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3 years ago  ::  Oct 29, 2011 - 11:28AM #1
BillThinks4Himself
Posts: 3,206
"He who is not with me is against me."  That's a quote attributed to Jesus, a quote that contradicts another statement attributed to Jesus: "He that is not against us is with us."

It's possible that Jesus - if such a person ever existed - made both statements, though he'd be talking about of both sides of his mouth, unless he was doing some kind of Zen thing, where you blow people's minds through contradiction.  It's possible he said one of those statements.  It's possible he said neither.  (I find the Bible an irresistible crime scene, completed with bone fragments and half-chewed Skittles.)

For many of the religious, especially the kind whose Jesus would say something like, "He who is not with me is against me," atheism is a monolith.  In fact, it's part of a greater monolith of all those folks going to Hell (to be burned for eternity by a loving-though-bipolar God).  To such people, there's no point to distinctions between atheists, agnostics, skeptics, naturalists, freethinkers, igtheists, apatheists, "backsliders," "apostates" or Jews.  We're all just high-octane sinners to be fed into Yahweh's Porsche.

Vroom, vroom.

But atheism is a bit more varied and diverse.  Some would say it's more complex, others "simpler."  Some would say that "atheism" doesn't exist, except in the lack of belief in gods.  Everything else is 32 flavors of context, a bit like gospel writers adding their own settings to aphorisms attributed to "the Master."  Not surprisingly, anybody who tries to organize atheists quickly discovers that it's easier to herd cats.  The freedom to question and reject is a freedom that keeps going and going and going - like the Energizer Bunny.

Once you start to realize that the "truths" you've been taught - or have had shoved down your throat - are just human inventions, where you go from there is your own business.

I know people who are atheists who are still active in religion, for the same reason people attend the opera or go to the movies.  To them, religion is a tradition, a pageant.  True believers may swallow it whole - hook, line and sinker - but many people eventually realize they are engaging something they can't completely believe in without performing a self-lobotomy.  Many people who are "faithful" to some faith are, in fact, entertaining a mixture of faith and doubt.  One might, like Thomas Jefferson, believe in Christianity without literally believing in Christ.  Jefferson believed that Jesus was a great moral teacher, but rejected all the additional fanfare, which he dismissed as superstitious nonsense.

There are atheists who don't consider themselves Christians or Jews or Muslims or anything, but who can attend a worship service or religious activity, seeing in it a human actiivity that is based in religion but one that still has value in itself.  Such atheists have little trouble enjoying the seasons and the holidays.  They could take a trip down a candy-cane lane, during the Christmas season, and enjoy the lights and decorations, without feeling any internal conflict.

At the extreme end of the spectrum are people who approach atheism as if it were a religion, a religion every bit as demanding as an Orthodox Jew, a Christian Fundamentalist or a Muslim Fundamentalist.  All things religious are an evil in need of the Orkin Man.  A sneeze is an opportunity to confront the random blesser.  Among these are the trashers, the atheists who pick fights for sport, like the folks whose recent campaign featured a bad quote, attributed to Thomas Jefferson, where he supposedly said, "I do not find in Christianity one redeeming feature.  Ihtml_removedt is founded on fables and mythology."

Set aside the fact that Jefferson never made this statement, that it's one of those bogus quotes attributed to "the master" by fellow travelers who couldn't distinguish a deist from an atheist.  Set aside the irony of quoting any authority at all, in support of a view that rejects other appeals to authority.  What bugs me, what makes me realize again that there are 32 flavors of atheism, is the need - on the part of some - to go Pyrrhic and walk the tables, kicking plates and mashing entrés as they go.  Most atheists I've known were able to make the case, when the subject came up, without hesitation or equivocation, but also without any need to pick a fight with anyone who hadn't pushed them first.  

Don't get me wrong.  Atheists have the same Free Speech rights as anyone.  There's nothing inherently wrong about promoting one's stance, whatever that may be.  But while it can be fun to fight fire with fire, I don't see any particular reason to knock down somebody else's sandcastle.  I was never that kid who went around telling little kids that "Santa is dead."  Like most people, I figured it out on my own, which is an interesting introduction to grown-up thinking, but people who run around popping other people's balloons are motivated by something other than truth.

