inside joke at your expense. That’s my fault, I was not fully clear. You would have to know what I know about Stanley Fish, Chris Hedges and Reza Aslan. Stanley Fish PZ has explained above, but to know what I’m getting at about Chris Hedges and Reza Aslan you would have had to have been reading Richard Dawkins’ site for the past month or so and then followed links to their debates with Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. I expect there are a couple people here who have done that. My comments were really for them.

    The thing about Chris Hedges and Reza Aslan is that they can be full of the most incredible bullshit, like Stanley Fish being the blind man PZ says he was. Both Chris Hedges and Reza Aslan have a lot of cred, they both speak Arabic, they’ve got degrees in theology and they’re smart guys who sometimes have worthwhile things to say. Yet they made statements in their debates that defied the obvious which most non-experts could see. For example, as I noted above in my first post on this thread, comment #56, Hedges during his debate with Hitchens said things like: “biblical literalists do not exist” and “Jesus never talks about starting a church.” Hedges can defend his claims but only by twisting his definitions of “literalist” and “church” beyond what Sam Harris meant.

    When I hear things like that it’s a WTF moment when their credibility is shattered until they can explain why they are contradicting things I think I know.

    Reza Aslan did something similar, insisting that Islam was currently going through a liberal, democratic reform while democracy seemed to be failing in Iraq and Afganistan and there were all sorts of news stories of women reformers and apostates being killed and Islam in the Middle-East seemed to be going in exactly the opposite direction than Reza claimed. Reza Aslan can actually make a half-way decent argument for his position, but I don’t find it convincing. And it’s still a WTF moment to hear such a claim come out of the blue without any justification.

    Same with some of your statements, like this in your comment #95: “Muslims are not to ask each other about or pass judgement on anyone’s beliefs or relationship (or lack thereof) with Allah.” That’s a WTF to me, it defies what some Muslims are doing and it defies passages in the Koran like “Oh True believers, wage war against such of the infidels as are near you,” and “When ye encounter the unbelievers, strike off their heads until ye have made a great slaughter among them.” You then say “Osama bin Laden knows crap about his own religion.”

    That sounded to me like something Reza Aslan could say. When you say things like that you shouldn’t leave them hanging. You need to justify them and explain why you think you know more about Islam than Osama bin Laden. Saying it your way sure sounds like you’re setting yourself up as an expert. Why would I get any other impression?

    Besides, when it comes to experts on religion, they seem to be the biggest of liars.

    If you want to call me “dishonest” or castigate me for showing honest curiosity and engaging in ongoing learning and interfaith dialogue, that’s totally cool.

    I didn’t call you dishonest and it’s not curiosity I castigate you for. I gave you an either/or option. Either you were twisting my words or you didn’t comprehend them. This is what I said: “Your reading comprehension is either off or dishonest.” I’d go with poor comprehension now since you don’t seem to get the point of the comparison to Hedges or Aslan.

    What I castigated you for was making unjustified statements and expecting us to just accept them.

    Actually, it was more boring than I expected it to be. I first read it when I was fourteen.

    Happy?

    Yes. Without your impression of the Koran I wouldn’t know where you were coming from.

  177. #177 csrster
    June 13, 2007

    I recommend Hitchens’ “God is not Great” from yesterday’s “Digested Read” in the Guardian:

    “The purpose of this book is not to prove God does not exist; it is to prove I am cleverer than Richard Dawkins.”

    hilarious stuff

  178. #178 csrster
    June 13, 2007
  179. #179 Arnosium Upinarum
    June 13, 2007

    Bravo, PZ! Magnificently expressed.

    PZ says, :”The rest of the story is a quest, as Gilgamesh tries to find a way to bring his friend back from the dead, or win immortality for himself. There are deities and monsters involved, some interesting mythical figures, trips to the underworld, etc.–all quite thrilling stuff, as long as you are willing to recognize that it’s all poetry and allegory and storytelling.”

    Beautifully stated and absolutely correct. It’s a mind-trip, a journey within the imagination. These are generally referred to as “fantasy”. As the Bible is. As all religious texts are. Long and elaborate art there. We can all be proud of our collective heritage that has generated such a vast reservoir of “emotional truth”! None of it is monopolized by any religious group (although many try): by default of being merely, simply, HUMAN, all of it belongs to all of us and all can share in the fruits.

    Seeing mythological and religious literature for what it is is an emancipation from the tyranny of literalism. (It is by far the most common and grievous intellectual trap that humanity is infested by; the depiction is NOT the thing in itself: Picasso, for example, when someone showed him a photograph of his wife, declared, “She’s very small.”). Its a liberation which bestows a boundless appreciation of the marvels of ART and CRAFT in the diversity of expression of the human imagination OUTSIDE of the context of the internal content. It is a freedom within our imaginations to finally understand that good fantasy requires no validation of any kind.

    Human dreams can be as weird and make as many strange associations as we like, and human art has long benefited from it. We’re good at comparing apples and oranges. Hell, we’re good at comparing, say, polecats to the Fibonacci Series.

    Anything goes. Art is rich in meaning precisely because we cannot help but seek comparisons between ridiculously dissonant components. Art works at all because we entertain the ridiculous. But “truth” in art is a subjective nebulosity that is best gauged by its effectiveness in the communication of like human feelings and emotions. It simply is NOT like “truth” in science.

    The trouble comes in when we think that the output requires something like a scientific validation. That’s when the stupidity comes in.

    The moment anybody attempts to claim an empirical certification for their favorite fantasy, they fail miserably. Not only do they fail, but they cannot even admit it, nor can they understand why they cannot admit it. They dwell so deeply in their fantasy that it has quite literally become all the “truth” they have to cling to: Every time a proposal of proof from them is shot down, they hunker back into the cozy trenches of The Book to seek comfort and solace.

    When challenged on their fantasy (aka “belief”), they feel it requires validation from reality, from nature. Some, knowing how spectacularly successful science has been in advancing our understanding of the real world, endeavor to manufacture their own “evidence”, especially whenever existing scientific evidence does not support their fantasy. Any scientific evidence that contradicts their favorite fantasy must therefore be addressed in likewise fashion: so they concoct all manner of pseudo-scientific posturings in an effort to demonstrate the truth of their fantasies. (To be sure, they do not think them fantasies, but thats precisely what they are: preconceived by themselves or ancient tradition, they verily are fantasies).

    Where does this overwhelming desire to demonstrate the “truth” of their favorite fantasy come from? (DOUBT). If their own deity cannot take care of that pesky little detail, why would they be moved to bother about proving it? (DOUBT). WHY can’t they trust God, as they frequently claim they do? (DOUBT). On what grounds could they possibly care whether anybody else who is a heathen non-believing atheistic scoundrel doesn’t agree with their belief in a fantasy? (DOUBT). WHY aren’t they content with their avowed belief, that they are graced with salvation? (DOUBT). Why can’t they leave well enough alone and let others develop their own world views? (DOUBT).

    What’s the ultimate motivation driving them? (AH…and now for something completely different)…

    In a word: “kids”. More generally, in the context of animal territoriality. WE ARE ANIMALS. They do not like that idea at all, but that’s always been the most important glue that holds social groups of animals together (a profuse demonstration of our deep evolutionary kinship with the rest of the biological world), and it has held cultures and cults and any other type of human congregation together throughout human history. Sociologically and biologically, its strength is matchless.

    Its so strong, in fact, that it can and frequently does elicit feelings of doubt: no parent who is sane (just for the sake of argument) would ever adhere to a mere fantasy if the welfare of their chidren were threatened in the slightest because of such an adherence.

    These people have children too, and all these parents wish to preserve their fantasy traditions in their offspring. They naturally equate their tradition with proper parenthood. Yet there is nothing more irrational and therefore dangerous than a parent when it comes to the perceived well-being of their child, especially in the face of equally-perceived threats. Make no mistake, this is an ubiquitous ANIMAL thing; human animals are certainly not exempt, just because they have freakishly big brains that are disquietingly vulnerable to delusion. That’s precisely what makes the human animal potentially the most dangerous beast the world has ever seen.

