Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

i-462bb962790c49d7f531c30613f66391-red pill.bmp I’ve never really talked about religion on this blog before, at least not directly. But there’s trouble a-brewin’ at ScienceBlogs which has worked more than a few of our ranks into tizzies of knotted panties and carpal tunnel blogging. I figure this is as good a time as any to tackle the topic, since I’ve been pussy-footing around it, well, my whole blog-life (the immense span of 1.5 years!). The issue came up a few days ago when new SciBling Rob Knop wrote a post espousing his position that science and Christianity were not exclusive, what the purpose of religion was, and why he is specifically a Christian. Mike at the Questionable Authority also contributed, noting that ‘natural wonder’ might be defined as ‘spirituality’ for some. Mark Chu-Carroll of Good Math, Bad Math likes to think there’s something more to life than chemical reactions, while Jason at EvolutionBlog believes the key is how you define and more importantly use the word spirituality. And you only have to trot on over to PZ Myer’s blog to see in what esteem he holds those views.

My story is a long and tedious one, filled with angst and dogma and trite enlightenment. However, I might as well get it out of the way now, once and for all.

(Continued beneath the fold……)

Until I went to college in Florida, I spent nearly half my waking life in church or doing some church activity. All my friends went to my church, almost all my social activities were churchy in nature. Wednesday night socials. Sunday school. Choir. Etc, etc. Almost every night of the week, and all day Sunday, I found myself at the First Baptist Chuch in my small town in South Carolina. I saw this as normal, as well as all the things the church leaders said. A literal translation of the Bible. Gays were going to hell…..actually LOTS of people were going to Hell for all sorts of assundry things that weren’t even mentioned in the Good Book. Eventually I started asking questions about dinosaurs, evolution….these questions were discouraged and dismissed. Although there were some wonderful people at my church, and some leaders I still admire to this day, the vast majority were closed-minded and dogmatic. I came to question the hypocritical things I saw in those around me who professed to be Christians. I left for college a very disillusioned Baptist girl who had been told sex was wrong and evil and had been mentally trained to think and live within very narrow mental confines. I left South Carolina and almost all my friends stayed. Stayed there, and stayed the same.

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Dude, church is totally bogus.

Fast forward a few years. After receiving a liberal arts education, taking my first evolution class, and meeting some honest-to-god (GASP!) atheists, my entire world-view was crumbling. It was devastating to come face to face with the demise of everything you had built your entire life around. I tried to deny it, but I couldnt’—the evidence was too great. I knew it, but still, I couldn’t let go completely. I so desperatly *wanted* there to be a God, who loved and cared and would reward us with paradise. And for awhile, this desire was enough to drown out that “devil on my shoulder” who was whispering “you know it, you know it, you know it, just accept it.” Finally, I did. I accepted it. And it was such a liberating, free-ing experience that in my mind I always equated it with “waking up from the Matrix.” I took the Red Pill.

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Misssster Anderson. Agent Falwell and Agent Dobson would like to ask you a few questions. Then we’ll all hold hands and sing ‘Go Tell it on the Mountain.’

The world looked different, new, changed. I couldn’t measure things or reality or people in the same way. Today was important, not the Everafter. I walked around in awe for months. Then, I went back to South Carolina, and saw all those old people and old thoughts and old dogmas that were as solid as the bedrock of the First Baptist Church. They had not changed, so I pretended I hadn’t either. I so desperatly wanted to give them the “Red Pill” to free them of their fear of Hell and the judgement they felt entitled to pass on others who were different. But I realized that the best thing I could do for them, if I *really* cared for them, was to let them be. They were happy in their delusion, they wanted no perturbation from it. Their happy lie, as I saw it, was preferable to any truth without God. So, I let them be.

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The bullets of hate and bigotry are, like, going way…too…fast!

Thing is, I’m not so arrogant anymore as to think I’ve somehow got the answer, and I should wake everyone up out of their Matrix-like dream of religion. I’m happy with my “truth” and am content to let others live their lives as they see fit, if they’ll make the same accomodation for me. Sometimes, they have not and thats sad. But one thing I’ve come to understand is that people can be good or bad in all walks of life, of all races, creeds, sexes, orientations, political beliefs, whatever. To judge someone on one value alone, whether they are happy with one thought or another, is trivializing human interaction and what people are capable of. Just like politics or activism, religion is a topic that brings out the fervor. But its that fervor, when used to pigeon-hole people on either side, which can be as destructive as the perceived threat of different beliefs.

Personally, I don’t care anymore whether you take the Red Pill or the Blue Pill or an aspirin. My life, my decisions, my goals, and my beliefs stay the same, regardless. I’ve spent too many years of my life already sitting in pious judgement for the other team, and I’ve had enough.

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Comments

  1. #1 JohnA
    March 16, 2007

    Excellent post. Coming from a small Southern town, I can tell you that when I realized I was not on board with the prevailing faith that I was scared to even admit it. It was maddening to see so many people I cared for caugh tup in the silliness, and I made the “mistake” later on of revealing my heathenous thoughts to some of them.

    But a great thing was that later in life my own father, who had never spoke much about religion although my mother always had…my own father admitted to me that he and I were of one mind. Without ever saying a word to point me in that direction, I had somehow arrived. What a great day.

  2. #2 Shaun
    March 16, 2007

    Shelley,
    I would like to congratulate you on writing such a well thought-out, concise explanation/appeal for tolerance. I think you have stated what so many younger people, scientists especially (myself included), go through when they first move away from what they’ve known. The world would truly be a better/safer place if people could simply agree to disagree and leave it at that. People having faith in anything, be it god, buddha, the flying spaghetti monster, can be helpful, as long as it is not completely blind faith that prevents any critical thought. People are all different, thats one of the many facts of life that need to be accepted in order to function in a heterogeneous society. I now hope that you’re not drawn into the fray with hard-liners on either side attacking you.
    -Shaun

  3. #3 Johan
    March 16, 2007

    That was a great read. I come from the opposite background – my isn’t religious, I was not baptised… My brother surprised us all by joining a church though, a few years back. While I think most people were fairly cool about it, there were times when you noticed that narrow-minded, dogmatic enforcing of your own world-view certainly comes from non-religious sources as well. Some people had a very hard time accepting and respecting his faith.

    Like the ending of your post suggests, it’s all about tolerance, whether you’re the only atheist or the only believer.

  4. #4 steve
    March 16, 2007

    I’m glad my mother went through your transformation so I didn’t have to :) I had a hard enough time visiting the southern baptist relatives who seemed to disapprove of me even being born.

  5. #5 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 16, 2007

    Personally, I don’t care anymore whether you take the Red Pill or the Blue Pill or an aspirin.

    You must track down and listen to the song “Guitar Pill” by Henry Phillips. It’s on his album “No. 2.” If you don’t, you will spend eternity in hell.

  6. #6 writerdd
    March 16, 2007

    The problem is that many who do not take the red pill are trying to stop the rest of us from taking it…. and even if we have taken it, they are trying to shove us into a box and force us to follow their rules anyway. Tolerance only goes so far. Tolerance of the Nazis is what led to the Holocaust. I know that’s an extreme example, but a line has to be drawn.

  7. #7 Rob Knop
    March 16, 2007

    Shelley — I think this thread wins the Fastest Retreat Into Godwin’s Law award!!

    To try and derail the derailment….

    I think it might be interesting to compare people who grow up in a very literal, conservative religious tradition like yours with a more open, science-accepting religious tradition like mine. I hypothesize that many more of the former find their faith completely destroyed and end up being atheists when they go to college. It’d be interesting to know if that’s really right.

    -Rob

  8. #8 Cody
    March 16, 2007

    …Godwin’d!

  9. #9 Cody
    March 16, 2007

    Dang it, Rob. You beat me to my astute observation.

    I go to Baylor, which is pretty much the largest Baptist school in the world, and I’m part of the Inherently Unofficial Atheist & Agnostic Society. My version of tolerance is a very simple one: anyone — and I mean anyone, whether champion of reason or odious creationist — gets to dip their hand in the bag of chocolate goodies I bring every week.

