Pharyngula

Another tiresome apologist

Please, please, all you critics of the “New Atheism”: get some new arguments, or at least avoid the ones that are trivially ridiculed. Damon Linker is complaining about those darned New Atheists, prompted by the criticisms of Kevin Drum of a pretentious essay by David Hart (I also wrote a criticism of Hart; I’ve also criticized the dreary Mr Linker before).

Linker seems to be offended that Hart’s superficial and poor argument was rejected; he calls the essay “powerful” — I found it ridiculous — and also claims, to my surprise, that Hart was atempting to show that Christianity was true. We must have read two different essays, because what I saw was a lot of verbiage bitterly complaining about the New Atheists, singling out Dawkins and Hitchens in particular, and not one word in support of any particular faith. The whole essay was about belittling and ridiculing atheists, nothing more…which makes it particularly ironic that Linker then turns around and expresses his irritation at all those rude, ridiculing New Atheists.

Linker’s essay focuses primarily on two issues he has with the New Atheists. They confuse truth with goodness, thinking that we’ll achieve some kind of Utopian society by simply rejecting falsehood, and in a related point, we just aren’t sad enough about the death of god. How dare we be godless and glad of it!

What’s most disappointing is Drum’s failure to grasp the culminating point of Hart’s essay, which, as I take it, is this: the statements “godlessness is true” and “godlessness is good” are distinct propositions. And yet the new atheists invariably conflate them. But a different kind of atheism is possible, legitimate, and (in Hart’s view) more admirable. Let’s call it catastrophic atheism, in tribute to its first and greatest champion, Friedrich Nietzsche, who wrote in a head-spinning passage of the Genealogy of Morals that “unconditional, honest atheism is … the awe-inspiring catastrophe of two-thousand years of training in truthfulness that finally forbids itself the lie involved in belief in God.” For the catastrophic atheist, godlessness is both true and terrible.

Let’s deal with that first point first. Linker is wrong, and he’s eliding his own rather troubling implications about religion. We are saying godlessness is true, sure enough, but we aren’t making the leap he is claiming: we’re next saying that truth is good. Truth is a neccesary but not sufficient prerequisite for goodness. We obviously cannot say that godlessness inevitably leads to an ideal society — there are enough examples to show that is wrong — but that building a society on a false premise is even more disastrous.

Linker avoids that argument, because he knows it will require backing himself into a corner. I presume he doesn’t want to try to argue that truth is irrelevant to Christianity (but you never know…apologists can get very weird), but he also doesn’t even try to justify the validity of his religious beliefs — not when he can just gripe, gripe, gripe about atheists.

His second argument is even worse — it’s pathetic and goofy and wrong. He idolizes “Old Atheists”, what he calls “catastrophic atheists”, because they at least had the manners to grieve a little bit over abandoning the old superstitions. And from the fact that we’re forthright and enthusiastic about embracing secular ideals, he assumes that we must be unthinkingly optimistic.

The point is not that atheism must invariably terminate in a tragic view of the world; another of Hart’s atheistic heroes, David Hume, seems to have thought that it was perfectly possible to live a happy and decent life as a non-believer. Yet the new atheists seem steadfastly opposed even to entertaining the possibility that there might be any trade-offs involved in breaking from a theistic view of the world. Rather than explore the complex and daunting existential challenges involved in attempting to live a life without God, the new atheists rudely insist, usually without argument, that atheism is a glorious, unambiguous benefit to mankind both individually and collectively. There are no disappointments recorded in the pages of their books, no struggles or sense of loss. Are they absent because the authors inhabit an altogether different spiritual world than the catastrophic atheists? Or have they made a strategic choice to downplay the difficulties of godlessness on the perhaps reasonable assumption that in a country hungry for spiritual uplift the only atheism likely to make inroads is one that promises to provide just as much fulfillment as religion? Either way, the studied insouciance of the new atheists can come to seem almost comically superficial and unserious. (Exhibit A: Blogger P.Z. Myers, who takes this kind of thing to truly buffoonish lengths, viciously ridiculing anyone who dares express the slightest ambivalence about her atheism.)

(Awww, he noticed me.)

No, I have no sense of loss in giving up religion, so he’s right there. He seems to regard religion as we would cigarettes — a nasty habit, but one ought to at least have the common decency to suffer when giving them up, because he’s got that monkey on his back, and it’s not fair that others might not. But that’s no argument for keeping the habit, and it’s also fallacious because not everyone is as comfortable as I am.

Everyone has a different story about leaving faith behind. Some suffered greatly; they had this belief dunned into them from an early age, and it was all tangled up in threats of damnation and betrayal of family, and for many, it hurt painfully and even now, they may feel regrets and concerns.

But, you know, once you get past the fears, once you realize that it’s certainly no worse to be free of superstition than to be afflicted with it, and there’s a wonderful clarity once you sweep away those pointless old cobwebs of faith. I can’t go back to the delusions — truth is far more interesting. But Linker gets it all completely wrong.

So by all means, reject God. But please, let’s not pretend that the truth of godlessness necessarily implies its goodness. Because it doesn’t.

You tellin’ me? Of course it doesn’t! What we godless folk know is that the universe is a heartless place, almost entirely inimical to our existence, and that there is no guiding father figure with our best interests in mind who is shaping our destiny. There is no god. There is no absolute good. We’re free to struggle to make a better world for ourselves, with no illusion of an all-powerful superman to help us out.

Mr Linker has obviously confused us with the theists who do believe in an ultimate omnipotent goodness and a set of beliefs that will lead all the faithful in a path of righteousness that will culminate in paradise. It’s almost amusing how much projection there is in these people who despise atheists by accusing them of the sins of the godly.

Comments

  1. #1 Aquaria
    May 13, 2010

    What is this toad on about?

    AKA: Contender for today’s longest strawman argument.

  2. #2 El Guerrero del Interfaz
    May 13, 2010

    Projection I would say.

    He probably thinks atheists think truth = goodness because he thinks faith = goodness. And as faith is his truth…

  3. #3 Aquaria
    May 13, 2010

    BTW, when these nitwits gripe about how mean the “new” atheists are, have they all erased their memories of Madelyn Murray O’Hare?

  4. #4 hkdharmon
    May 13, 2010

    Blogger P.Z. Myers, who takes this kind of thing to truly buffoonish lengths, viciously ridiculing anyone who dares express the slightest ambivalence about her atheism.

    I thought you were male, PZ.

  5. #5 chaseacross
    May 13, 2010

    Quite right. The notion of truth as its own good is what Nietzsche talking about (althoug he obviously has a good deal to say about this “truth,” business, but that’s a discussion for another day).

    The argument of people like Linker is one that I can appreciate- they seem to abhor an atheism doesn’t appreciate what an awesome revelation it is. The problem is that a revelation, no matter how awesome, can’t maintain its impact as the novelty wanes. The concept of gravity, or the geocentric universe, was awesome for a spell, but now children learn these things in kiddy school, so that by the time they’re adults, “catastrophic heliocentrism” would be a symptom of some species of derangement.

    Further, the kind of existential awareness being advocated by Linker and Hart is a rarified thing. The New Atheists aren’t arguing for an atheism that necessarily involves a catastrophic confrontation with the Void. New Atheists are arguing for a world where children are raised to privelege science and reason over theology and magic. Most of those children would grow up believing those things because it is what they were taught, just as most of us believe that George Washington was the first President. No, they wouldn’t have to wrestly with the theological or existential monkeys on their backs- their education would have monkey-proofed them to begin with. What’s central to the New Atheist argument, and what Linker doesn’t seem to get, is that the New Atheists believe a world full of atheists who had been raised as such would be preferable to one where atheism had to be “earned” in the crucible of self-inquiry. Even if the most of men would simply believe in atheism because that’s what they were taught growing up, that still means there’d be significantly fewer suicide bombers, fewer boys kicked out of creepy polygamist towns to ensure a steady supply of child brides, fewer women stoned to death for being raped, fewer nutters preventing medical research in order to preserve clumps of cells, etc.

    Would New Atheism see the end of “catastrophic atheism,” an atheism that undergoes the profound trial by fire involved in breaking away from a theistic view of the world? Naturally. Is this a mark against it? Absolutely not!

  6. #6 JohnM55
    May 13, 2010

    Sometimes PZ, just sometimes, you are absolutly spot on.

  7. #7 MetaEd
    May 13, 2010

    If “new atheism” merely consists in cheerfully shrugging off supernaturalism instead of woefully doing so, then “new atheism” is over 2300 years old. Epicurus was cheerfully atheist long before Paul, that Jewish heretic, was born.

  8. #8 El Guerrero del Interfaz
    May 13, 2010

    Right Aquaria.

    I the chance to meet her and, sorry PZ, but, compared to her, our host is a choir boy, a sweet little angel.

    ;-)

  9. #9 irksome.infidel
    May 13, 2010

    Carl Sagan in Demon-Haunted World,

    In the way that skepticism is sometimes applied to issues of public concern, there is a tendency to belittle, to condescend, to ignore the fact, that, deluded or not, supporters of superstitions and pseudoscience are human-beings with real beliefs, who, like the skeptics, are trying to figure out how the world works and what our role in it might be. Their motives are in many cases consonant with science. If their culture has not given them all the tools they need to pursue this great quest, let us temper our criticism with kindness. None of us comes fully equipped.

    And yet, the chief deficiency I see in the skeptical movement is in its polarization: Us vs. Them?the sense that we have a monopoly on the truth; that those other people who believe in all these stupid doctrines are morons; that if you?re sensible, you?ll listen to us; and if not, you?re beyond redemption. This is unconstructive. It does not get the message across. It condemns the skeptics to permanent minority status; whereas, a compassionate approach that from the beginning acknowledges the human roots of pseudoscience and superstition might be much more widely accepted.

  10. #10 moonkitty
    May 13, 2010

    I’ve explored the complex and daunting existential challenges involved in attempting to live a life without God. I just don’t make a big fucking deal about it.

  11. #11 austinfilm
    May 13, 2010

    Rather than explore the complex and daunting existential challenges involved in attempting to live a life without God…

    Huh? Like what?

  12. #12 nicol.the.great
    May 13, 2010

    This scorn of “new atheists” reminds me of the scorn heaped on widows, in olden days, who dared to move on and enjoy life a little bit. So we’re over the loss of our “protector,” whether that protection was real or not, and we’re trying to create an interesting, fulfilling life … and that’s wrong? To find joy in the here and now, and think everyone should have that joy? That’s wrong?

    Pft. Screw these guys.

  13. #13 Epictetus
    May 13, 2010

    Considering that our beloved species is a relative newcomer to the planet, having only existed as *Homo sapiens* for a mere 100 thousand years (or whatever) on a planet that is *billions* of years old; and that the planet itself is 70% water and therefore mostly uninhabitable by man; and, what?s more, that the earth is a veritable mote of dust tucked away in an immense galaxy consisting of billions of stars and planets, and that the galaxy is just one of innumerable others comprising the known universe (which may *itself* turn out to be just one universe among innumerable others comprising a ?multiverse?) –in the light of such astonishing facts as these I find it *highly* unlikely that any of the world?s religions are in possession of *the* Truth. Indeed, they seem paltry in comparison with the breathtaking discoveries of modern science. After all, these religions were invented at a time of more or less universal ignorance, when people knew nothing about, say, the existence of the New World, or the aforementioned jaw dropping scale of the universe, or plate tectonics, or the germ theory of disease, or evolution, or genetics, and on and on. Why would *anyone* want to subscribe to a belief system that was forged during the Iron Age by some obscure and benighted inhabitants of the Middle East?

  14. #14 Kieranfoy
    May 13, 2010

    Actually, where the says “ambilvilance about HER atheism,” I think he’s not refering the PZ as the ‘her,’ but rather a non-specific atheist representative of the wishy-washy atheists PZ is apprently fond of mocking. I.E., he’s using the femle form in his uncertain third person thing.

