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Chief Rabbi: atheism has failed. Only religion can defeat the new barbarians

The West is suffering for its loss of faith. Unless we rediscover religion, our civilisation is in peril

15 June 2013

9:00 AM

15 June 2013

9:00 AM

I love the remark made by one Oxford don about another: ‘On the surface, he’s profound, but deep down, he’s superficial.’ That sentence has more than once come to mind when reading the new atheists.

Future intellectual historians will look back with wonder at the strange phenomenon of seemingly intelligent secularists in the 21st century believing that if they could show that the first chapters of Genesis are not literally true, that the universe is more than 6,000 years old and there might be other explanations for rainbows than as a sign of God’s covenant after the flood, the whole of humanity’s religious beliefs would come tumbling down like a house of cards and we would be left with a serene world of rational non-believers getting on famously with one another.

Whatever happened to the intellectual depth of the serious atheists, the forcefulness of Hobbes, the passion of Spinoza, the wit of Voltaire, the world-shattering profundity of Nietzsche? Where is there the remotest sense that they have grappled with the real issues, which have nothing to do with science and the literal meaning of scripture and everything to do with the meaningfulness or otherwise of human life, the existence or non-existence of an objective moral order, the truth or falsity of the idea of human freedom, and the ability or inability of society to survive without the rituals, narratives and shared practices that create and sustain the social bond?

A significant area of intellectual discourse — the human condition sub specie aeternitatis — has been dumbed down to the level of a school debating society. Does it matter? Should we not simply accept that just as there are some people who are tone deaf and others who have no sense of humour, so there are some who simply do not understand what is going on in the Book of Psalms, who lack a sense of transcendence or the miracle of being, who fail to understand what it might be to see human life as a drama of love and forgiveness or be moved to pray in penitence or thanksgiving? Some people get religion; others don’t. Why not leave it at that?

Fair enough, perhaps. But not, I submit, for readers of The Spectator, because religion has social, cultural and political consequences, and you cannot expect the foundations of western civilisation to crumble and leave the rest of the building intact. That is what the greatest of all atheists, Nietzsche, understood with terrifying clarity and what his -latter-day successors fail to grasp at all.

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Time and again in his later writings he tells us that losing Christian faith will mean abandoning Christian morality. No more ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’; instead the will to power. No more ‘Thou shalt not’; instead people would live by the law of nature, the strong dominating or eliminating the weak. ‘An act of injury, violence, exploitation or destruction cannot be “unjust” as such, because life functions essentially in an injurious, violent, exploitative and destructive manner.’ Nietzsche was not an anti-Semite, but there are passages in his writing that come close to justifying a Holocaust.

This had nothing to do with him personally and everything to do with the logic of Europe losing its Christian ethic. Already in 1843, a year before Nietzsche was born, Heinrich Heine wrote, ‘A drama will be enacted in Germany compared to which the French Revolution will seem like a harmless idyll. Christianity restrained the martial ardour of the Germans for a time but it did not destroy it; once the restraining talisman is shattered, savagery will rise again…  the mad fury of the berserk, of which Nordic poets sing and speak.’ Nietzsche and Heine were making the same point. Lose the Judeo-Christian sanctity of life and there will be nothing to contain the evil men do when given the chance and the provocation.

Richard Dawkins, whom I respect, partly understands this. He has said often that Darwinism is a science, not an ethic. Turn natural selection into a code of conduct and you get disaster. But if asked where we get our morality from, if not from science or religion, the new atheists start to stammer. They tend to argue that ethics is obvious, which it isn’t, or natural, which it manifestly isn’t either, and end up vaguely hinting that this isn’t their problem. Let someone else worry about it.

The history of Europe since the 18th century has been the story of successive attempts to find alternatives to God as an object of worship, among them the nation state, race and the Communist Manifesto. After this cost humanity two world wars, a Cold War and a hundred million lives, we have turned to more pacific forms of idolatry, among them the market, the liberal democratic state and the consumer society, all of which are ways of saying that there is no morality beyond personal choice so long as you do no harm to others.

Even so, the costs are beginning to mount up. Levels of trust have plummeted throughout the West as one group after another — bankers, CEOs, media personalities, parliamentarians, the press — has been hit by scandal. Marriage has all but collapsed as an institution, with 40 per cent of children born outside it and 50 per cent of marriages ending in divorce. Rates of depressive illness and stress-related syndromes have rocketed especially among the young. A recent survey showed that the average 18- to 35-year-old has 237 Facebook friends. When asked how many they could rely on in a crisis, the average answer was two. A quarter said one. An eighth said none.

None of this should surprise us. This is what a society built on materialism, individualism and moral relativism looks like. It maximises personal freedom but at a cost. As Michael Walzer puts it: ‘This freedom, energising and exciting as it is, is also profoundly disintegrative, making it very difficult for individuals to find any stable communal support, very difficult for any community to count on the responsible participation of its individual members. It opens solitary men and women to the impact of a lowest common denominator, commercial culture.’

In my time as Chief Rabbi, I have seen two highly significant trends. First, parents are more likely than they were to send their children to faith schools. They want their children exposed to a strong substantive ethic of responsibility and restraint. Second, religious people, Jews especially, are more fearful of the future than they were. Our newly polarised culture is far less tolerant than old, mild Christian Britain.

In one respect the new atheists are right. The threat to western freedom in the 21st century is not from fascism or communism but from a religious fundamentalism combining hatred of the other, the pursuit of power and contempt for human rights. But the idea that this can be defeated by individualism and relativism is naive almost beyond belief. Humanity has been here before. The precursors of today’s scientific atheists were Epicurus in third-century BCE Greece and Lucretius in first-century Rome. These were two great civilisations on the brink of decline. Having lost their faith, they were no match for what Bertrand Russell calls ‘nations less civilised than themselves but not so destitute of social cohesion’. The barbarians win. They always do.

The new barbarians are the fundamentalists who seek to impose a single truth on a plural world. Though many of them claim to be religious, they are actually devotees of the will to power. Defeating them will take the strongest possible defence of freedom, and strong societies are always moral societies. That does not mean that they need be religious. It is just that, in the words of historian Will Durant, ‘There is no significant example in history, before our time, of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion.’

I have no desire to convert others to my religious beliefs. Jews don’t do that sort of thing. Nor do I believe that you have to be religious to be moral. But Durant’s point is the challenge of our time. I have not yet found a secular ethic capable of sustaining in the long run a society of strong communities and families on the one hand, altruism, virtue, self-restraint, honour, obligation and trust on the other. A century after a civilisation loses its soul it loses its freedom also. That should concern all of us, believers and non-believers alike.

jon

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Show comments
  • Brian Westley

    About the last thing this world needs is more warring religious factions.

    “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.” ― Blaise Pascal

    • Jake Stratton-Kent

      Pascal didn’t foresee WW1 (cause, Germany lost out in the rush for Empire),
      Stalin (worst mass murderer in history, and an atheist), or the Second Congo War (fought over ‘conflict minerals’, killed 4.5 million and incidentally hardly made the Western media). Prior to Pascal, early Islamic expansion was more fanatically anti-Byzantine than motivated by religious fervour. The leaders of the Crusades were after territory (hardly one inheritor of land participated).
      Moral: war has virtually always been about power and resources, religion is just an excuse, as are other ideologies.

      • Jane McQueen

        Actually, there is a much forgotten genocide that makes Stalin and Hitler look like rank amateurs. But it’s also probably not spoken about because it was instigated by Christians. I suggest you look up the genocide of Native American Tribes, both in North, Central and Southern America and you will see massive atrocities carried out in the name of the Christian “god”.

        But this argument that Stalin was an Atheist, so therefore Atheist nations must be bad is a very poor one. By that logic we could work on the principle that a lot of Christian Priests committed child abuse; so therefore all Christians must be paedophiles. So you can see that your logic is inherently flawed.

        • jake stratton-kent

          *IF* that had been my argument then it would, my argument however was that religion is not the greatest cause of war, the biggest ones weren’t much to do with it. As regards America, or any colonial atrocities, territory and resources were far more direct causes.

          PS I am pro-secularism, not against it. The arguments against religion are generally pretty under-informed just the same. There are arguments – particularly regarding State religion and organised ditto – but the unhistorical slogans ground out day after day aren’t them.

          • Daniel Maris

            Nearly every single war involving Islam has been to do with religion. And that is a lot of wars.

          • jake stratton-kent

            if Islam is a special case – which viewed impartially from a historical perspective it probably isn’t – it doesn’t change the fact that power and resources are overall the major causes of conflict. Or that the greatest mass slaughters in history were unconnected with religion. Religion can be an effective ‘recruiting sgt’ whatever the real cause of conflict, but only in the same bracket as calling the foe ‘baby-murderers’, ‘nun-rapers’ or wotnot. It has nothing to do with the underlying cause, but stirs up martial feeling among the rank & file.

          • Daniel Maris

            I am not saying Islamic imperialism is worse than Western imperialism. Objectively what Western Imperialism did is every bit as horrible as what Islam has done.

            But Islam as a religion is unusual in that it explicitly (and consistently) sanctions violent imperialism and enslaving of subject peoples.

        • jake stratton-kent

          Item: the Little Big Horn resulted from a broken treaty to go after gold in hills sacred to the tribes. Greed *caused* that specific conflict, ‘religion’ was a factor in the perfectly justified resistance. Logical fallacy be blowed.

      • Aoc Crow

        “When Stalin was sixteen, he received a scholarship to attend the Georgian Orthodox Tiflis Spiritual Seminary in Tbilisi.”

        So much for religion raising “moral” children.

        Of course the “new barbarians” are raised with religion also. If there is some point here that religion raises more moral children I fail to see it.

    • Burt Flannery
  • http://www.keithmann.com KeithMann

    Certainly modern atheism has many vocal champions who are, to put it kindly, hardly Nietzsche. And it is foolish to lump spirituality in with religion and discard the baby with the bathwater. And, yes, there is wisdom and beauty to be found in many holy books.

    But, if the best argument for religion is that we haven’t figured out how to glue society together without it, then it’s not much more than the opiate Marx labelled it. Maybe we’re not ready to kick that drug yet, but we should keep trying.

    • kira

      Exactly. We actually do know how to build peaceful, productive societies, but ironically enough it’s often organized religion that prevents us from doing it. Countries with the lowest religious adherence have the least violence, we can prove that. The wonderful middle ground that religious moderates are after, where they and everyone else are free to practice their religion and where nobody is persecuted for being “the other”, is called secularism and is only possible is a free, secular democracy.

      • Ian Glendinning

        I’m not sure that “we” do actually “know” …. but at least this is the right topic – to work on the “how”, and to be more subtle in doing it than simply rejecting thousands of years of learning (and mistakes). We need to rise above wasting our time fighting and poking fun at religion. (“How do we know” is the agenda, the by-line, of my long-standing blog.)

      • TonyBuck2

        I can’t think of many “peaceful, productive societies” outside Scandinavia and NZ; both of them on the fringes of the world.

        The Scandinavians are both fervently capitalist and fervently liberal; but this is utter hypocrisy (like that of John Bunyan’s “Mr Facing-Both-Ways”) and sooner or later it will be found out.

        • crosscop

          Peaceful, productive Sweden recently had 10 days of immigrant rioting. Peaceful, productive Norway has had both a Muslim rape epidemic and Breivik.

          • Raman Indian

            Gaaaaaaaaawd believing USofA does sooooooooo much better. No gun violence there.

          • TonyBuck2

            Most USA Christianity is talk, not walk.

          • funkinwolf

            No one said Scandinavia is a utopia of peace and eternal land of no violence. But compared to everywhere else it’s the nearest to peace on earth you’ll ever get. 40,000 people die of JUST gun violence in USA a year.

        • Raman Indian

          When found out I hope these hypocrites retain their tolerance rather than become foaming maniacs.
          Europe was a cess pit of ignorance, murderous bigotry and misery as long as religion remained at the centre of its life.

      • Ina Bach

        Hm, I wonder when the statistic was relevant. In the last hundred years millions of people have died in KZ-camp, Gulags, and of hunger due to atheistic communism and national-socialism. A couple of years ago I stood at the grave of 30 munks that had been beaten and burned to death by godhating communists, because the monks refused to spit on their holy books. All religious wars in history cannot measure up to the bloodshed committed in the name of fanatic atheism within such short time. And today millions of children are killed in the womb every year, which is only possible because of godless ideology, where the dignity of every human life, and the author of life is denied.

        • kira

          As a percentage of the population, less people have actually died in the last century than ever before. It doesn’t seem like it because we now have unimaginably powerful weapons, but we ARE becoming less violent as time goes on, and as religion fades away. More people have died, yes, but only because there simply are more people, not necessarily because we have devolved. Also, the communist cults you blame for the violence are just as bad as any religion and none of their violence was based on “fanatical atheism” as you and so many religious people think. No society ever became so degrading and violent as a result of a lack of rationality. Stalin and Mao were not skeptical thinkers simply proposing rational and reasonable ideas, they were brutal savages no better than any religious leader. No atheist is promoting that kind of thinking.. all we’re saying is that believing nonsensical things on no evidence can be dangerous.

    • Kevin

      Like Rabbi Sacks, I’m also concerned about the question of morality after religion (and all the other question regarding “after religion.”) So for the sake of expanding our discussion and learning, I’ll play devil’s advocate.

      I don’t understand why we “ought” to try to abandon religion? Further, what do you mean when you say “religion”? The category is infamously hard to define. Any critique is easy when you’re not concerned with accuracy. (Football games, for example, also have rituals, costumes, tribalism, “faith” in a team, etc. We see this vague, nearly meaningless definition of religion used a lot by the new atheists.) Also, I don’t see how something that holds society together (a “glue”) necessarily means it is an opiate? Wouldn’t everything else that contributes to the functioning of society also be an opiate, then?

      I think we can narrow down the discussion by centering on how we define what is “true/real” and “false/illusory.” The danger modern atheists (of the scientistic flavor) face is that everything that isn’t a physical “fact” (this rock, that atom) isn’t “true/real” in the sense that it isn’t strictly physical. And so thoughts, feelings…society (apart from physical bodies) are not “real.” We might respond: but something like love is true, I feel it, after all! But that opens up the door to “My feelings about God are also true, in this sense.” Further, the materialist/physicalist would have to answer, love is not true/real, but the physical hormones and electrical pulses in the brain, are real. Their only other option is to say love isn’t real, but it is true (which again opens up the door for God.)

      By denying God and super-naturalism, we also deny any transcendental guarantee of meaning, and this transcendental guarantee is essential if our words are to have any meaning! (For example, in order to be able to refer to love, the word “love” needs to denote itself as a real object.) Further, denying super-naturalism also denies the meaning of our sense-perceptions. For example, the beauty of that tree (how patient, how wise) is an illusion brought on by anthropomorphism. And it follows that every other feeling we have about our day being “good,” pride over success, etc. are all illusions because there is no real object such as “good” or “success.” Myth too, which serves to base community and identity in a narrative, is destroyed. Myth doesn’t have to be religious, the myth of enlightenment/secular progress also applies, as does the myth of American exceptionalism, etc. Myth grounds our world-picture.