  10. #10 J-Dog
    March 16, 2007

    Shelly – Excellent Post – Your growth story is the same as mine, and I would suspect, most of us non-religious types.
    I have been doing the same as you with close relations and friends, BUT, when it comes to open forums, I am a LOT more vocal, so then I fall into writerdd’s camp. Goes to show – we are all different people around different people. Makes life more exciting, right?

  11. #11 Warren
    March 16, 2007

    Your path of discovery reminds me of my own in many ways. But…

    Personally, I don’t care anymore whether you take the Red Pill or the Blue Pill or an aspirin.

    Overall I tend to agree. The problem, as I see it, begins to arise when the Goddish start using their cults as excuses to squelch others’ rights, such as a right to education regarding the reality of the world or the right to express affection in one’s particular idiom, or (in the past) the right for a given gender to vote, or the right for people of one particular skin shade to be free of ownership by others of a different shade.

    Religion is used — frequently — to excuse ghastly deeds. Religion makes it OK to bomb abortion clinics and fly airplanes into buildings. Religion makes it OK to kill a queer for Jesus or refuse treatment to a child because her mother has a tattoo. Religion makes it OK to make teens feel guilty about their bodies and drive some to suicide out of despair because they can’t escape the “demon” of their nonheterosexual desires.

    Where the beliefs remain harmless, tolerance is called for; but when those who claim to live in fear of hellfire do their damndest to make this life, today, the hell they dread, it’s time to stand up and speak out. Taking on a townful of your friends and family isn’t what I mean, but perhaps the next time you visit you could consider “coming out” as an atheist. It’s wonderfully liberating to watch the face of an amateur preacher when s/he’s in the middle of spewing blather about how “God is in control” and you stop the rant dead by saying, “Actually, I’m an atheist, and I’m comfortable with it, so no I don’t agree with anything you just said.”

  12. #12 Sarda Sahney
    March 16, 2007

    Great post, very honest. I was brought up in a religious but very liberal household (say more philosophy then religion). I am not religious but I appreciate different people believe different things and as you said you have your own ‘truth’.

    Being in an evolutionary field (I am a palaeontologist) it is not uncommon to see some of my atheist colleagues perpetrating the same prejudice they accuse religious fundamentalist of.

    Reading your blogs and comments, I am glad to hear people voicing their acceptance of all beliefs (and non-beliefs).

  13. #13 Chuck
    March 16, 2007

    Great post, Shelly! Another recovering Christian (Lutheran) here, though a generation-plus older than you. My deconversion process was much more protracted than yours, but perhaps started earlier in life. As early as age 9 or 10 I felt unexplainably uneasy about the whole business and as might be expected felt very scared and guilty about feeling thus. It took a while to get past that. But before you assume all of them are going to live and let live, read Chris Hedges’ recent book American Fascism: The Christian Right and the War on America, about the “Christian Dominionist” movement.

  14. #14 Boosterz
    March 16, 2007

    I’m one of the lucky atheists that was never religious. I can still remember when my parents would take me to church when I was 6-7 years old. The preacher would be up front talking about virgin birth this, resurrection that, and I remember the whole time I was sitting there thinking, “what a load of crap”. Apparently some of us are born with a natural resistance to mysticism.

    As far as I’m concerned, religion is not only a load of crap, but it’s basic premise of “faith” is diametrically opposed to reason. In other words religion and reason are inversely related. The more you have of one, the less you are gonna have of the other. In this regard religion is almost a pathology. It’s effects are clearly observable.
    Simply look at anyone who is completely consumed by their religion(Ted Haggard, Ken Ham, the freaks in “Jesus Camp” etc). Their ability to function in the real world is SERIOUSLY damaged. They have almost totally lost their ability to distinguish reality from fantasy.

    The world would be a better place if somebody found a “cure” for mysticism.

  15. #15 Colugo
    March 16, 2007

    “… I’m not so arrogant anymore as to think I’ve somehow got the answer, and I should wake everyone up out of their Matrix-like dream of religion. … Its that fervor, when used to pigeon-hole people on either side, which can be as destructive as the perceived threat of different beliefs.”

    Your comments reflect my own views. Myers, Dawkins, Harris, Moran et al. state they are at war with religion and ridicule their theistic scientist colleagues.
    While I am a lifelong atheist, I simply don’t share their atheistic fervor – which strikes me as evangelical. Some are so on fire with zeal that they find the term “spirituality” offensive. I actually agree with Myers about the term’s vacuousness, but I don’t share his anger. (Can atheism become a religion? See Haeckel’s Monism, the French Cult of Reason, Objectivism, dialectical materialism et al.)

    On losing faith: I know a group of thirtysomethings who share a faith trajectory. They were raised as socially conservative, Biblical literalist Calvinists or members of another Protestant sect. During their college years, they lost their fundamentalism – some embracing a more vague spirituality, others becoming Social Gospel-style Christians – and at the same time became political liberals. (In a few cases, with a somewhat politically dogmatic style at first.) They refer to their college experience as “deprogramming.”

  16. #16 Brian X
    March 16, 2007

    Religion is a hard thing to give up. I was active in the Catholic Church from high school into college, and was a believer well beyond that, but there were a lot of things that didn’t quite work in the beliefs I was taught. Being exposed to three years at an evangelical high school pretty much destroyed any concept I had of meaningful differences between Christian denominations, but the whole thing didn’t come tumbling down until ten years or so later, when I realized I could hardly tell the difference between a homily from a very obviously gay priest and a typical backwoods evangelical preacher. That combined with the then-ongoing church sex abuse scandal pretty much drove me away from the Catholic Church; with it for different reasons went pretty much any connection I ever had with religion.

    So no, not so much on the religion any more; in fact, I’m starting to think that instead of being an agnostic I’m an atheist in denial. I respect people’s right to believe, but no one can make me believe…

  17. #17 Thomas Reynolds
    March 16, 2007

    That story almost mirrors mine exactly… except the fact that I am a dude. I don’t want to force anything on anyone, but I do attempt to drop hints for the members of my indoctrinated family that I still think are reachable. Regardless, “spirituality” is still nonsense, even if I am constantly in awe of nature, I would never claim that “awe” is anything other than simply noticing the impressive complexity of life.

  18. #18 Shelley Batts
    March 16, 2007

    Hey guys, thanks for all the kind words and encouragement. Its so cool to see comments like “hey, I went through that too…” because I think by its very nature, experiences of this variety are lonely and isolating. I wasn’t sure what to expect as per a reaction to this post, give the vitriol produced elsewhere on religious topics. But I feel happy that other think like I do, and that those who don’t are at least respectful about expressing it. I do appreciate that. :)

  19. #19 son2
    March 16, 2007

    Shelley, I think what Rob Knop’s posts are really about is the fact that ScienceBloggers (and their commenters) are prone to attacking Christians, when they mean to attack/criticize fundamentalist Christians. It’s one thing to criticize Baptists, and another thing entirely to criticize a mainline Protestant (no offense to your family and community back in SC).

    It’s one thing to point out that miracles don’t happen, it’s an entirely different thing to conclude that, therefore the Bible is “wrong” about everything else (which requires a lack of knowledge about even the very basics of biblical scholarship).

    It’s one thing to question the motives of a politically focused and effective lobbying group (conservative Christians), but it’s another thing entirely to say that because all Christians follow Christ (and consider him the Messiah) that they’re somehow politically allied or even just theologically aligned.

  20. #20 arby
    March 16, 2007

    Great post and comments. I am a hard-core skeptic, not to say cynic, who got here through a roundabout way including some “spirit” stuff. I don’t think people should be so dissmissive of spitituality. While I don’t believe there is any outside agent involved, there is some very human evolutionary psychology going on there. Don’t something like 70-80% say they’ve had some transcendent experience? Gotta be a reason for that, some survival advantage, though perhaps one that has outlived it’s usefulness. That remains to be seen, I suppose. Anyway, great post, thanks. rb

  21. #21 Decline and Fall
    March 16, 2007

    But one thing I’ve come to understand is that people can be good or bad in all walks of life, of all races, creeds, sexes, orientations, political beliefs, whatever.