This sort of activity only reinforces the myth of atheists as angry militants who have a need to scrub society of all religious influences.  I recently noticed that one of my heroes, Christopher Hitchens, was going after Mitt Romney's Mormonism but instead of saying anything thoughtful, he reduced himself to nasty slurs. The day may come when we discover that behind Hitch's wonderful eloquence, there is a militant idiocy on par with the ramblings of Sarah Palin.  In "God is Not Great," for example, Hitch devotes a chapter to The Mormons, but starts it off with idiotics references to the Book of Mormon prophet "Lephi."  There is no "Lephi" in the book.  Had Hitch done his homework, he'd have had plenty to say about the Mormons, but his sloppiness for detail showed him to be more of a novice about the subject than a man who should be writing books on it, even if we're just talking about a chapter in what is otherwise a wonderfully entertaining book of bluster.

Maybe it was just Hitch being Hitch.  Much more than Dawkins, and far more than Harris, Hitch is the Steve Jobs of atheism, a larger-than-life character whose "bring it on" balsiness is unparaleled in our time.  Just watching him mop the floor with Rabbi Schmuley was enough to make Hitch one of my alltime favorite cranks.  When Hitch got done with him, Rabbi Schmuley didn't know whether to burp, fart or die.  But you see, Schmuley deserved it.  Schmuley is a self-important, narcissistic, pedantic, media whore.  Schmuley is the Jewish version of a Christian televangelist.  He is to rabbis what Sarah Palin is to motherhood, as Little Miss Mama Grizzly raises her Down Syndrome child in Alaska by galavanting around the country in a Winnebago, drumming up support for a presidential campaign that would never be.  After all, what better way is there to let your kids know you care than to spend your every waking moment looking for ways to get your face on TV.  I'm sure Schmuley's congregation is well-served by the rabbi's ambition to be the Roger Ebert of Judaism.

Maybe that's why squishing him was about as difficult as stepping on a bug.  Had Schmuley not come out braying like a whiny ass, it's possible that Hitch's sometimes heavy-handed nastiness would have lost the crowd.  Instead, it was the perfect match-up, with a nasty reply to Schmuley's patronizing nonsense.

In my opinion, care must be taken to avoid adopting some of the same hateful traits as the hateful folk who practice them in the name of God.  Atheism is not a religion.  It need not adopt the manners of the God squad.  When it does, or when certain folks who call themselves atheists act in such a way, this is all a throwback to something that has nothing to do with the God Question.

On the other hand, I'm not suggesting that atheists should have to be quiet, or closeted, in their disagreement.  There are legitimate reasons to be angry, and once someone has come to the realization that great lies were told, great manipulations were made, and that religion's legacy includes massacres, racism, sexism, book burnings and control over the individual - sucking the very marrow out of life - no wonder some of the atheistic replies are nothing short of shrill.  Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt.  Every person has a right to react in their own way to what has not been a good ride for everyone.  When gentle Jesus meek and mild was hanging from his cross, "suffering the sins of the world," did he also shed a tear for the little boys circumcised in one religion and raped by priests in another?  Did he bleed for the daughters circumcized, veiled or killed when raped, to save the family's honor?  Did he let out a yelp or two for the mothers who would be forced to stay married to the father's who beat them on a regular basis, because "divorce is a sin"?  Did feel any discomfort at all over the mothers who were mothers because sex was a wife's duty and birth control was murder?

While I still think it's stupid to pick fights over everything, and with everyone, there is an equal danger in being too accommodating.  Maybe that's one reason for the different approaches to atheism.  I still think there's plenty of room for "the atheist next door," the atheist who doesn't the stereotype of the militant bombthrower.  If there are also atheists warriors, perhaps it's because religion is full of bozos who would run a pogrom on all atheists, if they thought they could get away with it. 
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3 years ago  ::  Oct 30, 2011 - 2:50PM #2
JCarlin
Posts: 6,401

Oct 29, 2011 -- 11:28AM, BillThinks4Himself wrote:

I know people who are atheists who are still active in religion, for the same reason people attend the opera or go to the movies.  To them, religion is a tradition, a pageant.  


 Excellent analogy.  I suspect this group is by far the largest group of atheists today.  They no more believe in "The one God indivisible" than they believe in Wotan chasing the Rhinegold, in Wagner's Ring when they attend the opera for the same reasons they attend church.

J'Carlin
If the shoe doesn't fit, don't cram your foot in it and complain.
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2 years ago  ::  Oct 18, 2012 - 6:08PM #3
wuliheron
Posts: 3

I don't get along with a lot of atheists including the more famous ones like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. These are militant evangelical atheists who insist on using endless political doublespeak and calling agnostics merely uncertain. Agnostic is not a synonym for uncertainty, but the conviction you just don't know. Doesn't matter why you don't know, doesn't matter what you think the odds might be, agnostics are by definition people who just don't know and don't have a strong opinion either way. To insist on defining them otherwise is disrespectful and demeaning.