      So I think this “glue” is more than just an opiate, and it’s actually larger than just religion, and I think these are the insights that Nietzsche caught on to, and these are the insights that the new atheists are too shallow for. But I hope to find a rebuttal that answers these questions for me, because they are unpleasant to entertain! 😀

      • Joe

        If you want to compare “love” to “God”, don’t stop at semantics. No atheists say that love isn’t “real” in the sense that it doesn’t exist. It exists, but it is “practiced” (so to speak) but natural human beings. If your point is that “God” exists in the same manner as “love” – that is, as a human feeling, not as a supernatural entity with it’s own wills and feelings, who actually created things – I don’t think you’ll find a modern atheist that will disagree with you. And reducing God to that is certainly a start towards the end of religion (in the sense of “a belief in supernatural entities”).

        • Kevin

          You misunderstand my point. Actually you misunderstand the entire problem. It’s not about semantics, it’s about epistemology. Without a transcendent guarantee of meaning we can only ever saying meaning is relative, it’s “feeling,” it’s not true. This is the paradox that scientism/naturalism has set up for itself by defining the “true” as the “real,” and the “real” as the physical and experimentally reproducible.

          You’ll probably want to consent to that, affirming that there is a divide between the “real” and the mind, culture, values, etc. (all this without realizing that this assertion undermines the conditions in which you would be able to say that “true”=”real.”)

          The trouble with this assertion of naturalism/scientism is that it’s the end of meaning and of language (as a vehicle that communicates meaning and truth.) The only response to it is to somehow learn to forget it, and that’s not an answer at all. Not even the Stoic response to death (“it is what it is”) will work, because here what “it” is, is the deflation of every thought, emotion, and sensation; of life.

          That’s the issue I’m raising, again similar to what Nietzsche was aware of but the New Atheists are (apparently) unaware of. I would love to hear an adequate, hopeful response because this is the real issue in the “death of God,” and not quibbles over semantics and bullshit, which is what the majority of the debate today has been.

          • Joe

            You lost me. I was just responding to your first post. You asked, what do you mean when you say “religion”? This is a semantic question, and my answer was not the rituals and costumes, which, as you say, also exist in football fan clubs; it’s the supernatural element, at least in the Judeo-Christian religions – the “God” feature, which doesn’t exist in other societal glues.

            You also misjudge modern Atheists when you claim that to them, everything that isn’t a physical fact is not true/real. That is simply not true. A modern Atheists accepts the existence of what you may call “abstract” things, such as “mind” or “love”. But the modern Atheists believe that there are rational explanations to these things, which do not require supernatural elements, and we may currently not understand them. A modern Atheists also doesn’t like to “leave it at that” – she isn’t afraid of “breaking the spell” by exploring the roots and causes of these things. They might even get better once we explore them. Knowing that love is a series of chemical reactions, and understanding these reactions to their core, does not mean that I cannot fall madly in love and use my mind to write crazy love songs.

            Actually, I really would like you to move from semantics to epistemology. I don’t think you are. Claims such as “it’s the end of meaning and of language”, or “by denying God we also deny any transcendental meaning” are not epistemology, they are simply overused (and wrong, in my opinion) cliches. We don’t need god to have a meaningful language – language was probably there before God – or am I missing the point again?

          • Kevin

            The God/supernatural feature you say defines religion: but there are sects of Buddhism and Daoism that are strictly atheist. That’s part of the point: religion is incredibly hard to define. This isn’t semantics, this is the trouble with every categorization. Biologists face the same problem when trying to categorize species. Finding and organizing common traits and aspects to form a category that in turn describes the things in that category is fundamental to developing knowledge, but the borders between categories are never pure or clear. It’s fuzzy because, well, common traits are very common, even outside the species/category that’s supposed to encapsulate them.

            I’m not misjudging modern atheists because I’m not talking about atheists in general, I’m talking about scientism, which is the ideology of the New Atheists (one of whom is Daniel Dennet, who wrote “Breaking the Spell.”)

            I’m not saying that by denying God we deny transcendental meaning. Rather, the New Atheists reject God via their scientism/naturalism, without realizing that they have also rejected meaning and language. They have done so because they have rejected the transcendental guarantee of meaning (the category of the universal, formerly guaranteed by God.) and what they replace the former transcendental gaurantee with (scientific knowledge) is not sufficient. For them, any form of knowledge other than scientific knowledge is impure, it’s suspect. The scientific community, for someone who adheres to scientism, literally takes the place of metaphysics: science is THE voice of reason and truth.

            Again, the trouble with that is that the equating of science and truth cannot be established scientifically, and so it is an irreducible and illogical first premise. The equating of truth with real/physical/reproducible results is itself unable to be scientifically verified.

            The question I’m asking is, what is the “spell” being broken? Religion, only? Well what is that anyway? And then we run into trouble defining it. So then what is the spell being broken?

            It’s myth, I think. Myth is what grounds identity and community in a common narrative. The irony, though, is that this “breaking the spell” isn’t the disillusioning of myth, it’s the attempt to institute a new myth: the myth of scientistic supremacy (based on the tautology “science=truth, truth=the real, the real=that which is scientifically verifiable.”) The only real response to the disillusioning of myth, so as to make the disillusioning actual rather than another myth, is mystical silence (in my opinion.)

          • Kevin

            You mention God and the supernatural as the things that essentially define religion, but sects of Buddhism and Daoism actively disavow God and the supernatural. Hence the difficulty in defining religion. This isn’t semantics, this is the trouble inherent in categorizing. Biologists sometimes face the same problem when categorizing species. We produce categories by gathering common traits and aspects of things or phenomena, and then the category is said to essentially define the things in it. The trouble is that, well, common traits are very common, and they are not limited to the category that is supposed to circumscribe them, so that a general category like “religion” is often arbitrary and vacuous.

            I’m not misjudging modern atheists because I’m not even talking about atheists in general, I’m talking about the New Atheists, who adhere to the ideology/philosophy of scientism (one of whom is Daniel Dennet, the author of “Breaking the Spell.”)

            Denying God doesn’t necessarily lead to denying meaning, so long as you have a transcendent universal to replace God. What used to guarantee meaning was God, he took the place of the universal. Without the abstract category of the universal, the world is chaos and the rotating regimes of capricious power. The New Atheists say that Science can speak as the universal. For them science literally takes the place of metaphysics: it is the authoritative voice of reason and truth. However that’s not possible.

            The trouble with this line of argument is that it rests on a tautology. Science=truth, truth=the real, the real=that which is knowable through scientific methods. This tautology is itself unable to be proven through the scientific method. So it’s not actually breaking any spells, it’s instituting a new one, but they’re not willing to excavate to the roots of their own first premise.

            So what is the spell that they imagine they are breaking? Religion? Again, that’s hard to define (and often they prove it by being wildly wrong in their references and descriptions of religion.) I think what they imagine themselves to be breaking is myth as something explanatory. Myth is that which grounds a community and identity in a communal narrative (so the myth of scientific progress is one, for example.) The irony is that they destroy the conditions of which anything is sayable which is through myth (or world-picture.) So they destroy the conditions where it would be possible to say something like “scientific knowledge is true knowledge.” They do not demythologize, but rather institute a paradoxical myth (upheld by unreflective parrots) that destroys its own grounds for existing (as well as the grounds for communication,) but they somehow fail to realize it.

          • Kevin

            You mention God and the supernatural as the things that essentially define religion, but sects of Buddhism and Daoism actively disavow God and the supernatural. Hence the difficulty in defining religion. This isn’t semantics, this is the trouble inherent in categorizing. Biologists sometimes face the same problem when categorizing species. We produce categories by gathering common traits and aspects of things or phenomena, and then the category is said to essentially define the things in it. The trouble is that, well, common traits are very common, and they are not limited to the category that is supposed to circumscribe them, so that a general category like “religion” is often arbitrary and vacuous.

            I’m not misjudging modern atheists because I’m not even talking about atheists in general, I’m talking about the New Atheists, who adhere to the ideology/philosophy of scientism (one of whom is Daniel Dennet, the author of “Breaking the Spell.”)

            Denying God doesn’t necessarily lead to denying meaning, so long as you have a transcendent universal to replace God. What used to guarantee meaning was God, he took the place of the universal. Without the abstract category of the universal, the world is chaos and the rotating regimes of capricious power. The New Atheists say that Science can speak as the universal. For them science literally takes the place of metaphysics: it is the authoritative voice of reason and truth. However that’s not possible.

            The trouble with this line of argument is that it rests on a tautology. Science=truth, truth=the real, the real=that which is knowable through scientific methods. This tautology is itself unable to be proven through the scientific method. So it’s not actually breaking any spells, it’s instituting a new one, but they’re not willing to excavate to the roots of their own first premise.

            So what is the spell that they imagine they are breaking? Religion? Again, that’s hard to define (and often they prove it by being wildly wrong in their references and descriptions of religion.) I think what they imagine themselves to be breaking is myth as something explanatory. Myth is that which grounds a community and identity in a communal narrative (so the myth of scientific progress is one, for example.) The irony is that they destroy the conditions of which anything is sayable which is through myth (or world-picture.) So they destroy the conditions where it would be possible to say something like “scientific knowledge is true knowledge.” They do not demythologize, but rather institute a paradoxical myth (upheld by unreflective parrots) that destroys its own grounds for existing (as well as the grounds for communication,) but they somehow fail to realize it.

          • TonyBuck2

            Religion’s “spell” is built on two of human life’s main facts – suffering and death. To break the spell, you’d have to abolish these two things first, but no one ever can.

      • Burt Flannery

        Jonathan Sacks believes that morality comes from God – not from Brahman, Shangdi

      • Alan Duval

        “By denying God and super-naturalism, we also deny any transcendental guarantee of meaning, and this transcendental guarantee is essential if our words are to have any meaning!”

        You know that it’s a logical fallacy to make this appeal, right? Why believe that anything in this world is guaranteed? Indeed, the weak-sauce reply of ‘It is God’s will’ when a prayer is not answered is no different from ‘no guarantee’, aside from the vague feeling that your desire is in a supernatural in-tray somewhere.

        “(For example, in order to be able to refer to love, the word “love” needs to denote itself as a real object.)”

        How about, love is an emergent property of two sentient and emotional beings? Indeed, you’ve opened the door to suggesting that God is an emergent property of human consciousness, not an external reality, and that seems far more likely.

        “Further, denying super-naturalism also denies the meaning of our sense-perceptions.”

        That is absurd.

        “For example, the beauty of that tree (how patient, how wise) is an illusion brought on by anthropomorphism.”

        Which is an appraisal of the sense data, it is not the sense data itself. Again, a fallacy, you are fixating on the label rather than the things that the label denotes.

        “And it follows that every other feeling we have about our day being “good,” pride over success, etc. are all illusions because there is no real object such as “good” or “success.””
        This is a false equivalency with your last comment – the wiseness of a tree is anthropomorphisation, as you say. It has no real value aside from the poetic (and maybe will stay the hand that holds the axe). “Good” has measurable value to our successes as organisms, whether personal or social or whatever else. Our pride over that success drives us to repeat that success. Both good and success are emergent properties of consciousness’s appraisal of the organisms ability to survive and procreate.

        “Myth too, which serves to base community and identity in a narrative, is destroyed.”
        Myth can be ‘just stories’ very much as religious texts can and should be parables, and illustrations of how far we’ve come (although there is no functional difference to the fate of the Canaanites and Amalekites in the Bible and that of any number of modern races brought to the brink of extinction).

        “Myth doesn’t have to be religious, the myth of enlightenment/secular progress also applies, as does the myth of American exceptionalism, etc. Myth grounds our world-picture.”
        But there is myth, which is a metaphor for something real, and then there is myth that is a metaphor for a belief or ideal. Every religious book ever is both, but few are inclined to differentiate between the two, and that is dangerous. Interesting, too, that you raise American exceptionalism predicated, as it is, on ‘One Nation Under God,’ which the revisionists ignore as being a product of the last century, and which excludes growing sections of American society (Muslims, Atheists, and all).

        “So I think this “glue” is more than just an opiate, and it’s actually larger than just religion, and I think these are the insights that Nietzsche caught on to, and these are the insights that the new atheists are too shallow for.”
        I would only agree insofar as it is both an opiate AND a glue, but the glue is selective as to which minds and thought-communities it adheres to (or that adhere to it, more correctly). There is no value to the world as a whole, only to the individual and their close community, to enshrine as unchanging a belief about the world that is untrue, or unlikely to be true. Physics, Chemistry, Biology, even human psychology, are universal in their application, and any arguments are about how to move these areas of knowledge forward. Any given religion, on the other hand, is not universal, and by that fact divisive.

        “But I hope to find a rebuttal that answers these questions for me, because they are unpleasant to entertain! :D”
        I tried.

        • Kevin

          Thanks for a reply!
          I don’t see how the need for meaning to have a transcendent (beyond mere reduction to physicalism) guarantee is a logical fallacy? I’m not saying that we need a transcendental guarantee for metalanguage to be possible. While we are in discussion, we need something irreducible to allow us to communicate. I’m guessing (hoping) you’re familiar with Wittgenstein, so I’ll use his terms: the “rules” that guarantee the transmission of meaning in our “language games” are irreducible, they go on a kind of primal, communal trust. If we’re dogmatic physicalists, we have to be aware that we’ve just dissolved the rules of the language game,because they are not physical. This goes back to what I said about the “true/real” problem of truth.

          You try to escape this cartesian trap (the abyss between the physical “real” and the subject) by describing consciousness as an emergent property. That’s fine, I’m not contesting you there. But describing how consciousness emerges doesn’t resolve the problem physicalism poses for any grammar of subjectivity (any possibility communicating meaning, any foundation for it, really.) Physicalism may be the undeniable truth, but still the cartesian abyss remains, even after we describe the origin of consciousness.

          I’m honestly having a hard time trying to describe this problem. I think it has to do partly with the problem of reference and identity. You say love is an emergent property. But if I ask “what is love,” and you describe how it emerges, that is a genetic fallacy. A thing is not where it came from, nor the sum of its parts, nor how it emerged into existence. So we have a crisis of identity: without God as a guarantee that name and reference coincide, in other words without without a transcendent essence that answers the question “what is ___?” what we are left with is a million ways to describe and define a thing through a language in which word and the object designated don’t even match up anymore. For example, is love an emergent property? Or is it physical stimuli? Or is it the molecules of that physical stimuli? Or is it that thing I feel? Or is it that thing we share? Or is it better described by a poem? We’re left circling around a void, and each word and each thing we put our eyes on undergoes a meriological deterioration. It’s almost as if we just have to pick one; but which one should we pick, and based on what criteria? In other words without the meta-picture (the world-picture, the meta-narrative, the myth) in which identity (of selves and of objects and of words) is qualified, then those smaller parts lose their coherence, their meaning, and their relevance. Science can’t justify the world-picture because it maintains that cartesian split.

          You also mention my fixation with the label: yes! That’s partly the paradox I’m asserting physicalism gets trapped in. Physicalism doesn’t just undermine the words/labels we use, but also the conditions in which language is meaningful. I’ve already mentioned the problem with language games and reference. With physicalism we no longer have a foundation for our subjective universe. Does that mean physicalists can’t speak? No, it just means they must be conveniently unaware of the paradox that what they say has no meaning, according to their own theory, and they succeed in doing this very well!

          You might want to say that there is something beneath the label/word, so that despite the meaning in language being obliterated, there is still the possibility of meaningful experience (the sense data before the appraisal.) I’ll agree that there is sense data, but not before grammar. In other words, sense data is meaningful (in the sense that it matter at all) because there is meaning read into it. You can’t separate sense data and logical structures. That fish over there is interesting because I’m hungry, but also because we comprehend and project logical structures like cause-effect (I eat fish, no more hungry.) With physicalism, we can talk meaningfully only about those things that interest us in only a personal, bodily way, and even then we can talk about this on a merely physical level (so I can’t say “fish is good,” but I can say “I get fish to salve hunger.”) You might say that’s absurd, or that I’m still making the mistake that talking about and experiencing are two different things, but you actually provide an example of how physicalism levels language use and meaning.