    They’ll do anything to “protect” their own. It rapidly becomes an “us” versus “them” thing. They will even dump what they call their “God-given” intelligence in order to preserve their family’s fantasy tradition…hence their ironic appeal to nature for vindication. Their concept of “god” remains uncomfortably silent on the matter, and so they will continue to ramp up the rhetoric…and far FAR worse.

    Of course, atheists have children too. They are equally territorial. THEY don’t want anybody to fill their kid’s heads with nonsense fantasies that don’t coincide with their anti-supernatural “traditions” which spawns irrational thinking either. But if they wish to persuade the religionists of their legitimate right to reject religion and observe a worldview uncontaminated by supernatural fantasies, the only way to do so is to appeal to what remains common between us: our kids. They are frightened just like we are. Let’s HELP them understand, not fan the flames. Let’s SHOW them we know those concepts of brotherhood and love BETTER than they do.

    It won’t happen overnight. But if you’ve ever carefully watched a herd of sheep, you’ll know that the group never moves unless an individual strikes out differently.Targeting the fundy leaders is proper. Belittling the entire herd is assinine stupid.

    Hell, if fundy leader dogs like Falwell and Robertson can shove the herd around, we should be so much better at it. As long as we respect the sheep, they can be moved and in due time educated and weaned from their reliance on those malevolent middlemen that act as agents between them and their god.

    Let’s show them the way. Let’s HELP them understand. Yeah, its hard. So what isn’t that’s crucially worthwhile?

  180. #180 robin andrea
    June 13, 2007

    Well done, PZ. I started to read Fish’s screed the other day, but it was early in the morning, and I didn’t want to be annoyed for the rest of the day. Thanks for reading it all the way through, and responding so sanely and eloquently.

  181. #181 stogoe
    June 13, 2007

    Jaycubed: The subtext of “Speaking an unwanted truth to power can be destructive to the speaker” could be easily interpreted as “So you’re to blame for what the mob does to you, freaks”.

    Norman: I have to say your first post (responding to Kristine) came off to me as a little “OMGWTF those scary muzzlems is gonna bomben us’ns!” which put me in opposition to whatever points you were trying to make, simply because you smelled like a nutty fearmonger.

  182. #182 John Phillips
    June 13, 2007

    I usually only lurk and simply enjoy the articles and resulting comments. However, after reading this I felt I had to express my thanks for putting into words so beautifully what many of us obviously feel and share about life.

    I only wish I could express myself with a fraction of your eloquence and that your final words “We stand awed at the heights our people have achieved. No gods, no religion. Us.” would become all the motivation anyone would need to live their life to the full.

  183. #183 Andy Diamos
    June 13, 2007

    I’m a transfer to this site from richarddawkins.net, so usually I end up posting on that site instead of this one. This article, however, was so magnificent that I felt I should post here praising it.

    I think deep down, the doubt in the mind of the religious person, when confronted with atheism, is either a wariness that any other person who does not profess their faith would be unable to account for and deal with human troubles, or a wariness that, should they listen for a moment to the other side, they would lose their ability to do so. Not whether or not religion is true, whether or not there are inconsistencies or falsehoods in the Bible, or in their beliefs, etc, I’ve often felt that THIS issue is at the base of religious rejection to atheism/agnosticism/others.

    And, PZ Myers just eloquently obliterated it. It is humans who suffer, who have loss, who grieve, and who find happiness, and religion is not necessary for any such empathy or emotion. Excellent article!

  184. #184 Jaycubed
    June 13, 2007

    “Jaycubed: The subtext of ‘Speaking an unwanted truth to power can be destructive to the speaker’ could be easily interpreted as ‘So you’re to blame for what the mob does to you, freaks’.”
    Posted by: stogoe

    Any “subtext” is created by the you the reader. There is no metaphor involved, merely a simple observation.

    The desire to “blame” remains the common theme among those who seek some hidden meaning in my simple observation.

    No denial of or evidence against my observation has been presented, only projections by those who seek to assign “blame”.

  185. #185 frog
    June 13, 2007
    frog wrote:

    it doesn’t depend on “interpreting” the books in question. It depends a full historical knowledge of the sect, and what those books have meant over the centuries to the succeeding sects. You know, literary analysis, historical analysis, archeological analysis. You have to follow the logic, the systems of thought. Islam has a shape, just like Christianity does.

    and Norman said:
    I think that proves it. frog is listening to the Stanley Fish and Chris Hedges versions of Islam.

    That proves it. Atheism is no guarantee of a semblance of intelligence. Of course, understanding a culture and religion depends on everything, on understanding their literary history, their philosophy, even their architecture. Even if you disagree completely with the culture and find it barbaric, there is no shortcut but to understand your opponents, if you actually want to understand them, and not just childishly dismiss them.

    You can’t just read the bible and think you know Christianity, any more than you can grab a book of poetry today and think that you understand contemporary culture. If you think you can, you are applying the same asinine fundamentalist fallacy that believes that any text is self evident – only idiots think that texts are self-evident and context free.

    Read Gilgamesh and see how much sense it makes without at least a passing acquaintance with Semitic culture of 7k-2k BC.

    And Norman, if you had actually read my posts, you would have found that I thought Fish’s statements to be plain idiocy, lacking in any understanding of his own texts. But of course, that would require some meaningful literacy, and not simply the functional literacy of a semi-retarded teenager.

  186. #186 frog
    June 13, 2007

    Oh, and I dropped: with the arrogance of a fundamentalist preacher. Norman, really, you might fit better in at your local Baptist church.

  187. #187 Norman Doering
    June 13, 2007

    stogoe wrote:

    Norman: I have to say your first post (responding to Kristine) came off to me as a little “OMGWTF those scary muzzlems is gonna bomben us’ns!” which put me in opposition to whatever points you were trying to make, simply because you smelled like a nutty fearmonger.

    I guess that’s because I said: “So how is it they kill apostates, Christians and vocal atheists in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia? Where did Sharia come from?”

    Is that why?

    Okay, first it’s just true, there have been news stories coming out of Arabia, Pakistan and Iran about apostates, Christians and atheists being killed, as well as gays and adulterers. It is part of most Sharia and that part of Sharia does contradict Kristine’s claim about “real” Islam not bothering about other people’s beliefs. She’s ultimately saying that Sharia isn’t Islamic which puts her in conflict with a shit load of Muslim scholars in the Middle-East.

    My mistake there is that this fact isn’t put in proper context. While such killings do happen they’re very rare and far more tolerance happens, especially in places like Dubai.

    Another way to give it some context — if atheists were the same kind of majority as Muslims in the Middle-East, how would we not be talking about putting religious people in mental institutions? How tolerant would we be? What would our arguments be?

  188. #188 Jaycubed
    June 13, 2007

    “Another way to give it some context — if atheists were the same kind of majority as Muslims in the Middle-East, how would we not be talking about putting religious people in mental institutions? How tolerant would we be? What would our arguments be?”
    Posted by: Norman Doering

    A rather garbled set of questions, but let’s try to answer them one by one:

    “how would we not be talking about putting religious people in mental institutions”

    Why would we be talking about it? Your question assumes that atheists would naturally desire to lock up those who believe differently than they do and would require a reason (how would we not?) to not act that way. I think this as a fallacy. True Believers want to control the beliefs of others because they have what they view as an unbendable standard of Belief. I am not aware of any such standard for behavior or belief held by atheists. When dealing with children, who often have silly ideas or behaviors, you don’t just lock them up and demonstrate your superior power; you attempt to teach them, hopefully by example, better ways to deal with the world.

    “How tolerant would we be?”

    Again, the belief of an atheist doesn’t require intolerence of others, as religious texts regularly do require of True Believers. Intolerence is not built in to atheism like it is built in to most organized religions. As the ethics of an athiest are (or should be) based on testing their effects in reality, and we have a long & sorry history of the dangers & failures of intolerence, we should be much more tolerant than Believers.

    “What would our arguments be?”

    Our arguments about what?