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2 years ago  ::  Oct 20, 2012 - 9:52AM #4
farragut
Posts: 3,944

"To insist on defining them otherwise is disrespectful and demeaning."


Yes, I guess it is, but it is justified.

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2 years ago  ::  Nov 20, 2012 - 6:37PM #5
BillThinks4Himself
Posts: 3,206

I think the agnostic position is the strongest and most easily defensible.  Agnostics know what they know and know what they don't know.  Supernatural claims - by definition - are not subject to empirical verification; otherwise, we wouldn't speak of them as "supernatural."  Nor is there anything definitive to these attempts to hit these claims with the force of logic.  "Proofs" of God's existence are leaps clothed in rhetoric.  On the other hand, the attempt to prove the non-existence of anything is an uphill climb, and when the thing you are trying to rule out is defined in such slippery terms, it's an exercise in frustration.

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2 years ago  ::  Nov 21, 2012 - 1:29PM #6
mountain_man
Posts: 38,798

Nov 20, 2012 -- 6:37PM, BillThinks4Himself wrote:

I think the agnostic position is the strongest and most easily defensible....


Actually, the agnostic position is untenable. It makes claims that cannot be supported. Arguments against Atheism, or Atheists, are always based on obfuscation or redefinition of terms or on strawmen arguments.


Since Atheism is nothing more than a lack of belief in gods, anyone that does not have a belief in a god is an Atheist. Atheism makes no claims. A lack of belief is not a claim.

Dave - Just a Man in the Mountains.

I am a Humanist. I believe in a rational philosophy of life, informed by science, inspired by art, and motivated by a desire to do good for its own sake and not by an expectation of a reward or fear of punishment in an afterlife.
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2 years ago  ::  Nov 21, 2012 - 4:04PM #7
BillThinks4Himself
Posts: 3,206

Actually, the agnostic position is untenable. It makes claims that cannot be supported . . . .


Since Atheism is nothing more than a lack of belief in gods, anyone that does not have a belief in a god is an Atheist. Atheism makes no claims. A lack of belief is not a claim.



If agnosticism is a lack of certainty or confidence in the ability of anyone to prove the God Question either way, how is such a position "untenable"?  What claims does it make that cannot be supported?


You also say that atheism "is nothing more than a lack of belief in gods" and that it "makes no claims."  I agree with you that a "lack of belief is not a claim," but I'm not sure that atheism is "nothing more" than this.


To be sure, rejecting the claims of theists is not, in itself, a claim.  Atheism, defined as such, is not a position, though that's certainly a weaker form, as it turns the whole thing into something personal, as if someone were saying, "I, personally, reject all these god claims."


The problem with this is that you've made it subjective.  If atheism is simply a lack of belief, or a rejection of belief in gods, then it's not arguable because it's not an argument at all.  It's a condition, with no right or wrong attached to it.  To call someone an "atheist" is to say that he or she is "atheistic," which is merely descriptive and merely descriptive about that person.  It says nothing.


But for a great many of us, that weaker formulation is inadequate, which is why I could pull a dozen examples of atheistic statements that were, in fact, a statement on the question rather than a statement about this person or that.  Quite commonly, you'll find atheism defined in terms of an answer to the question, "Does God exist?"


Rather than taking up the weaker, argument-avoiding proposition (I don't believe in a god), you'll find atheists who, instead, say, "God does not exist."


That's a proposition.  Unlike the weaker, conflict-avoiding description ("Tad doesn't believe in God"), it confronts the question head-on and it addresses itself to the issue, not the man:


"God does not exist." or "There is no god."


If you define atheism in terms of this proposition, you now have a claim to defend.  You are taking a side.  You can bring arguments in support and take criticisms from those who disagree.  You are taking the chance of losing the argument but you are also allowing a dialogue to actually exist.


I am not suggesting that atheists have the burden of proof.  Theists have that burden.  Atheists may simply put such proofs to the test and declare that the theists have failed to make their case.


But one of the issues that will come up is the question of what evidence and arguments to even consider.  While a strictly scientific approach leaves theists dead in the water, you should know that people don't contain the argument to science.  Theists are endlessly inventive in attempting to find some ground on which to argue that God exists, and definitions of God have become infinitely squirrely.