    Sorry, not enugh caffiene to make sense.

  15. #15 hyman.rosen
    May 13, 2010

    building a society on a false premise is even more disastrous

    You cannot have this statement accepted without proof. You are arguing “religion is bad” rather than “religion is false” and while there’s plenty of evidence for the latter, the former is much harder to pin down.

  16. #16 CJO
    May 13, 2010

    Rather than explore the complex and daunting existential challenges involved in attempting to live a life without God

    Such an ironic turn of phrase.

    You see, theists, if there is no god (and there almost certainly is not), we’re all “attempting to live a life without god.” The ones who won’t explore the challenges involved are more likely to be the ones who deny that any such challenges could obtain, I would think.

  17. #17 nakkinyan
    May 13, 2010

    “Why would *anyone* want to subscribe to a belief system that was forged during the Iron Age by some obscure and benighted inhabitants of the Middle East? “

    Out of habit?

  18. #18 nakkinyan
    May 13, 2010

    You cannot have this statement accepted without proof. You are arguing “religion is bad” rather than “religion is false” and while there’s plenty of evidence for the latter, the former is much harder to pin down.

    Actually there are plenty of examples all throughout history of what happens when you follow biblical laws, therefore, even if religion was true it is still bad.

  19. #19 RamblinDude
    May 13, 2010

    So, we should all have deep qualms about facing facts like a grownup and being honest, and we should consider very carefully just what it is that we are going to get out of the deal if we don?t believe in superstition.

    Got it.

  20. #20 Ben in Texas
    May 13, 2010

    When PZ says…

    “We obviously cannot say that godlessness inevitably leads to an ideal society ? there are enough examples to show that is wrong”

    …I assume he’s referring to Stalin, Mao, etc. Of course, I’ve run into plenty of fundies who scream about the brutality of “atheistic” governments.

    But I wonder: Is it accurate to assume that everyone living under these regimes was an atheist? Isn’t it likely that virtually all of the believers living under Stalin, Mao, etc merely claimed to be atheist? Which would mean those societies weren’t any more godless than they were before.

    Anyone think there’s validity to that?

  21. #21 Shplane
    May 13, 2010

    I’m not really arguing that atheism is always good all the time. There were a few who used atheism in harmful ways.

    However, while atheism is SOMETIMES bad, religion is ALWAYS so. Even the most benign, friendly religion is full of lies… And there aren’t really any that are wholly benign or friendly. There are believers who are pretty good people, but that’s in [i]spite[/i] of their religion, not because of it.

  22. #22 Ichthyic
    May 13, 2010

    I’m not really arguing that atheism is always good all the time.

    why not? In essence, all you would be saying is that rationality is favored over irrationality.

    There were a few who used atheism in harmful ways.

    bullshit.

  23. #23 hyman.rosen
    May 13, 2010

    Actually there are plenty of examples all throughout history of what happens when you follow biblical laws, therefore, even if religion was true it is still bad.

    No. Finding examples of religion being bad does not prove that all religion is bad because it’s easy to find examples of religion being good. That’s why arguing “religion is bad” is a losing proposition – you will always be faced with Martin Luther King vs. Stalin arguments leading to pointless and endless historical debates. On the other hand, it is demonstrably true that all religion is false (in its supernatural claims, that is) and therefore the arguments are much simplified.

  24. #24 Ichthyic
    May 13, 2010

    “Why would *anyone* want to subscribe to a belief system that was forged during the Iron Age by some obscure and benighted inhabitants of the Middle East? “

    culturally acceptable drugs are often habit forming.

  25. #25 Epictetus
    May 13, 2010

    “Why would *anyone* want to subscribe to a belief system that was forged during the Iron Age by some obscure and benighted inhabitants of the Middle East? ”

    Out of habit?
    ____________________________________________________

    It seems like you would have to purposely suppress every dictate of common sense in order to believe such patent nonsense. No wonder the Bible encourages people to “lean not upon thine own understanding.” If this is habit, then it is an unfortunate one.

  26. #26 Ichthyic
    May 13, 2010

    No. Finding examples of religion being bad does not prove that all religion is bad because it’s easy to find examples of religion being good.

    all one has to do is analyze the underlying dogma of any particular sect.

    surely there must be SOME sects whose dogma doesn’t promote bad behavior.

    Can’t think of any off the top of my head, but then in xianity alone there are over 30000 sects, so I can’t be bothered, really.

  27. #27 alysonmiers
    May 13, 2010

    But a different kind of atheism is possible, legitimate, and (in Hart’s view) more admirable. Let’s call it catastrophic atheism,

    Oh, the arrogance, it burns. Jackass thinks it’s his place to tell us how we should feel about the reality of a godless universe? He is cordially invited to bite my ass. Some of us shed our ancestors’ theistic belief systems, recognized the loss of some comforting illusions of protectedness and uniqueness and righteousness that our previous religions offered, and then got over it on our own time without suffering any catastrophic existential crises. If Linker can’t imagine how it’s possible for someone to give up God without suffering lifelong spiritual agony, that’s his own damn problem and we heathens are not responsible for his lack of imagination. Where’s that pic of Jesus flipping the bird when we need it?

  28. #28 Paul
    May 13, 2010

    However, while atheism is SOMETIMES bad, religion is ALWAYS so. Even the most benign, friendly religion is full of lies

    1) You’re conflating ALWAYS BAD with “full of lies”. This needs to be justified, not asserted. If you’re going to claim religion is always bad, you really do need to show your work.

    2) Religion does not require lies. Some simply make unfalsifiable claims (for the fun ones, there’s Pastafarians or the church of the IPU). Hell, a humanist could form a religion around the Golden Rule if they were so inclined.

    You might be able to argue that all existing or mainstream religions are full of lies, or possibly even tailor arguments showing how they are “bad” for certain values of bad. But you need to do a lot more work if you want to claim that religion is “always” bad.

  29. #29 hyman.rosen
    May 13, 2010

    I should rather say that “religion is bad” is a losing argument for atheism. It’s a perfectly fine proposition for someone to research and write books and papers about. But if Cthulhu awoke, we could simultaneously have “religion is bad” and “religion is true” – the former does not imply the latter.

  30. #30 Ichthyic
    May 13, 2010

    No wonder the Bible encourages people to “lean not upon thine own understanding.” If this is habit, then it is an unfortunate one.

    add that to the “why religion is bad” column…

  31. #31 Brownian, OM
    May 13, 2010

    The New Atheists aren’t arguing for an atheism that necessarily involves a catastrophic confrontation with the Void.

    What the hell is this soft-as-a-pillow and more-loving-than-a-mother god that all of these apologists are so broken up over losing? Only a masochist would prefer the god of the Bible to the neutral nothingness of the Void.

    I blame these privileged New Age Evangelicals and Protestants who think their god is loving and kind and they’ve got his seal of approval just because they bleat their fealty to Jesus to every passer-by like a yapping poodle tied up in a yard. If these people actually read the Bible, they’d be a lot less glib. God’s not so fucking rosy when you realise the road to heaven is narrow and only a few make it (Matthew 7:13-14, Matthew 19:24), and THAT SURE AS HELL AIN’T YOU IF YOU EVEN FUCKING THINK (Matthew 5:27-32) OF SINNING (Matthew 5:19-20, Matthew 7:21).

  32. #32 Sastra
    May 13, 2010

    hymen.rosen #15 wrote:

    You are arguing “religion is bad” rather than “religion is false” and while there’s plenty of evidence for the latter, the former is much harder to pin down.

    Religion, by its very nature, encourages its adherents to assume facts which are not open to dispute in the common ground of the world. These are special revealed facts accepted on mysticism and faith, by people who have sensitivities, abilities, or some other characteristic which set them apart from the inferior rest.

    This will then divide a society, and preclude the ability to reach agreement in any area which touches onto something religion “speaks” about. There is no debating anyone who has played the God card. They will see you as arguing with God, instead of with them.

    Since there is also no necessity that the special revealed facts make sense to reasonable people anyway — after all, the whole point of special revelation is that it’s something new and different — there’s no way to keep religion in check. Religious beliefs become a crap shoot: you can use God to justify equality, or slavery — pacifism, or warmongering — with equal authority, and in good conscience.

  33. #33 SteveM
    May 13, 2010

    re 4:

    Blogger P.Z. Myers, who takes this kind of thing to truly buffoonish lengths, viciously ridiculing anyone who dares express the slightest ambivalence about her atheism.

    I thought you were male, PZ.

    Read it again. “Her” refers to “anyone”, not PZ.

  34. #34 Facewon
    May 13, 2010

    My first comment on PZ’s blog and it’s very boring. The link for where PZ has “criticized Mr linker before” is a link to the Hart rebuttal again. Anyone got a link to the blog that PZ actually meant? Cheers.

  35. #35 raven
    May 13, 2010

    You are arguing “religion is bad” rather than “religion is false” and while there’s plenty of evidence for the latter, the former is much harder to pin down.

    Not really. Religion covers a wide spectrum but much of it is truly evil and horrible.

    Just read a newspaper or history book. The Inquisition, crusades, MD assassins, xian terrorists. Reformation wars, Northern Ireland, creationists, George Bush, Ann Coulter, Michelle Bachmann and so on for as far as one can see.

    Or just move to the current most religious societies. Afganistan, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Texas. Don’t count on living much of a life but it will probably be over soon anyway.

  36. #36 Facewon
    May 13, 2010

    link

    Oops, found it myself. For anyone interested.

  37. #37 raven
    May 13, 2010

    No. Finding examples of religion being bad does not prove that all religion is bad because it’s easy to find examples of religion being good.

    This is silly. One example of a benign religion doesn’t prove all religions are benign and vice versa.

    What is important is the average or most common. As well as where one lives. As well as the history.

    The current Moslem sects in much of the middle east appear malevolent. Many of the current xian sects in the USA are just as malevolent.

    We just don’t let our religious kooks run around loose anymore. This is one of the defining features of civilized societies. They hate the USA, secular democracy and the Enlightment for exactly that reason.

  38. #38 Sastra
    May 13, 2010

    For the catastrophic atheist, godlessness is both true and terrible.

    I say we turn the tables. The sort of theism which is “possible, legitimate, and more admirable” is what we will term Embarrassed Theism.

    Embarrassed Theism is the awe-inspiring catastrophe of a rigorous and honest upbringing in the two-hundred year heritage of science, reason, and the enlightenment sheepishly admitting to a silly hankering to return to the dark ages of childish superstition.

    For the Embarrassed Theist, the existence of God is only maybe true — unlikely, really — but believing in it is comforting — sorry. So sorry about that, but there it is. Heheh. My bad.

    Now there’s a type of theist we can respect. That’s a REAL theist, one who recognizes the uncomfortable implications of his god-ishness.

    Sauce for the goose, is sauce for the gander. Let’s see how well they like atheists telling them how to believe in God, the right way.

  39. #39 raven
    May 13, 2010

    PZ Meyers:

    Everyone has a different story about leaving faith behind. Some suffered greatly; they had this belief dunned into them from an early age, and it was all tangled up in threats of damnation and betrayal of family, and for many, it hurt painfully and even now, they may feel regrets and concerns.

    Good point. I’m seeing a huge numbers of families torn apart by religion these days.

    I guess religion is indeed good for something, arbitrarily dividing friends and family into us and them depending on what version of the imaginary sky fairies one believes and destroying them. This must be those family values that the wingnuts are always babbling about.

    The generation gap in the 60’s and 70’s centered around politics, the Vietnam war, sex, marijuana, and long hair.

    Seems to be another one these days. Religion, mostly fundie xian death cults. People who creep out of their No Religion closet can be disowned, kicked out, and otherwise written out of the family by the old fossilized xian bigots.