    Yes, but don’t you realize that what matters isn’t that people are good, but that they think all the same things that I do?

    I jest, of course, but this gets to the heart of why I don’t care what people believe as long as they don’t get too extreme about it. This insistence on orthodoxy (I include the religious as well as the secular proselytizers here) seems so skewed to me–isn’t it so much more important that people be good? That they do good things? Who cares why they do them!

    Great post. Thank you.

  22. #22 Caliban
    March 16, 2007

    Nice post. In my day to day life, i never clash with anybody over religon, mainly because it never comes up. And even if it did, i doubt i’d get into an argument about it. Who wants to waste 20 minutes of thier life arguing with some crazy street preacher?

    However, i must confess that my “tolerance” of religous ideaologies seems to be shrinking as i get older. When i read about the latest attempts of religous jerks trying to screw over my gay friends or replace science education with religous hogwash i almost always end up feeling outraged and sickened.

    While i realise that most liberal Christians are just as outraged by fundies as i am, the fact that there’s so damn many fundies (especially in the halls of politics) that i’m become more critical of religon in general. I guess Sam Harris has won me over when he talks about “the problem” being faith itself. As long as faith is culturally seen as being a valid justification for bad behaviour, we’ll always be trumped by it.

  23. #23 Scholar
    March 16, 2007

    I have a similar story, except that I was raised in a more liberal house, half-jew half-lutheran, and eventually (and I mean EVENTUALLY) became SO educated in College to the point where there was just no more room in my little head for notions of a Creator. I wonder if you don’t feel guilty about all the kids/adults who don’t get to go to “college”. I feel like it is my prerogative, as an educated adult, to tell folks about the “truth”, and if they don’t believe me, I tell them again, and provide them with an encyclopedia to chew on.

    So basically, what I gather from YOUR life story is that you would be happy if you had never left your religious little home town. You would even be happy going back to the life you had lived before you found the “truth”. It seems you would be perfectly comfortable living with the fact that you are leaving others (your friends) to the squalor in the “matrix”.

    I think PZ Myers would make a better “Neo” than you missy. Do you see now, how selfish you are by not spreading your rare knowledge of the world? You have a chance to be “Morpheus”. I am not saying you should cram it down their throats, but they (the religious) should have the same opportunities as you to experience the enlightenments of atheism. Here (on the internet) is as good a place to start as any. Sorry if I sound mean, I am trying to be like my hero PZ.

  24. #24 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 16, 2007

    Shelley, I think what Rob Knop’s posts are really about is the fact that ScienceBloggers (and their commenters) are prone to attacking Christians, when they mean to attack/criticize fundamentalist Christians.

    That is not always so. If someone has given up 90% of a fairy tale, is it acceptable to criticise the remaining 10%, or must we only praise the 90%? Sure, it is the Fundies who are more likely to push their intolerant lifestyles on others, but there is a second aspect of religion that concerns me: Many believers claim their superstitious beliefs are actually logical and reasonable. Take for example Mr. Knop’s bizarre attempts to explain his beliefs. He actually claimed that an entity could exist for one person but not for another. I value reason too highly to stand quietly by and let that pass. If Knop’s ilk would admit that their superstitions are superstitions, it would be a different matter.

  25. #25 Scholar
    March 16, 2007

    Mustafa: I have seen your posts recently, and I like them. They are prominent in that they cut to the core of the issue, like a Ginsu through a pinky finger. Do you have a website or blog of your own you can recommend. I would like to visit them, and also, what the heck is FCD, and can I join?

    Son2: The fundamentalists are just a darker shade of gray than yourself. A moderate Christian is just as bad (or worse) than a fundamentalist. Because they give fundamentalists something to compare themselves to which isn’t completely insane. THINK ABOUT IT!

  26. #26 Shelley Batts
    March 16, 2007

    Scholar, you’ll never get very far trying to change someone’s mind through insulting them. If you had really read my post you would see that I made quite clear that the trek towards atheist was more than well on its way before I ever left South Carolina. Atheists, evolution, and open minds do exist there too (yes, I know this is surprising) and I’m sure it would have been just a matter of time either way. Do you really think someone who ended up in a Neuroscience PhD program with a nerdy science blog really was cut out to exist happily in the “squalor” of my religious home town? That is just ridiculous. Please don’t attempt to infer my potential mental states from a poorly skimmed post on religion.

    As for PZ, I understand his position perfectly and agree with almost all of it. Where we differ is on its presentation, however I respect that it is his prerogative to do so. If you recall, Morpheus in the Matrix made quite clear that the choice to accept the red pill had to be one of free choice…..a choice that someone arrived at independently of argument or force. One of the reasons that we atheists bristle to the “fundies” is their forceful and close-minded approach to discourse. Insults and assumptions are all too common, while real insight is rare. Please don’t ask or expect me to take that route with “giving them the Red Pill,” I’ve seen it fail plenty enough times during evangelical campaigns to know it is counter-productive.

  27. #27 Leigh Mortensen
    March 16, 2007

    Consider that for some of us, there is no faith involved. That personal experience of something that could be described as very much like what some would call god is a very real and ongoing thing. Consider also that some of us, while the experiences are overwhelming and apparently more real than anything in normal, mainstream, physical existence, continue to rigorously question the validity of those experiences. Consider that open-mindedness and intellectual laziness are not necessarily wedded concepts. Feel free to not assume that I am an idiot just because I may have seen things that you haven’t. Feel free to not assume that I think that you are an idiot just because you haven’t seen the things that I have.

  28. #28 Caliban
    March 16, 2007

    Yeah, i agree that there’s something profoundly arrogant about seeing ones’ self as the “redeemer” to liberate the poor populace from the shackles of superstition. It’s icky.

    However, i feel that under the right circumstances, people can be turned on to science and critical thinking without having to bash it over anyone’s head. My family knows that i’m atheist, but i never try to “convert” them to it. I may, occasionaly make a snarky remark about something religous to them, but i did that anyways back when i was a theist.

    The best example i can think of for turning people on to science and off religon would be someone like is Julia Sweeney (remember “Pat” from Saturday Night Live?). Her one-woman show is far more entertaining, warm, touching and persuasive than anything Dawkins or Harris is likely to right (although i am fans of them too).

  29. #29 Kristine
    March 16, 2007

    I struggle with “tolerance.” Of course it’s wrong to judge people by one quality alone – and religious belief seems to have no correlation with decency, intelligence, trustworthiness, etc. That’s the problem (well, one problem) I have with religion: it divides people but divides them over nothing, for a person’s religion doesn’t tell me anything about character, etc.

    I cannot believe in the supernatural. I wonder if I ever did – so I just don’t get the “there’s gotta be more” argument. There’s gotta be more than what exists? What is that, and once decided upon that, doesn’t there have to be “more” than that? Who does God worship, and why wouldn’t He need somebody, too? Why wouldn’t He think, “Gee, I’m the ultimate reality and truth, which means that for me there is no reality and truth – everything is my fantasy, including myself. I create worlds but I don’t live in them. I think I’m undergoing an existential crisis! All these people went to hell because I sent them there, but now I just feel empty inside…what’s it all about?” Such a being would go insane. Okay, I’m being facetious but…do you see what I mean?

  30. #30 JimV
    March 16, 2007

    “I left South Carolina and almost all my friends stayed. Stayed there, and stayed the same.

    But I realized that the best thing I could do for them, if I *really* cared for them, was to let them be. They were happy in their delusion, they wanted no perturbation from it. Their happy lie, as I saw it, was preferable to any truth without God. So, I let them be.”

    What if you had not had the choice to go to a non-religious school (or to go to school at all, like women in some Muslim countries)? What if you were forced to stay in South Carolina, be a good Christian woman, and raise a good Christian family?