The only way to prove a negative is to either disprove through empirical verification or logical incoherence.  If someone says there's a dragon in their house, you can empirically verify and show, after an exhaustive search, that no such being is there (after looking through closets and peeking under beds).  If they speak of a "square circle," you can point to the logical absurdity of such a claim.  But if the dragon is defined as magical, invisible, immaterial and capable of existing in a dimension not  subject to human discovery, you can such a person a liar or a fool (and reject the claim) or dismiss it as incapable of verification (because of the squirrely way it has been defined).


Atheism is the direct approach.  It's the laugh in the face of fools and frauds.  It's the Amazing Randy calling the bluff of some magician whose mumbo jumbo folds in the face of sunlight and scrutiny.


Agnosticism is less direct, but hardly less dismissive.  It doesn't deign to argue the point.  It doesn't call the man a liar or a fraud.  It, instead, argues that magical, invisible, immaterial dragons who live in some other dimension are not really subjects worth arguing about.  Why not?  Because there's no basis for argument.  It's not the kind of thing that can be rationally discussed.

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2 years ago  ::  Nov 21, 2012 - 6:13PM #8
mountain_man
Posts: 38,798

Nov 21, 2012 -- 4:04PM, BillThinks4Himself wrote:

If agnosticism is a lack of certainty or confidence in the ability of anyone to prove the God Question either way, how is such a position "untenable"?  What claims does it make that cannot be supported?


That's a popular, but incorrect definition of 'agnosticism'. Going back to the guy that invented the word it has more to do with being unable to answer the question of the existence of a god because we cannot know the answer. That is the untenable claim.


You also say that atheism "is nothing more than a lack of belief in gods" and that it "makes no claims."  I agree with you that a "lack of belief is not a claim," but I'm not sure that atheism is "nothing more" than this.


I do not "claim" that that's what Atheism is, that's the way most Atheists define Atheism. Anything other than a lack of belief is a personal statement or belief and not representative of the whole of Atheism.


To be sure, rejecting the claims of theists is not, in itself, a claim.  Atheism, defined as such, is not a position, though that's certainly a weaker form, as it turns the whole thing into something personal, as if someone were saying, "I, personally, reject all these god claims."


No, it does not. That would remain a personal claim. By the way... I do not "reject all those god claims." I reject the god IDEA.


The problem with this is that you've made it subjective.....It says nothing.


So? What's wrong with that? Though it does say that Atheist lack a belief in gods. That's all it needs to say.


But for a great many of us, that weaker formulation is inadequate....


Yes, based on a strawman version of Atheism I can see how many would believe that.

Dave - Just a Man in the Mountains.

I am a Humanist. I believe in a rational philosophy of life, informed by science, inspired by art, and motivated by a desire to do good for its own sake and not by an expectation of a reward or fear of punishment in an afterlife.
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2 years ago  ::  Nov 23, 2012 - 3:31AM #9
BillThinks4Himself
Posts: 3,206

Nov 21, 2012 -- 6:13PM, mountain_man wrote:

Nov 21, 2012 -- 4:04PM, BillThinks4Himself wrote:

If agnosticism is a lack of certainty or confidence in the ability of anyone to prove the God Question either way, how is such a position "untenable"?  What claims does it make that cannot be supported?


That's a popular, but incorrect definition of 'agnosticism'. Going back to the guy that invented the word it has more to do with being unable to answer the question of the existence of a god because we cannot know the answer. That is the untenable claim.


You also say that atheism "is nothing more than a lack of belief in gods" and that it "makes no claims."  I agree with you that a "lack of belief is not a claim," but I'm not sure that atheism is "nothing more" than this.


I do not "claim" that that's what Atheism is, that's the way most Atheists define Atheism. Anything other than a lack of belief is a personal statement or belief and not representative of the whole of Atheism.


To be sure, rejecting the claims of theists is not, in itself, a claim.  Atheism, defined as such, is not a position, though that's certainly a weaker form, as it turns the whole thing into something personal, as if someone were saying, "I, personally, reject all these god claims."


No, it does not. That would remain a personal claim. By the way... I do not "reject all those god claims." I reject the god IDEA.


The problem with this is that you've made it subjective.....It says nothing.


So? What's wrong with that? Though it does say that Atheist lack a belief in gods. That's all it needs to say.


But for a great many of us, that weaker formulation is inadequate....


Yes, based on a strawman version of Atheism I can see how many would believe that.