  40. #40 raven
    May 13, 2010

    Linker:

    Yet the new atheists seem steadfastly opposed even to entertaining the possibility that there might be any trade-offs involved in breaking from a theistic view of the world. Rather than explore the complex and daunting existential challenges involved in attempting to live a life without God,..

    This is stupid. Humans need gods as much as fish need bicycles.

    Having an imaginary sky fairy for a friend might not hurt but it isn’t going to be all that useful either. Attempting to live a life without gods…imaginary companions isn’t hard. Most of master that skill by kindergarten.

    AFAIK, most Americans live their lives like the gods don’t really exist or care no matter what they claim in church or to pollsters.

  41. #41 RamblinDude
    May 13, 2010

    Sastra #38

    I like it.

  42. #42 Sastra
    May 13, 2010

    I was raised without religion. Someone telling me that not believing in God should be keeping me awake nights in a horrible existential crisis of meaningless would be like someone telling me that I should be suffering raging torments of anguish over the fact that I wasn’t born in France.

    I’m sure France can be very pleasant, of course, but after all it’s not the entire world.

    Just as it must be nice to believe you’re going to live forever, and reality is some kind of giant mind. Eternity’s not the touchstone of meaning and purpose, though, and I don’t have to translate everything into being either like me, or about me. Those beliefs would probably have to be drummed into someone’s head at an early age, for them to think them so self-evident and vital.

  43. #43 IslandBrewer
    May 13, 2010

    So, at one time, I used to think that religions were effectively neutral with regard to human behavior. Religions didn’t make people do bad things, bad people wrapped themselves in religion when they did bad things. That’s what I thought, and I still thinks that the case sometimes. Would Fred Phelps be less batshit and in need of a psychiatrist if he were an atheist? Maybe, but I think he’d still find a way to be an evil prick.

    People would point to things like the crusades or northern Ireland or Saudi Arabia and say “Look! Religion bad!”

    I saw these statements much the same as the theists who pointed out Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot (it’s always those three, isn’t it?), and said “Look! Atheism bad!” (Note, I’m trying to avoid a Godwin infraction.)

    To me, with due respect to Dawkin’s opinion, Northern Ireland was about nationalism and tribalism and loyalty to one or the other governments or groups. It had nothing to do with a belief in transubstantiation or immaculate conception (sorry, if I’m confusing things, I really don’t really know my catholics from my anglicans too well). Religion was a badge one could exchange with loyalties.

    Crusades? Organized conquest and plunder with a religious excuse. Saudi Arabia? Backwards medieval culture that oppresses women. Religion is its excuse. Swap Islam for christianity or Taoism, and it’d all look pretty much the same.

    In the same vein, Stalin, Pol Pot and Mao would have been odious dicks whether they were atheists or theists.

    But then, I began to think about what sort of rationalizations one would be forced make if there weren’t religions. Crusades? Might have been harder to get the peasants worked up if you couldn’t say that god wanted them to reclaim the holy useless desert thousands of miles away. What would all those erstwhile imamas say to get half the Saudi population to wear big burlap sacks and not go out in public without at least one male relative?

    No, religion isn’t the cause of greed and megalomania and xenophobia and dickishness, but it’s certainly an enabler.

  44. #44 Jadehawk, OM
    May 13, 2010

    so basically he’s saying “oh fine, be an atheist if you must, but at least have the decency to be utterly depressed about it, so we can continue to feel good about believing!!”

    yeah, no. atheism is fucking awesome; nothing in it produces much of any anxiety or whatever. yeah, dying kinda sucks, but at least I don’t have to agonize over whether I get to go to heaven or will be thrown in hell instead.

  45. #45 jhsteele58
    May 13, 2010

    We are saying godlessness is true, sure enough…

    PZ I don’t know how you can see this as anything but a statement of faith. Godlessness is true? You can say “scientific evidence hasn’t proved the existence of God” or “as scientific knowledge has expanded the gaps once explained by God have been steadily filled in” or “we don’t need a God to understand the workings of the world” but you can’t say with certainty that there is no God or that godlessness is true. You can theorize and make a case, perhaps a very strong case, but you could also die tomorrow and meet your maker. This possibility you cannot disprove.

    I also find the arguments on this thread linking religion to violence thread-bare to say the least. You can take almost any war in history and make the case that it was at base a politically inspired conflict whose flames might have been fed by religious fanaticism. But in light of the wars and killing fields of the last century it is not possible to make a case that it is organized religion or religion in general that is at the root of violence and wars. Humans are violent; modern nation states are particularly violent; when they want to make war they use whatever ideologies are at their disposal to justify their killing and incite their citizens.

  46. #46 IslandBrewer
    May 13, 2010

    For the Embarrassed Theist, the existence of God is only maybe true — unlikely, really — but believing in it is comforting — sorry. So sorry about that, but there it is. Heheh. My bad.

    Now there’s a type of theist we can respect. That’s a REAL theist, one who recognizes the uncomfortable implications of his god-ishness.

    I think I recall Martin Gardner profering this as the reason for his theism. “Credo consolans” – “I believe because it makes me feel good.”

  47. #47 RamblinDude
    May 13, 2010

    Raven:

    People who creep out of their No Religion closet can be disowned, kicked out, and otherwise written out of the family by the old fossilized xian bigots.

    So true. And Do NOT tell your tell your mother!

  48. #48 chaseacross
    May 13, 2010

    @ Brownina, OM

    I don’t know about you, but even a small shot at the kind of rewards theists are claiming is, I think, preferable to nonexistence. I’d much rather have eternal bliss than death. In that sense, I think maybe in only that sense, is a theistic worldview tolerable. But, as you point out, the Abrahamic God imposes steep, almost impossible conditions for salvation. More to the point, this deity is capricious, petty, cruel, violent, and Himself immoral. In that sense, even if there positive proof of theism, there’d still be atheists, if only to thumb their noses at such a terrible cosmic dictator.

  49. #49 Shplane
    May 13, 2010

    #22

    Admittedly, the only one I can think of is the the forced atheism in the Soviet Union. If you can show how that wasn’t awful/actually didn’t happen, I’ll agree with you. It’s not like I’ve studied it to hard.

    #28

    1) Lying about how the world works is evil. It makes it more difficult for people to respond to reality as it actually is, thus promoting human suffering as people do stupid, ineffective shit.

    2) Neither Pastafari nor the church of the IPU are real religions. They are thought experiments. Real religions have people that, y’know, actually believe them.

    If they WERE real religions, that actually spread lies and poisoned the minds of their followers, then they would be just as evil as all the others. But they’re not. They’re jokes, designed to poke fun at how silly religion is.

  50. #50 Ben in Texas
    May 13, 2010

    @49
    How did the Soviets force people to be atheists? Isn’t it more likely that believers claimed to be atheists, when they really weren’t? (This goes back to my first comment at 20.)

  51. #51 conelrad
    May 13, 2010

    I had some trouble signing in, so maybe I am too late, but I think I am the first catatonic atheist. No wait, I am the first anaphylactic atheist. No, wait…

  52. #52 PZ Myers
    May 13, 2010

    I don’t think Brownina (we’ll have to stick with that name) will be at all impressed with Pascal’s Wager.

  53. #53 Sastra
    May 13, 2010

    jhsteele 58 #45 wrote:

    PZ I don’t know how you can see this as anything but a statement of faith. Godlessness is true?

    If naturalism is taken as a working theory, it need not be considered an expression of “faith,” any more than any other statement. 100% certainty doesn’t have to be the standard for a claim. If PZ (or other atheists) can both recognize the possibility of error, and agree on what would change their minds, then I don’t see that saying there is no God is any more of a leap than saying there is no vitalistic energy.

    Humans are violent; modern nation states are particularly violent; when they want to make war they use whatever ideologies are at their disposal to justify their killing and incite their citizens.

    Which is why it is dangerous to use an ideology which justifies actions by referring to other realms and worlds not in evidence. You can rationally argue against political views, because those who hold them must at least pretend to be tethered in common evidence. Religions by their nature do not pretend to rest on common ground. They do not argue against dissenters.

    Perhaps we can use an analogy to religion as a bomb dropped from above, in a world which is otherwise forced to have their fights on the ground — with debate, and fists, and opponents you can see.

  54. #54 Mattir
    May 13, 2010

    So let me get this straight. New Atheists are a problem because they insist upon being happy and well adjusted rather than grimly horrified at the indifferent universe around them. It seems to me that I’ve heard this argument before, only from religious zealots urging continuous attention to the impending rapture and the possibility of damnation.

    Why do people seem to think that atheism should involve more confrontation with the truth of chance and mortality than theism does? Are theists just forgetting the times they wake up in the middle of the night terrified of some fearful event? Yes, it might be nice to believe in a magical unicorn, but acceptance of reality has its own comforts, not least of which is that reality does not come as such a surprise when one wakes up at 3 am afraid.

    I recommend a healthy dose of Ernst Becker’s The Denial of Death.

    Embarrassed Theism is the awe-inspiring catastrophe of a rigorous and honest upbringing in the two-hundred year heritage of science, reason, and the enlightenment sheepishly admitting to a silly hankering to return to the dark ages of childish superstition.

    It would be so wonderful if there were more of these! Actually there probably are – I’ve certainly known a few. Most, though, are too embarrassed to admit it.

  55. #55 Paul
    May 13, 2010

    If they WERE real religions, that actually spread lies and poisoned the minds of their followers,

    See? You’re doing it again. You’re arguing by definition. Here you’re defining “real religion” as “spreads lies and poisons minds”. Show your work, or reduce the scope of your claims to where they’re at least reasonable inferences. You’re begging the question that if it’s a religion, it spreads lies and is bad. You have not supported this, and it does need support.

    If you’re serious, define religion as a starting point. Perhaps that would help. As it is you’re just throwing around sloppy generalizations.

  56. #56 Brownian, OM
    May 13, 2010

    Indeed, Brownina is not much impressed with Pascal’s wager.

    I don’t know about you, but even a small shot at the kind of rewards theists are claiming is, I think, preferable to nonexistence.

    I hope I one day have the pleasure of playing poker with you, chaseacross.

  57. #57 crisp.jason
    May 13, 2010

    Ben in Texas,
    I think “force people to be atheists” is probably the wrong phrase. I think what PZ means by “godless” society examples are ones that prohibit the practicing of any religion (correct me if I’m wrong). Such a prohibition should be troubling to anyone, of course, who belongs to a free society. Likewise, we should be concerned by a fundamentalist politician like Sarah Palin, say, who vocally wishes to force everyone to be Christian.
    But getting back to prohibiting religion (the “godless” society), a fundie would have big issues with being forced to cover up their beliefs in order to avoid imprisonment or execution. It would put their salvation in jeopardy. They would look to the examples of the martyred apostles for being willing to die for their beliefs. If they are not willing to do the same, then they don’t deserve to be called Christian. To them, if they claimed atheism, they might as well BE atheist, because they knew they were ending up in hell either way. It’s not QUITE the same thing when the shoe’s on the other foot (i.e., if an atheist was prohibited from atheism and had to pretend he believed in whatever the state religion was). He would be mad, certainly, about being “forced” to play the charade, but his fate’s the same no matter what personal freedoms are allowed/prohibited.

  58. #58 condignaction
    May 13, 2010

    a humanist could form a religion around the Golden Rule if they were so inclined.

    I think religion needs two components:
    [1] ideology, philosophy, belief system, rules of behavior
    [2] something make-believe (i.e., supernaturalism)

  59. #59 frog, Inc.
    May 13, 2010

    Let’s call it catastrophic atheism, in tribute to its first and greatest champion, Friedrich Nietzsche, who wrote in a head-spinning passage of the Genealogy of Morals that “unconditional, honest atheism is … the awe-inspiring catastrophe of two-thousand years of training in truthfulness that finally forbids itself the lie involved in belief in God.” For the catastrophic atheist, godlessness is both true and terrible.