    That is happening here in the U.S. right now. I know people who home-school their children to “protect” them from secular influences, and will only allow them to apply to “bible” colleges, such as Bob Jones University. Their children are being brought up to believe that biblical miracles like the Flood are factual, and that science is a hoax. No one is born with knowledge of how the universe works. If all their teachers and everyone around them tells them fantasies, what chance do children have?

    It may not involve a large percentage of our population, and maybe most of them will be “just as happy as if they were in their right minds” (as my grandmother used to say). You have a right to pick your battles and priorities (and to know your limitations). Still, you should be grateful that there are people like PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins who are doing their best to see that people like yourself will continue to have the opportunity to examine diverse evidence before deciding on a philosophy.

    Thomas Jefferson did not believe in slavery, but did not do much to combat it. He did accomplish other great things. Perhaps you will also, but future generations reading this post, like those that read Jefferson’s letters, will not be impressed by what you did to end the slavery of religion.

    (They’ll be even less impressed with my contributions, I hasten to add. My own story is not much different, except that I come out of it with an admiration for PSM and RD which you probably don’t share.)

  31. #31 Lab Lemming
    March 16, 2007

    Nice post. Thanks for bringing civility and reason to an often overblown topic.

  32. #32 Shelley Batts
    March 16, 2007

    What if you had not had the choice to go to a non-religious school (or to go to school at all, like women in some Muslim countries)? What if you were forced to stay in South Carolina, be a good Christian woman, and raise a good Christian family?

    You claim that this is happening, yet give no examples. Perhaps you don’t know that Bob Jones was in my ex-hometown. I was in exactly such a situation, and many of my friends *did* go to Bob Jones. I had home-schooled uber-religious friends who ended up brainwashed, and some who broke free. We all had the same experiences and influences, yet some chose to be critical and some decided to swallow hook line and sinker everything they were taught. You don’t give kids enough credit when you declare we’re somehow slaves to our up-bringing. We aren’t, and I’m proof of it. I was brought up just the way you described, but I’m not blind to the world. All a kid needs is eyes, a brain, and a bit of thought to begin to question things. And its all downhill from there. We live in a free country where when kids are of age they can go take out a loan and go to whatever college they please, if their parents won’t pay. We aren’t the slaves you seem to think we are.

    I won’t flatter myself to think this thread will be around for “future generations,” however if it was I would be proud for anyone to look at it and see what I thought. I wouldn’t be posting on the topic if I didn’t think that I was on to something (everyone thinks their beliefs are true, no?). I’m not ashamed to say I’m not forcing anyone to accept them, which is exactly what we criticize the fundies for doing. Or is that irony lost on you?

    As for “great things,” that is not for you to judge. Despite you assumptions, I do admire PZ and Dawkins but I choose not to emulate them in their tactics. I hope to be better remembered for going back to my old highschool English classes and encouraging those SC kids to go to college, and to study and respect science. PZ may reach millions of ensconced atheists with his rallying cries and more power to him. I’ll stick to helping the people who are still back in SC who might learn a thing or two more about life and the world other than “there’s no God”, if they only went to college.

  33. #33 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 16, 2007

    Mustafa: I have seen your posts recently, and I like them. They are prominent in that they cut to the core of the issue, like a Ginsu through a pinky finger. Do you have a website or blog of your own you can recommend. I would like to visit them, and also, what the heck is FCD, and can I join?

    My blog The is still on the drawing board, but some day it will rule the search engines! In the meantime, FCD is Friend of Charles Darwin. You not only can get your own, but you should. It’s by far the cheapest (free) three letter suffix I’ve ever had.

  34. #34 Boosterz
    March 16, 2007

    It seems you would be perfectly comfortable living with the fact that you are leaving others (your friends) to the squalor in the “matrix”.

    The problem with that statement is that in the end it’s still THERE decision whether they want the red pill or the blue pill. You don’t get to make it for them.

  35. #35 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 16, 2007

    I am currently working with a graduate of Liberty University. The other day I introduced him to the “teapot” argument. I don’t think he fully understood it, but it’s a start.

  36. #36 Paul
    March 16, 2007

    I think people like Dawkins and the Rational Response Squad are merely responses to what they see in the world. They’re out there trying to deconvert people because there are so many more working for the opposing group. If people were able to keep their religion to themselves, the conflict wouldn’t exist.

    But to say that a vocal atheist is equivalent to a fundamentalist is disingenuous. The former has far fewer resources to spread his or her message than the latter. To put it another way: How many atheist meeting houses do you see? How many atheists have come knocking on your door? How many explicitly atheist TV channels are there where atheist leaders get on and tell you to send money? None.

    What would the reaction be if a former president said that he doesn’t think evangelical Christians should be considered citizens? Where is the poll that says that the majority of people would not vote for an atheist presidential candidate?

    Without people to vocally declare that their right to disbelief is just as valid as others right to believe, you and I will forever be second-class in the minds of many, many people. Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris and others are laying a groundwork for future activism. I don’t want to wipe faith from the planet, I want to assert my rights.

    As a white, middle-clase male, I’ve never known discrimination until I started to speak out about my disbelief, and my boss denied me a raise for saying I was offended when he started praying before company meetings.

  37. #37 Scholar
    March 16, 2007

    In terms of the Morpheus analogy, I am suggesting that we give them (fence-sitters) a bit more backround information about the “blue” and “red” choices. If we don’t help educate people with unbiased (non-religionus) information, we can’t expect them to choose the “truth” (atheism)when and if they are ready. I am not saying go knock on their doors like the Mormons, what I am saying is when they come on “God’s Internet” we need to give them a dose of science, so they don’t just camp out at Conservapedia and inhale it as gospel. I apologize if I have ruffled any feathers here, just know that MY point of view is that “faith” in general is unheathly.

  38. #38 Ian
    March 16, 2007

    While I can appreciate your tolerant (isolationist) view, I’m not sure I can agree with it.

    If you want to be a fundamentalist, I have no issue with that; however I believe the line gets crossed when your beliefs create a conflict of interest with your responsibilities to the greater community.

    What happens when they put a JW in charge of the blood bank?
    A fundamentalist Muslim is appointed Chairperson of the status of Women?
    A fundamentalist Christian in charge of FEMA, Public Health, or environmental protection (Come the rapture, God will sort it all out)?

    Put Mormons in charge of all US television and Jews in charge of Hollywood? (OK,OK, No flames I’m kidding in those examples).

    When I, and others, are obligated to drink out of a pond that someone else is pissing in, I don’t think tolerance is such an acceptable policy.

    thanks for making me think

  39. #39 Sterling "Chip" Camden
    March 16, 2007

    Excellent, Shelley. I, too, was raised Southern Baptist and had a similar “conversion” in my college years. And I have since come to be more agnostic, and thus more tolerant. I’m all about the fence, “Scholar”. I don’t have the hubris to say that my view, religion’s view, or even science’s view is Right — because I don’t believe in absolute truth.

  40. #40 Barbara
    March 16, 2007

    I chose the Red Pill too.

  41. #41 Decline and Fall
    March 16, 2007

    But to say that a vocal atheist is equivalent to a fundamentalist is disingenuous. The former has far fewer resources to spread his or her message than the latter. To put it another way: How many atheist meeting houses do you see? How many atheists have come knocking on your door? How many explicitly atheist TV channels are there where atheist leaders get on and tell you to send money? None.

    It’s not the “vocal atheists” who are compared to fundies, it’s the atheists who treat religious belief like it’s a mental disorder and talk about religion in sneering tones. The analogy has nothing to do with the equivalence of the grievance.

    I think you’re right about the reasons why Dawkins and RRS do things the way they do, and I must admit that I get a certain thrill from it, but I truly believe that as a tactic it is a bad idea. Education is a good thing, but it should be done with decency. Showing people a certain amount of respect will go much further than telling them the most important, unifying presence in their lives is a malicious lie that is the primary source of evil in the world.

    Just because the fundies are boorish and rude doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to respond in kind. It frankly makes us look anti-intellectual, which is rather counter-productive.