          You describe “good,” following the Darwinist paradigm, as that which enhances the possibility of our evolutionary success. You’re response to me was challenging and refreshing, but here you fall so badly into the New Atheist/scientism delusion I’m trying to illustrate. Again you fall under the genetic fallacy and you produce a tautology (which is then the foundation of your moral evaluation.) You must presume that our evolutionary success is “good” before you can equate “good” with evolutionary success. You collapse an “is” and a moral evaluation into one, and then derive an “ought” from it, all based on a genetic fallacy. (Science says we strive for evolutionary success, therefore we ought to strive for evolutionary success, and we ought to consider it good, because it is good, because science says we naturally strive for evolutionary success.)

          Also I would argue on the point that science=universal, religion=not universal, and therefore science=good(because progress) and religion=not good. I would argue against that claim because, well, how a thing is universal makes all the difference. You almost describe scientific knowledge as transcendent here because it’s purely informational and therefore, supposedly, crosses all boundaries (I would argue against that as well, based again on how we interact w/the knowledge. In other words, the sciences are precisely not universal in their application, and this is because it is purely informational. Science aims to describe the “eternal” rational structure of things, but thereby can manifest meaningfully in our world only through application, because “eternal” information is meaningless otherwise. This means that it does not transcend borders, it levels all borders before it when it claims that scientific method and informational universalism is the “real/true.” I would therefore argue against this kind of informational universalism being a singularly good thing, or a singularly bad thing. This is another delusional “truth” held by the New Atheists.) You then equate the inevitable increase in information with progress, and progress with good. So a tautology and false equivalence, and that’s again the mistake you fell into with Darwinism and the good.

          Sorry for the long post. I’m having trouble communicating my points, so I wrote a lot. Again, thanks for the response and I look forward to yours, hoping that you can help me reach a more clear understanding.

          • Alan Duval

            Hi. Please allow me some time to get to grips with your objections and to (hopefully) form a coherent response. Shouldn’t be more than a day or so.

          • Alan Duval

            “I don’t see how the need for meaning to have a transcendent (beyond mere reduction to physicalism) guarantee is a logical fallacy?”

            Occam’s razor suggests that invoking a supernatural explanation (for which there is inherently no proof) adds an additional level of complexity to any natural explanation.

            “I’m not saying that we need a transcendental guarantee for metalanguage to be possible. While we are in discussion, we need something irreducible to allow us to communicate. I’m guessing (hoping) you’re familiar with Wittgenstein, so I’ll use his terms: the “rules” that guarantee the transmission of meaning in our “language games” are irreducible, they go on a kind of primal, communal trust. If we’re dogmatic physicalists, we have to be aware that we’ve just dissolved the rules of the language game,because they are not physical. This goes back to what I said about the “true/real” problem of truth.”
            You’d have to clarify what you mean by language “games” and words not being physical. Words are physically spoken and physically heard, so the transmission is physical. The words themselves, whether spoken or written, have neural correlates; which is to say that when someone expresses something using a word they are using that word to represent an image. (I’m using the word ‘image’ here the way that Antonio Damasio does in ‘The Feeling of What Happens.’) That image, whether a memory of a physical event or a pure mental abstraction is predicated on physical experience and is stored in a physical brain.

            “You try to escape this cartesian trap (the abyss between the physical “real” and the subject) by describing consciousness as an emergent property. That’s fine, I’m not contesting you there. But describing how consciousness emerges doesn’t resolve the problem physicalism poses for any grammar of subjectivity (any possibility communicating meaning, any foundation for it, really.) Physicalism may be the undeniable truth, but still the cartesian abyss remains, even after we describe the origin of consciousness.”

            This is an excellent point and one that I cannot answer in the context of this reply. There is an excellent video on a channel called ‘Evid3nc3’ on YouTube which I will link to whewn I’m on a comuter that doesn’t currently freak out on YouTube. On a side note, it’s interesting your bringing up Descartes because, for all that you claim that God must exist as the basis for our reasoning, and for all the reasons that you invoke the ‘Cartesian Abyss’, you have no proof that the being which you invoke as God is not a Cartesian Demon.

            “I’m honestly having a hard time trying to describe this problem. I think it has to do partly with the problem of reference and identity. You say love is an emergent property. But if I ask “what is love,” and you describe how it emerges, that is a genetic fallacy. A thing is not where it came from, nor the sum of its parts, nor how it emerged into existence.”

            No, it’s not those things. But those things necessarily inform what it is, indeed that is what genetics and evolution demand for a biological phenomenon such as ‘love’. Our use of that word and an approximate agreement on its meaning does not guarantee that we both mean the same thing, but, as we’re both human (I assume), the commonality is sufficient to justify the use of the word.

            “So we have a crisis of identity: without God as a guarantee that name and reference coincide, in other words without without a transcendent essence that answers the question “what is ___?” what we are left with is a million ways to describe and define a thing through a language in which word and the object designated don’t even match up anymore.”

            The aforementioned Cartesian Demon nullifies your invocation of God as a guarantor of anything. To suggest that we don’t often have misunderstandings and disagreements due to loss of meaning of a word is to ignore a great many arguments in the theist/atheist discourse, arguments over what ‘beliefs’, ‘morals’ and ‘theories’ are, for example.

            “For example, is love an emergent property? Or is it physical stimuli? O r is it the molecules of that physical stimuli? Or is it that thing I feel? Or is it that thing we share? Or is it better described by a poem?”

            It is all of those things depending upon the level of abstraction you choose to address the question at – none of those things are mutually exclusive, definitionally speaking.

            “We’re left circling around a void, and each word and each thing we put our eyes on undergoes a meriological deterioration. It’s almost as if we just have to pick one; but which one should we pick, and based on what criteria? In other words without the meta-picture (the world-picture, the meta-narrative, the myth) in which identity (of selves and of objects and of words) is qualified, then those smaller parts lose their coherence, their meaning, and their relevance. Science can’t justify the world-picture because it maintains that cartesian split.”

            That is not a necessity. Levels of abstraction and individual perspective make a mockery of meta-picture and meta-narrative, anyway, you just set up a multitude of possible definitions of what love could be, failing to recognise that love could be (and indeed probably is) all of those things. On February 14th ‘love’ may well be a sonnet I write in a card, but that poem evokes a feeling in my lover, part of which is the feelings we share for each other, all of which are molecules of various brain chemicals and axons and synapses, all at the same time
            In language, context will usually tell us about which one we’re discussing. The neurosurgeon isn’t going to appreciate ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’ as a response, when what he needs is ‘Ventro-Medial Prefrontal Cortex’, for example.

            “You also mention my fixation with the label: yes! That’s partly the paradox I’m asserting physicalism gets trapped in. Physicalism doesn’t just undermine the words/labels we use, but also the conditions in which language is meaningful. I’ve already mentioned the problem with language games and reference. With physicalism we no longer have a foundation for our subjective universe. Does that mean physicalists can’t speak? No, it just means they must be conveniently unaware of the paradox that what they say has no meaning, according to their own theory, and they succeed in doing this very well!”

            Language is a coding system, agreed upon (to butcher a quote). You argument here seems the same as the classic. ‘How does an atheist’s life have meaning without God?’ The answer to both that question, and your current one on language, is that we (as a species) assign meaning based on experience and interaction. You still haven’t resolved the God/Cartesian Demon paradox, so of the two of us, you’re in more of a dilemma (you may even be on the horns of said dilemma).

            “You might want to say that there is something beneath the label/word, so that despite the meaning in language being obliterated, there is still the possibility of meaningful experience (the sense data before the appraisal.) I’ll agree that there is sense data, but not before grammar.”

            I fundamentally disagree. Sense data comes first, grammar is the first step in embodied interpretation. Without sense data grammar is a nonsensical construct. Bear in mind that the first sense was just ‘chemical environment’, mostly closely associated with what we would call smell – no grammar really required for a single sense.

            “In other words, sense data is meaningful (in the sense that it matter at all) because there is meaning read into it. You can’t separate sense data and logical structures. That fish over there is interesting because I’m hungry, but also because we comprehend and project logical structures like cause-effect (I eat fish, no more hungry.) With physicalism, we can talk meaningfully only about those things that interest us in only a personal, bodily way, and even then we can talk about this on a merely physical level (so I can’t say “fish is good,” but I can say “I get fish to salve hunger.”) You might say that’s absurd, or that I’m still making the mistake that talking about and experiencing are two different things, but you actually provide an example of how physicalism levels language use and meaning.

            You describe “good,” following the Darwinist paradigm, as that which enhances the possibility of our evolutionary success. You’re response to me was challenging and refreshing, but here you fall so badly into the New Atheist/scientism delusion I’m trying to illustrate. Again you fall under the genetic fallacy and you produce a tautology (which is then the foundation of your moral evaluation.) You must presume that our evolutionary success is “good” before you can equate “good” with evolutionary success. You collapse an “is” and a moral evaluation into one, and then derive an “ought” from it, all based on a genetic fallacy. (Science says we strive for evolutionary success, therefore we ought to strive for evolutionary success, and we ought to consider it good, because i t is goo d, because science says we naturally strive for evolutionary success.)”

            Ignoring your use of ‘evolutionary success’ (over which no being has conscious control) and assuming you meant ‘survival’, it is you that has committed the genetic fallacy. We use the word ‘good’ to describe something that we evolved to do, we’re merely using a word to describe it. The fundamental imperative to survive precedes language by some 3 billion years. I’m a little confused by what you’re trying to do with ‘is’ and ‘ought’ here. There are no ISes or OUGHTs being derived here, at least not until after the inherent behaviour is established. The pleasant sensation of eating, which is also the cessation of the unpleasant feeling of hunger is what makes food ‘good’, and therefore potential sources of food ‘good’. We inherited those drives long before morals, and well before language.

            “Also I would argue on the point that science=universal, religion=not universal, and therefore science=good(because progress) and religion=not good. I would argue against that claim because, well, how a thing is universal makes all the difference. You almost describe scientific knowledge as transcendent here because it’s purely informational and therefore, supposedly, crosses all boundaries (I would argue against that as well, based again on how we interact w/the knowledge. In other words, the sciences are precisely not universal in their application, and this is because it is purely informational. Science aims to describe the “eternal” rational structure of things, but thereby can manifest meaningfully in our world only through application, because “eternal” informatio n is mea ningless otherwise.”

            Let me stop you there for a second: if eternal information is meaningless, and God is an eternal mind (an emergent property of memories and thoughts), then, by your own definition God is meaningless. You might argue that God is more a soul than a mind, and I would ask you to coherently explain the difference.

            “This means that it does not transcend borders, it levels all borders before it when it claims that scientific method and informational universalism is the “real/true.” I would therefore argue against this kind of informational universalism being a singularly good thing, or a singularly bad thing. This is another delusional “truth” held by the New Atheists.) You then equate the inevitable increase in information with progress, and progress with good. So a tautology and false equivalence, and that’s again the mistake you fell into with Darwinism and the good.”

            I’m not actually offended, but I would deny the label of New Atheist, albeit that I’ve read much of their stuff. I haven’t stated that progress is good. Progress towards good is good, though, by definition.

            “Sorry for the long post. I’m having trouble communicating my points, so I wrote a lot. Again, thanks for the response and I look forward to yours, hoping that you can help me reach a more clear understanding.”

            I quite understand, and thank you for engaging with me on this sticky topic.

            I would like to raise one final point: depending upon the flavour of Christianity you subscribe to, and the additional philosophical reading you’ve done, you possibly (probably?) envision God as like an oversoul, of which the human soul is a mere reflection (or a the divine fire of which we are just a spark). Is the soul ‘of God’, or merely created by God? Either way, I find it odd that our minds (which either are, or are heavily informed by, our souls) are very, very good at labelling physical things, pretty good at labelling emotions and other emergent properties of the physical, yet absolutely terrible at labelling the very things that God, and by extension our minds, should be very good at dealing with; abstractions. It’s almost like our minds/souls are evolved from gross physical matter with the emergent properties of emotions and memory, that themselves have the emergent property of consciousness, and that this last emergence is relatively new, in the scheme of things.

          • Kevin

            There seems to be a confusion: I’m using God in the broadest sense, so that the Cartesian Demon could apply. Why do you think I’m defending Christianity? I don’t subscribe to any brand of Christianity. I was a Christian, but I don’t think I am anymore. Even if I did call myself one, I don’t behave like Christ, so I can’t claim to be one anyway. This antagonistic, either/or mindset (“Look: it’s a theist; look, an atheist: attack, undermine beliefs!”) is preventing a whole generation of people from thinking (but that’s probably as old as all history.)

            Anyway, let me start here: “Our use of that word and an approximate agreement on its meaning does not guarantee that we both mean the same thing, but, as we’re both human (I assume), the commonality is sufficient to justify the use of the word…Language is a coding system, agreed upon (to butcher a quote).” This is a good approximation of what is meant by “language game.” In another place you say: “We use the word ‘good’ to describe something that we evolved to do, we’re merely using a word to describe it.”

            First of all, I’m not a human: I’m a sentient program our Alien overlords installed into silicon molecules so that technology and the internets can be closely monitored and manipulated. Secondly: That “we” in “we use the word…” is fundamental to the existence of a language game, and is fundamental to being able to say “good,” and is fundamental to any general category of thought (for a general category of thought is such because “we” consider it so. Indeed, “we” itself is a general category.) But, there’s more to language games than just this, and this “more” is important. The meaning of a word is it’s use, so that, as you say: “In language, context will usually tell us about which one we’re discussing. The neurosurgeon isn’t going to appreciate ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’ as a response, when what he needs is ‘Ventro-Medial Prefrontal Cortex’, for example… we (as a species) assign meaning based on experience and interaction.” In other words, we don’t need metalanguage to describe language, nor is it possible to have one flat explanation. (Later this ties in to “eternal knowledge” and what scientism uses to justify the authority of science.)

            The trouble you run into by using that definition of meaning, alongside a physicalist ontology, is that you can’t say “good” because it is premised on “we.” Now, what is the “we?” Where is it, can you point to it? No, it isn’t strictly real, it’s only a category that facilitates and grounds the possibility of communication and general concepts like “good.” Calling consciousness, and it’s categories of thought, an emergent property succeeds in grounding consciousness, but to a degree. It does not ground subjectivity qua subjectivity, it uproots it, falling into that Cartesian problem.

            I think you try to circumvent this problem by grounding “we” in that “eternal” information, which in turn is grounded on hard science, which is reliable (because “we” agree that “truth=that which is most real,” and science uncovers that “real,” etc.) We already agree that community and meaning are inseparable; meaning needs grounding in community, and vice versa. But what is it, epistemologically, that guarantees the meanings of our meanings? The “we” in which we merge into, in which we must pay a portion of our individual particularity (and yet in turn grounds our individuality as well,) needs the gaze of some Other in order to exist. So, it can be God, the Fuhrer, Cartesian Demon (read: Stan,) the “public,” it doesn’t matter. The point is that “we” and what “we” believe must be recognized by something other than “we” in order for statements like “The pleasant sensation of eating, which is also the cessation of the unpleasant feeling of hunger is what makes food ‘good’, and therefore potential sources of food ‘good.” Here the application of the general category “good,” which is a category that doesn’t exists outside of language games (outside of a “we” and a gaze) is legitimized by the authority of the gaze of science.