  189. #189 Norman Doering
    June 13, 2007

    Jaycubed wrote:

    Again, the belief of an atheist doesn’t require intolerence of others, as religious texts regularly do require of True Believers. Intolerence is not built into atheism like it is built in to most organized religions. As the ethics of an athiest are (or should be) based on testing their effects in reality, and we have a long & sorry history of the dangers & failures of intolerence, we should be much more tolerant than Believers.

    Really? I think you’re being as idealistic as a liberal Christian. Intolerance doesn’t come from religion, it comes from normal human fear.

    If, as it seems to me, the root of intolerance isn’t so much the dictates of some holy book, (they only reinforce a normal fear of the stranger), but the fear we have of strangers with strange beliefs that sound threatening — then you might be surprised at how intolerant an atheist society might become, especially one that did try to control and maintain its new found dominance.

    Consider a more concrete example, Fred Phelps. Do you think Fred Phelps is a sane human being? Do you think people wouldn’t complain about him when he started getting in their faces about being gay? I think the man is potentially violent and dangerous.

    Don’t think of all the nice and tolerant Christians you know. Think of the ones that really are scary, preachers who seem to endorse killing abortion doctors, a Muslim who is begining to sound like Osama bin Laden… Then think about where exactly the line would be drawn.

    Consider the French revolution too when they were saying things like “man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the intestines of the last priest.”

  190. #190 Ichthyic
    June 13, 2007

    But Plato & Kant are fine examples of masturbating monkies dispensing third rate nonsense philosophy.

    Emannuel Kant was a real pissant, who was very rarely stable…

  191. #191 Jaycubed
    June 13, 2007

    “Intolerance doesn’t come from religion, it comes from normal human fear.”
    Posted by: Norman Doering

    Nonsense, intolerance is a learned behavior. What one is intolerant of is learned & reinforced by the society. It, unlike fear, is not innate. We learn what to fear and hate.
    .

    “then you might be surprised at how intolerant an atheist society might become, especially one that did try to control and maintain its new found dominance.”

    How anti-democratic and presumptious. I am not interested in establishing “dominance”.
    .

    “Consider a more concrete example, Fred Phelps. Do you think Fred Phelps is a sane human being? Do you think people wouldn’t complain about him when he started getting in their faces about being gay? I think the man is potentially violent and dangerous.”

    Yes, I think that Fred Phelps is sane. That doesn’t mean I think his ideas & statements are sane. I believe it is his intent to provoke violence & controversy. I think he is essentially a coward and tries to prove he is not by his provocative statements & appearances. You might note that he always informs the police in advance so he will be protected. I do not think he is in any way dangerous, although he would like you to believe that, and in your case he has won.
    .

    “Consider the French revolution too when they were saying things like ‘man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the intestines of the last priest’.”

    Sounds like a True Believer to me. It doesn’t matter what True Belief you have, it is the holding of Unshakable Faith in anything that leads to that sort of madness. The French Revolution was Religious in nature. The Cultural Revolution was Religious in nature.
    .

    “Then think about where exactly the line would be drawn.”

    I am not interested in drawing lines. If you are, rest assured that I will step over it.

  192. #192 tony
    June 13, 2007

    re: 187
    Norman Doering said Consider the French revolution too when they were saying things like “man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the intestines of the last priest.

    And we’re still waiting. Last I saw there were still a shit-load of kings, and a bigger shit-load of priests and pastors

    Enough to make each and every king, prince or lord a new and unique intestinal necktie for every day of the next hundred years

    (Just a question — does this include princesses? If so does it also include JAPs? Some of them are quite cute – despite the annoying characteristics)

  193. #193 stogoe
    June 13, 2007

    That’s a copout. It’s like saying “Those fucking feminazis need to go make me a pie” and then denying that those words can be read as misogynistic.

  194. #194 frog
    June 13, 2007

    Jaycubed: We need to distinguish between varieties of atheism. Atheism per se simply is a lack of belief in God or Gods. There can exist atheisms that have True Beliefs outside the realm of the Gods – and they are equally dangerous (see Communists and Libertarians).

    A reasonable morality comes out of a scientific atheism, one rooted in open investigation which will lead ultimately to moralities that are at least not in contravention of reality. But non-scientific atheism are as free as theisms to develop moralities that are completely untied to human reality, to our pain and joys and our biological nature, that are at base authoritarian.

  195. #195 grendelkhan
    June 13, 2007

    Immanuel Kant was a real pissant, who was very rarely stable…

    Heidegger, Heidegger, was a boozy beggar who could drink you under the table!

    I kid, I kid.

    I take my inspiration where I can find it. There’s a bit in one of the early volumes of Preacher, a thought experiment, wondering what would happen if another good yarn was taken for theology instead of for what it was. It was sad, and inspiring, and all about the creation outgrowing the creator, once you got past the author’s desire to fit as much shock value into the story as he could.

    It’s like jms says.

    People will then look back at the whole story, through all these long years, and say, “It was a good story.” And close the cover, and put it on the shelf with the other books that will be reread again down the years, and turn off the lights, and go to bed feeling that the time was well spent. Which is the most any writer can ever ask for. To tell a tale worth telling. To make people cry. To make people laugh. And even, once in a while, make them think about things, and see the world just a little differently than when they began. And then they can centerpunch me on the freeway, or throw a plane at me, and I won’t even mind. Because everything I set out to prove, I proved. Everything I set out to say, I said.

    It gets me something fierce when I see claims that the godless want to destroy the bible. It’s a story; stories are for keeping.

  196. #196 arachnophilia
    June 13, 2007

    i think your post is spot-on, pz, but it fails to emphasize a point i think it perhaps the most important. it is not the atheists that are damaging the bible with a simplistic understanding. it is the christians.

    having discussed religion and the bible with many, many fundamentalist christians over the web, i have found that by and large, most simply haven’t even read the bible. and even those that have view it was one vast volumne of text, a singular book so long that they fail to have any comprehensive understanding of it. they look at it as a source to quote-mine, or bend to prove their points, not as what it is.

    maybe i wouldn’t use “hodge-podge,” but that’s along the right track. it’s a library, and some of the works contained therein are anthologies. and at least one is editted together from two sources, and rearranged. but it’s a very large collection of works that span the gamut of human emotion and expression, and there are some very powerful texts in their. and what makes it important is all of the different human voices it contains. your “atheist” analysis of the text as human, and the analysis of every other educated atheist, is a fairly good representation of the text.

    but the fundamentalist seeks to deprive the text of that, make it all one voice, by one author of divine monotony. it’s like taking a gourmet seven course meal, and running through a blender so you can drink it through a straw. all you get is puke.

  197. #197 tony
    June 13, 2007

    frog

    I don’t disagree but I don’t think that was Jaycubed point in his response to normal goering. (oops sorry – norman doering)

    doering conflated the idea of atheism with dictatorialism and dominance.

    Jaycubed merely corrected him, and said that is not a reasonable or even plausible correlation.

    Suggesting that being athiest somehow ‘predisposes’ one to dominance, communinism, or authoritarianism is bullshit, and you are being mightily stupid to even suggest such a thing.

    Being HUMAN predisposes us to bullshit – if our environment rewards such behaviors

    Being HUMAN predisposes us to authoritarianism – if our environment rewards such behaviors

    Being HUMAN predisposes us to random acts of kindness – if our environment rewards such behaviors

    Please don’t use such invalid strawmen – they simply give unwarrented ammunition to the creobots and spammers, and validate their idea that atheism is a religion and is therefore subject to schism. It’s not!

  198. #198 arachnophilia
    June 13, 2007

    oh, and your use of the word “philistine” may be appropriate beyond your obvious reference.

    the word entered our colloquial vocabulary throug the bible, where the philistines were the enemies of the israelites, and generally maligned in various ways. uncultured and barbaric, etc. the truth of the matter, of course, is that they were more advanced than the israelites in a number of ways, which archaeology has since told us. really, if we look for it, the bible is a very, very culturally biased text, slinging the 6th century bce equivalent of racial slurs left and right. written mostly around the exile, the old testament often seeks to maintain national and cultural identity through the abuse of “the other.”

    in this case, as in every other case in the bible, it is one religion that is a danger to another religion — atheism plays no part, because it was almost unheard of during that time. and it’s difficult to say which religion is actually posing the danger, as the bigger and more dominant ones often convinve people about the dangers of the smaller.

    the modern equivalent, still a subject of debate, is the israeli/palestinian conflict, though this might be less religious. but not coincidentally, “philistine” and “palestinian” are the same word in hebrew.

    i don’t think religion itself is dangerous, however. i think religion is a tool that is often used by dangerous people. it happens to be one of the better ways for dangerous people to convince others to kill for them. but it does, so often, seem to be religious group against religious group.