    That is just plain funny. Here we have “thinkers” who are so terribly advanced, that they think that what was cutting edge in the 1880’s should still be relevant in 2010.

    Nietzche was trying to rebuild language — be an atheist with balls, so to speak. He was grappling with the evolving issues of the 20th century before there was a 20th century — he was inventing it.

    So of course he used poetry to grasp the evolving shape. But that was more than 100 years ago! We’ve already passed through the 20th century! We can use a rational language to describe it!

    We don’t need to “figure it out” and attack 19th century misconceptions about good. We can through Nietzche out as a historical artifact, as an early attempt by a man ignorant about the facts of the 20th century.

    We don’t have to have a “terrible atheism” anymore — because it’s all old hat now. We don’t have to face the nightmare of the abyss — we already crossed it.

    What maroons. How about we talk about the catastrophe of rejecting animism? Christianity is terrible — forcing us to reject our very animistic personalities as we face the abyss of the single truth! My, the terror I feel at not seeing a world made up of little spirit creatures…

  60. #60 raven
    May 13, 2010

    I don’t know about you, but even a small shot at the kind of rewards theists are claiming is, I think, preferable to nonexistence.

    According to Vishnu and Brahma, people who believe in the wrong gods get sent backwards in the reincarnation cycle.

    Your next life will be as a nematode, cucumber beetle, leech, or fundie xian.

  61. #61 frog, Inc.
    May 13, 2010

    chaseacross: I don’t know about you, but even a small shot at the kind of rewards theists are claiming is, I think, preferable to nonexistence. I’d much rather have eternal bliss than death

    At least there’s something here entertaining.

    So, you’re imagining non-existence. Nice trick — imagining something that you can never experience (“You” can never experience death), and is actually the opposite of all experience — then you compare it with a fantasy.

    Nice, nice trick. You know, this was disposed of millenia ago by Lucretius. Yet the child-minded still come up with something — somehow, they think that if a phrase is grammatically well-contructed, it must somehow actually reference something.

    Fun stuff. Reasonable from a pre-adolescent, but seriously — it’s a bit ridiculous, you know.

  62. #62 ronsullivan
    May 13, 2010

    Some of us have heard this tune before: If you dare to have an abortion, you MUSTMUSTMUST bitterly regret it.

  63. #63 amphiox
    May 13, 2010

    In that sense, even if there positive proof of theism, there’d still be atheists, if only to thumb their noses at such a terrible cosmic dictator.

    Technically, I think, in that situation the proper term would be “anti-theists”. The valiant rebels resisting the evil, tyrannical, but in this scenario, physically real, deity.

  64. #64 Brownian, OM
    May 13, 2010

    According to Vishnu and Brahma, people who believe in the wrong gods get sent backwards in the reincarnation cycle.

    What happens when all living entities are eventually reborn as a Turritopsis nutricula? ?Here I am, stuck as medusae with you…?

    Oh religion, you’ve again failed to answer the tough questions!

  65. #65 Sastra
    May 13, 2010

    crisp.jason #57 wrote:

    I think “force people to be atheists” is probably the wrong phrase. I think what PZ means by “godless” society examples are ones that prohibit the practicing of any religion (correct me if I’m wrong).

    uh — you’re wrong. I’m pretty sure that PZ wants to eliminate religion the way he wants to eliminate illiteracy, or superstition: through education, and reason. He wants people to choose it less often, because it makes no sense to them. Laws would, of course, be inimical to a free society.

  66. #66 crisp.jason
    May 13, 2010

    Sastra,
    Ben was assuming the examples referred to Stalinist or Maoist regimes that prohibit religion. I was just clarifying that a bit. I have no doubt PZ wishes to eliminate religion through education. I highly doubt, however, that he or any other atheist in America wishes to abolish the first amendment of the Constitution.

  67. #67 Tim Harris
    May 13, 2010

    Violence & religion: yes, of course there is violence in all human societies, and there is violence between human societies; but religions, and particularly what we like to call the ‘advanced’ religions, with their theologies and dogmas, because they make an appeal to absolute and unchallengeable authority, are both necessarily authoritarian and instigators – not just enablers – of violence.

  68. #68 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    May 13, 2010

    ?Here I am, stuck as medusae with you…?

    wow

  69. #69 FossilFishy
    May 13, 2010

    “…the difficulties of godlessness…”

    Seriously? I think this is an example of yet another person who spends so much time considering their own thoughts that they forget that other people might be different. The navel gazing that the more new-agey religious indulge in seems to breed this kind of ignorance.

    For myself, godlessness is nothing but a relief. One of the big comforts of religion, that death isn’t the end, was actually the biggest source of anxiety for me. I mean, how the hell was I suppose to figure out the right way to get into heaven? There are what, 38,000 christian sects alone? Realizing that death is the end filled me with a profound sense of peace.

    Also, an uncaring universe fills me full of love. We live is an infinitesimally small corner of a mind-bogglingly vast universe that’s hostile to our form of life. That hostility motivates me every day to make my little slice of the universe as safe, loving and joyful as I can for those around me. There ain’t no skydaddy to kiss our boo-boo’s and tuck us in when the final night falls. Not only do we have to take care of ourselves, but we’re perfectly capable of doing so, and that my friends is a beautiful thing indeed.

  70. #70 Cuttlefish, OM
    May 13, 2010
  71. #71 Sastra
    May 13, 2010

    crisp.jason #66 wrote:

    Ben was assuming the examples referred to Stalinist or Maoist regimes that prohibit religion. I was just clarifying that a bit.

    Oops. Sorry I misinterpreted you. I assume you’re referring to PZ’s

    We obviously cannot say that godlessness inevitably leads to an ideal society ? there are enough examples to show that is wrong ? but that building a society on a false premise is even more disastrous.

    Yes, he was probably referring to the Soviet Union and China — though I suppose he could mean any group of atheists which runs into infighting or ethical problems. Which will probably include pretty much all of them, at some level.

    Someone upthread mentioned that the “atheism leads to utopia” meme is either a conscious or unconscious projection of theistic assumptions onto atheism — by theists. It’s sort of like claiming that atheists must think that they’re God, or that Buddhists must believe that Buddha died for humanity’s sins. They’re importing the wrong framework into a completely different view of the world.

  72. #72 a_ray_in_dilbert_space
    May 13, 2010

    Why are these apologists SUCH FUCKING DRAMA QUEENS!!!???!!! Jeebus, get out the fainting couch and smelling salts. Oh, alas and alack! We are alone in a Universe indifferent if not hostile to our wellbeing and even our presence. Well thanks for the fuckin’news flash.

    The harshest truth is preferable to the most gilded lie. And embracing the truth is more noble than turning our back on it. So, in that sense, embracing one’s atheism is an unalloyed good.

    Facing the truth takes practice. Start by embracing the ones you know.

  73. #73 Ben in Texas
    May 13, 2010

    crisp.jason and Sastra,

    I’m guess I’m being a stickler about “godless,” because if the people living under those regimes were still believers, then it’s inaccurate to refers to them as “godless” or “atheist.” Religion might’ve been verboten, but that doesn’t mean those societies were godless. Do you agree?

  74. #74 Hypatia's Daughter
    May 13, 2010

    #25 Epictetus

    It seems like you would have to purposely suppress every dictate of common sense in order to believe such patent nonsense. No wonder the Bible encourages people to “lean not upon thine own understanding.” If this is habit, then it is an unfortunate one.

    Yes, because it is not patent nonsense to believe that God has whispered his truth in the ears of only a few dozen men* (out of all the billions who have lived on this planet) and we have to accept their word that they are actually speaking for God.
    In the Bible, we aren’t reading the Word of God; we are reading what Moses, et al, said that God said. And is Moses any more reliable than Joseph Smith or Muhammed?

    (* literally – there were about 4 dozen major & minor prophets in the Bible)

  75. #75 Sastra
    May 13, 2010

    @ Cuttlefish #70:

    Ohmygosh — I inspired one of your poems?

    It’s lovely. And profound. As usual.
    I am honored. :)

  76. #76 Cuttlefish, OM
    May 13, 2010

    Um… no, see, the way it goes is, *I* thank *you* for the inspiration. My part is the easy part. So, thanks, Sastra!

  77. #77 'Tis Himself, OM
    May 13, 2010

    Linker’s objection to “new atheism” is not enough angst? We don’t regret giving up god(s) enough to satisfy him? What an arrogant ass he is.

    No wonder he sees atheists as being angry. Confronted with his smug pomposity I’d be angry too. He’s just another theist whining about how atheists are failing to live up to his expectations. He would feel a profound lack of goddishness if he decided to become an atheist so every atheist should likewise feel this lack. He’s just another theist trying to define atheism to meet his particular needs.

  78. #78 Becca, the Main Gauche of Mild Reason
    May 13, 2010

    @57 – no one is talking about prohibiting religion. A truly godless society is one where god, or lack there of, is immaterial. individuals can attend all the religious services they want. What they can’t do is interject religion in any form into civil life: not the laws, not the schools, not as omnipresent in common culture.

  79. #79 Crudely Wrott
    May 13, 2010

    Since I haven’t had time to read the whole thread (worked late, very late), am I the first to respond to this:

    Rather than explore the complex and daunting existential challenges involved in attempting to live a life without God . . .

    with this?

    Attention on deck! The challenges of living without God are not, repeat, not, daunting or existential. They are self evident and, with a modicum of observation and experience fortified by the counsel of them whats been there, self explanatory. Solutions to such challenges as do exist are left as an exercise for the curious and capable. That is all!

    If not, then I am first.
    no way
    tee hee

  80. #80 ckitching
    May 13, 2010

    It seems to me that all these people who wax nostalgic about “old atheists” never bothered to read anything they ever wrote or said. I’m starting to think the reason they like “old atheists” is because they’re all dead.

    So, maybe in 40 or 50 years, we’ll have people telling us about how the ‘old new atheists’ like PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins were much more respectful than the new militant ‘new new atheists’.

  81. #81 ColonelZen
    May 13, 2010

    In Hart’s original essay he whines about the lack of attention to more subtle Apologia’s for god. What he never addresses is why exactly these are important. Do I need to know the runes and arcana of astrology in tedious detail to be confident that it is babble? The only thing that would make such such genuinely significant is a convincing and not well refuted argument for the existence of god. His essay seems to lack any assertion or reference to such subtle and still standing demonstration by any of his religious-philosopher heroes.

    About the only substantive non-whine in his critique of the recursion argument against god. What he fails to grasp is that the “modern” aka “new atheist” version is not a restatement of the recursion argument but an equivalence assertion which the apologists have not rebutted: if god can exist without a creator, why not the universe itself? Modern physics is littered with specific instances where “nothing” becomes “something” (usually two somethings with various symmetries preserved in their sum). Purely natural “creation” (at the quantum level) absent any intelligence at all is an observed fact; it is not an act of faith, but only an of imagination – and a very strictly and tightly constrained imagination at that – to speculate that the unoverse could arise by similar entirely natural mechanism with no omni-x “god” playing a part. (And in fact, there are not one, but many competing hypotheses for such mechanisms; the “game” of modern physics is to find one which explains things, and ideally predicts things not yet known, about the universe we see today in as much detail as possible).

    Linker’s catastrophic atheism complaint – that we should be horrified to find ourselves in a world without god – is also hideously and amusingly, in a B grade science fiction kind of way, myopic. The wonder, majesty and grandeur of the Christian universe was that it gave us a story that told us how we came to be here, explained the marvels of our world and told us our place in it. The “spirit” of the new atheism is that modern science has now given us a “story” of wonder, majesty and grandeur which explains all that and more, and gives us medicine, technology, and power over our lives, and lets us touch the roots of that story in our daily lives and participate in its ongoing writing of that story to the limit of our intellect.