  42. #42 Caledonian
    March 16, 2007

    Congratulations on your conversion. I must agree with everything you said – excepting only the bit about your “truth”. But overall, excellent points.

  43. #43 ivan
    March 16, 2007

    I have grown up in a communist country where the religion was semi-legal. My parents were believers, but did not go to church in order to keep their jobs. I was baptised secretly. My almost illiterate grandparents, specially grandmothers, were among the most religious people I have ever met, were never hiding that and their world was in a perfect harmony. I have spent great deal of my childhood with my grandparents and that imprinted religion very deeply in my being. As far as my education is concerned, I have MD degree, I am on my way to get PhD in neuroscience and through all my scientific reading I have never found any hint of creationist intervention in this world. Maybe I also have that devil (or parrot) on my shoulder that whispers “you know it, you know it”, as Shelley described, but I think that by abandoning belief I would gain nothing meaningful for me, but surely I would loose something I can hardly appreciate enough. I am not trying to find proofs of the Gods existence and sell it as a science and I am pissed by the futile and hypocritical effort of many creationists who try to do so. However, I am equally annoyed by the zealousy of some people from the other team, who openly claim that their goal is to exterminate religion, who have no tolerance and try to make believers (specially among the scientists) ashamed of their view of life. Why it couldnt simply be “live and let live”?

  44. #44 Scholar
    March 16, 2007

    It is time we acknowledged that no real foundation exists within the canons of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or any of our other faiths for religious tolerance and religious diversity.

    The very ideal of religious tolerance born of the notion that every human being should be free to believe whatever he wants about God is one of the principal forces driving us toward the abyss.

    By failing to live by the letter of the texts, while tolerating the irrationality of those who do, religious moderates betray faith and reason equally.

    Religious moderates are, in large part, responsible for the religious conflict in our world, because their beliefs provide the context in which scriptural literalism and religious violence can never be adequately opposed.

    It is time that scientists and other public intellectuals observed that the contest between faith and reason is zero-sum.

    There is no question but that nominally religious scientists like Francis Collins and Kenneth R. Miller are doing lasting harm to our discourse by the accommodations they have made to religious irrationality.

    A person can be a God-fearing Christian on Sunday and a working scientist come Monday morning, without ever having to account for the partition that seems to have erected itself in his head while he slept.

    The difference between science and religion is the difference between a willingness to dispassionately consider new evidence and new arguments, and a passionate unwillingness to do so.

    Unreason is now ascendant in the United States in our schools, in our courts, and in each branch of the federal government.

    Only 28 percent of Americans believe in evolution; 68 percent believe in Satan.

    120 million of us place the big bang 2,500 years after the Babylonians and Sumerians learned to brew beer.

    Ignorance in this degree, concentrated in both the head and belly of a lumbering superpower, is now a problem for the entire world.

    Our circumstance is abject, indefensible, and terrifying. It would be hilarious if the stakes were not so high.

    Our present policy on human stem cells has been shaped by beliefs that are divorced from every reasonable intuition we might form about the possible experience of living systems

    The point at which we fully acquire our humanity, and our capacity to suffer, remains an open question . . . but anyone who would dogmatically insist that these traits must arise coincident with the moment of conception has nothing to contribute, apart from his ignorance, to this debate.

    Those opposed to therapeutic stem-cell research on religious grounds constitute the biological and ethical equivalent of a flat-earth society.

    In this area of public policy alone, the accommodations that we have made to faith will do nothing but enshrine a perfect immensity of human suffering for decades to come

    The moral truth here is obvious: anyone who feels that the interests of a blastocyst just might supercede the interests of a child with a spinal cord injury has had his moral sense blinded by religious metaphysics.

    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Sam_Harris

  45. #45 Colugo
    March 16, 2007

    “The very ideal of religious tolerance born of the notion that every human being should be free to believe whatever he wants about God is one of the principal forces driving us toward the abyss.”

    That statement defines religious zealotry and could be made by theist or anti-theist alike. Religious intolerance has been tried before. It has a lousy track record.

    Are you saying that every human being should not be free to believe whatever he or she wants?

    “Unreason is now ascendant in the United States in our schools, in our courts, and in each branch of the federal government.”

    Consider the prevalence of belief in Europe in a) homeopathy, b) anti-vaccination propaganda, c) 9/11 conspiracy theories. Consider the spread of these and similar beliefs worldwide. Irrationalism – just like Manichean thinking, millenarianism, and evangelical zeal – is not dependent on theism.

    “Our present policy on human stem cells has been shaped by beliefs that are divorced from every reasonable intuition we might form about the possible experience of living systems”

    European policy on animal research, vaccination, fluoridation, GMOs etc is also shaped by beliefs – arguably, irrational ones – beliefs not much driven by theism, but rather by bio-Ludditism, animal rights ideology, and conspiracy-mongering.

    “Those opposed to therapeutic stem-cell research on religious grounds constitute the biological and ethical equivalent of a flat-earth society.”

    But opposition on non-religious grounds is OK? Of course not.

    “The moral truth here is obvious: anyone who feels that the interests of a blastocyst just might supercede the interests of a child with a spinal cord injury has had his moral sense blinded by religious metaphysics.”

    In fact, animal rights and bio-Luddite opposition to biomedical research probably does even more damage to science than Christian conservative pro-life activism regarding fetuses and stem cells. (Of course, pro-life activism does social damage apart from its effects on science.) Or perhaps it’s a draw. I don’t know. The point is, why single out religion for special scorn when it comes to forces impeding biomedical science?

  46. #46 Russ
    March 16, 2007

    Cheers to a fellow fence sitter, “Chip.” After reflection I’ve decided that the perspective from the fence suits me fine. As Caledonian, I tend to agree with all of what you’ve said with the -possible- exception of the last point on Truth, and even on this point I think we are dealing with semantics. I have found I cannot accept the “Fundie” nonsense. But on thinking about it, I have found one rant of theirs I have to agree with; picking and choosing aspects of Christianity that make you comfortable (without some rational reason to back them up) doesn’t hold much weight either, so that has crumbled away. My feet therefore dangle quite happily on the atheist side of the fence.

    By the same token, I see no need to decide categorically on issues for which I have no proof. For example, the continuation of an individual identity after death. From what little I’ve looked into the subject, there is absolutely no good evidence for it. I firmly believe that the wetware in the physical body is necessary and sufficient to produce an individual’s thoughts, emotions, and personality. But while the “Absence of proof is not…” line is somewhat unsatisfying to me in metaphysical conversations, and irritating to the when my research theories inevitably get shot down, it is nevertheless true. Of somewhat greater satisfaction to me was the realization that the argument that there is no way for the individual to continue on after the body died is, in a way, an argument from ignorance. “I can’t imagine a way for ‘life’ to continue on, therefore it doesn’t,” said the straw man (this is meant as my tacit acknowledgement that I might have strayed into this territory).

    In all likelihood, it doesn’t. I see no evidence that it does. I think behaving as if all ills will be taken care of by a “Father figure” in the afterlife is tragically stupid as it attempts to relieve us of the responsibility for our fellow human beings. Yet stating categorically that it is not possible reminds me of the line about all the rules of physics having been discovered and the only thing left to be done was improve the measurements.

    I -do- tend to believe there is an absolute reality, but I have been humbled enough in my research and studies to realize my understanding of it is going to be approximate at best (in lieu of using all capitals, I will repeat, “At Best”). That does not mean I will go on to assume that Bigfoot exists (there is, in my opinion, reasonable evidence of absence in that case), but it does mean I am going to come down on a side simply for the case of choosing a side. Besides, I am an eternal fan of the “E) none of the above” option.

    Final notes in what has turned out to be a longer post than I planned (and I am sorry for this). While I will confess to a flicker of smug P.O.S. satisfaction in drawing parallels between Creationist arguments and some Atheist arguments (and find the confrontational tone of some of these posts… uncomfortable), I do not consider the two general camps to be equal extremes in any manner. When our Creationist kinfolk employ an argument from ignorance, they do so despite the vast evidence that is there (if they simply take the time to look at it). If I am correct, and those arguing against the possibility of “life after death” -are- using this approach, they are not ignoring any reasonably objective evidence.