            There’s a peculiar reversal with science (science without scientism, that is): the scientific community is premised on gazing rather than on being gazed (gazing on reality, thus producing “pure” information,) and THAT is the basis of the authority of the scientific voice. The scientific community, the “we” is not gazed upon, it only gazes upon “reality” objectively, and so is the ultimate authority (according to scientism.) Scientism claims science as truth because of this reversal: science gazes on “reality,” and subsumes everything to the thought-category “reality,” (or, rather: assumes that everything is physically reducible) so that literally everything comes under its authority. This allows someone, who is operating under the canopy of any (hard) scientific paradigm, to assume they can also prescribe the rules to every language game (to the meanings of words and their applications/uses.)

            You say: “The pleasant sensation of eating, which is also the cessation of the unpleasant feeling of hunger is what makes food ‘good’, and therefore potential sources of food ‘good’.” You have just contradicted yourself, saying at once in the same reply that “good” is context-dependent and use-dependent, but then (by implicit appeal to to the authority of the scientific paradigm, based on “eternal” knowledge that is outside subjective circularity) you say good is that word which we use to describe the sense data that clues us in to the best paths to our survival. You are premising the authority of the scientific worldview on the authority of the scientific worldview.

            So on to “eternal” knowledge: yes you got my allusion to God. That’s the point, the authority of science (as conceived in scientism) is based on a bastardization of theological concepts. Even this abstraction of “eternal” knowledge is not enough to justify Science’s authority in prescribing the rules of language games. But you missed it because you thought I was a Christian. You say “we” use the word good to describe the things that science specifically takes as its own to be in a position to describe. But I think it’s more accurate to say that you use science to bridge the abyss between the meaning of a word and it’s referent.

            This brings us to what I’ve been saying about transcendence. Science purportedly goes beyond the circularity of subjective world-pictures (which can justify themselves only by appealing to the world-picture.) In other words science has access to the real through the accumulation of knowledge obtained through the scientific method. But scientism slips into that same delusion it purports to escape, and it does so, ironically, based on a (physicalist) ontology that is incompatible with world-pictures–indeed is anathema to it, and is proud of that fact (proud because this, they imagine, is a reflection of hard “truth,” but what, after all, is truth? It is the fulfillment of a function in a word game. And so they slip back into the web of circular semantics that they thought they escaped.)

            On to sense data: you say “Sense data comes first, grammar is the first step in embodied interpretation. Without sense data grammar is a nonsensical construct. Bear in mind that the first sense was just ‘chemical environment’, mostly closely associated with what we would call smell – no grammar really required for a single sense.”

            Without sense data, there is no SENSUAL (that chemical stew you refer to.) I’m not contesting that, nor am I contesting the primacy of the physical. But without grammar (without the faculty of making distinctions, of making relations, etc.) there is no SENSE in sense-data.

            So here is the paradox, premised on a misunderstanding:

            Science describes only the physical. In accord with physicalism, the quasi-transcendent constitution of our subjectivity (consciousness, meaning, “we,” etc) emerge from the physical. We already know a thing is more than just the sum of its parts, nor is it where it came from, nor is it how it got there. Therefore, the SUM that emerges (consciousness, subjectivity, etc.) can’t be described by science (can’t be described without doing injustice to the thing described,) but the parts and how they all got there can be described by science. In other words the language (games) of subjectivity and the language (games) of science remain split. The meaning of “good” is not (only) that which maximizes survival, “good” is it’s fluctuating and manifold use. But, if we add scientism (which produces a world picture premised on the authority of science, and the authority of science premised on it’s access to eternal info, and the authority of eternal info premised on the way it escapes the subjective world picture) we run into the paradox of being within a language game that claims it’s authority over every language game (every construction of meaning) on it’s ability to escape language games. In other words, scientism lays claim exactly to the essence of the real, to naked truth, and therefore to the “truth” of subjectivity, which is now grounded in the “real.” It’s delusion is in collapsing the transcendental into the real, and then ignoring the paradox. Now science lays claim to being judge of the truth/falsity of EVERY voice, rather than the voice of its own particular language game. Now “good” IS that which enhances chances of survival, because the gaze of the scientist is, well, God: the view from nowhere and therefore (falsely believed) everywhere. And this God-view is premised on the “eternal” knowledge, which is like the throne of heaven (the seat of self-same truth and authority, the quasi transcendental place from which scientific authority is derived.) However the omniscient nature of this eternal knowledge is another paradox: precisely because it “is,” (or, rather, is conceived to accurately describe what “is”) the eternal knowledge cannot manifest without a “kenosis,” a divine emptying-out. In other words the purely descriptive content of eternal truths can’t become relevant and meaningful, without becoming purely instrumental (if we maintain a paradigm of physicalism and scientism.) If those who trumpet scientism are to hold onto their confused world-picture, then they must remain aware of the fundamental paradoxes. And this function is fulfilled by the word “good.” “Good” is this eternal knowledge, because it “transcends” all borders and therefore makes everything equal under its gaze. But, and this is the last paradox, eternal knowledge (conceived through scientism) doesn’t BRIDGE differences, it demolishes them, and so people are all equal in the sense that all people essentially signify that which science says. It instramentalizes subjectivity, subsuming quality to quantifiable interactions. It makes mind into logic (the composition and relation of thoughts/categories) and then logic into logistics (the interplay of neurons, etc.) This “technocratic” world picture, where the real is only that which can be manipulated, has been incubating a long time in Western history. For all of it, really, and this includes Christianity.

            Wittgenstein, in “On Certainty,” says (I’m paraphrasing): “Knowledge is acknowledgement.” So who are “we” and our knowledge acknowledged by? By that Other that gazes on us. It “gives” us our meanings, as it were. And today we have a crisis. Today we ask: who acknowledges the Other? What grounds the Other’s authority? Previously it was self-grounded: God was “I AM.” Now we don’t have that. This is the crisis of authority that underpins the idiotic debates between the fundamentalists (New Atheists or Christian flavor.) This is the abyss of authority, placed square in that Cartesian abyss, that they both fail to look in the face, trying to avoid confronting it by trying to ground knowledge in a self-justifying circularity reminiscent of that “I AM.” The religious fundamentalists fall into the same trap as the New Atheists, even thought they have God, because they claim Biblical innerancy (which I don’t think is a doctrine that can be based on biblical exegesis.)

            To bring it back to the article, this is the crisis that Nietzsche inaugurated. And so, with Nietzsche, we have to be aware that if we discard the linchpin and foundation of the old world picture (God,) we lose more than just a word.

          • Alan Duval

            Here is the video I mentioned in my prior post. It lays out the groundwork for a metaphysical evidentialism that I would (very generally, and with all due skepticism) subscribe to.

            The fact that the argument starts with ‘cogito ergo sum’ makes it very germane to our discussion…

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g9x_oa–KAc

            I will read through, digest and reply as soon as I can.

            On one point, though – I’m not exactly making the assumption that you are Christian, or that you are even really defending the Christian worldview, but there is a necessity to have an encapsulated worldview against which to put the atheist position in this argument. Unless you want to lay out your entire worldview, and I mine, so we can establish areas of commonality and areas of difference (which might take some time). That said, see the video to get some way there.

          • Kevin

            Thanks for the quick reply and the video.

            I don’t understand why I need an encapsulated worldview against atheism in order to confront/question some tenets of it? Like I said earlier, there is no either/or situation here. We’re not fighting to see which regime of knowledge will win the rights to being “correct.” That’s often why the debates between the fundamentalists are so farcical: otherwise intelligent people haven’t grown out of the playground politics of who is right and who is wrong, and they contaminate thinking because of it, despite espousing otherwise correct and irrelevant facts.

            This, I guess, would be a start as to my worldview: I don’t have a worldview because I am a worldview. This goes against the pretensions to self-same transparency of “I think therefore I am,” because what I think and who I am is already mediated through pre-established systems of signification. For example, I am physically a man (self-evident physical fact,) but that also entails gender coding (I’m supposed to be strong, family provider, bla bla all that bullshit.) Indeed, “man” means nothing without that gender coding. If I were to declare “I’m a man” in a society without gender coding, the answer would either be blinking incomprehension, or “who cares?” because that which made the distinction man/woman socially relevant was the it’s symbolism, it’s social use: the gender coding, rather than the mere physical difference. So the basic structure of subject and predicate (“a is b”) is simplistic if we take it at face value. A is A because it’s mediated through B, and B is B because it’s mediated through C, etc etc. This is an aspect that Evidentialist Foundationalism doesn’t address, I think. Every attempt at describing is also a creating. Both emerge together.

            For example: why is sense perception better than relying on other people’s narratives? Because it’s closer to certainty. And why does certainty matter? Well…because its good. Why? Because we like it, because it makes us feel safer, because we have a need to know, because we have more we can do the more we know with certainty. And what if I feel safe already, without certainty? Well shit, no need for certainty then. The point is that, at bottom, a moral evaluation (“good,” “better) is the foundation for justifying one regime of knowledge over another, and this moral evaluation is in turn grounded in a mix of context, personal disposition, and arbitrary choice. Each regime opens some doors and closes others, and which doors are the “better” doors is retroactively decided through the scales and yard sticks in the truth regime. So Foundationalist Evidentialism is fine, but there is an important qualification to any truth regime: it’s specialized. Each has it’s place, but none is the unique key to the secrets of reality.

            That, at least, is my truth regime, for now.

          • Alan Duval

            “I don’t understand why I need an encapsulated worldview against atheism in order to confront/question some tenets of it?”

            Mostly because atheism isn’t a worldview, it’s a position on a single aspect of reality. If the debate was about the existence of God, that would be sufficient, but as it’s not, we must necessarily test the logical outflows from the atheist perspective, or the logical outflows from an epistemological and ontological position, of which atheism is just one such outflow.

            “This, I guess, would be a start as to my worldview: I don’t have a worldview because I am a worldview. This goes against the pretensions to self-same transparency of “I think therefore I am,” because what I think and who I am is already mediated through pre-established systems of signification.”

            I see where you’re going with this, I think, but “I don’t have a worldview because I am a worldview.” is effectively a restatement of ‘I think therefore I am’ – I am my thoughts about the world.

            “For example, I am physically a man (self-evident physical fact,) but that also entails gender coding (I’m supposed to be strong, family provider, bla bla all that bullshit.) Indeed, “man” means nothing without that gender coding.”

            Social construction being ‘we think therefore we are’.

            “If I were to declare “I’m a man” in a society without gender coding, the answer would either be blinking incomprehension, or “who cares?” because that which made the distinction man/woman socially relevant was the it’s symbolism, it’s social use: the gender coding, rather than the mere physical difference.”

            Well, that depends on what you mean by gender-coding. In the way you seem to be using it, you’re focusing on the social construct, but the brute physical fact could be such without “baggage” if the society didn’t engage in gender-coding, as such the fact could be accepted as a binary with no intrinsic meaning beyond that.

            “So the basic structure of subject and predicate (“a is b”) is simplistic if we take it at face value. A is A because it’s mediated through B, and B is B because it’s mediated through C, etc etc. This is an aspect that Evidentialist Foundationalism doesn’t address, I think. Every attempt at describing is also a creating. Both emerge together.”

            To me this just describes what we would call in psychology ‘scaffolding’, and whilst complex, there’s no reason why this can’t be supported evidentially… t just takes time.

            “For example: why is sense perception better than relying on other people’s narratives? Because it’s closer to certainty. And why does certainty matter? Well…because its good. Why? Because we like it, because it makes us feel safer, because we have a need to know, because we have more we can do the more we know with certainty.”

            Then we get to the interesting topic of how other people’s narratives can affect our certainty, or at least orient our focus towards that which we should be certain about.

            William Lane Craig, in his self-appointed position as foremost Christian apologist has built up a huge bulwark of philosophical reasoning (that is mostly pretty poor, I think, but I digress) in defense of his belief in God. He regularly proposes as his final defense, his personal experience of God. Ignoring for the moment that this is actually the predicate on which his entire philosophy is based, I strongly believe that this ‘experience’ is entirely contained within the brain that is experiencing it, but this experience generates sense data to provide proof. Which takes us back to ‘brains in vats’ in many ways, except that the vat in question is society, and the brain in question is ignoring some facts, based on experience, in order to prefer other facts based on a belief about an experience.

            “And what if I feel safe already, without certainty? Well shit, no need for certainty then.”

            Define certainty. Certainty is a rare thing in its absolute meaning, and in fact dangerous if the behaviour of some people who are certain about God’s existence are anything to go by.

            “The point is that, at bottom, a moral evaluation (“good,” “better) is the foundation for justifying one regime of knowledge over another, and this moral evaluation is in turn grounded in a mix of context, personal disposition, and arbitrary choice. Each regime opens some doors and closes others, and which doors are the “better” doors is retroactively decided through the scales and yard sticks in the truth regime. So Foundationalist Evidentialism is fine, but there is an important qualification to any truth regime: it’s specialized. Each has it’s place, but none is the unique key to the secrets of reality.That, at least, is my truth regime, for now.”

            I know what you’re saying, and would tend to very generally agree, but some truth regimes are predisposed to reinforce certain elements of that which one has experienced. Religions reinforce the personal experience of God (which my article in ‘The Skeptic’ portrays as personal experience of an externalised self), atheism, on purely the lack of belief in God, takes away that certainty. In doing so it takes away the additional level of explanation and (it seems) large chunks of certainty about things that it’s not entirely appropriate to be certain about (afterlives, for example).

          • Alan Duval

            “There seems to be a confusion: I’m using God in the broadest sense, so that the Cartesian Demon could apply. Why do you think I’m defending Christianity? I don’t subscribe to any brand of Christianity. I was a Christian, but I don’t think I am anymore. Even if I did call myself one, I don’t behave like Christ, so I can’t claim to be one anyway. “

            Find me Christians who behave like Christ. That’s a rare commodity. The self-stereotyping of Christians calling themselves Christian is generally far more trivial than what you’ve outlined there. As witness the fact that 45% of American Catholics are unaware of the miracle of transubstantiation (a key tenet of the Catholic faith, after all). A Pew Forum poll showed that atheists have a broader knowledge of religion in general, and the Bible in particular (in the US, at least), than any single sect of Christianity, and vastly more than the self-professed devout believers.

            “This antagonistic, either/or mindset (“Look: it’s a theist; look, an atheist: attack, undermine beliefs!”) is preventing a whole generation of people from thinking (but that’s probably as old as all history.)”

            Then again, when Christians were exclusively in power, they had a nasty habit of killing atheists, or indeed anyone that didn’t toe the church line, atheists, on the other hand, ask Christians to justify their beliefs, so if there’s a binary, it might be down to that. Maybe, or maybe the difference between a true theist and a true atheist is so fundamental to us, at a psychological level, and thus at an ontological level, and thus at an epistemological level, that it’s pretty hard to get past that. A/Theism is a pretty foundational belief, upon which much of what one believes, post facto, requires the initial (lack of) belief in the first instance). An obvious example being ‘what happens when we die?’ – a pretty fundamental question – for the vast majority of atheists the answer is ‘we die.’ For theists there are dozens, if not hundreds of answers, all delivered with ‘certainty’, and none of them knowable. Even if there is an afterlife (which, to my way of thinking is highly unlikely) the atheist view is still fundamentally correct, whether we get beamed up to heaven or re-incarnated as a potted plant, we (in the most broadly understood meaning of that word) still die.