    — TWZ

  82. #82 Brownian, OM
    May 13, 2010

    He would feel a profound lack of goddishness if he decided to become an atheist so every atheist should likewise feel this lack.

    What’s funny is that he probably wouldn’t. I didn’t. I thought I would, which is probably why I resisted admitting my atheism to myself for years, but I didn’t.

    What I experienced was a great sense of relief. No more problem of evil, no more trying to reconcile a supposedly just god with a clearly unjust world, no more of any of those mental contortions one has to do to make the god one is supposed to love, well, lovable.

    It’s as if you’ve spent your entire life juggling chainsaws. You only realise how exhausting it is when it finally occurs to you that you can just put them down.

  83. #83 Becca, the Main Gauche of Mild Reason
    May 13, 2010

    The “spirit” of the new atheism is that modern science has now given us a “story” of wonder, majesty and grandeur which explains all that and more, and gives us medicine, technology, and power over our lives, and lets us touch the roots of that story in our daily lives and participate in its ongoing writing of that story to the limit of our intellect.

    quoted for truth. Beautiful, just beautiful.

  84. #84 Cerberus
    May 13, 2010

    nicol @12

    Really got me to think about something.

    The whole, you need to admit how bad it was, how much it hurts, how hard it was for you, thing not only reminds me of how widows or divorcees were treated, but how women who have abortions are treated today. Oh, you had one, well you have to admit how horrible it was and how you wished it never happened and you can’t be relieved or even happy about it.

    I think it’s related to this idea in a lot of issues (most often related to women’s autonomy, freedom, or happiness) that certain actions need to involve suffering.

    Oh, you can leave your abusive husband or get an abortion or leave religion, but you should suffer for it.

    It should come with a price that way it will a) be easy to sell it as a bad thing that we can suggest should be banned entirely, b) try and punish those who dare escape oppressive systems, and c) prevent others from leaving because the psychological weight and support seems so heavy to jump into on one’s own.

    It’s also a form of control over the people who have left you. It’s like how an abusive ex might start pulling all sorts of dickish moves over custody or the alimony payments just so they can still negatively impact your life and have some sort of tenuous level of psychological dominance.

    By trying to demand that atheists be suffering and distraught and torn up, he’s hoping to enforce some level of dominance over those who leave or never joined. A sort of you can run, but I’ll try and make it suck. And if you have the gall to offend his need to dominate by not really being torn up over not having a religion, then he needs to chastise you because you’re ruining the narrative.

    I think in many ways those who are free without apologies hit the biggest blow to oppressive systems. Women who manage to leave abusive partners without feeling shame or being broken up inside. Women who have abortions without apologizing. Atheists who really have zero conflict about being so. Gays who walk openly around in the streets kissing and hugging without feeling the need to censor themselves for “safety”. Blacks who walk the streets without needing to show undue courtesy to every white person who walks the streets.

    These things tear up the bigots moreso than anything else. It signals the final defeat. When the terrorism, the threats, the careful cultural training just isn’t enough and there’s someone in front of you with no inclination of playing by your rules, you’ve officially lost the oppression game.

    And I think that’s the case here. Oh sure, they’ll ride it out in their communities, same as they do with the other bigotries, find smaller and smaller groups they can still terrorize into being too afraid to even look for an exit.

    But as a society, their power does wane more and more each year and more and more people are able to live godless lives without feeling like it should be a bad thing.

    It’s one more crack in the shared system of oppressions.

  85. #85 Sastra
    May 13, 2010

    Brownian OM #82 wrote:

    It’s as if you’ve spent your entire life juggling chainsaws. You only realise how exhausting it is when it finally occurs to you that you can just put them down.

    Wonderful analogy. It made me laugh.

    Not having grown up with a God which was supposed to be like a loving father figure, I formed a vague idea of God as a sort of Over-soul, with transcendent streams of consciousness flowing through it like energy. The contortions I went through mostly involved trying to keep my ideas too vague to sound stupid, even to me.

  86. #86 Crudely Wrott
    May 13, 2010

    Then comes A Ray in Dilbert Space (#72) saying:

    The harshest truth is preferable to the most gilded lie. And embracing the truth is more noble than turning our back on it. So, in that sense, embracing one’s atheism is an unalloyed good.

    Facing the truth takes practice. Start by embracing the ones you know.

    You’ve been reading my mail, brother.
    Thanks for this and other comments well received.

  87. #87 Cerberus
    May 13, 2010

    It’s also interesting that the apologists have started to paint themselves into a corner just so they can “win an argument” using philosophy against atheists.

    The corner in question is this idea of “okay, fine, it’s not true, per se, but think about how comforting an illusion these lies are. They’re like the little white lies you tell your grandma or your kids so as not to trouble their minds about deeper, more serious issues. That’s pretty nice, right?”

    This whole, “well, fuck truth, it’s good and comforting” type mush is entirely unsustainable. Admitting that this garbage is untrue or backing oneself into a corner where the argument is literally inches away from that admission turns the whole “religion” con into something of a thought experiment or a nice story.

    Something you can drift into, maybe write some fanfic over, maybe be inspired or obsessed about, but certainly nothing that should hold weight over say Harry Potter or Star Wars.

    And yeah, that’s the conclusion of most atheists, but it’s interesting that these idiots in attempting to denounce these atheists and to win that all-important logical argument against the forces of the Enlightenment, they’ve started pretty much admitting that as well.

    Might also be the second reason they’re starting to obsess about how miserable atheists must be.

    It’s sort of like how those rabid anti-gay activists who are obsessed with how much the gays are destroying everything end up traveling to Spain with rentboys. Nothing’s scarier, more personally threatening, more in need of constant reinforcement as some kind of abomination than that which someone already is.

    And these people are starting to sound like people who have “logicked” themselves into atheism and now are clinging to fictions and denunciations of how bad and evil and miserable atheists are to avoid having to admit them about themselves.

    Of course, as many others have noted, it’s also all about projection. Everything members of an oppressive system have to say about the “evils” of the people who are trying to make the systems better or free themselves or others is pretty much a projection of what the oppressive system is already doing. They’re so convinced that atheists are joyless, because a sad life waiting to die and trying not to learn enough to “lose faith” so that you can earn a “better” version of more of the same, this time for eternity is pretty fucking joyless.

  88. #88 rturpin
    May 13, 2010

    What goes missing from the argument that religion is needed to keep us from a tragic world view is what thin gruel most religion provides for that:

    http://rturpin.wordpress.com/2010/05/12/there-is-no-sea-in-heaven/

  89. #89 jokermatt999
    May 13, 2010

    To me, losing faith in God was traumatic at first. I was depressed at the time, and quickly sunk into nihilism. However, once I dragged myself out of the depths of self-centered depression, I realized it was actually a beautiful thing. Rather than wondering why a supposedly benevolent and loving God would create a world full of suffering and being unsatisfied with “God works in mysterious ways”, I found to be atheism a much kinder idea. Rather than a malevolent or uncaring God, there was simply nothing. People speak of religious rapture, and how the truth of God made them feel at peace. For me, atheism was eventually the same thing.

  90. #90 Cerberus
    May 13, 2010

    Also, slacktvist has had many great posts on willful stupidity over the years and how the strain of believing in lies and of defending these chosen lies pretty much is what causes people to go into the insane “conspiracy theory” territory.

    We all sometimes make decisions about how much truth we tell, but lies and systems built on them often quickly become toxic and there’s really no use for them, especially when they have been revealed as such.

    Telling the kid that the dog is at a farm to avoid having to confront them with death is one thing (not necessarily a good thing, but still). Still telling them that it’s at the farm after they’ve dug up the grave or admitted they saw you burying it and worse yet, telling them they’ll be punished if they keep saying that it’s dead is something else altogether, something even worse.

    And this is what’s going on with a lot of the big religions these days. More and more people have gone to the gravesite, but they insist that the dog is at the farm and have begun to be driven insane by the conspiracy theory needed to prop up that original supposedly comforting lie.

    Or for a less morbid example, they’re becoming like the end of that sitcom episode in every sitcom where Character X creates a web of lies to avoid having to tell something to their parents that ends up creating disaster after disaster. Yes, we’re bigots, yes, we’re children who need our binkies, yes, all of science is a conspiracy theory, anything to avoid having to admit that whoops, God isn’t real.

  91. #91 aratina cage
    May 13, 2010

    Are theists just forgetting the times they wake up in the middle of the night terrified of some fearful event?
    -Mattir #54

    A far better comfort than a god at times like those is man’s best friend. Maybe they should drop their god and get a dog.

  92. #92 John Scanlon FCD
    May 13, 2010

    Sastra #38, you are just brilliant. Again and again. Can haz book?

  93. #93 cafeeine
    May 13, 2010

    I find this ridiculous. Linker is attempting to find validation in theists’ long-standing ruminations on god matters, so he’s only willing to accept an atheist who reinforces that validation, one who claims that yes, he no longer believes in God, but the ideas of theologians do have merit, and it grieves him to have left them behind, as they did fill some nondescript hole in his non-soul. In other words an atheist who nonetheless thinks the theists are right.

    Shorter Linker:
    “These atheists may in fact have kicked the habit of the god drug, or perhaps never had it, but they should at least have the decency of going through the withdrawal I would feel, because otherwise it makes a mockery of its potency”.

  94. #94 Brownian, OM
    May 13, 2010

    @Cerberus, #84:

    I hadn’t thought of it like that before, but I really think you’re on to something. In this light, Linker’s thesis boils down to, “Look at these New Atheists, tossing away God without even pretending to look remorseful. Have they no shame?

    The contortions I went through mostly involved trying to keep my ideas too vague to sound stupid, even to me.

    I remember similar contortions when I went through my New Age phase. It was these that finally got me to stop and wonder what it is I was so desperately trying to hold on to.

    That and the fact that it was way too easy to come up with rationalisations while high, and they weren’t any less compelling than the ones I came up with sober.

    No field of thought should be impervious to the beer goggles effect.

  95. #95 frog, Inc.
    May 13, 2010

    Crudely: Attention on deck! The challenges of living without God are not, repeat, not, daunting or existential

    They were 150 years ago. These guys are stuck in the late 19th century, when “living without God” was a challenge to the very structure of your personality — every assumption of your world had the dreck of God on it. Freud was still in the future.

    Some of us grew up in the 20th century, and it’ll actually stuck. These folks just can’t understand that they’re just primitives. Shit, I consider modernists a bit primitive today.

  96. #96 elzoog
    May 14, 2010

    PZ Myers, I know you don’t respond to messages like this. But here is another guy making the same kinds of points this Linker dude is making.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xe5kVw9JsYI

    Have a look at it and see if there’s anything there you want to respond to. I consider your post to be a sound rebuttal to what the guy in this video says already though.

  97. #97 Anri
    May 14, 2010

    Maybe I’m being too harsh, but this type of complaint seems to say, in essence:
    “I’m pretty damn smart. Giving up god was hard for me. Thus, giving up god is hard for smart people. Therefore, people who give up god easily are DUMB STUPID MENAYPANTS who can’t think deep thoughts like I do!”

    …like I said, maybe I’m being too harsh.

  98. #98 Crudely Wrott
    May 14, 2010

    At #95:

    I agree with you when you say that 150 years ago the novelty of godlessness was fraught with intimidating challenge. So was inventing a better light source, a better means of communication, better telescopes, steam engines, clothes, prostheses, cooking utensils, book bindings, lubricants, solvents, manufacturing processes, record keeping, understanding our place in the vast scheme of things and many other related pursuits and interests. All of these have yielded useful, even profitable results.