    Incidentally, the argument from ignorance thought only recently occurred to me (I can be somewhat slow), so its entirely possible I’ve missed something. Please don’t hesitate to point it out.

  47. #47 Bob Abu
    March 16, 2007

    �The Christian movement is a degeneracy movement composed of reject and refuse elements of every kind: it is not the expression of the decline of a race; it is from the first an agglomeration of forms of morbidity crowding together and seeking one another out�It is therefore not national, not racially conditioned; it appeals to the disinherited everywhere; it is founded on a rancor against everything well-constituted and dominant�It also stands in opposition to every spiritual movement, to all philosophy: it takes the side of idiots and utters a curse on the spirit.�

    �The Christian faith from the beginning, is sacrifice: the sacrifice of all freedom, all pride, all self-confidence of spirit; it is at the same time subjection, a self-derision, and self-mutilation.�

    �The Christian conception of God . . . is one of the most corrupt conceptions of the divine ever attained on earth. It may even represent the low-water mark in the descending development of divine types. God degenerated into the contradiction of life, instead of being its transfiguration and eternal Yes! God as the declaration of war against life, against nature, against the will to live! God�the formula for every slander against �this world,� for every lie about the �beyond�! God�the deification of nothingness, the will to nothingness pronounced holy! . . . this pitiful god of Christian monotheism! This hybrid product of decay, this mixture of zero, concept, and contradiction, in which all the instincts of decadence, all cowardices and wearinesses of the soul, find their sanction!�

    �I have looked in vain through the New Testament to descry even a single sympathetic feature: there is nothing in it that is free, gracious, candid, honest. . . . There are only bad instincts in the New Testament, and not even the courage to have these bad instincts. Everything in it is cowardice, everything is shutting-one�s-eyes and self-deception.�

    �I condemn Christianity. I raise against the Christian church the most terrible of all accusations that any accuser ever uttered. . . . The Christian church has left nothing untouched by its corruption; it has turned every value into an un-value, every truth into a lie, every integrity into a vileness of the soul. . . . This eternal indictment of Christianity I will write on all walls, wherever there are walls�I have letters to make even the blind see. I call Christianity the one great curse, the one great innermost corruption, the one great instinct of revenge, for which no means is poisonous, stealthy, subterranean, small enough�I call it the one immortal blemish of mankind.� It is fierce words like these, born of fire and violence, which will continue to burn for many ages in the minds of Christians and atheists alike.

    Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, ed. and trans. Walter Kaufmann
    (New York: Vintage, 1968).

  48. #48 becky
    March 16, 2007

    We all have our red pill to take. Some of us have even had several awakening as there are many layers to reality. It may even turn out that one day you will have yet another revelations and realize the naturalness and vision of religious experience.

    If you are interested in awakenings and red pills you might want to check out Matrixism an honest to goodness religion based on the movie The Matrix.

  49. #49 Kevembuangga
    March 17, 2007

    Decline : It’s not the “vocal atheists” who are compared to fundies, it’s the atheists who treat religious belief like it’s a mental disorder and talk about religion in sneering tones.

    Religion is not a mental disorder ONLY in the sense that it is a common “natural” feature of the psyché, but it is a mental disorder in the sense that it is fooling us about reality the same way that more benign perception illusions are fooling us.
    Would you concur with someone who will insist that those 3-D impossible structures ARE reality?

    It frankly makes us look anti-intellectual

    YOU are the “anti-intellectual” one Decline!
    The very fact that such illusions can be induced and explained is enough to repudiate the foolishness of the theists.

    Showing people a certain amount of respect will go much further than telling them the most important, unifying presence in their lives is a malicious lie that is the primary source of evil in the world.

    Fine, then how do you deal with the fact that the “most important, unifying presence in their lives” IS INDEED a “malicious lie” and a large (if not necessarily primary) “source of evil in the world”?
    Should the inmates be allowed to run the asylum on the ground they are the majority and they are “sincere” (but badly deluded) in their beliefs?

  50. #50 Scott Hatfield
    March 17, 2007

    Nietzsche, huh? There was a happy, self-fulfilled, peaceful soul. Doubtless, if I were to just follow his lead, I too could find peace and fulfillment in his demolition of Christianity. And then, of course, we Supermen could get on with the business of redefining society to reflect our proper position. Sarcastically..SH

  51. #51 ivan
    March 17, 2007

    Kevembuangga, I think you have missed a lot by not living in Cambodia during the Pol Pots era. Indeed, probably he also missed a bit for not having you as an adviser. That much for your asylum and inmates example.

  52. #52 Kevembuangga
    March 17, 2007

    ivan : living in Cambodia during Pol Pots era. Indeed, probably he also missed a bit for not having you as an adviser.

    He didn’t miss me, I was his adviser, how did you found out?

  53. #53 ivan
    March 17, 2007

    I found it out by comparing the levels of tolerance and sense of mission.

  54. #54 Kevembuangga
    March 17, 2007

    ivan : tolerance and sense of mission.

    Right!
    What about YOUR tolerance and sense of mission?

  55. #55 ivan
    March 17, 2007

    My sense of mission is not about bullying or converting anyone, or rediculizing your point of view, which is as unprovable as much as mine. Its beyond the scope of science to tell whether there is God or not. As far as my tolerance is concerned, I dont care about your views as long as you dont impose them forcefully on the people who think differently. Which point you might be approaching dangerously. We are not talking here about the evolution, how old the Earth is etc., which we probably agree on, but on someones individual right to believe in something beyond life.

  56. #56 Decline and Fall
    March 17, 2007

    Kevem,

    I never cease to be amazed at the ability of people who declare themselves to be the voice of reason to behave hysterically when confronted with an argument that challenges their beliefs. Your inability to keep the tone civil or to present an argument that isn’t riddled with fallacies is indicative of your maturity and your actual commitment to intellectual honesty.

    So I’m going to respond in the only way you seem to be able to grasp:

    Kevembunguaa: “YOU are the “anti-intellectual” one Decline!”

    Me: No, YOU are!

    Nyaa nyaa,

    Decline

  57. #57 Kevembuangga
    March 17, 2007

    Decline : Your inability to keep the tone civil or to present an argument that isn’t riddled with fallacies

    Why do you surmise an “inability” to keep the tone civil?
    Do you find “uncivil” to state that deluded people are deluded?
    Have you ever read the nutty religionists blogs?
    And whatever you find uncivil, do I have to share your values?

    Is your reply “No, YOU are! Nyaa nyaa” supposed to be an argument?
    If you find my arguments fallacious why cannot you show WHY?

    When I myself said “YOU are the anti-intellectual one” this was followed by a link to an argument which you maybe didn’t bother to read so I will reproduce it below.

    The so-called entheogens psychotropics are known to induce “spiritual” experiences, they have been used for millenias for this purpose.
    As we are now a bit more knowledgeable in neurophysiology we understand that the so-called spiritual visions can be be switched on and off by mere brain chemistry, no more need for “prayers”, “beliefs” or anything supernatural to bring in this mind candy.

    An especially interesting psychotropic is Iboga because people just get to their preferred gods, the Bwiti meet the Forest Spirits, Christians meet Jesus, Hindus meet Ganesh, etc…
    This seems to both confirm the veracity of the psychological side of the spiritual experiences AND the looniness of the specific attached beliefs.

    Another valuable point is a study by Canadian psychiatrist Jean-Pierre Valla which unfortunately didn’t got translated to english “Les etats etranges de la conscience”
    Here is a rough Google translation of the summary :

    This book presents a scientific study of the strange states of conscience (EEC) lived by the mentally normal people. From the accounts of 50 people interviewed in Montreal, the author studied these mental phenomena formerly considered as religious experiments. The material collected was confronted with the psychological theories into force, which associate these strange states the psychosis. The study highlights their reactional, but nonpathological character. An event which places the self-awareness in the center of the field of conscience however makes the states strange of the conscience different from the usual state of consciousness. Although they are spontaneously generally short, the strange states of the conscience can give rise to the famous oceanic feeling and to curious experiments of unfolding called out of body experiments by the Anglo-Saxon authors. The strangeness of these states caused multiple interpretations which should not however be confused with the state which gives them birth and which they seek to explain.

