Pharyngula

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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 Blake Stacey, OM
    June 12, 2007

    One of your best, Prof. Myers.

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

    (-:

  2. #2 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.

  3. #3 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…

  4. #4 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.”

  5. #5 CalGeorge
    June 12, 2007

    Fish: It’s the poetry, stupid.

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

  6. #6 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?

  7. #7 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.

  8. #8 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.

  9. #9 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).

  10. #10 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.
    ;)

  11. #11 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. :-)

    Ehem. You forgot to forbid Wikipedia. 8-)

    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?

  12. #12 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. :-)

    Ehem. You forgot to forbid Wikipedia. 8-)

    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?

  13. #13 David Marjanovi?
    June 12, 2007

    Al Hijaab

    “The Headscarf”.

    Hadis

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

  14. #14 David Marjanovi?
    June 12, 2007

    Al Hijaab

    “The Headscarf”.

    Hadis

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

  15. #15 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.

  16. #16 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.

  17. #17 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.

  18. #18 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?

  19. #19 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.

  20. #20 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…

  21. #21 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!”

  22. #22 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.

  23. #23 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

  24. #24 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!

  25. #25 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…

  26. #26 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.

  27. #27 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.

  28. #28 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.

  29. #29 Rystefn
    July 13, 2008

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

  30. #30 mikeg
    July 14, 2008

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

  31. #31 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.”

  32. #32 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.

  33. #33 Stagyar zil Doggo
    March 4, 2009

    What Russell Blackford said.

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