    What hasn’t been shown to be of practical use, save for salving the multitude of small wounds that afflict us all, equally it seems, are the religions and the anti-science mischief that passes for wisdom in some quarters.

    Despite the fact that I often recall days gone by for the simplicity and directness that stand out in memory, I wouldn’t go back to them for love nor money. There’s too much going on now. I’d hate to miss anything!

  99. #99 WowbaggerOM
    May 14, 2010

    I tend to find these characterisations of how atheists ‘must’ or ‘should’ feel to be particularly stupid.

    Would I like there to be a god? Sure – though not the Christian god; he’s a complete asshole psychopath that no sane, decent person would wish to exist. But a truly good god who made clear, unambiguous communications about what it does and doesn’t want, and that responds accordingly with just rewards or punishments would be great. I’d do what it asked and we’d all be happy.

    I feel that considering the existence of such a god to be quite reasonable.

    However, that god (quite plainly) does not exist – but I don’t feel bad about it. What would be the point? It’s far better to just get on with my life and try to work out what’s going to make me happy* and have at it.

    *Not in a hedonistic sense, more in a holistic ‘overall sense of well being’ kind of happy.

  100. #100 Antiochus Epiphanes
    May 14, 2010

    Until I moved to the south I wasn’t an atheist. I was just indifferent.

  101. #101 Tulse
    May 14, 2010

    We don’t need to “figure it out” and attack 19th century misconceptions about good. We can through Nietzche out as a historical artifact, as an early attempt by a man ignorant about the facts of the 20th century.

    It is typical of these liberal existentialists to play the “historical context” game with the Word of Our Friedrich, but true Nietzchians know that only a literal reading of his texts is valid, and that every word can be understood in its fundamental sense. As the bumper sticker says:

    Nietzche Said It. I Believe It. That Settles It.

  102. #102 chaseacross
    May 14, 2010

    @frog, Inc.

    That’s why I said “I think” and not “I know. As far as I understand it, death would be akin to a dreamless sleep forever. And there’s no need to be snide. It’s like I’m a brain-addled creationist here to troll the heathens.

  103. #103 csrster
    May 14, 2010

    I learned my atheism from Bertrand Russell. Does he count as an Old Atheist or a new Atheist?

  104. #104 Usagichan
    May 14, 2010

    chaseacross

    As far as I understand it, death would be akin to a dreamless sleep forever

    Given that the shot at eternal bliss comes with the (far more likely, given that only one (if any) flavour of Religion is the True Faith

  105. #105 jcmartz.myopenid.com
    May 14, 2010

    Now, watch this video to cool you off: Octopus Kills Shark

  106. #106 John Scanlon FCD
    May 14, 2010

    It was a bit of a disappointment, but also a relief, to find out that the spiral stair at the back of the church only went up as far as the organ loft, and down to a small crypt; that all the miraculous stuff in the old book was hearsay, with no standing as accurate history or even eyewitness accounts; that most of it was insane drivel with no philosophical value anyway (Ecclesiastes is OK, but toss the rest!); that the Vatican showed its lack of faith in the Turin rag by refusing [as it did for so long] to submit samples for carbon dating; that God was nothing to be afraid of. Without heaven, hell, or any kind of miraculous intervention to fear, we can appreciate life and reality for what they are and can be, not write them off as a prelude or a fake like the religious do (or pretend to, except when their real fear shows). Not missing anything, thanks for asking.

  107. #107 Minus
    May 14, 2010

    Just an aside regarding #20 who asked, “Isn’t it likely that virtually all of the believers living under Stalin, Mao, etc merely claimed to be atheist?”

    Actually no one was forced to proclaim atheism in either country. Churches did not exactly thrive but religious people were not persecuted and continued to worship if they wanted. In fact, the Red Army actually protected the churches and temples in Tibet when they entered the country. There is a world of misinformation out there on this question. It’s quite amazing how skeptics never apply critical thinking in certain areas.

  108. #108 Richard Eis
    May 14, 2010

    Is he saying that lying (ie religion) could ever be a “good” thing in all but the most specific of examples? Surely “neuteral” is relatively better than “bad”.

    We spend 99.9% of our time doing perfectly secular things. I don’t need God to do the washing up. I certainly don’t think existential thoughts while doing it. Yet apparently this 0.01% “supposedly” missing from my life should apparently consume my every waking moment of my existence.

    The point is not that atheism must invariably terminate in a tragic view of the world;

    Yet it doesn’t so that statement is incorrect. The guy is an idiot romantic. A Sphinx in need of a secret.

    Rather than explore the complex and daunting existential challenges involved in attempting to live a life without God…

    Thats because there aren’t any. You can’t worry about a soul you don’t have.

  109. #109 chaseacross
    May 14, 2010

    @Usagichan

    I’m impressed with your ability to read comments fully and appreciate nuance. It’s something that’s lacking in forums like this. It seems to me as if many atheists are so frightened of the enemy (fundies and the like), that attempts to understand religion, or to take a complicated position on related issues, are interpreted as some form of treason. Aid and comfort to the enemy, as it were. Appreciation for religion is not support or endorsement.

    I don’t agree with you that the threat of eternal damnation is the primary manifestation of religion in the world. So many of the extant crimes, at least it seems to me, are motivated more by the positive benfits: the 72 virgins for martyrs, the curative properties of albino flesh, protection from disaster for properly punishing those darn gays, etc.

    As to Pascal’s wager, I feel Pascal’s logic was sound for his particular time and place. But given the incredible diversity of religious opinion discovered by centuries of ethnography, the logic becomes almost untenable. As the great philosopher Homer Simpson once said: “And what if we picked the wrong religion? Every week we’re just making God madder and madder!”

  110. #110 chaseacross
    May 14, 2010

    @jhsteele58

    Humans are violent; modern nation states are particularly violent

    You might be right on the first point, but the second point is factually incorrect. Modern states are dramatically less violent than past societies (including medieval ones). Further, civilized peoples are almost inevitably less violent than neolithic peoples. Watch this: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/steven_pinker_on_the_myth_of_violence.html

  111. #111 Usagichan
    May 14, 2010

    chaseacross,

    You said

    So many of the extant crimes, at least it seems to me, are motivated more by the positive benfits: the 72 virgins for martyrs, the curative properties of albino flesh, protection from disaster for properly punishing those darn gays, etc.

    The difference is that I don’t see the spectacular, newsworthy crimes as what is shaping the world. For me the greater influence is poor people kept ignorant under Theocratic rule, the vast numbers of donors that feed fundamentalist churches, the sickness and misery spread by stupid rules on contraception or abortion. It is here that I think the fear of damnation is the shaping force.

    After all, when a church member looks like leaving the fold, their religious leaders don’t encourage them to see what they are missing, but threaten them with Hellfire.

    As for Pascals wager, well I think the logic of it is as bad in the context of his time as it is now. It assumes you can choose to believe and that an omniscient God will not see you are simply pretending belief.

    Whilst he may not have had an understanding of the huge number of religions available today, be certainly had a classical education (Roman and Greek gods) as well as being aware of the Jewish and Islamic faiths and the Orthodox churches, as well as no doubt many of the Christian sects that existed at the time. His whole premise is based on a cultural assumption that had no empirical justification… Just because we can see how much greater the odds of picking the right deity are, it doesn’t mean he got the argument right at the time!

  112. #112 Knockgoats
    May 14, 2010

    Ben in Texas,

    Neither Stalinist Russia nor Maoist China made religious belief illegal – that’s just a (largely American) myth. Certainly, if you wanted to get on, apparent atheism was an advantage, and both regimes were keen to “domesticate” religious organisations (Stalin made extensive use of the Orthodox Church to rally the population during WWII), but atheism was not mandatory (China during the Cultural Revolution came nearest – overt religious practice would certainly have been dangerous in most places). Only Albania under Enver Hoxha officially claimed to be wholly atheist, calling itself the world’s first atheist state – but this claim was clearly false.

  113. #113 Knockgoats
    May 14, 2010

    Cerberus@84,
    Excellently put!

  114. #114 Cerberus
    May 14, 2010

    chaseacross-

    The thing I’ve always seen is that for whatever religion or non-religion, we’ve got one chance at this one life with this particular consciousness on this world. No more, no less.

    And so many religions seem to hold infinity out like a carrot and wield infinity like a cudgel to get people to surrender that one life. Oh, this isn’t special, compared to the infinity you’ll spend in either Paradise or Hell, so waste this one life, make decisions that make your life poorer, don’t mobilize for social betterment, don’t do what you want, second-guess and randomly guess at what some invisible sky-daddy wants you to do and do that instead.

    In all things, make some sacrifices, place some limits, restrict oneself in this one actual life, this special unique thing for some long-reach second life that will somehow be so amazing and so long that it’ll have made it worth it to waste this life.

    I found that sick years ago and I still do, just as I find the idea of any deity or force that would care more about the meaningless prostrations, the identities, the stupid idiotic crap rather than actual deeds for the betterment of humanity versus those for its worsening.

    And so many religions pretty much require the former because it’s so hard to get the control needed to spread and dominate when you’re spreading the word of the latter. And that’s what all the religions end up being about.

    Oppression, control, dominance.

  115. #115 jhsteele58
    May 14, 2010

    chaseacross nowhere in that video does Pinker compare violence by nation states in the present versus earlier times. He looks at the murder rate over centuries and suggests that it has gone done, perhaps because nation states are better at policing their people or because living conditions have improved or because our moral sense has evolved. But crucially his only statistic on warfare looks at wars since 1950. How convenient. Why not compare the number of people killed in the world wars with the number killed in the 30 years war? As one possible point of comparison.

    I think it is quite plausible to argue that as our world is shrinking our sense of empathy for others has grown, as he argues. We don’t take kindly to torturing cats either anymore, as he says. But the modern nation state is a much more efficient killing machine that has resulted in much more death and destruction in the last century than in previous ones.

    To the larger point of this thread… much of it carried out by nations having no connection to organized religion.

    It is quite possible to make an evidence-based claim that it is possible to live happily without God; it is not possible to make an evidence based claim that we are a less violent people without God.

  116. #116 Kevin
    May 14, 2010

    The only things I struggle with having lost my faith is the inevitable disconnect from my family when they figure it all out, and also being rushed headlong into a reality that I all but snuffed when I was younger because it was ‘aberrant’ according to their beliefs. Aside from those, everything is peachy.

  117. #117 Tim Harris
    May 14, 2010

    Cerberus, keep growling and shaking your chain (if you have one) – you’re fabulous! And thank you jhsteele58: I haven’t seen Pinker’s TedTalk (I shall definitely watch and listen to it), but it does strike me, from his books, that he is far too ready to credit the claims of people like Napoleon Chagnon about the violence found among ‘primitive peoples’ and far too ready to pretend that 20th-century violence (the Stalinists, the Nazis, Mao’s China, Pol Pot, the ‘Founding Fathers’ in Nicaragua, perhaps, forgive me, even America in Vietnam…) is somehow negligible in comparison. He is a wonderfully intelligent thinker from whom I have learnt a lot, but for whom I have a profound mistrust.

  118. #118 raven
    May 14, 2010

    linker:

    The point is not that atheism must invariably terminate in a tragic view of the world;

    Some groups of xians have one of the most pathetic worldviews there is. The Rapture monkeys, End Timers.

    It is deeply hoped and believed that god will show up any minute, destroy the earth, and kill 6.7 billion people. Most will end up in hell being tortured forever, as xians aren’t even 1/3 of the world’s population.

    This is an amoral and immoral dogma and it is about as destructive as it gets unless we discover UFO aliens. Then the fundies can hope god kills them too. For kooks who really believe it, there is no reason to worry about anything, the earth, the environment, your kids, your job, your self. God is going to end it all. Any day now, please god.