  199. #199 Jaycubed
    June 13, 2007

    “Jaycubed: The subtext of ‘Speaking an unwanted truth to power can be destructive to the speaker’ could be easily interpreted as ‘So you’re to blame for what the mob does to you, freaks’.”
    Posted by: stogoe

    Any “subtext” is created by the you the reader. There is no metaphor involved, merely a simple observation.

    The desire to “blame” remains the common theme among those who seek some hidden meaning in my simple observation.

    No denial of or evidence against my observation has been presented, only projections by those who seek to assign “blame”.
    Posted by: Jaycubed

    “That’s a copout. It’s like saying “Those fucking feminazis need to go make me a pie” and then denying that those words can be read as misogynistic.”
    Posted by: stogoe
    .

    Do you even bother to read what you write? In what way is what I wrote anything like what you wrote?

    What I wrote: “Speaking an unwanted truth to power can be destructive to the speaker”

    What you wrote: “Those fucking feminazis need to go make me a pie”

    There is no subtext in either statement; they are both concise statements. The meaning of each is simple. Any subtext you might add to either statement is your own fantasy.

    And YET AGAIN, there is no rebuttal of my statement, no evidence that my comment might be untrue. Just the projections of your anger that the world doesn’t work the way you wish it would.

    It is your desire to blame that leads you to write down the obscenities you think up.
    .

  200. #200 Jaycubed
    June 13, 2007

    “Jaycubed: We need to distinguish between varieties of atheism. Atheism per se simply is a lack of belief in God or Gods.”
    Posted by: frog

    I define atheism as the lack of belief in Fairies. Fairies can appear in many forms. Gods are only one example of Fairies. Democracy (the worship of majorities), Capitalism (the worship of uncontrolled Money), Communism (the worship of State control of Money), Fascism (the worship of the State’s Power), Stateism (the worship of the State), Socialism (the worship of the State’s goodwill), one could go on & on.

    Essentially anything that is “capitalized when spoken” is a Fairy.

    Consider the word “belief”. There are in fact two different words with the same spelling.
    There is belief, the “conviction of the truth of some statement or the reality of some being or phenomenon especially when based on examination of evidence”, as in, “I believe that the sun will appear at a specific time at a specific place on the Eastern horizon tomorrow morning.”
    There is Belief, “a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing”, as in “My Belief in God is unshakeable”.

    One should listen carefully for Fairyspeak. It is everywhere.
    .

  201. #201 Norman Doering
    June 13, 2007

    Jaycubed, I hate to interrupt your argument with frog since I tend to agree with you, but… you wrote:

    Nonsense, intolerance is a learned behavior. What one is intolerant of is learned & reinforced by the society. It, unlike fear, is not innate. We learn what to fear and hate.

    That doesn’t contradict what I said. And what I said is not nonsense, in fact you’re starting to agree and need my points in arguing with frog even though you won’t admit it.

    You had originally said:

    True Believers want to control the beliefs of others because they have what they view as an unbendable standard of Belief. I am not aware of any such standard for behavior or belief held by atheists.

    Now you say:

    What one is intolerant of is learned & reinforced by the society.

    Which means you’ve made a critical move from only blaming religion to seeing a role for society and you’re starting to admit that there is something akin to a “standard for behavior or belief held by atheists” that can be almost, at least, as intolerant as religion (which has both explicit calls for intolerance and tolerance).

    I don’t know about any “standards of belief” (whatever those are) we have that might encourage it, but I can sure point to atheists who’ve been murderously intolerant. Whatever causes it — we’re not immune.

    I pointed to the French revolution. Then I got accused of conflating the idea of atheism with dictatorialism and dominance by tony. That’s not the point — the point is that there are historical examples of atheists being murderously intolerant.

    You think you can argue that away? Devise some new philosophy that Maximilien Robespierre didn’t know about that will make us better and more tolerant than we have been?

    I’ll just say this — you haven’t made a convincing case of that to me.

    I said intolerance comes from normal fear, I didn’t say it was fear. Yes, from a certain perspective we could call intolerance a learned behavior. But you will have to learn some kind of behavior to deal with fears, some of which represent things that really needed to be dealt with and some which are phantoms and scapegoats… or Fairies?

    We can see part of the problem here in the U.S. today. Our fear is being exploited to feed a war machine and get money for security operations. Some of it is real and some isn’t.

    Phantoms, scapegoats, Fairies… all illusions, all of them thinking you know something that just ain’t so. And nothing but careful investigation and questioning to keep you from falling into the trap. As you said: “Gods are only one example of Fairies.”

    And thinking you’ve solved my questions about atheist intolerance is perhaps another Fairy.

  202. #202 frog
    June 13, 2007

    Jaycubed:

    I define atheism as the lack of belief in Fairies. Fairies can appear in many forms. Gods are only one example of Fairies. Democracy (the worship of majorities), Capitalism (the worship of uncontrolled Money), Communism (the worship of State control of Money), Fascism (the worship of the State’s Power), Stateism (the worship of the State), Socialism (the worship of the State’s goodwill), one could go on & on.

    Well, there’s a bit of over-generalization there; I assume you mean the most radical forms of all of the above and not their tactical uses – their ideological forms, rather than their use as tools for specific economic and social ends.

    You’re definition of atheism is idiosyncratic. That’s just as well, as long as you are explicit about it. The general, dictionary meaning is of course the one I was using – you will confuse those you speak with if you use a personal definition.

    Might I suggest aFairyism? It is a subset of traditional atheism, and distinguishes atheism as a general concept from your more specific meaning of aIdeologicalism, a lack of commitment to abstract ideas over the empirical (if I understand you rightly).

  203. #203 Jaycubed
    June 13, 2007

    “You’re definition of atheism is idiosyncratic.”
    Posted by: frog
    .

    Perhaps, but like the old adage of an atheist reminding a Believer that the Believer is atheistic about Thor and Cybele and Anubis etc. making the atheist just atheistic about one more god than the believer; consider me an atheist about hundreds of more gods (ie. Fairies) that you may not even be aware that you worship.

    Gods are a merely a subset of the class Fairy. I consider my definition of Fairy to be inclusive rather than idiosyncratic.

    I use atheist to refer to my lack of belief in ALL FAIRIES, whether they are called gods or political systems or economic systems or Flags or Money or Profit or Wisdom or Good or Evil or on & on. The reason for this is that people worship these concepts in the same way they worship the more limited category of gods.
    .

    Let’s examine the word “flag”. There are two general meanings, one of them is a description of a Fairy.

    flag – A piece of cloth marked with specific markings for symbolic reasons

    Flag – The symbol of My Country, Freedom, Strength, Sacrifice, a Holy Object not to be insulted or abused or defaced, Long May She Wave, and on & on…

    One object transcends its reality and becomes loaded with Meaning. That Meaning requires Worship. That Worship is the defining quality of a Fairy.
    .

    “distinguishes atheism as a general concept from your more specific meaning of aIdeologicalism, a lack of commitment to abstract ideas over the empirical (if I understand you rightly).”
    Posted by: frog
    .

    You do not understand me correctly. it is not abstract ideas vs. empirical objects that I am discussing, but Worship, reverence offered a divine being or supernatural power. I contend that people Worship Money. That they regard it as more than a medium of exchange. The use of money, as a medium of exchange, has symbolic or idealogical meaning. The Worship of Money transcends this idea. Those who Worship Money, whether we call them Capitalists or Communists, regard it as a supernatural power which they Worship in a variety of ways. Gambling is one example of such Worship. Greed is the Worship of money.
    .