            “First of all, I’m not a human: I’m a sentient program our Alien overlords installed into silicon molecules so that technology and the internets can be closely monitored and manipulated.”

            I knew it! I’ve been telling them all along! 😉

            “Secondly: That “we” in “we use the word…” is fundamental to the existence of a language game, and is fundamental to being able to say “good,” and is fundamental to any general category of thought (for a general category of thought is such because “we” consider it so. Indeed, “we” itself is a general category.)”

            Of course it is, but only insofar as a single individual would have no need of language.

            “But, there’s more to language games than just this, and this “more” is important. The meaning of a word is it’s use, so that, as you say: “In language, context will usually tell us about which one we’re discussing. The neurosurgeon isn’t going to appreciate ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’ as a response, when what he needs is ‘Ventro-Medial Prefrontal Cortex’, for example… we (as a species) assign meaning based on experience and interaction.” In other words, we don’t need metalanguage to describe language, nor is it possible to have one flat explanation. (Later this ties in to “eternal knowledge” and what scientism uses to justify the authority of science.)”

            No arguments there. A meta-language is a useful thought exercise, just as metaphysics is – it doesn’ describe a thing, but it can help illuminate a thing.

            “The trouble you run into by using that definition of meaning, alongside a physicalist ontology, is that you can’t say “good” because it is premised on “we.” Now, what is the “we?” Where is it, can you point to it? No, it isn’t strictly real, it’s only a category that facilitates and grounds the possibility of communication and general concepts like “good.” Calling consciousness, and it’s categories of thought, an emergent property succeeds in grounding consciousness, but to a degree. It does not ground subjectivity qua subjectivity, it uproots it, falling into that Cartesian problem.”

            This depends upon where you place the boundaries of a physicalist ontology. By the way you’re applying it, you’d have to also discredit maths for being an abstraction from reality – numbers aren’t ‘real’ (well, some are;-), not physical, but they absolutely describe real things by focusing on an element of their physical reality. If discrediting maths seems absurd, and I think it does, then it’s not a great leap to apply the same objection to the meaning of words within a language.

            “I think you try to circumvent this problem by grounding “we” in that “eternal” information, which in turn is grounded on hard science, which is reliable (because “we” agree that “truth=that which is most real,” and science uncovers that “real,” etc.) We already agree that community and meaning are inseparable; meaning needs grounding in community, and vice versa. But what is it, epistemologically, that guarantees the meanings of our meanings? The “we” in which we merge into, in which we must pay a portion of our individual particularity (and yet in turn grounds our individuality as well,) needs the gaze of some Other in order to exist. So, it can be God, the Fuhrer, Cartesian Demon (read: Stan,) the “public,” it doesn’t matter. The point is that “we” and what “we” believe must be recognized by something other than “we” in order for statements like “The pleasant sensation of eating, which is also the cessation of the unpleasant feeling of hunger is what makes food ‘good’, and therefore potential sources of food ‘good.” Here the application of the general category “good,” which is a category that doesn’t exists outside of language games (outside of a “we” and a gaze) is legitimized by the authority of the gaze of science.”

            No. Science, as a method, is an extension of what we have always done, which is to notice, to see patterns, to probe, to experiment. And “we” have done this since the dawn of any kind of awareness (coupled with any kind of autobiographical memory), so the basic precepts are built into our very being, they precede language. Indeed it may well be that language followed from this genetic predisposition, and in so doing has allowed us to democratise this approach, to make it a product of our social environment.

            “There’s a peculiar reversal with science (science without scientism, that is): the scientific community is premised on gazing rather than on being gazed (gazing on reality, thus producing “pure” information,) and THAT is the basis of the authority of the scientific voice. The scientific community, the “we” is not gazed upon, it only gazes upon “reality” objectively, and so is the ultimate authority (according to scientism.) Scientism claims science as truth because of this reversal: science gazes on “reality,” and subsumes everything to the thought-category “reality,” (or, rather: assumes that everything is physically reducible) so that literally everything comes under its authority. This allows someone, who is operating under the canopy of any (hard) scientific paradigm, to assume they can also prescribe the rules to every language game (to the meanings of words and their applications/uses.)”

            No, it doesn’t allow this, just because, to paraphrase a line from Richard Carrier, just because biology is an emergent property of chemistry, which is an emergent property of physics does not mean that a physicist has anything meaningful to say about a biological process beyond the macrocosmic. We, again, get back to context. The biological process may indeed be in the gross and brute context of physics, but it is also entirely encapsulated within the biological (which is entirely within the chemical, etc.). As such a biological approach to a biological problem is appropriate, because the physical context within which it exists is already inherently part of the ‘ology’. Which is not to say that interdisciplinary work shouldn’t go on, indeed ‘interdisciplinary’ is the new black. Any given ‘ology’ must be informed by advances in every other ‘ology.’ A physical world, thus described, can then be given over to the philosophers and the religious to discuss how we engage with our universe gven this new insight. (Assuming that the religion doesn’t continue to cleave to its outmoded descriptions of reality as handed down by their God in whichever given book they (approximately) adhere to.)

            “You say: “The pleasant sensation of eating, which is also the cessation of the unpleasant feeling of hunger is what makes food ‘good’, and therefore potential sources of food ‘good’.” You have just contradicted yourself, saying at once in the same reply that “good” is context-dependent and use-dependent, but then (by implicit appeal to to the authority of the scientific paradigm, based on “eternal” knowledge that is outside subjective circularity) you say good is that word which we use to describe the sense data that clues us in to the best paths to our survival. You are premising the authority of the scientific worldview on the authority of the scientific worldview.”

            We have been eating and finding it pleasant long before worldviews came into it, and indeed long before language came into it, as mentioned, above. We are predisposed to personal survival, familial survival and species survival (in that order). The context of that judgement is that of being us, in our families, human, for, from the context of the planet as a whole (or indeed a creator god, should one exist), humanity’s continued survival on this planet is ‘not good.’ That said, I am neither the planet nor a creator God (except in the more Indian metaphysical sense), and I am hopeful we’ll start working with our planet, rather than parasitising it. (But that would require that people don’t think that they’re going to a better place, a belief which often allows them to be lackadaisical about making the here and now a better place.)

            ““So on to “eternal” knowledge: yes you got my allusion to God. That’s the point, the authority of science (as conceived in scientism) is based on a bastardization of theological concepts.”

            Of course it is, science had the great misfortune of growing up in a highly religious and grossly superstitious world.

            “Even this abstraction of “eternal” knowledge is not enough to justify Science’s authority in prescribing the rules of language games. But you missed it because you thought I was a Christian. You say “we” use the word good to describe the things that science specifically takes as its own to be in a position to describe. But I think it’s more accurate to say that you use science to bridge the abyss between the meaning of a word and it’s referent.”

            I make judgements about what is “good” all the time, with no reference to science whatsoever – I just had some ‘good’ food, which I know is actually bad for me. Context. Again. My misapprehension that you were Christian (and indeed you’re a bit ambiguous on that point, even now) doesn’t alter my position one iota. As mentioned above, what we now call ‘good’ is the product of millennia of evolved appraisals, pre-language. Indeed, I called the food ‘good’ because it had animal fat in it, which my brain interprets as ‘good’ because meat is scarce (or at least it was when we evolved that appraisal, pre-laguage). What we now ‘know’, post-language, and post-science, is that we evolved to make that appraisal, but society has evolved to fulfil that ‘requirement’ (because it was good) such that it is no longer adaptive, and is indeed the reason, amongst many others, for the obesity epidemic.

            “This brings us to what I’ve been saying about transcendence. Science purportedly goes beyond the circularity of subjective world-pictures (which can justify themselves only by appealing to the world-picture.) In other words science has access to the real through the accumulation of knowledge obtained through the scientific method. But scientism slips into that same delusion it purports to escape, and it does so, ironically, based on a (physicalist) ontology that is incompatible with world-pictures–indeed is anathema to it, and is proud of that fact (proud because this, they imagine, is a reflection of hard “truth,” but what, after all, is truth? It is the fulfillment of a function in a word game. And so they slip back into the web of circular semantics that they thought they escaped.)”

            I think I may need some more clarity on what you’re saying here… but bear with my attempt:

            The key tenet of science is that nothing is certain, it merely approaches certainty asymptotically. Charles Darwin’s take on Evolution via natural selection was a good description of what seemed to happen, but this could have been completely impeached by genetics… as we know, it wasn’t, so the new synthesis of Evolution based on Darwin’s original idea approaches certainty as the best description we have of why and how evolution occurs.

            “On to sense data: you say “Sense data comes first, grammar is the first step in embodied interpretation. Without sense data grammar is a nonsensical construct. Bear in mind that the first sense was just ‘chemical environment’, mostly closely associated with what we would call smell – no grammar really required for a single sense.”

            Without sense data, there is no SENSUAL (that chemical stew you refer to.) I’m not contesting that, nor am I contesting the primacy of the physical. But without grammar (without the faculty of making distinctions, of making relations, etc.) there is no SENSE in sense-data.”

            I can accept that languageless grammar (the way in which we construct our relational reality), i.e. the concepts of good/bad, approach/avoid have to be there in order for nascent language to label those things, but given the tenor of your argument, can you? This confirms that we have evolved from simple to complex, to multi-level complex, pre-language – it’s just interesting that language is a way for us to circumvent experience in some instances.

            “So here is the paradox, premised on a misunderstanding:

            Science describes only the physical. In accord with physicalism, the quasi-transcendent constitution of our subjectivity (consciousness, meaning, “we,” etc) emerge from the physical. We already know a thing is more than just the sum of its parts, nor is it where it came from, nor is it how it got there.”

            That is incorrect. As mentioned previously, a biological creature can absolutely be described in terms of its physical and chemical constituents, and indeed biological descriptions will inform the understanding of its chemical and physical constituents. It is very much the sum of its parts AND where it came from, it just happens to be more than that, that’s what an emergent property is, anything else is supernatural. To suggest that said emergent property (say, human intelligence) must necessarily be beyond the scope of study (by human intelligence) is absurd – that’s akin to suggesting that you can’t use your eye to look in the mirror to remove an eyelash from your eye, or place a contact lens.

            “Therefore, the SUM that emerges (consciousness, subjectivity, etc.) can’t be described by science (can’t be described without doing injustice to the thing described,) but the parts and how they all got there can be described by science. In other words the language (games) of subjectivity and the language (games) of science remain split.”

            If it were a single individual engaging in science, I would agree, but as it is multiple intelligences, providing multiple perspectives. Science is a form of unified subjectivity in an attempt to approach the objective, religion (revelatory religion, at least) is the belief that a Eureka moment is a perfect encapsulated moment of realisation of an unimpeachable truth.

            “The meaning of “good” is not (only) that which maximizes survival, “good” is it’s fluctuating and manifold use. But, if we add scientism (which produces a world picture premised on the authority of science, and the authority of science premised on it’s access to eternal info, and the authority of eternal info premised on the way it escapes the subjective world picture) we run into the paradox of being within a language game that claims it’s authority over every language game (every construction of meaning) on it’s ability to escape language games. In other words, scientism lays claim exactly to the essence of the real, to naked truth, and therefore to the “truth” of subjectivity, which is now grounded in the “real.”

            If your position that an object is not where it came from is true, then a ‘meta-language game’ arising from all ‘language games’ to describe all ‘language games’ is not an issue. Then again, the extrapolation from that position is that we can’t possibly study the physical universe because we are within the physical universe, which is as flat and unworkable as the maths and human eye examples I have given previously.

            “It’s delusion is in collapsing the transcendental into the real, and then ignoring the paradox. Now science lays claim to being judge of the truth/falsity of EVERY voice, rather than the voice of its own particular language game. Now “good” IS that which enhances chances of survival, because the gaze of the scientist is, well, God: the view from nowhere and therefore (falsely believed) everywhere. And this God-view is premised on the “eternal” knowledge, which is like the throne of heaven (now bastardized as the seat of self-same truth and authority, the quasi transcendental place from which scientific authority is derived.)”

            It seems to me that one could easily switch out ‘transcendent’ for ‘emergent property’, and an emergent property is simply a new area for study. Human perception is often flawed, where exactly is the flaw in working with understanding born of testing and democratisation of knowledge? Seems a far better vector for any kind of transcendent (emergent) truth than someone claiming to have spoken to God, providing a narratively pleasing ‘truth’ and carrying on as if actual ‘truth-value’ has no importance.

            “However the omniscient nature of this eternal knowledge is another paradox: precisely because it “is,” (or, rather, is conceived to accurately describe what “is”) the eternal knowledge cannot manifest without a “kenosis,” a divine emptying-out.”

            Except science doesn’t have a will to which one would empty oneself out to. I think the phraseology is too laden with religious subtext to be taken in the way I suspect you may mean it. Can you rephrase?

            “In other words the purely descriptive content of eternal truths can’t become relevant and meaningful, without becoming purely instrumental (if we maintain a paradigm of physicalism and scientism.)”

            That is by no means a necessity. Why “must” it become instrumental? A scientific truth is, as you say, descriptive, as such it is just a label, it is not what it describes, it merely describes what it describes.

            “If those who trumpet scientism are to hold onto their confused world-picture, then they must remain unaware of the fundamental paradoxes.”

            Most such “paradoxes” seem to be hold-overs from a Christian worldview, rather than anything necessitated by reality.

            “And this function is fulfilled by the word “good.” “Good” is this eternal knowledge, because it “transcends” all borders and therefore makes everything equal under its gaze. But, and this is the last paradox, eternal knowledge (conceived through scientism) doesn’t BRIDGE differences, it demolishes them, and so people are all equal in the sense that all people essentially signify that which science says. It instramentalizes subjectivity, subsuming quality to quantifiable interactions. It makes mind into logic (the composition and relation of thoughts/categories) and then logic into logistics (the interplay of neurons, etc.) This “technocratic” world picture, where the real is only that which can be manipulated, has been incubating a long time in Western history. For all of it, really, and this includes Christianity.”

            That’s bordering on conspiracy theism. One of the unavoidable truths uncovered by science is that we are all different. Two thirds of our genes go into making our brains, and that allows for more different configurations of the human brain than there have been people throughout the history of the world, and that’s before you take into account the gene/environment interaction that we call life moderating and modulating those genes, day-to-day. Religions try and tell people how they MUST live, in a very strict and narrow sense, strongly indicative of a single egotist laying down the law. Science merely describes the world in which we live and says nothing about what we do with that information – that’s up to the philosophers, ethicists and sadly, the politicians. You are implying a value judgement that science simply never makes.

            “Wittgenstein, in “On Certainty,” says (I’m paraphrasing): “Knowledge is acknowledgement.” So who are “we” and our knowledge acknowledged by?”

            Why does it have to be acknowledged by anyone but us? We have to live with that which we acknowledge, so who better to do so?

            “By that Other that gazes on us. It “gives” us our meanings, as it were.”

            And if that ‘it’ were us?

            “And today we have a crisis. Today we ask: who acknowledges the Other?”

            Who is this we of which you speak?

            “What grounds the Other’s authority? Previously it was self-grounded: God was “I AM.””

            Interestingly, if you re-work what you’ve just said as authority being self-grounded in ‘I AM’, as in ‘I think therefore I am’ you will find that this remains, as it ever did. But we are increasingly NOT calling that I AM God, which is a fiction, instead calling it ‘I.’