    That is, you don’t even need psychotropics, don’t need beliefs, don’t need to be religious to get to those “spiritual states”.
    The religionists are just those who interpret these psychological artefacts as “meaningful” and “real” just like you may be FOOLED by an Escher drawing to
    believe that there can be an all ascending closed loop of stairs: this is an ILLUSION!

    So what about YOUR actual commitment to intellectual honesty?

    You have the gall to call me dishonest when you resort only to innuendo.
    Instead of an atheist you are more likely a clever theist who has choosen to use the usual anti-science tactics :

    Since the goal is not winning these debates but merely achieving symmetry, the hack’s most effective technique can be taking the accusation that would seem to apply to him and hurling it at his opponents.

    The most recent blatant exemple in this thread beside you is ivan:
    I am Pol Pots’ adviser, of course!!!

  58. #58 Alon Levy
    March 17, 2007

    I think people like Dawkins and the Rational Response Squad are merely responses to what they see in the world.

    They are, much like Mao was merely a response to the problems of capitalism in China.

    Why it couldnt simply be “live and let live”?

    Because the first enemy of every radical is not the other side, but his own side’s moderate. The second enemy is the other side’s moderate. There’s nothing radicals hate more than people who don’t see things in black and white, who prefer courses of action that are successful to those that are ideologically pure, who realize that people who make such claims as “There’s no basis for tolerance in scripture” marginalize themselves rather than the other side. Religious fanatics attack first and foremost moderate members of the same religion (think polygamists and the mainstream Mormon church). Libertarians hate on supporters of regulated capitalism the most. And radical atheists focus their insults on moderate atheists and agnostics.

    So it’s not surprising Shelley’s coming under fire for saying she trusts people to make their own choices about religious belief, and for saying she’d rather encourage people in South Carolina to go to college than tell people in San Francisco they’re intellectually superior. Feminists come under fire from other feminists for not deliberately pissing people off; why should atheists be any different?

  59. #59 ivan
    March 17, 2007

    Keven, again I have to warn you that we are not talking science here and in your plainly ignorant rant please dont accuse me of being anti-scientist, since the scientific truth is the only one I consider to be real. On the other hand, try to add something beside nya nya to your line of argument against me, or you are making yourself a perfect antipode of Ted Haggard.

  60. #60 Jason
    March 18, 2007

    Liberal religion is inherently unstable and self-defeating. The more fully it embraces the values of tolerance, diversity, pluralism and inclusivity, the less reason it has to exist at all. The sales pitch of liberal Christians seems to go something like this:

    Come and join our religion. Or not. If you prefer, you can be a Jew, a Muslim, an Atheist, a Hindu or anything else. There are many paths to God. Or away from God, if that’s your thing. Whatever works for you. It’s all good.

    Not exactly a compelling invitation, is it? That’s why liberal Christianity is small and weak and useless, and all the vitality and energy in the religion is in its conservative denominations and sects.

  61. #61 Kevembuangga
    March 18, 2007

    ivan : I have to warn you that we are not talking science here

    Agreed, we are coming to the most basic common sense, something cannot be BOTH “real” and “unreal”.

    dont accuse me of being anti-scientist, since the scientific truth is the only one I consider to be real.

    Then we agree that religion is just fairy tales.
    Fairy tales are nice to tell but not to be used as the basis of law enforcement.

    try to add something beside nya nya to your line of argument against me

    ???
    But you don’t seem to be able to follow any line of argument!
    The “nya nya argument” isn’t from me to you, it is from Decline and Fall against me.

    My argument against you is that just like the anti-scientists (not as one of them if you claim so) you try to confuse the issue by conflating the opponent position with the extremists of YOUR SIDE :

    Since the goal is not winning these debates but merely achieving symmetry, the hack’s most effective technique can be taking the accusation that would seem to apply to him and hurling it at his opponents.

    (read the “anti-science” link, it applies much more generally and matches perfectly your supposed “arguments”)

  62. #62 Alon Levy
    March 18, 2007

    Not exactly a compelling invitation, is it? That’s why liberal Christianity is small and weak and useless, and all the vitality and energy in the religion is in its conservative denominations and sects.

    You know, a good rule of thumb is that if something’s only true post-1980, maybe it’s not as inherent as you say it is.

  63. #63 Jason
    March 18, 2007

    Liberal Christianity has been declining since long before 1980. Any religion without a captive audience that does not work aggressively to bring in new members to replace the ones it loses from death and abandonment is destined for extinction over the long term. Judaism is another example.

  64. #64 Kevembuangga
    March 18, 2007

    Jason : Any religion without a captive audience that does not work aggressively to bring in new members to replace the ones it loses from death and abandonment is destined for extinction over the long term.

    Not necessarily, if the breeding rate of the die hard faithfuls is high enough to compensate for the abandonment rate among their offspring there will remain forever an “infectious” locus of hard core believers.

  65. #65 Jason
    March 18, 2007

    Liberal Christians are not likely to put a lot of effort into transmitting their religion to their own children if they don’t think it matters which religion, if any, anyone else belongs to. The Christians who aggressively school their children in their faith through homeschooling, parochial schooling, Bible Camps, church-based social activities, and so on are the conservatives, not the liberals. The liberals are more likely to take the view that their kids should be free to “make up their own minds” and thus avoid pushing their own religion on their children. You can see the results of this indifference in the liberal, mainline protestant denominations, whose memberships are shrinking and aging.

  66. #66 Alon Levy
    March 19, 2007

    Jason, now you’re making things up. If what you said were true, you’d see the same effect with secularism – i.e. secularists’ children would be as likely to be religious as religious people’s children are to be secular. But that’s not what’s happening. In fact in Britain secularists’ children almost always remain secular, while children raised religious have a 50-50 chance of remaining religious.

    In addition, if liberal religions were as weak as you say they are, you’d expect secularism to be steeply on the rise in areas where religion tends to be liberal, such as northern Europe and the northeastern US. But in fact you only observe that in Europe, both northern and southern, even though the Catholic Church to the south is conservative. In contrast, in New York, which has few fundamentalists and virtually no Dominionists (distinguished from fundamentalists in that they seek to desecularize public life), the number of nonreligious people remains low.

  67. #67 Decline and Fall
    March 19, 2007

    Kevem,

    I find it hilarious that my obvious parody of your hysterics was met with even more hysterics. Here’s a hint: writing in boldface doesn’t help your argument, it makes you look desperate and irrational. I didn’t have to read what you linked to, I’m familiar with that stuff already, and I have no quarrel with it. It doesn’t negate my argument that it is both boorish and a tactical mistake to be a jerk about being right. Also, humility is generally regarded as a virtue in intellectual debates. Exhibiting it will go a long way toward helping people understand that you’re serious. As it stands, you come across as radical and thus easy to ignore.

    Please understand that I say this as a fellow atheist: you are not helping yourself or the cause of reason by getting yourself worked up into a frenzy and launching speciously-argued rhetorical bombshells at anyone who doesn’t share your certitude.

  68. #68 Decline and fall
    March 19, 2007

    Alon,

    Because the first enemy of every radical is not the other side, but his own side’s moderate. The second enemy is the other side’s moderate. There’s nothing radicals hate more than people who don’t see things in black and white, who prefer courses of action that are successful to those that are ideologically pure, who realize that people who make such claims as “There’s no basis for tolerance in scripture” marginalize themselves rather than the other side.

    Nicely done.