    Let’s look at the concept of profit.
    There is the real world meaning of profit, to advance, to improve, to have an excess of returns over expenditures.
    Then there is the Fairy meaning of Profit, the goal of attaining more & more Money.
    .

    “Well, there’s a bit of over-generalization there; I assume you mean the most radical forms of all of the above and not their tactical uses – their ideological forms, rather than their use as tools for specific economic and social ends.”
    Posted by: frog
    .

    No, it has nothing to do with radical forms. Let’s look at an extremely loaded word, fascism.

    fascism – A political system based on the superiority of the state over the individual; where political & economic institutions are centrally controlled; often, but not necessarily, by an individual with dictatorial powers. From Latin Fasces, a bundle of rods bound by a ligature around an executioner’s ax, symbolizing the idea that the power of the state comes from its ability to use force & punish.

    Fascism – An Evil political form, a Dictatorship, Murderers & Thugs, an Ordered Society that makes the trains run on time, Our Defense against the Evil Outsiders.

    In the first, no Worship is involved, no Fairy.
    In the second, Worship is involved, whether for or against the specific Fairy.

    It must be understood that Worship can be negative. Monotheists negatively Worship Satan/Devil/Lucifer by acknowledging the existence & power of the Fairy.
    .

    Even the concept atheist can be made into a Fairy by Worshipping the idea.

    atheist – A person who doesn’t worship Fairies

    Atheist – A person who Knows the Truth about the non-existence of Fairies

  204. #204 Jaycubed
    June 13, 2007

    flag – A piece of cloth marked with specific markings for symbolic reasons

    Flag – The symbol of My Country, Freedom, Strength, Sacrifice, a Holy Object not to be insulted or abused or defaced, Long May She Wave, and on & on…

    I forgot to add under Flag: symbol of the Oppressor, the Invader, the Great Satan, an object to burn & to trample upon.

    All further Fairy interpretations of the word “flag”.

  205. #206 Azkyroth
    June 13, 2007

    My initial statement is an observation that I assert has a basis in reality: I believe it is true . I contend that it can be dangerous and therefore “destructive to the speaker” to “(speak) an unwanted truth to power”.

    Your response was not directed towards my comments’ veracity. You did not debate the statement. You did not engage in discourse or disagree with my statement.

    I don’t recall claiming to have been disputing anything other than your choice of phrasing, so I’m not sure of the relevance here.

    instead, you implied by your statement that I would “blam(e) women who wear short skirts for instances of rape” by your assumption that I “implicitly place the responsibility for an evil act off of the one committing it”. Neither of these statements are true. You are attempting to build a straw man.

    Your clear intent is expressed in the challenge that opens your response, “If you object to this”, and the demand that follows, “I suggest you rephrase it”. Hence my observation that your statement is “an offensive characterization” similiar to “So, have you stopped beating your wife yet?”

    My point was that at first glance it looks like that sort of reasoning to many people, and my choice of words was deliberate with the intent to create a similar first impression as an illustration of my point. This is what I meant by “assumptions derived from waht was clear to me” as discussed below.

    You projections are apparent by your comment, “assumptions derived from what was clear to me”. Your emphasis on blame is seen in your three comments on “blaming women for”, “as much about blame” and “likely to be interpreted as blame”. My one comment re. blame was to point out my observation that “a desire to place blame” seems to be your motivation. I believe the evidence supports my observation.

    As for being “overly succinct”, your statement is the opposite of succinctness. It consists mostly of irrelevance and personal projection. In no way does my statement “implicitly place the responsibility for an evil act” anywhere, except in your mind.

    1) You’re right that the only use of “blame” in your statement was in that context. In the preceding sentence, which I was responding to, you used “responsibility” as a synonym of “blame.” Would you argue that the “Trinity” isn’t a Christian idea because that specific word doesn’t appear in the Bible?

    2) Projection? Of what…?

    My phrasing is succinct, “marked by compact precise expression without wasted words”. I do not believe my “phrasing is likely to be interpreted as blame” by a neutral reader.

    And I contend that this belief is incorrect.

    Incidentally, PZ, mentioning being impressed with this piece may have slipped my mind x.x

  206. #207 Azkyroth
    June 13, 2007

    Any “subtext” is created by the you the reader. There is no metaphor involved, merely a simple observation.

    The desire to “blame” remains the common theme among those who seek some hidden meaning in my simple observation.

    No denial of or evidence against my observation has been presented, only projections by those who seek to assign “blame”.

    First, if I thought that was seriously how you felt, why would I be chiding you about using phrasing that lent itself to being misread as espousing that opinion, instead of the sociopathic herd-animal worldview that actually holding that opinion would imply? [obligatory ironic comments about projection and “seeking hidden meanings”]

    Second, the primary responsibility for ensuring that a message is transmitted and received accurately rests with the sender. Ask any competent communications professor on the planet.

  207. #208 Caledonian
    June 13, 2007

    Second, the primary responsibility for ensuring that a message is transmitted and received accurately rests with the sender.

    Point of order: only transmission is the responsibility of the sender – reception is the receivers’ business. A good transmitter will ask for confirmation that the signal was properly received, though.

  208. #209 Azkyroth
    June 13, 2007

    I pointed to the French revolution. Then I got accused of conflating the idea of atheism with dictatorialism and dominance by tony. That’s not the point — the point is that there are historical examples of atheists being murderously intolerant.

    You think you can argue that away? Devise some new philosophy that Maximilien Robespierre didn’t know about that will make us better and more tolerant than we have been?

    *sigh*

    Atheism is aristocratic; the idea of a great Being that watches over oppressed innocence and punishes triumphant crime is altogether popular.
    -Maximilien Robespierre

    Even if that wasn’t the case, the most that could be drawn from the conclusion is that atheists are also vulnerable to corruption if given unchecked power, something no rational person denies. I would suggest reading this essay, since, while it focuses specifically on the tiresome “Red herring” of equating Atheism with Communism, it directly addresses some of your stated conceits concerns.

  209. #210 Jaycubed
    June 13, 2007

    “Is this what you’re trying to say:
    There’s no such thing as religion. No such thing (in a religious sense) as Judaism, Christianity or Islam. No such thing as Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Mormonism, or even (the Pope notwithstanding) Roman Catholicism. To be absolutely honest, there’s no such thing as atheism either. As Sam Harris puts it, “Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make when in the presence of religious dogma.”
    None of these isms are actually about any thing. There is no “objective” way to discuss any of these isms because there is no object to discuss.”
    Posted by: Norman Doering

    Not at all. There are religions, sects & cults. They exist regardless of whether you believe in them or not. They exist regardless of whether you Believe in them or not, because some people do Believe in them and those people impact reality with their actions based on their Belief.

    They enter into the category of Fairy only for Believers. But the impact that those Believers have, due to their behavior, creates those real entities. The boundaries may be vague & flexible, but they are nevertheless real.

    Toe be specific, there is a person who is called the pope. That person with that title exists whether you believe in Roman Catholic dogma or not.

    There is a person that some people call The Pope. That Fairy, who is also a person, exists only if you Believe in Roman Catholicism.

    There is an organization called the roman catholic church. It owns property. It has history. It issues rules. It is real.

    There is an organization called the Roman Catholic Church,a Fairy which exists only to Believers. It not only has the physical attributes of the real organization, it is the Body of Christ, the Only True, Visible and Physical Church, but only to Believers.

  210. #211 Norman Doering
    June 13, 2007

    Azkyroth wrote:

    …the most that could be drawn from the conclusion is that atheists are also vulnerable to corruption if given unchecked power, something no rational person denies.

    Jaycubed wrote:

    True Believers want to control the beliefs of others because they have what they view as an unbendable standard of Belief. I am not aware of any such standard for behavior or belief held by atheists.

  211. #212 Jaycubed
    June 13, 2007

    “Second, the primary responsibility for ensuring that a message is transmitted and received accurately rests with the sender. Ask any competent communications professor on the planet.”
    Posted by: Azkyroth

    The last person I would ask about competent communications would be a Professor of Communications. In my experience they are usually terrible communicators with pedantic styles.