1. What was my "popular but incorrect view of agnosticism?"


2. Why is it untenable to argue that the God Question cannot be resolved?  If the debate rages on, with the two sides simply moving the battle lines, how has this question been definitively resolved?


3. I never said that atheism wasn't a lack of belief in any gods.  On the other hand, I don't see why we can't deconstruct this rather than hit it with polyurethane and admire it from afar.  If you define atheism as a lack of belief in any gods, you are either making an empirical or sociological statement of fact (which is easy to maintain but hardly meaningful) or you're taking a side in the God Debate (to the effect that there aren't any gods).  I have yet to meet an atheist (other than you) who would get defensive (or cry "straw man") if I said that atheists agree with some form of the statement, "There is no god" or disagree with some form of the statement, "There is a god or gods."


4. You say you "reject the God Idea."  What, exactly, does that mean?  How hard would it be to turn that into a proposition that can be supported, defended or attacked?


5. When I say that atheism, as a personal claim, is "a weaker formulation" than atheism as a point of view on the God Question, I'm saying that there's no reason to withdraw from a conflict over whether God exists (a battle of propositions) by making this just about you ("I, personally, lack a belief in any god).  With few exceptions, nobody really cares whether YOU believe in any god.  The real debate is about whether or not there is a god or gods.  That's what's worth debating.  It's not about you, personally.  It's about the "idea," you know, the one you "reject."


6. It's hardly a strawman version of atheism to say that atheism comes down on the "against" side of the God Question.  There is less evidence for God than there is for Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.  There are no credible sightings - no photographs, no reliable witnesses, no credible recordings, no "Biblical" appearances in our time.  If a god existed, he or she or it could show up - if not in the sky, then on Letterman or Leno.  That, of course, is assuming that God were visible and tangible enough to  be caught on camera.  Quite often, God is defined in mystical and even contradictory terms which defy any attempt at verification.  On countless Hallmark cards, God is basically the sunlight blasting through a cloud, something best described by meteorologists as "partly cloudy."  But if God is just a personification of Pantheism (along the lines of Spinoza), how do you verify the existence of "everything"?


7. To show you that I am certainly not creating a "strawman" version of atheism, I direct you to the following statements by famous atheists:


"Which is it, is man one of God’s blunders or is God one of man’s?" (Nietzsche)


" It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I cannot take seriously." (Einstein)


"We could call order by the name of God, but it would be an impersonal God. There’s not much personal about the laws of physics." (Stephen Hawking)


"What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof." (Christopher Hitchens)


"Religion is an illusion and it derives its strength from the fact that it falls in with our instinctual desires." (Sigmund Freud)


"Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people." (Karl Marx)


"The invisible and the non-existent look very much alike." (Delos B. McKown)


"Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful." (Edward Gibbon)


"Where knowledge ends, religion begins." (Benjamin Disraeli)


"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 he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?" (Epicurus)


"If we go back to the beginning, we shall find that ignorance and fear created the gods; that fancy, enthusiasm, or deceit adorned them; that weakness worships them; that credulity preserves them and that custom, respect and tyranny support them in order to make the blindness of men serve their own interests. If the ignorance of nature gave birth to gods, the knowledge of nature is calculated to destroy them." (Baron D'Holbach)

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2 years ago  ::  Nov 23, 2012 - 10:15AM #10
mountain_man
Posts: 38,798

Nov 23, 2012 -- 3:31AM, BillThinks4Himself wrote:

1. What was my "popular but incorrect view of agnosticism?"


The one you gave in the OP.


2. Why is it untenable to argue that the God Question cannot be resolved?...


Are you omniscient? Where do you get the knowledge that it cannot be solved?


3. I never said that atheism wasn't a lack of belief in any gods....


You added much to the term that is not there turning your argument into a strawman.


4. You say you "reject the God Idea."  What, exactly, does that mean?...


It means I looked back at the history of the god idea, not the individual god, but the whole concept of a god. There is no evidence to support such a concept. The history shows me that it is entirely a human invention.


5. When I say that atheism, as a personal claim,....


Atheism is not a personal claim, it is a lack of belief in gods.


6. It's hardly a strawman version of atheism to say that atheism comes down on the "against" side of the God Question.


It is. "Lack of" does not mean "against." The list of personal beliefs you listed do not change the definition of Atheism.

Dave - Just a Man in the Mountains.

I am a Humanist. I believe in a rational philosophy of life, informed by science, inspired by art, and motivated by a desire to do good for its own sake and not by an expectation of a reward or fear of punishment in an afterlife.
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