    Of course there is another problem. The Happy Day of Mass Murder was scheduled 2,000 years ago. It has been predicted every few months ever since. After a few millennia it is obvious it isn’t going to happen.

    It isn’t hard or tragic to be an atheist. Anyone taking a hard look at modern US xianity finds themselves there soon enough. Most of those are…EX-XIANS who decided it was all a weird and gruesome game of Let’s Pretend.

  119. #119 Ben in Texas
    May 14, 2010

    Knockgoats @112

    Thanks for the response and the info. It always irritates me when creationists claim that “atheist regimes” have caused so many horrors, and my point in this thread has been that it’s doubtful that those regimes were really atheist. I’m guessing that the ratio of believers to nonbelievers was the same before, during, and after. Just a guess, though.

  120. #120 charley
    May 14, 2010

    This has been a wonderful thread. Thanks, all you smart, articulate, funny people.

    The only anxiety I experienced as my atheism solidified was the depressing and highly suspect conclusion that pretty much everyone in my life was either delusional or hypocritical. Years later I have not found any way to escape that conclusion, much as I’d like to. The only way forward has been to find new friends while trying to focus on what’s good about old friends and family.

  121. #121 raven
    May 14, 2010

    chaseacross:

    It seems to me as if many atheists are so frightened of the enemy (fundies and the like), that attempts to understand religion, or to take a complicated position on related issues, are interpreted as some form of treason. Aid and comfort to the enemy, as it were.

    You are missing some obvious and important points. We mostly understand religion well, far better than most xians.

    1. Most atheists, including most commenters on this blog, ARE EX-XIANS. Where in the hell do you think atheists come from? The stork brought them? Found in a cabbage patch? With your vast powers of thought, you are going to have a hard time reproducing.

    2. Most of us know far more about xianity than the vast majority of xians. Who generally know next to nothing. The churches cherry pick the bible and ignore most of it. Because it is a kludgy anthology full of contradictions, weird sex, genocide, slavery and so on. They spend a lot of time lying about everything to their members. The earth is 6,000 years old, the Neanderthal bones that were just sequenced are hundreds of years old. The Shroud of Turin of jesus is real and all his 3 tombs and 18 penis foreskins as well. Xian babies are abducted and found dead and drained of all their blood. It is infinite.

    Some of the atheists who appear here are ex-ministers, ex-theologians, people who know ancient Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew and can read the original documents.

    The average fundie is generally ignorant about most things including science and their religion. Many of the cults are vicious mind control sects that literally brainwash and beat their ideology into their kids. Some of the sects actively discourage going to college. Because they are afraid that religion can’t survive the light of knowledge and clear thinking. They are right, it can’t. It isn’t, xianity has been going downhill in the USA for decades.

    You are making a common theist mistake. Confusing lies and babbling for thought.

  122. #122 Ben in Texas
    May 14, 2010

    Minus @107

    Just saw your comment. Thanks for the info.

  123. #123 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    May 14, 2010

    The only anxiety I experienced as my atheism solidified was the depressing and highly suspect conclusion that pretty much everyone in my life was either delusional or hypocritical.

    Or what I’ve discovered with many of the friends of mine I know:

    Lazy, content, uncomfortable with change.

  124. #124 Ben in Texas
    May 14, 2010

    For many of my friends, it’s fear of being labeled as one of those nasty atheists. They’d much sooner say agnostic. And, of course, they think labeling themselves “Christian” carries good connotations. I get so sick of hearing, “He’s a good Christian man (or woman).”

  125. #125 charley
    May 14, 2010

    Lazy, content, uncomfortable with change.

    Thanks, that’s accurate and far less harsh.

  126. #126 raven
    May 14, 2010

    Neither Stalinist Russia nor Maoist China made religious belief illegal – that’s just a (largely American) myth.

    My impression is that the commies never did all that much to suppress religion. In Russia, the Orthodox church kept on functioning openly all through the Soviet era.

    People from there have said to me that it was Don’t ask, don’t tell. Or let’s all pretend we are atheists and not look too closely. Because even a lot of Party members were closet xians.

    It certainly didn’t work. As soon as the empire fell, religion popped up like nothing had happened. They now have their own fundie xian problems.

    The one country most familar to me is Poland. At the start of the communist era it was 90% Catholic. At the end it was 96% Catholic.

    It is always seems to be a mistake to force people to believe something or not. A lot of xians in the USA make up persecution stories because they think xianity thrives on persecution. Maybe it does.

  127. #127 Knockgoats
    May 14, 2010

    But the modern nation state is a much more efficient killing machine that has resulted in much more death and destruction in the last century than in previous ones. – jhsteele58

    I’m by no means sure Pinker’s right, but nor is it as obvious as you think that he’s wrong. The death toll from European colonialism was immense – certainly well into the 100s of millions – although much of it was not violence in the narrow sense of chopping people up or shooting them – rather, famine and disease resulting from the disruption of conquest and subsequent exploitation. The 13th century Mongol conquests probably killed a larger share of Eurasia’s population than the wars of the 20th century: they often slaughtered the entire population of a city even when it surrendered, and drove the peasants off the land to starve so they could use it for grazing. (As an interesting footnote, Yelü Chucai, a non-Mongol advisor to Genghiz Khan, may have saved more human lives than anyone in history by persuading Ghengis not to massacre the entire population of northern China as he intended.) I also recall that archaeology comes up with remarkably high figures for the proportion of violent deaths among skeletons from small-scale societies, although I don’t have a reference to hand.

  128. #128 Tim Harris
    May 14, 2010

    Regarding European colonialism, look into particularly the Belgians in the Congo. Or read Edmund Spenser on an earlier Irish famine, if the 19th-century one is not enough… But also look into the controversy over Chagnon and his insistence on the ‘Darwinian’ violence of the Yanomamo,which Stephen Pinker seems to quite uncritically accept. Why does he accept it so?

  129. #129 Knockgoats
    May 14, 2010

    An apposite quote on differing reactions to the loss of faith, from Lytton Strachey’s biography of Cardinal Manning in Eminent Victorians (1918). Note that even in 1918, looking back to the 1840s, Strachey thought the loss of faith was “more distressing in those
    days than it has since become”.

    “Hurrell Froude had died before Newman had read the fatal article on St. Augustine; but his
    brother, James Anthony, together with Arthur Clough, the poet, went through an experience which was more distressing in those days than it has since become; they lost their faith. With this
    difference, however, that while in Froude’s case the loss of his faith turned out to be rather like the loss of a heavy portmanteau, which one afterwards discovers to have been full of
    old rags and brickbats, Clough was made so uneasy by the loss of his that he went on looking for it everywhere as long as he lived; but somehow he never could find it.”

  130. #130 Knockgoats
    May 14, 2010

    p.s. to #129:
    It’s fair to note that Wikipedia says Froude “never lost his faith in God or Christianity”, but found he could not subscribe to official doctrine (he had intended to become a C. of E. clergyman).

  131. #131 hyman.rosen
    May 14, 2010

    For me the greater influence is poor people kept ignorant under Theocratic rule, the vast numbers of donors that feed fundamentalist churches, the sickness and misery spread by stupid rules on contraception or abortion.

    You’re going to have to offer evidence that people are being “kept ignorant”. It seems far more likely to me that people have access to various alternative arguments but reject or ignore them, and it also seems likely to me that calling people who reject your argument “ignorant” is an unjustified ad hominem attack on them, and exactly the sort of thing that leads to conflict. In the United States, at least, God Is Not Great was readily available in bookstores, but it caused no massive departure from religious belief. Causes and means of prevention of AIDS are everywhere known, but Africa is still suffering from massive increases in cases. I think you are blaming religion for human behavior rather than seeing religion as the outcome of human behavior.

  132. #132 Brownian, OM
    May 14, 2010

    As for Pascals wager, well I think the logic of it is as bad in the context of his time as it is now. It assumes you can choose to believe and that an omniscient God will not see you are simply pretending belief.

    It’s worse than that; it assumes that getting into heaven is a simple as ticking off a box on a tax form: “Clickety-click! Barbaratrick! I believe in God! Can I haz keez to hevun plz?”

    Read my comment #31 again. For those of us raised in moderate Catholic traditions, hell was de-emphasised but the difficulty of getting into heaven was over-emphasised, with all the relevant quotes by Jesus as evidence. Now, as a smart but lazy kid, I knew fairly well how much work I needed to move my grades: I could get fairly good marks without any effort at all; any effort I did put in would just be gilding the lily (I’ll note my parents and teachers didn’t share my enthusiasm for efficiency and conservation of energy.) To my thinking, getting into heaven was a lot like an exam you were likely to fail in any case, so why bother studying your ass off when the sun is shining outside and the rest of the gang is playing sandlot baseball? Early on, in my childish naïvité, I thought I could make the cut (just like I was never going to smoke or have sex before marriage, and I was going to run triathalons in between winning ground-breaking legal cases and performing complicated surgeries on orphans for free). And then I hit puberty and discovered masturbation, which was most definitely a sin. (For future Catholic school teachers: never ask a 12-year-old to choose between acting out a Divinyls single and God. God will lose, hairy-palmed hands down nearly every time.)

    Even in Pascal’s time, the Church’s position was that it took more to get into heaven than to “be faithful, honest, humble, grateful, generous, a sincere friend, truthful.” It is by no means a loss free proposition, for if it were even the merest Christian would be a paragon of Christian virtue.

  133. #133 frog, Inc.
    May 14, 2010

    chaseacross: That’s why I said “I think” and not “I know. As far as I understand it, death would be akin to a dreamless sleep forever. And there’s no need to be snide. It’s like I’m a brain-addled creationist here to troll the heathens.

    Then you don’t understand it very far.

    No, “being deads” (which is an unfortunate construction) is NOTHING like being asleep.

    It’s literally like nothing. It’s not “dreamless” — it’s not “you” “being” “dead” — it’s nothing at all imaginable, since anything you imagine has your subjectivity at the heart of it.

    You’ve never read Nagle’s “What is it like to be a bat”? And being a bat at least assumes an experiencer, a subject.

    There is no “being dead”. No one “is” dead, others recognize a death.

    Really, you believe the grammar way too literally. That, I believe, is one of the essential fallacies of “religion” — a belief that because something can be said grammatically, there’s actually an underlying “question” or “statement” there, rather than gibberish.

  134. #134 Brownian, OM
    May 14, 2010

    Oops. The first paragraph in #132 should be blockquoted.

  135. #135 Celtic_Evolution
    May 14, 2010

    The only anxiety I experienced as my atheism solidified was the depressing and highly suspect conclusion that pretty much everyone in my life was either delusional or hypocritical.

    Or what I’ve discovered with many of the friends of mine I know:
    Lazy, content, uncomfortable with change.

    The toughest thing for me, and I think deep down this is essentially the heart of the issue for most believers, was giving up my sense of immortality.

    Here’s the deal, whether you spend an eternity in heaven, or spend an eternity in hell, at least you continue to exist in some way. And existing, even in eternal damnation, is still a more palatable thought to most than simply not existing anymore at all. Most humans simply can not, and will not, accept the possibility that existence is temporary and fleeting. For many, accepting that prospect would literally drive them insane.

    Religion has understood and capitalized on this facet of the human psyche since its inception. Provide a platform for immortality, a piece of you that can never be destroyed and will always exist (the soul), and people will flock to it.

    For me, it was easy to see the inconsistencies and obvious problems with religious texts, and I shed organized religion at an early age and called myself an agnostic. But it took much longer to completely shed religion altogether, and much of that was the difficulty in forsaking the idea of immortality. I was terrified of that though t for quite some time.

    Over time, and the more I learned and understood the real world I simply had no choice but to accept the falseness of religion… and of immortality.

    Once I did, however, It was so freeing, to understand and appreciate exactly how precious and fleeting this existence is, and has forced me to make the most of it.