    I would more likely ask a poet. He would tell you that you are responsible for the words you write, but there would be no way to fully predict how those words will be understood.

    If you would like to discuss communication protocols for data transmission then you would find that there are a variety of methods for assuring 100% data transmission and that few of them put the primary responsibility on the sender. They typically operate by a variety of feedback correction methods with the receiver responsible for insuring accurate reception. Not that this has much to do with the topic at hand.

  212. #213 Jaycubed
    June 14, 2007

    “Speaking an unwanted truth to power can be destructive to the speaker.”

    The simple statement that started this interaction with you Azkyroth.

    There is absolutely nothing to do with responsibility or blame, either explicitly or implicitly in that statement.

    I accept reponsibility for the content of my statement.

    I believe that those who have been murdered and abused for speaking unwanted truth to power would agree that it can be destructive to the speaker. They have experienced destruction, “the state or fact of being destroyed or ruined.

    Your response was: “If you object to this statement being compared to blaming women who wear short skirts for instances of rape, I suggest you rephrase it so it doesn’t implicitly place the responsibility for an evil act off of the one committing it

    This explicitly states that I must change my phrasing or it would mean I do not object to “blaming women who wear short skirts for instances of rape”

    This explicitly states that I “implicitly place the responsibility for an evil act off of the one committing it”

    Accept responsibility for the explicit statements in your own communications.

    Accept responsibility for your projections in your interpretation of my statement.
    .

    To my statement, “I do not believe my “phrasing is likely to be interpreted as blame” by a neutral reader.”
    You responded, “And I contend that this belief is incorrect.

    The only other” neutral reader” who has expressed any concern about my statement was “stogoe” who compared my statement to his own example, “Those fucking feminazis need to go make me a pie” (posted by stogoe).

    If you can explain how this statement, by the only apparent supporter of your viewpoint, is similiar to mine, I would love to hear it.

  213. #214 Jaycubed
    June 14, 2007

    “Azkyroth wrote:
    …the most that could be drawn from the conclusion is that atheists are also vulnerable to corruption if given unchecked power, something no rational person denies.”

    “Jaycubed wrote:
    True Believers want to control the beliefs of others because they have what they view as an unbendable standard of Belief. I am not aware of any such standard for behavior or belief held by atheists.”

    Posted by: Norman Doering

    I see no relevance of connecting one statement with the other.

    You seem to be implying that atheists will seek out unchecked power and will inevitably be corrupted by it.

    True Believers seek out unchecked power because their dogma demands it.

    My statement notes that there are no such demands in any philosophy that could call itself atheist.

    If atheists were foolish enough to seek out unchecked power than of course they would eventually be corrupted. But by such seeking of power they would cease to be atheists. They would be Worshippers of Power.

    I would hope that atheists have learned from the experience of human insanity to not act like that. There are plenty of ways to create a society without one group having power over others. That is, after all, one of the things we are attempting to undo as atheists.

  214. #215 Norman Doering
    June 14, 2007

    Jaycubed wrote:

    I see no relevance of connecting one statement with the other.

    No. You don’t.
    That’s the problem.

    You also don’t seem to realize that the “there’s no such thing as religion” paragraph is a link to a longer essay where the first paragraph is explained.

  215. #216 Jaycubed
    June 14, 2007

    “You also don’t seem to realize that the “there’s no such thing as religion” paragraph is a link to a longer essay where the first paragraph is explained.”
    Posted by: Norman Doering

    Maybe in your world. There’s no link to anything when I click it.

    “No. You don’t.
    That’s the problem.”
    Posted by: Norman Doering

    Yet another unsupported statement, like most of your comments.

  216. #217 Norman Doering
    June 14, 2007

    Azkyroth quoted:

    Atheism is aristocratic; the idea of a great Being that watches over oppressed innocence and punishes triumphant crime is altogether popular. -Maximilien Robespierre

    Here’s a more anti-atheist quote from Robespierre:

    Armed in turn with the daggers of fanaticism and the poisons of atheism, kings have always conspired to assassinate humanity. If they are able no longer to disfigure Divinity by superstition, to associate it with their crimes, they try to banish it from the earth, so that they may reign there alone with crime.

    Robespierre was actually a deist, but he didn’t really believe in a great Being who “watches over oppressed innocence and punishes triumphant crime.” He was also a humanist who opposed the death penalty yet sent many to the guillotine. And Robespierre would have agreed with Jaycubed about “True Believers want to control the beliefs of others because they have what they view as an unbendable standard of Belief,” yet in his own way he was a true believer himself, and “atheism” was one of his scapegoats.

    As for your linked essay, Red Crimes, I have never claimed “only belief in God can provide a reason for us to treat each other with dignity.” In the end, though, your essay writer claims that “today’s non-believers are different” not like those horrible communists. He thinks that because he believes every individual must ultimately be free to chart their own course and that the decision to participate in a community must always be voluntary and in a meritocratic society his own kind will do better than those commies.

    Robespierre would have claimed similar things.

    None of that will make you immune to scapegoats and phantoms.

  217. #218 Norman Doering
    June 14, 2007

    There’s no link to anything when I click it.

    There’s not? I guess I can’t turn a whole paragraph into a link. It works on my end.

    Here’s the rest:
    http://apostate.wordpress.com/2007/05/27/religion-no-such-thing/

  218. #219 Norman Doering
    June 14, 2007

    Jaycubed wreote:

    You seem to be implying that atheists will seek out unchecked power and will inevitably be corrupted by it.

    I never singled out atheists as different than any other group. It’s human beings that will strive for power and only other human beings that will provide checks.

    True Believers seek out unchecked power because their dogma demands it.

    Some do, some don’t. Their religion isn’t necessarily relevant. But it’s only those who seek power that will attain it. And if you don’t seek it yourself, you hand it over to those who do.

    My statement notes that there are no such demands in any philosophy that could call itself atheist.

    There don’t have to be any demands in your philosophy. There just has to be fear.

    If atheists were foolish enough to seek out unchecked power than of course they would eventually be corrupted. But by such seeking of power they would cease to be atheists.

    Sounds like dogma.

    No, you would not cease to be an atheist.

    They would be Worshippers of Power.

    Power is not something you worship. It’s just a tool to get things done.

    There are plenty of ways to create a society without one group having power over others.

    No, there aren’t. There is no way to create a society that isn’t governed by the world view of those who rule and there will never be a consistent world view in society. So, there will always be powerless groups who think the rulers are wrong.

    That is, after all, one of the things we are attempting to undo as atheists.

    Not as atheists. But maybe, sort of, as humanists or secularists. However, even then the humanists and secularists are a group whose views can only be put into practice by replacing some other group, Islamists, Christianists, Scientologists, Libertarians, Democrats, Republicans… whatever variation on views you choose.

  219. #220 Russell Blackford
    June 14, 2007

    This must be one of your best pieces yet, PZ. Just thought I’d pop in to say that. Okay, back to the dissension and disputation …

  220. #221 Jaycubed
    June 14, 2007

    It’s human beings that will strive for power and only other human beings that will provide checks.
    Posted by: Norman Doering

    Not all human beings strive for power. The second part of your statement is correct.

    Power is not something you worship. It’s just a tool to get things done.

    Wrong again, Power is a Fairy that is worshipped, while power is useful as a tool to get things done, but hardly the only or most effective tool.

    But it’s only those who seek power that will attain it. And if you don’t seek it yourself, you hand it over to those who do.

    That’s from Mein Kampf I believe.

    “There are plenty of ways to create a society without one group having power over others.”
    No, there aren’t. There is no way to create a society that isn’t governed by the world view of those who rule and there will never be a consistent world view in society. So, there will always be powerless groups who think the rulers are wrong.

    Nonsense, just because you can’t imagine life without rulers doesn’t make it impossible. I can certainly both imagine it and work towards it.

    “That is, after all, one of the things we are attempting to undo as atheists.”
    Not as atheists.

    My atheism includes Rulers as a type of Fairy, so as an atheist it is certainly something I am attempting.