  69. #69 Redleg
    March 19, 2007

    Nice article detailing a common evolution in perspective. I’m a Baylor University Alumni, and ironically, the religious classes I took there are what began the cascade for me. Now I find that our symbiotic relationship with the earth and its other living things are much more relevant than hovering in our basement waiting for jesus to come back. Live for today took on a whole new meaning, and facing the “happy lie” as it was maintained by my family was another lesson in maturity. I too decided not to disturb it, and do not with others except when they try to impose it on me. I would not describe myself as a militant athiest, but I am definitely worried about how people who have not taken the red pill will shape our policies on science, foreign affairs, and culture.

    -The comments are all thoughtfull as well, you’ve attracted an intelligent and sincere reader base. Look forward to more.

  70. #70 Jason
    March 19, 2007

    Alon,

    Secularism is not a religion. It’s the absence of religion. If a child is not raised in a particular religion, there’s only a small chance he will join that religion as an adult. But if a child is raised in any religion, there’s still a good chance he will abandon religion altogether as an adult. And if he is raised without any religion, there’s only a small chance he will join any religion as an adult. Secularism is not just one more option among religions, it is the default option of no religion.

    In addition, if liberal religions were as weak as you say they are, you’d expect secularism to be steeply on the rise in areas where religion tends to be liberal, such as northern Europe and the northeastern US. But in fact you only observe that in Europe, both northern and southern, even though the Catholic Church to the south is conservative. In contrast, in New York, which has few fundamentalists and virtually no Dominionists (distinguished from fundamentalists in that they seek to desecularize public life), the number of nonreligious people remains low.

    On the contrary, secularism is rising fastest where religion is liberal, exactly as I suggested. Europe has been secularizing faster than the U.S. because religion has been more liberal in Europe than in the U.S. Within Europe, the North has been secularizing faster than the South because religion has been more liberal in the North. And within the U.S., the South has been secularizing more slowly than the rest of the country, because religion is more conservative in the South. The liberal denominations and sects are the ones that are losing members and influence the fastest. Again, this isn’t surprising given their tendency to embrace a whatever-works-for-you-personally value system.

  71. #71 Ian
    March 19, 2007

    The Psychiatric news wades in on the topic:

    http://pn.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/full/42/6/11?etoc

    Would anyone here support the practice of encouraging psychotic patients to listen to those command hallucinations from their “gods”?

  72. #72 Alon Levy
    March 21, 2007

    Within Europe, the North has been secularizing faster than the South because religion has been more liberal in the North.

    No, within Europe, the north started secularizing earlier. The south was a backwater for a couple more centuries because of the influence of the Catholic Church, but post-WW2, both areas have been secularizing at roughly the same rate.

    Secularism is not a religion. It’s the absence of religion. If a child is not raised in a particular religion, there’s only a small chance he will join that religion as an adult.

    Those are two statements that have nothing to do with each other. The first is an implicit “You can’t compare secularism to religion,” which requires you to take very strong and very indefensible stances about religion versus other similar political ideas. The second is an empirical statement that happens to be true but does not support the first in any way.

  73. #73 Jason
    March 21, 2007

    Alon,

    No, within Europe, the north started secularizing earlier. The south was a backwater for a couple more centuries because of the influence of the Catholic Church, but post-WW2, both areas have been secularizing at roughly the same rate.

    I’d like to see your evidence for the claim in your second sentence. But earlier secularization amounts to the same thing as faster secularization in terms of the current outcome, anyway. Religion in northern Europe was more liberal than religion in southern Europe, and hence secularization has progressed further in the north than in the south. It’s a smaller step from liberal religion to secularism than from conservative religion to secularism. The more liberal the religion, the smaller the step to secularism. A religion that consists of little more than a secular, consequentialist ethical philosophy (typically built around the Golden Rule or some other secular principle) dressed up with a bit of religious terminology, plus a few vague and optional or unimportant supernatural beliefs (“There is a God or Universal Spirit of some kind–but it is so mysterious and ineffable that nothing much can be said about it”) is already so close to secularism that it’s hardly surprising so few people are attracted to it.

    Those are two statements that have nothing to do with each other. The first is an implicit “You can’t compare secularism to religion,” which requires you to take very strong and very indefensible stances about religion versus other similar political ideas.

    No, the first is not an implicit claim that the two can’t be “compared.” It’s an explicit claim that secularism is the absence of religion.

    The second is an empirical statement that happens to be true but does not support the first in any way.

    It wasn’t intended to support the first. It’s just a different statement.

    You claimed that if what I said is true (which I assume means that if the reasons I gave for why liberal religion is unstable and self-defeating are true), then we’d expect to see children raised without religion adopting religion as adults at the same rate as children raised with religion abandoning religion as adults. But that simply does not follow. The secular values of pluralism and diversity and tolerance work against both the retention of religion by children raised with religion, and the adoption of religion by children raised without it.

  74. #74 Alon Levy
    March 23, 2007

    Religion in northern Europe was more liberal than religion in southern Europe, and hence secularization has progressed further in the north than in the south.

    Actually, Christianity in Northern Europe was no more liberal than in Southern Europe. On the contrary, Protestant churches were historically more conservative than the Catholic Church; Martin Luther and John Calvin beat the Pope in denouncing heliocentrism by about a hundred years. Religion became liberal in Sweden and Denmark and Britain and the Netherlands as part of the process of secularization.

    The secular values of pluralism and diversity and tolerance work against both the retention of religion by children raised with religion, and the adoption of religion by children raised without it.

    But substitutes for religion don’t display that characteristic. Take socialism: in the last fifty years there has been a trend away from socialism in most of the world, but still, children raised in an ordinary setting but with some socialist values are likelier to retain socialism than children raised in a dedicated setting, such as a kibbutz.

  75. #75 Adrian Clement
    March 25, 2007

    Thanks. It’s a really good post.

  76. #76 Andre
    May 31, 2007

    This is probably one of the most objective ‘red pill’ stories I’ve read in a long time. Well done :D. This sounds pretty much like my own progression towards atheism. First it was the realisation that I just “don’t feel it”… then the glaring hypocrisy and the final straw: the closed-mindedness.

    The best part of this post, for me, is the in the second-last paragraph. That is a very mature outlook to have on this matter. It is true; quite a few of us atheists (me *cough cough*) are guilty of the same intolerance we accuse the religious people of.

    The biggest problem I have with the whole matter is sometimes I just can’t keep my mouth shut… esp. when confronted with ungrounded/nonsensical statements that are held forth as the gospel truth! The pun; skewed as it may be, was totally intended :D

    Now might be a good time to start reading my copy of The God Delusion…

  77. #77 zanbowser
    September 4, 2007

    While I generally read all the comments of most blogposts I consume; I had to stop about halfway through these. Shelley, one thing about you, which I respect and admire a great deal, is that you tend to be more level-headed in your point-counterpoint than most. For many (NOTE: not all) in the comments, that seems the opposite.

    Thanks, just the same, for the good read, Shelley. Internet > Morning Newspaper. ^_^

  78. #78 Robert
    October 13, 2009

    Interesting timing on this post, since I just re-watched the third installment of the Matrix trilogy as it was re-run on TV at 3 in the morning…
    I find it interesting that the ‘solution’ to the Matrix storyline is that Neo “The One” (with all of it’s messianic connotations) brings peace to Zion through sacrificing himself. If religion is so meaningless and a ‘delusion’, why is it that scientists cannot speak to the subject without invoking the very language and metaphor which makes it so powerful? There is a reason that the symbolism and stories of the world’s major religions are so prevalent. It is because they address the ‘inner world’ of the human experience in non-mechanical language. As much as modern science would like to explain the human anomaly in purely mechanistic terms, the fact remains that we ‘humans’ keep rejecting the notion that we are simply complex systems and chemical processes. If this is but conceit on our part, where does such pride stem from? What is the origin of our audacity to hope?

  79. #79 Houston Lawyer
    March 18, 2011

    Excellent post. Coming from a small Southern town, I can tell you that when I realized I was not on board with the prevailing faith that I was scared to even admit it. It was maddening to see so many people I cared for caugh tup in the silliness, and I made the “mistake” later on of revealing my heathenous thoughts to some of them.

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