            “Now we don’t have that. This is the crisis of authority that underpins the idiotic debates between the fundamentalists (New Atheist or Christian flavor.) This is the abyss of authority, placed square in that Cartesian abyss, that they both fail to look in the face, trying to avoid confronting it by trying to ground knowledge in a self-justifying circularity reminiscent of that “I AM.” The religious fundamentalists fall into the same trap as the New Atheists, even thought they have God, because they claim Biblical innerancy (which I don’t think is a doctrine that can be based on biblical exegesis.)”

            Biblical inerrancy is one of the least supportable religious beliefs in existence. The Bible is self-refuting on so many levels and claims of ‘metaphor’ weaken rather than strengthen any claim of inerrancy. The fact of the Council at Nicea, 300 years after the purported death of Christ, and prior to which no manuscripts of New Testament works survive suggest an entirely temporal basis for the Bible, albeit edited together (badly) from multiple sources.

            Can not the universe be the authority on matters of the universe (which after all is the fundamental belief that science is based on), and can’t we then discuss the ramifications thereof in political and philosophical debate?

            “To bring it back to the article, this is the crisis that Nietzsche inaugurated. And so, with Nietzsche, we have to be aware that if we discard the transcendent linchpin and foundation of the old world picture (God, the Other that gazes on us and grounds our meaning) we lose more than just a word, we lose word games and world pictures.”

            No, “we” don’t. Those whose worldview is predicated on ‘God’ do, but those that recognise that we are responsible for ourselves, and that our society is made up of other such selves that need to live together peaceably no such conflict exists. Why can’t the ability to look inwardly and weigh up the value of our own beliefs be paramount? Indeed I would suggest that God is a subconscious proxy for doing exactly that. But why a proxy (and one prone to memetic infection), why not just use the very brains with which we ask these very questions in the first instance? After all, the unexamined life is not worth living.

          • Kevin

            “I think therefore I am” doesn’t express that a person is their thoughts, it expresses that “I” am a self-present thought, a thought thinking itself, that I think myself transparently, without mediation other than myself, and therefore I can be certain that I am. It purports transparent self-identity as the foundation of a new philosophy. Descartes wasn’t a social constructivist (“I am my thoughts, and my thoughts are socially colored,” etc.) His idea of a self-same, transparent identity (cogito) became the foundation for secular reason. It grounds full agency within the agent, declares that the autonomous agent is free to reflect and choose on his own, like a thought bubble existing anterior to the world, apart yet in it, and acting based on its reflections on itself. Now Cogito is subject, and all under its view is an object, including itself. Cogito is spirit, secularized.

            So when I say “I am a worldview,” I mean precisely that I don’t “have” a worldview, as if I was a spirit freely choosing and holding my object “worldview.” I am always already mediated: I am that mediation reflecting on itself (though not autonomously and anterior to the mediation.) Descartes retains the transcendental with his self-same cogito: the cogito is the transcendent. But I think that’s a BS myth that allowed centuries of thinkers to congratulate themselves on the “light” of their own reason. It is a hollow ground for a new philosophy: in one way the Cogito designates literally nothing but the principle of self-coincidence, in another way it is the linchpin for the myth of Enlightenment progress. There is no transcendent, self-same, freely thinking and freely choosing cogito. The subject of self-consciousness inevitably takes the self as an object of consciousness, and so the self-same transparency is nothing but a mystification of self-objectification. There is no self-transparent “I AM, because I think” (I am a self-same thought: an anterior and autonomous mind.)

            A thought is always a choice in a process that is already underway and in which we are inextricably interwoven; a process made possible through language games and the presence of an other person, and an Other gazing on “we.” The thought is therefore an action, an action in constructing the world-picture. And, again, there are no thoughts/categories or language games without this world-picture. If I’ve explained myself poorly, this might help: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hermeneutics/. This is Heidegger, not Wittgenstein, btw. Section Four, “The Ontological Turn.”

            Also, please explain “scaffolding.” If my first guess on what you mean by it is correct, then this term is still victim to the myth of the autonomous, self-same Cogito that is anterior to any “scaffolding,” and to which scaffolding attaches itself to like an object or a supplement.

            Atheism and worldviews: you’re right, in a sense, that atheism isn’t a worldview (though this isn’t always the case.) Atheism is a proposition. But atheism doesn’t exist without a universe of presupposed propositions contextualizing and validating the proposition as meaningful as a proposition. It doesn’t exists without a worldview. Yet there are no clear boundaries: the worldview is also colored by atheism. The New Atheists turn atheism into an ideology. The negative proposition is turned into a positive affirmation, and then used as the rallying flag for a new political discourse and a worldview. As I’ve said before, there is no worldview without an ungrounded ground (first principles that are themselves unverifiable) and the gaze of some Other that verifies the categories and distinctions “we” hold, and hold with valuations attached to them. I may be missing something, but I still don’t understand why I need an encapsulated worldview in order to oppose atheism. I’m just pointing out the paradoxical place that atheism holds within it’s own worldview (specifically New Atheism and scientism.) In a sense I’m trying to burst open the encapsulated worldview of atheism (and therefore show what Nietzsche and the author of this article mean: that there’s more to the “death of God” than the death of a word.)

            I don’t know if I’m missing something, but it seems to me that you’re either missing or evading my central point. You responded to my “worldview” post, but my real point was in the longer, previous one.

            Let me try another route: I’ll paraphrase Jacques Lacan. In response to Dostoevsky saying “If God doesn’t exist, everything is permitted” (which I think you’ve imagined me to be saying) Lacan responds “If God doesn’t exist, nothing is permitted” (which is what I’m saying.) Now, he’s an atheist, so what he’s pointing out is the epistemological and metaphysical paradox we are stuck in. Without a transcendental signifier, without a Master Signifier, as he put it, “nothing is permitted.” The Master Signifier is that Other that I mentioned, that Other that gazes on us and validates what “we” believe and how/why we act. The Master Signifier is crucial if the mass of signification that is the world is to have any sense to it. It is the Signifier that organizes and contextualizes all the smaller significations, making them meaningful in relation to itself (an easy example is “the Cause:” now signification is made meaningful through this Master Signifier.)

            The crisis of atheism is also the crisis of authority: the Other (formerly God) is no longer the ultimate authority through which the “Great Chain of Being” is made meaningful and is validated (as well as our choices within this chain.) What the fundamentalists are arguing over is: Which Master Signifier will now be the ultimate authority in this society? Science, or the Bible/God? The problem with both programs is that they implode. In both their own ways, they claim to “have” a transcendental (Master) signifier. And in both their own ways, their own theories undermine the ground that would have validated their Master Signifier. The Christians: biblical innerancy is itself unbiblical. The New Atheists: scientific authority, as Master Signifier, as the anterior/transcendent “truth” that prescribes and contextualizes the rules to all the language games, is itself scientifically unverifiable. (I also mentioned the other paradoxes inherent to scientism two replies ago.) Both programs justify themselves in a circular manner, where each object of belief is supported by the one next to it, but each fail in establishing a “first principle” that can in itself autonomously ground the chain of beliefs.

            Nietzsche doesn’t assert exactly what Lacan does, I don’t think. But he does assert that the “death of God” also means the death of objective values (especially the values we inherited from Christianity.) In fact it’s the death of any discourse of “objectivity” having legitimacy (and here Lacan picks up and says that it’s impossible, without a Master Signifier.)

            You talk about certainty. You say, after quoting me: “Then we get to the interesting topic of how other people’s narratives can affect our certainty, or at least orient our focus towards that which we should be certain about.” and it seems to me you evaded the point on certainty. We DON’T go to the next interesting topic, because we haven’t even addressed the root topic. In fact, the further topic is just an extension of the root topic. My point was that certainty, which guides us into choosing what is good/bad (in this context of “which truth regime is best”,) is already held to be a “good,” and this valuation is groundless, and it is that which the choice of truth regimes rests. This is the linchpin of our language games, the Master Signifier that remains unconscious and contextualizes our actions/choices/thoughts. Without this groundless contextualizing, “nothing would be possible.” This is why I say truth regimes are specialized: they are dependent on our language games. And to try to justify the ground of our language games (which are really only ever shared beliefs and practices: “I believe in, and therefore pursue, evidentialist certainty, based on the world-view that the Cartesian coordinates maps out.”) we would have to use tautologies, or else create a metalanguage that perfectly describes language (which was tried and failed with Bertrand Russel and the logical positivists.)

            So later you mention certainty again, saying: “Certainty is a rare thing in its absolute meaning, and in fact dangerous if the behaviour of some people who are certain about God’s existence are anything to go by.”

            I don’t think you fully appreciate the wide function of belief and certainty. Certainty is not something that has a scale (low to high certainty) and therefore a value (absolute certainty is always dangerous, and therefore bad.) A better metaphor would be that certainty is an organism that morphs for its environment, for its functions in each environment. For example, my aunt is absolutely certain in her conviction that she should be the boss of the house, but that doesn’t mean she is now Der Fuhrer. She is certain on this topic because she wants to help (and she wants to help as a means to be the boss.) This is not the same as being certain about propositions, or about facts, or about convictions, or about trust, or about fidelity, or about the value of an authority (all which relate to certainty and belief.) It’s not two dimensional: that’s my point about “being a worldview.” Our thinking is both functional and representational, and is representational through being interwoven in functions (and vice versa,) and there are an infinity of functions because there are an infinity of contextual configurations. So saying “absolute certainty is dangerous” is nonsensical. It literally excludes context (which means excluding reality as it occurs.) We don’t have a transcendental scale hovering over us, evaluating the earth in a linear way.

            Let me go on a tangent: this negative judgement on religion is just flat wrong. It’s a myth, inherited from the self-congratulating aristocracy of the enlightenment, that religion (or strong belief) is inherently (or inherently leads to) violence and brainwashing. And it’s a myth propagated by sheer bad research and the mass-parroting of false “talking points.” It really only takes a look at history: the science vs religion warfare theory (The Church suppressing free thought and reason, Galileo, the murder of Hypatia and the burning of the Library of Alexandria, etc.) is not accepted by historians. Much of it is actually just historically false. Galileo, Hypatia, the Witch hunts: all of these were not “caused” by religion or by absolute conviction, as if the (recently invented) academic category of study “Religion” became incarnated as some ghost romping the world scene, pressing buttons and causing havoc. (See “Atheist Delusion: the Christian Revolution and it’s Fashionable Enemies” by David Bentley Hart on this topic of false history.)

            Further, on the false correlation between religion and violence: 44 out of the 73 major wars (60%) in the past 3500 years had nothing to do with religion. Out of the remainder, only 3 wars were centrally about religion (Crusades, Arab Conquests, and the wars of the Reformation.) Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/matt-j-rossano/why-religion-does-not-equ_b_637759.html. This is why I think the actual problem is not religion or science, but rather the politicization of belief and the commodification of religion, as well as promotion of the spectacle of the media as an event (really a “psuedo-event”) and the corporate monopoly on the media. Within this framework what looks like “progress” (the victory of the scientific paradigm) is actually a horrific regress into cultural amnesia and fundamentalist double-think (which continues in its clownish absurdity because it makes a lot of money.)

            OK, that was a tangent on religion and bad research that isn’t really central to my point. But I just had to point it out. It’s way off the mark of truth, both on the history and nature of religion, and this “danger of religion” crap only propagates more divisiveness and untruth (and it does so with a literally blind, or at least supremely misinformed, communal faith.)

            Back to the discussion, you say: “I know what you’re saying, and would tend to very generally agree, but some truth regimes are predisposed to reinforce certain elements of that which one has experienced. Religions reinforce the personal experience of God (which my article in ‘The Skeptic’ portrays as personal experience of an externalised self)”

            Here it seems you fall into the trap of conceptualizing relations through the anterior Cogito. You say truth regimes are predisposed to reinforce certain elements of experience. In other words, you say the truth-regime retroactively colors the experience of the person, and can therefore distort his perception of what is given (as if what is being perceived were a marketplace where everything from sense-stimuli to truth is equally present, and we can choose and reflect and examine freely, if only our truth regime doesn’t get in the way of the transparent sight of the Cogito.) But there is no retroactive coloring, because there is no anterior cogito, because there is no cogito without the “coloring” of the truth-regime (that through which sense-data is mediated, so that sense data makes any sense at all.) But let me push further: you describe the experience of God as an externalized self, this view made famous by Feuerbach (which of course begs the question: have you experienced God? If not, then how are you qualified to say what this experience is?)

            But notice how extremely Western that theory is. It’s rooted in individualism and the cogito (which is itself a bastardized conception of spirit): God is the cogito externalized. This, of course, isn’t true for all god (for example Hindu gods.) More importantly, God in Hinduism is specifically non-personal (Brahman is like the soul of the universe, an ocean/source.) So my point is that you’re already within a circle when trying to describe things “outside” of the circle. God is merely alienated cogito because, well, you’re operating within the coordinates of Cartesian dualism. Even if you were describing only the Judeo-Christian conception of God, it still doesn’t work. The Trinity, for example, or Jesus as God incarnate (or Jesus as Divine Logos) don’t fit within the scheme of the Cogito. Historical analysis is required.

            Also let’s get on the topic of the Evangelical Skeptic, Michael Schermer. He’s another polemicist in the politics of belief (where belief is reduced to being merely assent to certain propositions, and therefore politicized and commodified as an object that retroactively confers membership to increasingly exclusive “parties.”) The question is: what is he selling, and why should I care? He’ll say something essentially like this: “skepticism, which means rationality, which means reasonableness, which means constructive discourse, which means evidentialism, which means science, which means progress, which means good, which means not blind belief, which means not religious delusion, which means not bad, etc.” In other words, it’s circular thinking based on irreducible belief in the positive value of his position (which he purports to break out of.)

            This is what I meant when I said the subject-predicate structure of discourse was too simplistic (and similarly the subject-object relation in epistemology and ontology.) This kind of thinking is two dimensional in that it remains a circle, but it is not aware of it’s own circular nature. There is a Cartesian split: subject, and object of study/belief. But again, not only is there no self-consciousness without holding self as an object of consciousness (and therefore implicitly destroying the self-same Cogito,) but also there is no subject or object without the “we” and the gaze of the Other and the language game.

            The fundamentalist polemicists are content to externalize their own structure of belief onto their mirror-image enemy, without realizing that they are the image of the ones they demonize. If one were to ask Schermer on the grounds for his belief, he would either cite (false) historical evidence on the “dangers” of religion (which doesn’t end up justifying his epistemological attitude of skepticism) or he’ll try to justify the superior value of skepticism within the coordinates that ground skepticism (and so use the values that skepticism holds in order to justify skepticism.) Or, he’ll admit that first principles can’t be grounded in anything other than themselves. And here’s the revealing cherry on top: he would go on Evangelizing anyway (because, if nothing else, he’s made a business out of the politics of belief.)

            Again, sorry for the long reply. I seem unable to limit my responses. I hope I’ve made sense, and I look forward to your response.

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      “Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.”
      Karl Marx, Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right
      Arguably the most misquoted and misunderstood quote of all time.

    • funkinwolf

      There’s wisdom and beauty to be found in many holy books. Yes of course, if you cherry pick passages and ignore the ones that justify rape, murder, child molestation, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, genocide, war and slavery. Which leads me to believe, you’ve not really read the books of the major religions at all.