    However, even then the humanists and secularists are a group whose views can only be put into practice by replacing some other group, Islamists, Christianists, Scientologists, Libertarians, Democrats, Republicans… whatever variation on views you choose

    More nonsense. Just because you can’t imagine people competing & cooperating without “replacing” each other doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

    Your absolute statements, such as, “only those”, “there is no way”, “there will always be”, “can only be”, demonstrate a rigid and uncreative mind.

    But the most revealing statement is, “There just has to be fear” (to make people seek unchecked Power). Fear is what oozes from your writing. From looking at your web site there appears to be a particular fear of being ignored.

    There are many ways to deal with fear. Your only solution appears to be to strike out against and attempt to dominate what you are afraid of. There are other solutions.

    I suspect that you have been eating too many of those Nietzsche’s Will To Power candy bars. Perhaps more salads would help you feel less fearful.
    .

  221. #222 John Morales
    June 14, 2007

    I too am mightily impressed by this post.

    I concur with Jim Baerg in #60, and I suggest that there are enough such previous posts in this and the old blog that they could be collected into a book that would not compare too unfavorably with a Sagan book.*

    * Phrased to celebrate PZ having actually used the word “litotes” in a post some time ago.

  222. #223 Norman Doering
    June 14, 2007

    Jaycubed wrote:

    Power is a Fairy that is worshipped

    That depends on how you define power. Are you now going to redefine “power” the same way you redefined atheism?

  223. #224 Jaycubed
    June 14, 2007

    Since you continue to quote only half of any comment that you respond to I will only recommend you look back at the original post and read the whole thing.

  224. #225 bogi666
    June 15, 2007

    The pretend christian churchianity-religionist preachers[Biblical harlots] such as Hagee,Robertson, Haggard, Falwell, Dobson and their ilk HAVE MADE gOD IN THEIR OWN IMAGE.Their false doctrines[Biblical fornications] such as the rapture, left behind which is fiction and construed into a false doctrine[Biblical fornication]by unscrupulous preachers who insult and abuse their congregations of fools and call them and their families foul names AND THEN BEG FOR DONATIONS FROM THESE SAME FOOLS AND THEY GIVE MONEY. You’re saying that their is something askew with this? The audacity.

  225. #226 Calilasseia
    June 17, 2007

    I just found this on the Richard Dawkins site.

    Wow. Just wow.

    This is an absolutely stellar piece of writing. What a pity Stanley Fish will be too blinded by his own petty bigotries to appreciate its splendour.

  226. #227 blf
    June 19, 2007

    Concurrently with PZ’s comments is the news Vatican cardinal calls on Catholics to stop funding Amnesty:

    A senior Vatican cardinal said yesterday [c.13th June] that Catholics should stop donating to human rights group Amnesty International because of its new policy advocating abortion rights for women if they had been raped, were a victim of incest or faced health risks. …

    Stanley Fish is right in that I don’t understand this kind of “thinking”. At. All.

    – ———————–

    An aside: I’ve been trying to post some variant of this comment for a week now, and only today worked out that the problem is the word incest: Apparently, it’s banned by this and other blogs at this site. Why?

    (Obviously, it’s possible to trick the automatic censor!)

  227. #228 Janet Leslie Blumberg
    June 21, 2007

    Can’t we step back for a minute and look at this scene as a whole. I found PZ’s post very moving, also, and I too wish atheists would put their views in these terms more often, with the emotional and ethical depths of what they are feeling and thinking, and not just the relatively superficial dry “proofs” of God’s lack of existence.

    But look at the situation as a whole. We have a whole group of atheists and a whole group of religious people saying the same things about each other. We have theists who HAVE dealt with believers, whose impact on them was clearly destructive and life-destroying. And we have religious people (who do love and respect science) who feel they are being diminished and dehumanized by something destructive and life-destoying coming from the atheist side. Both sides are hurting people. People they might not hate if they knew them better!

    This is the Balkanization of our social and cultural life, folks. It is a disaster and a crisis! There is so much pain on this comment-thread that you-all are feeling that you simply pour out your gratitude to PZ for giving you another opportunity to reaffirm one another and reinforce how wrong the other side is about you. This is a symptom of an icredibly deep sense of threat. And I understand and sympathize with that, entirely.

    But unless atheists (secularists) and believers are going to wipe each other off the face of the earth in a great bloodbath, like the jihadists want, wouldn’t it be better for both sides to locate individuals on the other side who are not such terrible examples to us of everything we loath? Try to find out what their lives are like and why they hold the convictions they do? Try to learn if hopefully there might be some truth to the contention that a significant part of religion is NOT like the kind that hurt you, and foster and support that kind!

    If it’s really true you don’t want to burn the Bible or execute people for having religious faith, why not actually bring into your reckoning a third group, all the people on both sides who respect both atheists and believers, when they are thoughtful and well-intentioned from the heart, and make a common cause with them. Go to Sojourners, for instance, and read their constant efforts to work for social justice and responsible democracy even though they are progressive Evangelicals. Get acquainted with the Methodist work around the world or the Episcopal Church worldwide. It is only by joining with some such third force that you can hope to lessen this building hatred between our two entrenched and fearful and threatened camps.

    PZ, this was a beautiful post! Let it guide all of us to what human beings have in common and not just to what divides us!

    I have to say that extreme positions of denunciation (on both sides) sound much more like blind faith to my ears than like balanced and humane outlooks. If you hate the dogmatism and narrowness of religious people who have harmed you so much, don’t let yourselves be carried away by the hysteria of your own opposing dogmatism and narrow-mindedness.

    Science teaches you that there is progress and that things evolve and sort themselves out. If you are right, religion will die away naturally. Have a little patience and a little love for those whose religious faith is not so intolerant and repressive and let us die off with some peace and dignity, can’t you?

    I feel torn to pieces by this kind of orgy of denunciation and rejection. I perceive in PZ a person who can work shoulder to shoulder with me for alleviating human suffering. But what’s going on here in this website IS human suffering, and I am hearing the cries, here, of those who are in the “letting it all out” stage of suffering.

    Go on from here and move from “venting” on it to starting to really talk about it, not just with those who agree with you and who identify with you already, but with some trustworthy people who perhaps do not entirely share your point of view.

    If your atheism doesn’t mean a genuine and even self-denying and painful commitment to honesty and openness and dialectical exchange between points of view and new information and constant widening of your horizons and shifting and changing and growing, then what good is it? No faith or intellectual commitment of any kind is likely to be any good for human beings without these qualities being cultivated and supported in it. How do you distinguish between atheism as a good force, the way PZ so eloquently expresses it, and MILITANT atheism?

    By the way, all hail the epic Gilgamesh!

  228. #229 Lepht
    June 25, 2007

    …thank you PZ.

    Lepht

  229. #230 Kristine
    June 25, 2007

    Ho hum, Norman Boring is still here, talking about nothing. I gave you an either/or option. Didn’t get the memo? Bad idea to limit Amused Muse’s options. I always take the third choice, which in this case is: *Yawn*

    If you are right, religion will die away naturally.

    I don’t think religion will die away, Janet. It’s like saying “this is the war to end all wars.” I don’t think “patience” is the answer and anyway, us showing “patience” has gotten our country into the theocratic-leaning mess that it’s in right now.

  230. #231 Fishbits
    June 28, 2007

    Religion won’t disappear because there is a component for rational order… and there is a component to belief. The need to find patterns is inherent to our nature… the need to understand what surrounds us.

    When critical faculties or skepticism are not championed in a society, our ability to dissect our surroundings becomes limited, and we become mentally lazy. Our capacity for belief in lieu of understanding… and our willingess to assume… far belies our ability to be mentally patient and critical.

    In the end we are still impetuous, emotive, humans. It will take some time, but forms of belief will never disappear entirely. It isn’t human nature.

    To rise above our myopic, assumptive, tribal close mindedness…. that is the true core and beauty of what human nature can become.