  136. #136 Knockgoats
    May 14, 2010

    But also look into the controversy over Chagnon and his insistence on the ‘Darwinian’ violence of the Yanomamo,which Stephen Pinker seems to quite uncritically accept. Why does he accept it so? -Tim Harris

    I think it fits his “Evo Psych” viewpoint, and he loves to present himself and his chums as “tough-minded”. I don’t know enough about the Chagnon-Yanomami controversy to have a settled view on it, though I suspect there are considerable faults on both sides.

  137. #137 Celtic_Evolution
    May 14, 2010

    oops… blockquote fail in #135… the first paragraph should be blockquoted, with Rev BDC’s reply nested in another blockquote…

    the rest is mine.

    That’s what I get for going on vacation and not commenting in a week. :-/

  138. #138 Knockgoats
    May 14, 2010

    it also seems likely to me that calling people who reject your argument “ignorant” is an unjustified ad hominem attack on them – hyman.rosen

    In the case of the large proportion of Americans who reject evolutionary theory, ignorance is by far the kindest assumption one can make about them. Also, you clearly don’t know what “ad hominem” means: do look it up.

  139. #139 Celtic_Evolution
    May 14, 2010

    Causes and means of prevention of AIDS are everywhere known, but Africa is still suffering from massive increases in cases.

    Are you going to ignorantly dismiss the Catholic Church’s significant role in this particular example and simply insist it’s a matter of “human nature”? Really?

  140. #140 chaseacross
    May 14, 2010

    @frog, Inc.

    I’ll break it down then.

    1. Death is non-existence
    2. Non-existence entails unconsciousness
    2a. Because dead people are not conscious, they are, by definition unconscious
    3. Death entails a complete lack of experience
    4. Unconsciousness without dreaming entails a complete lack of experience
    5. Therefore, the state of death is similar to the state of dreamless sleep

  141. #141 alysonmiers
    May 14, 2010

    Only Albania under Enver Hoxha officially claimed to be wholly atheist, calling itself the world’s first atheist state – but this claim was clearly false.

    And as someone who has lived in the Land of the Eagles, I can say that Hoxha did his people no favors. Amazing, how living under a totalitarian dictator doesn’t help a populace’s critical thinking skills. There’s really no point in having your security blanket ripped out from under you if you’re still not allowed to think for yourself.

    I can tell you who did benefit from the state-enforced atheism, however: missionary organizations came rushing in like air to a vacuum when the Communist regime dissolved and the state opened up. All those poor, dogma-drenched, church-deprived heathens, ripe for the pickins!

  142. #142 Cliff Hendroval
    May 14, 2010

    Chris Hedges (“War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning”) is forever beating this same dead horse.

    It reminds me of watching post-teenagers in emo bands wailing about the horrible lot existence handed them. After 40 years of angst, that crap begins to get old.

  143. #143 chaseacross
    May 14, 2010

    But the modern nation state is a much more efficient killing machine that has resulted in much more death and destruction in the last century than in previous ones. – jhsteele58

    You are correct: the total number of deaths in modern wars exceeds wars from previous eras. But that’s a dumb measurement of violence- there are a lot more people!

    The fact, as articulated in Keeley’s book War Before Civilization, is that the casualties of all modern wars and conflicts are extremely low when measured as a percentage of the population. That metric is the only rational means to measure violence. Indeed modern nations are more efficient when it comes to war, if that is taken to mean that they can achieve war objectives with fewer deaths.

    It is essentially indisputable: people living today have a lower chance of dying by the hands of other people than ever before. This is true even in developing countries, where murder or war death doesn’t even break the top ten in terms of causes of death.

  144. #144 CJO
    May 14, 2010

    chaseacross, frog was just saying that in his view “the state of death” is a meaningless phrase. You’re just rephrasing and numbering the same argument, you’re not responding to what he wrote.

    Your numbered list appears internally contradictory as well. You start out saying that death is nonexistence and end talking about death as a state. For something/someone to be in a state, it has to be in the state of existence, yes?

  145. #145 stvs
    May 14, 2010

    the studied insouciance of the new atheists can come to seem almost comically superficial and unserious.

    This is bullshit. The “old” atheists express precisely the same contempt for god as the “new” ones do, and all pose the same unanswered questions for the faithful. Where is the line between “new” and “old” atheism over this 2400-year-old+ history? The articles by Linker and Hart, which fail to answer or even grasp this basic point, are pathetically confused.

    What Jupiter? Do not trifle. There is no Jupiter.
    ?Socrates character in Aristophanes’ The Clouds (5th c. BCE)

    Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is God both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
    ?Epicurus (3d c. BCE)

    The inhabitants of the earth are of two sorts: Those with brains, but no religion, And those with religion, but no brains.
    ?Al-Ma’arri (10th c. CE)

    The Koran! well, come put me to the test?
    Lovely old book in hideous error drest?
    Believe me, I can quote the Koran too,
    The unbeliever knows his Koran best.

    And do you think that unto such as you,
    A maggot-minded, starved, fanatic crew,
    God gave the secret, and denied it me??
    Well, well, what matters it! believe that too.
    ?Omar Khayyám (11th c.)

    Don’t you see that the appalling history of sectarianism, persecution, heresy hunting, shows you that this way of thinking about the world is intrinsically unsound?
    ?Thomas Hobbes (17th c.)

    God’s power is infinite, Whatever he wills is executed; But neither man nor any other animal is happy; therefore he does not will their happiness. Epicurus’ old questions are yet unanswered. Is he both able and willing to prevent evil? Then whence cometh evil?
    ?David Hume (18th c.)

    There is no need for that hypothesis.
    ?Laplace (18th c.)

    I think it better to keep a profound silence with regard to the Christian fables, which are canonized by their antiquity and the credulity of absurd and insipid people.
    ?Frederick the Great to Voltaire (18th c.)

    [Christianity] is assuredly the most ridiculous, the most absurd and the most bloody religion which has ever infected this world. Your Majesty will do the human race an eternal service by extirpating this infamous superstition, I do not say among the rabble, who are not worthy of being enlightened and who are apt for every yoke; I say among honest people, among men who think, among those who wish to think. ? My one regret in dying is that I cannot aid you in this noble enterprise, the finest and most respectable which the human mind can point out.
    ?Voltaire to Frederick the Great

    I have no religion, and at times I wish all religions at the bottom of the sea. He is a weak ruler who needs religion to uphold his government;
    ?Atatürk (20th c.)

    The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this.
    ?Albert Einstein (20th c.)

    Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.
    ?Steven Weinberg (21st c.)

  146. #146 monado
    May 14, 2010

    My pricey family membership at the ROM is up for renewal. I will just have to decline and tell them why.

  147. #147 monado
    May 14, 2010

    Oops! Wrong thread. I meant that for Deepak Chopra at the ROM, of course.

  148. #148 https://me.yahoo.com/a/ZtcYREgkweeGsULreuYqtWysjg_Gwy5n1A--#27f9d
    May 14, 2010

    Apologists for faith who cite Nietzsche tend to leave out discussing Nietzsche’s AntiChrist, wherein he exults over Christianity’s rotting corpse and bemoans its baleful influence. Nietzsche did not only promote Apocalyptic Atheism, he promoted Exultant Atheism. Were he alive today, he would be disemboweling men like Linker and Hart, (who should be the first victims of any apocalypse).

  149. #149 https://me.yahoo.com/a/O.jullMj0I2VvJaxMMVeNKSfOPf73voLSxJAe9PdlOWwi8Y-#258ec
    May 14, 2010

    “Despite the fact that I often recall days gone by for the simplicity and directness that stand out in memory, I wouldn’t go back to them for love nor money. There’s too much going on now. I’d hate to miss anything!”

    I react to religions and the religious like I do to those awful nostalgic e-mails I get from time to time always how wonderful it was in days gone by in the 50’s or 60’s or longer ago than that. The memory is so selective in both as to be completely divorced from reality.

    Reminds me of guys I have met who think it was so great in the army, even those who went to Vietnam and have not suffered too much with PTSD. I foolishly point out that what they remember as good might have more to do with being 20 than being in the army.
    I think that this compulsion with God and religion and the Tea bag Patriots might be related more with memory than theology or politics. What they are fighting is the awareness of reality and would instead prefer the awareness of childhood where Santa was real and not Mom and Dad and there is no cold war, race riots or no car crashes. Life is a one way trip and no one gets out alive. Shit happens
    and there is beauty and love just the same.

    up thread some one said the we fear the religious maybe of for good reason. I you knew that one of your neighbors had a dog that will bight and does not keep his gate locked it might be wise to keep an I on him.

  150. #150 Crudely Wrott
    May 14, 2010

    @ 149 — That’s a cryptic use of an “I” for an “eye” and I’m not sure what to make of it. Typo? Momentary distraction? Happy would I be when clarification you respond with. ;)

    My earlier religious leanings, involving by two earnest attempts to “let the spirit flow through me,” were defined by poorly developed abilities to resist suggestion and to regard authorities as fallible.

    Things that sounded good and had some claim of authority had me nurturing a regard for, at first, all religions that claimed a single and caring sponsor (for lack of a better word) and then later, for the claims of evangelical worship of the Big Three. Funny contrast, that. (And it took no apparent effort, in recall.)

    Anyway, it is gratifying and instructive to observe that the world, indeed the universe at large make more sense now, are somehow more comfortable and, well, homey feeling. I no longer feel like a stranger in a strange place; I’m a stranger in a very familiar place!

    The best part is that mysteries are being solved, and new ones are thereby being revealed constantly by nothing more than the application of human consideration. I am aware of no religion with a track record even remotely comparable to that, or to the sciences which are deeply human pursuits; consideration with exhaustive record keeping and experimenting and the data sharing and the arguments and the battle of ideas and the whole great carnival sound that it makes

  151. #151 truthspeaker
    May 16, 2010

    Posted by: hyman.rosen | May 14, 2010 11:08 AM

    For me the greater influence is poor people kept ignorant under Theocratic rule, the vast numbers of donors that feed fundamentalist churches, the sickness and misery spread by stupid rules on contraception or abortion.
    You’re going to have to offer evidence that people are being “kept ignorant”. It seems far more likely to me that people have access to various alternative arguments but reject or ignore them,

    It’s not about arguments, it’s about facts. Many religious organizations deliberately lie about matters of fact. A Catholic cardinal once claimed that condoms don’t prevent AIDS because the HIV virus can fit through the pores in latex. There are teachers in public schools in the United States teaching the same thing.

    Causes and means of prevention of AIDS are everywhere known, but Africa is still suffering from massive increases in cases.

    No, the causes and means of prevention are not everywhere known, party because many religious leaders discourage their flocks from seeking out information from outside sources, and partly because some religious leaders tell outright lies about contraception and disease prevention. In the United States, many school districts are not allowed to tell teenagers that contraception exists or that you an prevent most STDs with condoms. The laws preventing this were passed because of lobbying from church groups.

  152. #152 paulmurray
    May 17, 2010

    “the statements “godlessness is true” and “godlessness is good” are distinct propositions. And yet the new atheists invariably conflate them.”

    No, no, no. The new atheists *also* have another proposition not mentioned here: ”truth is good”. It’s the fundamental value of the scientific mindset: it is always best to know and face the truth squarely – deceiving yourself is a moral wrong.

    “For the catastrophic atheist, godlessness is both true and terrible.”

    Well – depends on which shade of meaning you mean by “terrible”. Terrible “bad” or terrible “fearsome”. Yes, switching to the atheist viewpoint involves getting over the fear that there isn’t a God looking after you, that oops your life isn’t really planned out by someone who loves you. I remember it clearly.

    Neitzche was a terrible old misogynist, true, but he was right: theism is *unmanly*.

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