    • Burt Flannery

      There is wisdom and beauty to be found in many books but is any holy text true or simply a legendary quicksand? The following link might be of interest:

      http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_6?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=burt+flannery&sprefix=burt+f%2Cstripbooks%2C240

  • Chris

    Actually, countries with higher rates of secularism often have less social problems than countries with more religiosity. Not sure how you can say that society crumbles without the foundation of religion. It’s provably false. Of course, it’s a correlation, not a causation, but still we can see that religion doesn’t need to be the bedrock of a modern, global society.

    • Chaotopia

      “countries with higher rates of secularism often have less social problems than countries with more religiosity.”

      This is demonstrable – the secular Scandanavian countries were subject to forensic study in this book:

      http://www.amazon.co.uk/Society-without-God-Religious-Contentment/dp/0814797237

      “Before he began his recent travels, it seemed to Phil Zuckerman as if
      humans all over the globe were ‘getting religion’ – praising deities,
      performing holy rites, and soberly defending the world from sin. But
      most residents of Denmark and Sweden, he found, don’t worship any god at all, don’t pray, and don’t give much credence to religious dogma of any
      kind. Instead of being bastions of sin and corruption, however, as the
      Christian Right has suggested a godless society would be, these countries are filled with residents who score at the very top of the
      ‘happiness index’ and enjoy their healthy societies, which boast some of
      the lowest rates of violent crime in the world (along with some of the
      lowest levels of corruption), excellent educational systems, strong
      economies, well-supported arts, free health care, egalitarian social
      policies, outstanding bike paths, and great beer. Zuckerman formally
      interviewed nearly 150 Danes and Swedes of all ages and educational
      backgrounds over the course of fourteen months, beginning in 2005. He
      was particularly interested in the worldviews of people who live their
      lives without religious orientation. How do they think about and cope
      with death? Are they worried about an afterlife? What he found is that
      nearly all of his interviewees live their lives without much fear of the
      Grim Reaper or worries about the hereafter. This led him to wonder how
      and why it is that certain societies are non-religious in a world that
      seems to be marked by increasing religiosity. Drawing on prominent
      sociological theories and his own extensive research, Zuckerman ventures
      some interesting answers. This fascinating approach directly counters
      the claims of outspoken, conservative American Christians who argue that
      a society without God would be hell on earth. It is crucial, Zuckerman
      believes, for Americans to know that society without God is not only
      possible, but it can be quite civil and pleasant.”

      Of course, secularism is written into the very constitution of the US where there are are higher rates of religiosity so a secular society doesn’t necessarily mean a godless one but rather a practical arrangement, a sensible neutral space where people are free to believe what they like without being able to impose it on others against their will.

      • Robinoz

        Thanks Chaotopia … very informative

      • Edden

        What a very stange form of cherry picking.
        By the way, who are the christian right and where is your source?

        • Chaotopia

          “What a very stange form of cherry picking”

          No – the Scandinavian countries really do exist and they are very secular. You seem to be confusing actual geography with the typical way that Christians read their bible.

          “By the way, who are the christian right”

          You don’t know who the Christian right are?

          What astonishing ignorance – you obviously lead an extremely sheltered existence.

          The Christian Right are an especially backward group of Socially Conservative Christians who selectively cherry pick from a heavily edited collection of feeble-minded fairy tales of illiterate goat-herders and superstious desert dwellers living in extremely isolated regions of the middle-east during the Late Bronze age commonly known as the Bible.

          You can find a description of the Christian Right here

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_right

          or are you pathetically bone idle that you expect everyone else to do your research for you?

          “and where is your source?”

          If you bothered to click on the link then you know that the source is a book by Phil Zuckerman who is Professor of Sociology at Pitzer College who carried out a systematic study of the countries in question. I merely reproduced the book description.

          • Guy Swarbrick

            ‘pwned’, I believe is the current, impenetrable vernacular. 🙂

          • Chaotopia

            “‘pwned’, I believe is the current, impenetrable vernacular. :)”

            Never came across that before so I just had to look it up – I think that this is a neologism that is going to be quite useful.

          • Norma_Stitz

            “…. a heavily edited collection of feeble-minded fairy tales of illiterate goat-herders and superstitious desert dwellers…”

            Why do you feel the need to be so rude and aggressive?
            Is it part of the ‘rational scientific’ approach?

          • Guy Swarbrick

            If you remove ‘feeble minded’ from that description, it’s pretty hard to argue with.

          • TonyBuck2

            The “fairy tales” of the Old Testament – the stories of Adam and Eve, Noah, Moses and so on – have a permanent resonance and truth not to be found in human fairy tales; the Bible stories are clearly inspired by God.

            Please don’t imagine that because the people of Biblical times hadn’t experienced a scientific revolution (complete with Hydrogen Bombs, environmental destruction etc !) they were any less intelligent and wise than ourselves. They had functioning societies; ours are rapidly ceasing to function.

          • Tyler

            I’m pretty sure millions of Muslims feel the exact same way, about a totally different book. How do you know your book is the really special one? If you had been born in Turkey, do you think you would still be Christian? Or would you be one of those millions I just spoke of? Your faith is comfortable because it’s close to home.

          • TonyBuck2

            No one can “know” in religious matters. But you have to place a bet on which faith you believe to be true. Being a non-believer is also a gamble; you can’t know that God doesn’t exist.
            I once believed in the West, but not in Christianity; I now am a Christian, but gave up on the West a long time ago.

          • Tyler

            Ah this sounds kind of like Pascal’s wager. The problem of course is that it’s a false dichotomy. By gambling on one religion you have to gamble against all the others, and maybe God takes more offense at those who worship others than not at all. I am not so much gambling as accepting my own ignorance, I don’t do anything in my life that I wouldn’t be proud to defend. Honestly if God has a problem with that he’s an asshole. Although personally I don’t believe an all knowing being would be so pettily worried about being worshipped, or send people to suffer ETERNAL hellfire. Does that sound like a loving father?! Knowledge of a higher being would not change my actions or thoughts, I am good and I am proud without God. In fact I would argue to the big guy that my morality, based on my own desires to be good is far truer than the morality of someone who acts out of a desire to avoid hell or get in good with Jesus. Would you consider a man who neglects to rape his neighbors wife only because he knows he will likely face prosecution or because there will be some positive benefit to himself as being moral? How is religious morality any different?

          • Jackthesmilingblack

            Pascal’s wager: His bookie must have seen him coming.
            “Go through the motions. Why not? You’ve everything to gain if God really exists and nothing to lose if it was all superstitious BS.”
            Nothing but your integrity, self-respect, dignity. “It’s not about living forever, It’s about living with yourself.”

          • TonyBuck2

            Tyler

            Yes, like Pascal’s wager – though as Pascal would be the first to point out, religious faith is about far more than Reward / Punishment.

            God doesn’t send anyone to Hell; some people, religious or non-religious, sink down there, drawn by their stubborn (and everlasting) wish to be evil.

          • Tyler

            “God doesn’t send anyone to Hell; some people, religious or non-religious, sink down there, drawn by their stubborn (and everlasting) wish to be evil.”

            This doesn’t sound like the Catholic faith to me. Are you in line with church doctrine here? The problem is many wonderful people are going to hell while repentant rapists are cued in through the pearly gates by the hundreds. I can tell you with absolute certainty that what you described has no parallel with the values with which me and many others who do not wish to be part of your happy little club live by. Many non-believers are genuinely motivated by compassion and desire to make the world a better place. How do you explain this inconsistency?

          • bhudster10

            or not christian

          • Chris Schorah

            I’m sure God doesn’t have a problem with us living our lives as best we can but that’s not the essence of the faith. In Christianity we are primarily called to be close to God by accepting Jesus and following Him. So it’s not a question of being proud of how well we lead our lives, it couldn’t be, because by His standards we all fall short. We don’t avoid judgement by bring good, if we did we’d all fail. However, accepting a relationship with Jesus does transform us to make us better than we were before, however good or bad that was. It also brings us into a spiritual relationship with the eternal God and that’s how we avoid our own spiritual demise (your eternal hellfire): that’s our choice not Gods. You’re right, knowledge of a higher being, on it’s own, probably wouldn’t change your actions or thoughts, but being reborn as a new creation by Him would. It did for me.
            Worship is also for our benefit, not God’s, it draws us closer to Him.

          • Tyler

            So if I don’t accept a relationship with someone I’m not sure even existed or was who he said (Jesus) what will happen? Hell right? Eternal suffering for not being his friend? Like I said, this is far more petty then I could ever imagine a real God being. Also, meanwhile I’m going to hell some child molestor who accepts Jesus and asks forgiveness will have no problem avoiding eternal hellfire. After all, wasn’t his fault he was broke by God to begin with right? Correct me if I misunderstand anything. The point was if God sends me or any other compassionate non-believers, or Muslims to SUFFER IN ETERNITY for simply not believing in the right stuff while rapists can get into heaven no problem this is not a God I would have any interest in worshipping. This is not a God that anyone who wasn’t raised on would see as logical or intelligent. There comes a point when we should stop and ask ourselves if what we’ve always believed actually makes any sense. A Muslim raised on the religion would likely spend as much time considering Catholicism as you have thought about converting to Islam. The only way he really differs from you is in geographical location and consequently the religion of his devout parents, yet for this he will suffer eternally (so long as he knew about Catholicism). A loving father doesn’t hurt you forever because you didn’t do exactly what he wanted (or for not being his friend!), we put people in jail for doing that to their children. Think about it!

          • Chris Schorah

            Well Tyler I’d be inclined to agree with you about Hell if your belief was the biblical view of life after death. You need to get a more informed and balanced perspective about what scripture actually says. I think eternal suffering is only mentioned once (out of several dozen references to the subject) and then this applies to forces of evil. I can go into more detail if your interested.
            As for those of other faiths, well God tells me not to judge, so I’ll leave that to Him.

            Regards
            Chris

          • Tyler

            If the context of hell changes slightly, does that really effect the point I am making? As usual we are dancing around in circles avoiding the actual point being made. If you could point me towards some Bible verses that show a different perspective I would happy to read them. According to the biblical studies foundation (https://bible.org/article/what-bible-says-about-hell) this is what the Bible has to say about hell, seems pretty on par with my analysis.

            “Key Facts About Eternity

            (1) Everyone will exist eternally either in heaven or hell (Daniel 12:2,3; Matthew 25:46; John 5:28; Revelation 20:14,15).

            (2) Everyone has only one life in which to determine their destiny (Hebrews 9:27).

            (3) Heaven or hell is determined by whether a person believes (puts their trust) in Christ alone to save them (John 3:16, 36, etc.).

            Key Passages About Hell

            (1) Hell was designed originally for Satan and his demons (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 20:10).

            (2) Hell will also punish the sin of those who reject Christ (Matthew 13:41,50; Revelation 20:11-15; 21:8).

            (3) Hell is conscious torment.

            Matthew 13:50 “furnace of fire…weeping and gnashing of teeth”

            Mark 9:48 “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched”

            Revelation 14:10 “he will be tormented with fire and brimstone”

            (4) Hell is eternal and irreversible.

            Revelation 14:11 “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever and they have no rest day and night”

            Revelation 20:14 “This is the second death, the lake of fire”

            Revelation 20:15 “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire”

            Maybe you don’t feel very good telling people they are going to hell. I can certainly respect that. However I think the stance of the church and the bible is pretty clear, I am going to a very unpleasant place for a long time. As always I am open to new information/evidence if you care to present it but I think I have a firm grasp of where I stand according to the church.

          • Chris Schorah

            Well Tyler, if you consider that I’m only changing the context of hell ‘slightly’ when I argue against your view that the Bible demands eternal suffering, then it looks as though your reasoning circuits have fused on this topic, whoever’s right.
            This is supported by your biblical quotes, where only one actually implies conscious eternal suffering (Revelation 14:11), a verse which is couched in figurative language and only associated with those who worship evil. What your quotes primarily make clear is that it’s the judgement – the condemnation – and the means of carrying it out that’s eternal, not the suffering. These verses are always couched in allegorical (non literal language) as actual worms and fires can’t co-exist. So taking such things as precise descriptions will be misleading.
            Revelation 14:11, and its limited application to mankind, needs to be considered in the light of the vast majority of verses which indicate, not eternal torment, but a second (spiritual) death or destruction (a), or a separation from God (b). (a. Psalm 92:6-7; Isaiah 33:10-14; Malachi 4:1; Luke 3:17; Romans 6:20-23; Galatians 6:8; Philippians 3:18-21; James 1:15; 2Peter 3:7; Revelation 2:11; 20:14-15; 21:8. b. Psalm 37:10; Daniel 12:2; Matthew 7:21-23; John 5:28-29; 2Thessalonians 1:8-9; Jude 13).
            One could say that those facing this ‘second death’ have themselves chosen separation from God (indeed, having thus chosen in this life, would a loving God force His presence on them in the next). Because they’ve decided not to accept Jesus’ offer of forgiveness, there is still a price to pay for wrongdoing and there will need to be a judgement, because without God, by ourselves, we are unable to deal properly with evil. Is it reasonable that sin, which has escaped justice on earth, should go unjudged and unpaid into eternity and continue to corrupt the new heaven and earth to come? A God who cares will logically seek to judge. If he didn’t there would be no justice and wickedness would triumph.
            Some people ask about those who were not self-seeking and genuinely sought after God but, through no fault of their own, never knew Jesus? Well, we have to leave that with God. But there are hints in scripture that they will get their wish (Matthew 12:41-42; Luke 10:10-16; 12:47-48; Romans 4:1-12; Hebrews 11). The Bible is open enough to leave a number of possibilities for the way God’s judgement may work out. You seem to prefer a selective and extreme medieval interpretation, which is both unbiblical and unbalanced. Will not the Judge of all the earth do right (Genesis 18:25; 2Chronicles 19:7; Job 34:10-12; Daniel 4:37)?

          • Tyler

            The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, ‘eternal fire.’ The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs” (CCC 1035).
            http://www.catholic.com/tracts/the-hell-there-is
            Hmm sounds to me like I got it right. Every link I find related to the Catholic beliefs about hell confirm what I said. Here are a couple more which you might be interested to read.
            http://www.uscatholic.org/church/2011/09/has-hell-frozen-over
            http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=4275
            It seems you are the one who is not on par with the church here. As for your comment about medieval perspectives, it seems ironic to me. You base your faith on information passed down from those very same medieval people. Any deviation from the older versions of Christianity represent further bastardizations of the original message. So shouldn’t the old teaching s be the most reliable? May I ask if you use condoms or have sex before marriage? If not does that put you in the majority or minority? The fact I have to ask at all says a lot. If the answer is yes than I would argue you are making your own religion up anyways and you might as well just embrace it and start thinking for yourself.

          • Chris Schorah

            I’m not a member of the Catholic Church, but they seem to agree with what I’ve already said – it’s hell and the fire that are eternal. ‘The chief punishment is eternal separation from God’ (what the Bible describes as a destruction or the 2nd death), not eternal suffering. Indeed, eternal torment isn’t even mentioned in your quote.
            You also make other assumptions here and, like the one that hell has to be ‘eternal suffering’, they’re also wrong. I don’t base my faith on the ideas of medieval society but on the balance of what the Bible says, as the references about hell that I’ve already quoted show. The New Testament (NT) is the oldest message there is on Christianity – written within 20-60 years after the events. So, yes, I do agree with you that the oldest teaching is the most reliable; it’s in the NT. Perhaps you should get more familiar with it – the overall thrust of what it says – not just the verses that suit your views.
            With regard to the personal questions you ask, I’m not sure what they’ve got to do with the subject in hand. However, my practices are always the ones taught in scripture and that’s as far as you can get from your accusation that I’m making up my own religion.