  231. #232 Douglas J. Bender
    July 9, 2007

    PZ writes,

    “When the Buddhas of Bamyan were dynamited, it wasn’t an atheist who lit the fuse. These modern atheists that have stirred up so much resentment among the apologists for religion are not destroyers who seek to demolish the past or who want to advance a destructive ideology — they aren’t philistines who reject literature and art and music, and they aren’t monsters who will exterminate people to achieve their ends. We aren’t out to eradicate the world of ideas or obliterate the vestiges of our religious history in art and architecture, although we have been accused of such nefarious plans; such claims are easy to dismiss as the ravings of the delusional.”

    I respond with the following: Stalin, Lenin, Mao, the Communist atheist persecuting of religious people, and a host of other examples which might be named later. These have been the “fruit” of atheism, and on a broad and wide scale. (This is not to say that ALL atheists would condone such things, of course.) I also point out that PZ seemingly (perhaps) tries to make it appear as though ALL who are religious would “dabble” in such pleasant pursuits as:

    – reject[ing] literature and art and music

    – [trying to] exterminate people to achieve their ends

    – [attempting to] eradicate the world of ideas

    – obliterat[ing] the vestiges of our religious history in art and architecture,

    if he is attempting to contrast what “modern atheists” would NOT do with what those who are religious WOULD do or HAVE done. It is sloppy and lazy, and intellectually dishonest, to lump all adherents of a particular view with those who commit atrocities – and this is as true for Christians in their views of atheists as it is for atheists in their views of Christians and those who are religious.

    However, the PRIMARY issue Christians (particularly we “Evangelicals”) have with “modern atheists” is the clear and vocal attempts those “modern atheists” have made to silence Christianity. The vitriol which spews from what seems to be the majority in the “modern atheist” camp against Christians and Christianity reflects the degree of “tolerance” they have and would have for anything related to Christianity, should they come to achieve “power” regarding its existence. If their attitude towards Christianity and Christians was less emotional, less raving, there would be less of a reaction to their anti-Christian diatribes and posturings. “Modern atheists” seek to squelch all science, all evidence, which might undermine their religion, and at the same time seek to silence all positive talk of Christianity. PZ is a fine example of such a “modern atheist”. Such people are a danger to individual and societal freedoms.

  232. #233 Buddha
    July 23, 2007

    I just wish I could put my thoughts into words so beautiful and powerful.

  233. #234 Steve, Phoenix, AZ
    August 18, 2007

    Interesting article, but noticing the lack of any negative comments in the replies, I can only draw three possible conclusions:

    1. No Christians (or other religiously persuaded people) read your blog.

    2. If they do, they either don’t consider it worth their effort to attempt a reply, or;

    3. Their replies are deleted as, uhm, “spam” by the “benevolent overseer” of this board.

    As a Christian, I wish to take exception to your taking the writings of Paul out of context, to wit:

    “St. Paul’s lament can stand in for many: “The good that I would, I do not; but the evil which I would not, I do…. Who shall deliver me?” (Romans, 7: 19,24).”
    “St Paul’s anguish was real, but the supernatural entity to which he directed it was not. When an atheist rejects the entity, it does not mean the anguish is denied.”

    Paul was the only Apostle of Jesus who became a convert after the death and resurrection of Christ, but was perhaps the most vocal and eloquent of the Apostles, and at least the most prolific in writing– nearly half the New Testament is attributed to him. All of his writings mention and testify to the fact that he was an eye-witness to the risen Christ, and his preaching recorded in the Acts does the same.

    To say that Paul “directed his anguish” *against* God is incorrect; rather, in the very next verse, Romans 7:25, he answers his own question posed in v. 24: “I thank God through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” You say well that life is “a minefield of… difficulties, obstacles and temptations,” but it is such for everyone, not just the “limited creature in his or her efforts to become aligned (and allied) with the Infinite.” In fact, as Paul succinctly states in Romans and throughout his writings, the only way to successfully navigate the minefield is by becoming aligned (and allied) with the Infinite.

    I could be wrong; there may not be a God, and my faith and belief could be all for nought. Then again, you might be the one that is wrong, and there is a God, and a literal hell you will suffer in for eternity due to your rejection of God. The question I ask you is, can you afford to be wrong?

    I think I can.

  234. #235 Carlie
    August 18, 2007

    But Steve, those aren’t the only two choices, are they? There are thousands of versions of God, and most of them want different things from his/her/their followers. We could just as easily both be wrong, and you’re out a lot of time, money, and mental health over it.

  235. #236 Kseniya
    August 18, 2007
  236. #237 Steve_C
    August 19, 2007

    Idjit.

  237. #238 thalarctos
    August 19, 2007

    The question I ask you is, can you afford to be wrong? I think I can.

    Actually, I think you have it backwards. If it should turn out that there is a God who really is worthy of worshipping, and is truly a father, then he will understand that I used the mind that he gave me in the best way I could, and, being reasonable, he won’t hold that fact against me. A good father–as opposed to an abusive one–is happy when a child flourishes with her gifts.

    If, on the other hand, he’s as cruel and insecure as you describe him–he’ll consign you to Hell for not being sufficiently reverent–then why in the universe would you trust such a being to keep his word about what he’ll do after you die? He could send you to Hell as easily as swatting a fly, and if he’s mean enough to do that to some of his “children”, what makes you so sure *you’re* safe?

    Better to live authentically and to trust that any afterlife worth aspiring to is run on accepting you as you are.

  238. #239 Will
    November 13, 2007

    Here is Comment #30 in Total and I point it out because it seems to illustrate that on both sides of the God coin, we see only closed minds.

    “I am compelled to join in the praise: that was beautiful and incisive and true. It always amazes me when people call you “shrill” or accuse you (or us atheists in general) of lacking sensitivity or understanding. This is the sort of writing to which such people should be directed; after reading this, any further such protestations would be evidence of pathologically closed minds. Thank you for this.”

    My thoughts?
    I direct you to the last part which says “any further protestations would be evidence of pathologically closed minds” This statement itself strikes me as a bit closed-minded, suggesting as it does that anyone who doesn’t see this article as the definitive statement is wrong. It is always a bit funny (and worrisome) when atheists start to act like the fundamentalists… sure they are right and certain that the world would be a better place if everyone thought the way we do. I say, celebrate diversity in thinking. Diversity, after all, has proved to be quite valuable in biology.

  239. #240 kral oyun
    January 2, 2008

    Actually, I think you have it backwards. If it should turn out that there is a God who really is worthy of worshipping, and is truly a father, then he will understand that I used the mind that he gave me in the best way I could, and, being reasonable, he won’t hold that fact against me. A good father–as opposed to an abusive one–is happy when a child flourishes with her gifts.

    If, on the other hand, he’s as cruel and insecure as you describe him–he’ll consign you to Hell for not being sufficiently reverent–then why in the universe would you trust such a being to keep his word about what he’ll do after you die? He could send you to Hell as easily as swatting a fly, and if he’s mean enough to do that to some of his “children”, what makes you so sure *you’re* safe?

    Better to live authentically and to trust that any afterlife worth aspiring to is run on accepting you as you are.

  240. #241 Cubik's Rube
    July 13, 2008

    I’m unlurking just for a moment to say that this is wonderful. I vaguely recall studying Gilgamesh in the barest detail some years ago at school, and not appreciating a word of it at the time, but I’ll have to give it another look, now that I enjoy the benefits of a more rounded education and not being 14 years old any longer.

  241. #242 Rystefn
    July 13, 2008

    Thank you for pointing back to this. We all need to be reminded from time to time.

  242. #243 mikeg
    July 14, 2008

    thinking… thinking…thinking…… abullshitist, abullshitism, abullshit

  243. #244 paulemaule
    July 14, 2008

    [/lurk]
    I want your conclusion on my gravestone.
    “We stand awed at the heights our people have achieved. No gods, no religion. Us.”

  244. #245 Russell Blackford
    March 4, 2009

    PZ, I had occasion to come back to this and have another look at it. It’s just as good as I remembered. I hope you’ll rework it some time, just to fill in the context for people coming after the immediate debate, and republish it. This is a truly fine piece, and I’m awed at the heights you achieved. Well done, dude.

  245. #246 Stagyar zil Doggo
    March 4, 2009

    What Russell Blackford said.

New comments have been temporarily disabled. Please check back soon.