          • Tyler

            I apologize for my assumption, and the delayed response. Most people on here seem to be Catholics but I guess I cannot assume. We can argue semantics all day but from the articles I shared and all the quotes and the catechism it seems pretty obvious to me what the Catholic position is, especially historically, and even if recognition of the damage it can do has led to it’s widespread dismissal. I guess we can agree to not. As for the Bible, many people have used the bible to justify many contradicting and sometimes barbaric and evil things. Even if you use the bible I would argue you interpret it based on the values of our society and those who raised you. I did not intend to accuse you of anything I apologize again if I came across that way, I was merely trying to make this point that the bible can lead you down very different paths depending on the circumstances in which you come to learn about it and that there is no way that I can see to decipher one interpretation as being more legitimate than another.

          • Chris Schorah

            Thanks for your measured response Tyler.
            Your comments “that the bible can lead you down very different paths”….and that “ there is no way that I can see to decipher one interpretation as being more legitimate than another” I consider to be too misleading.
            It’s true that people can use the Bible that way, as they can any writings, and they have. But the remarkable thing is that, in spite of differences on some of the details and on the way we express our faith and manage the church, there has been almost universal agreement on the major doctrines of the faith across all the main denominations for almost 2000 years.
            Scripture doesn’t lead us down different paths and is very clear on the essentials: –
            God is the Creator of everything with man made in His image.
            God seeks to restore a relationship with humanity that our obsession with ourselves has damaged.
            Jesus is ‘God with us’ as evidenced by what He claimed, taught and did (especially the resurrection).
            All who accept Jesus, and what He did on the cross (the removal of the wrongdoing that inevitably comes as we distance ourselves from God’s standards), are restored to a relationship with the Almighty.
            This acceptance brings a spiritual redemption and transformation to the lives of Christians. This then helps them to fulfil their call to love God and to try and to follow Jesus in all they do thus helping bring God’s Kingdom to earth.
            There will be a resurrection of the dead and a judgement by God of all mankind (the subject of our debates).

            These are the main essential doctrines that are found clearly in scripture and in all the major Christian denominations. They make a developing story of God’s interaction with His people set in history and culture. The fact that you will find some people in all traditions who disagree with these main beliefs or that some denominations would wish to add other doctrines to this list (without diluting these essentials) doesn’t make scripture any less clear on these central issues.
            Regards
            Chris

          • Nowistherighttime

            In the words of C.S Lewis – “There are only two people in the end, those who say to God “thy will be done”, and those who God says “thy will be done”.

          • Guest

            The worst form of eternal suffering that comes to ones mind is not physical torture, but, the eternal regret, the torment and the anguish, of being separated from God’s love through ones freely willed choice.

          • Tyler

            Mental anguish or physical pain, you’re still fear mongering and it leads to bias and irrational thinking.

          • bhudster10

            You sound more unhappy and tormented than anyone else on this thread.

          • Tyler

            I love comments like this, interspersed between attempts to convince me that your religion is not based on fear. I remain confounded that people can believe in such a petty God and I assure you I am not afraid nor will I ever be.

          • Nowistherighttime

            Angry?

          • Nowistherighttime

            Never say never, there is always doubt in doubt.

          • Tyler

            No actually I’m pleasantly optimistic about the future of religion. I think there is a long hard road ahead for certain countries, (Russia, Turkey) but there is an overall trend towards people starting to think for themselves and abandon belief systems tailored to control the ignorant masses. I see these debates as a small but important part of exposing people whose opinions are still developing to reasoned arguments on both sides of the debate and it makes me happy to contribute in whatever way I can. Are you angry?http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_projection

          • Nowistherighttime

            Belief in God is a perfectly rational choice (something new atheists fail/refuse to understand), you made the choice long ago not to believe, probably through ignorance, because you know in your heart that belief is a threat to all you desire, but also through fear, because if there really is a choice, you may well choose the wrong alternative.

          • Tyler

            That’s a straw man argument if I ever heard one. My morality is based on evidence, which is always a better choice than just believing something on faith or because your parents believed it. I live by Jesus example but only because it makes sense, which is why I reject homophobia with this as justification. So what desires would go unfulfilled in my belief? None that aren’t already. If there is a God I somehow doubt he holds people who blindly follow others in high regard. Which is basically religious adherence. Belief in God is not irrational, putting your faith in the bible’s correctness (as you or your pastor interpret it) and believing you know the will of God are both completely irrational. I don’t know if there is a God, but I can see pretty clearly that certain hypothesis about God are irrational and only propagate through indoctrination and the inherent trust children have in everything their parents tell them. Once you have developed a world view around God, it’s not always easy to break it down. I, like many people slowly came to accept the truth over time. Not so much a choice as a realization, or the culmination of many.

          • Nowistherighttime

            I understand how you perceive Christianity to be a threat, however, I and many others perceive it on the contrary. We both agree that humans are fallible, I believe rationally with an informed choice that God exists, you believe rationally with an informed choice that he doesn’t. If the latter is true, the former must be false, but if that latter is false, the former is true. Look at the 20th Century, men of power have made some enormous gambles on what they believe to be true, right and good, with catastrophic consequences on humanity. People see and hear what they want to believe, and conceal most diligently from themselves what they also wish to conceal from others, the very suggestion that the universe might have a benevolent purpose makes most new atheists exasperated and enraged. History repeats itself, don’t be so hasty to forget this.

          • Tyler

            Informed implies there is reliable information. Philosophical arguments and questionable historical documents do not make you informed. My morality is based on careful reasoning among other things but my religious beliefs are based on nothing more than an acceptance of my ignorance. I was suggesting you accept your own ignorance instead of just believing what your parents believed (I assume, correctly?). Please reread my previous comment as you seem to have missed this crucial point.

          • Nowistherighttime

            I choose to believe not just what my parents believe, but also what Machiavelli, Da Vinci, Lincoln, Descartes, Martin Luther King, John Locke, Mozart, Adam Smith, Nelson Mandela, Max Planck etc etc believe, because like these great men, I also believe it to be true. I believe I was blessed with a good upbringing which enabled me in time to make an informed choice (Christians are also capable of rationale thought by the way). Not that I think it is as relevant to determining belief as you would like to believe, considering the amount of atheists who turn Christian, or Christians who turn atheists and so on and so forth. As one is true and the other false, it is logical that not only one of the two upbringings is the right one, but that one of the two is essential and necessarily, how are we to know with certainty, which one is right, if neither of us can prove or disprove the other. Despite what new atheists claim, there is no God hypothesis, it is impossible to know anything about the existence of God or not, this position is unassailable as the logic is impeccable, a hypotheses by definition must be falsifiable or provable. Both Atheism and Theism, rest some of the most profound fundamentals, on faith. I believe it takes more faith to believe in the creation of the universe by chance, rather than purposeful intelligent design.

            I’m not going to re-write the comments you deleted in retreat, unless you really want me to again.

            We can either agree to disagree, or we can both lay out over several days why we have made the choices we have made.

            Do you believe what your parents believe? Why or why not?

          • Tyler

            There are many respectable, intelligent men in that list but they were products of their time. Most were prejudiced or racist in their own way despite the great things they did. They were no more well equipped to know the will or mind of God than you or I. The claim that Christians weren’t capable of rational thought is not one I ever made. I simply stated a problem I see with people who think the bible or other religious documents can be used to justify laws/actions/or opinions beings as most religious texts can be interpreted to mean many different things. This is true of some but not all adherents of most major religions. I did not intend to single out Christians but only the destructiveness of fundamentalism in general, and anything approaching it. There is without a doubt more than one proper way to raise a child, especially since every child is different. My point was if a child trusts you and you tell them they should believe something or they will feel really bad and regret it one day (I’m think of your C.S Lewis quote) or bad things will happen this is the same as choosing what they believe for them. The child trusts you as you trusted your parents and will obviously believe in God as that is what you told them they should believe to avoid ‘Thy will be done’. This is indoctrination, whether you like to think of it that way or not. I think of it as child abuse and I would never tell a child something comparative to make them believe in atheism. I do not think I have the power to delete your comments, nor would I care to. As for my parents my mother goes to a nice United church and my father was Catholic. I rejected it all pretty early but I believed in God for a long time. Just seems like wishful thinking.

          • Nowistherighttime

            Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King were racists and products of their time, sure. I see another victim of this arrogant new atheist intellectual ignominy of believing what we believe, not by object or content, but by place and time. Its a prevalent habit among new atheists, regarding opinions as justified not by their object but by date. Basically, your holding all positions ever held in past to be superseded, and are apparently content that your own should be superseded tomorrow, but in the mean time, before this happens, anyone who disagrees is slandered as backwards. I agree, fundamentalism is dangerous, yet you persist in concealing your own fundamentalism and secret desire for totalitarianism. Look at the 20 million Christians who died under the USSR’s “scientific atheism”, as they tried to enforce (in good faith) the single truth everyone should accept. Not that I think it is as relevant to determining belief as you would like to believe, considering the amount of atheists who turn Christian, or Christians who turn atheists and so on and so forth. As one is true and the other false, it is logical that not only one of the two upbringings is the right one, but that one of the two is essential and necessarily, how are we to know with certainty, which one is right, if neither of us can prove or disprove the other. — Your right there is many ways to raise a child, but when it comes to the raising a child to believe in God or not, there is logically only two, the ways to achieve either is obviously numerous. This neutral space your implying is agnosticism, but your still raising your child to be agnostic. How is it child abuse please explain? If you follow your argument consistently, then you should be implying that we arrest or legislate against raising children to be religious, moreover, that it is morally wrong? Is that what you believe? If so, then you really are a totalitarian, a fascist, and the very fundamentalist you seemingly hate. If, as I have stated, it is impossible for us to know, that God exists or not, then how can you claim such a thing with truth?

          • Tyler

            First off Bolshevism is not a product of atheism, or inherently related to atheism in any way. I could draw just as strong a link between Hitler’s mass genocide and Christianity but I do not believe it is a fair correlation to make, even though he obviously used the religion to achieve his twisted goals. But I will try not to get ahead of myself, back to your first comment. Do you know what indoctrination is? I was raised with religion and was certainly not abused. I said I would not lead a child to believe that my atheistic/agnostic viewpoint is better than anyone else or imply that he/she would be foolish to believe something else. This would be indoctrination and just as much an abuse regardless of what it motivated them towards. You obviously misunderstood this point. Many parents essentially ‘choose’ what their children believe without, I think, really knowing it. Even if you can’t bring yourself to see this in regards to your own faith surely you can see it in more extreme scenarios, such as religious communities where young girls are forced to marry men much older who already have wives and are taught from a very young age that the way to make God happy is to be a good wife and make babies. If you have not heard of this/don’t believe me I can find something.

            “you persist in concealing your own fundamentalism and secret desire for totalitarianism.”

            Give me a quote of mine that supports this please. Where do you come up with this stuff? The Christian’s atheist handbook? We are all different dude you can’t just assume this shit because I said I’m atheist. There is no ‘one truth’ that everyone should follow. Except maybe the basic tenet of ‘due unto others’ or an improvement upon the idea. You suggested I read Brother’s Karamazov, “without God, everything is permitted” right? Something along those lines. Except that even our simple primate cousins who are more sociable can understand that there is a benefit to treating others with kindness. Without the Leviathon of effective government/state power to maintain order even the religious are plunged into a state of living where murder rates are exceptionally high and violence and other crime are commonplace (since we’re suggesting books, S. Pinker’s ‘The Better Angels of our Nature’ has a lot to say about this last point). The idea that not having a God means everything is permissible is absurd, especially considering the only people who ever suggest it are those who believe in God! It actually scares me to think of people who believe this losing their religion and not having a solid understanding of why it is still logical to be a good person without God. It’s only a free-for-all if you tell yourself it is. Here is a very well produced explanation of a simple universal morality which is not subjective and not dependent on any religion. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWNW-NXEudk

            People who by genetic or environmental influence have come to have no sense of empathy or compassion are going to do bad things whether they grow up religious or not. That’s what we have prisons for. Why do you people keep insisting godlessness equals immorality despite all the evidence that as societies become more peaceful, law abiding and educated they also become less religious?

            “I asked you before — We can either agree to disagree, or we can both lay out over several days why we have made the choices we have made (theism/atheism)?”

            Oh dear. I don’t need several days. By the time I was about 12 and realized that the Bible could be used to justify any number of completely contradictory, sometimes barbaric beliefs (slavery, misogyny) and that people would be emboldened knowing that God supported them in these beliefs, well that was about enough. The bible is an interesting document from which I’m sure there is much that can be learned. But it is not evidence, or proof. It’s perhaps misleading to call myself an atheist. I like to ponder about what kind of plausible God-like beings may exist, although I don’t think it’s very likely. Anyways the only thing I need to know is how you are able to ascertain which belief system is more logical than the others? How you came to your belief is irrelevant if you can’t tell me why it is any more relevant than the thousands that exist and many more that have.

            Why are we here? Probably pure shit ass luck. If you want some meaning, do something meaningful. That’s my plan. The other option is to believe in some divine meaning that comes from some inconceivable non-physical place that we all go to when we die. But really you’re just making shit up. Unless you can answer the question ending my last paragraph and make a convert out of me.

            You are the religious person here, do you not even know what a prophet is? http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/prophet?s=t

            Dawkins is not a prophet, no one relevant has made the claim and the definition clearly doesn’t fit. Indoctrination IS child abuse. It is essentially taking an element of someone’s free will away from them. Atheism is a rejection of the idea that God is a tangible thing you can know and have a relationship with. We are collectively appalled by a lot of the same shit and so through the internet we are coming to have a seemingly collective voice of sorts. Anyways this ‘atheism is a religion’ argument is a pointless cliche that proves nothing and goes nowhere. Distracting from more important points, hopefully we can leave it where it stands. I would note that you constantly make wild assumptions that have no basis and then change tack when I correct you. (“because you know in your heart that belief is a threat to all you desire” for instance. an excerpt from the handbook?) Maybe you should consider that we are not so uniform as you think, the evidence is plainly before you.

            I don’t think philosophers are ‘pesky’. That is yet another straw man. Actually listening to what I have to say might help keep this interesting. We can learn to analyze and improve different cognitive functions, we can improve upon our ability to understand the world and to interpret information through philosophy but we can not come to any empirical proofs. Do you deny this fact?

          • bhudster10

            Apparently Stalin never shook off his Orthodox upbringing, and was a believer.
            Tyler never said King and Mandela were racist, but you know that anyway. I get puzzled by the scattergun approach that Christians adopt when backed into a corner. It’s so….well….unchristian.

          • Nowistherighttime

            During our discussion tyler said: “There are many respectable, intelligent men in that list but they were products of their time. Most were prejudiced or racist in their own way despite the great things they did.” –

            Which was why I replied with: Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King were racists and products of their time, sure. I see another victim of this arrogant new atheist intellectual ignominy of believing what we believe, not by object or content, but by place and time. Its a prevalent habit among new atheists, regarding opinions as justified not by their object but by date. Basically, your holding all positions ever held in past to be superseded, and are apparently content that your own should be superseded tomorrow, but in the mean time, before this happens, anyone who disagrees is slandered as backwards.

          • Tyler

            Also, if religion is based on faith without evidence, how can I choose one over another? Many are equally likely, looking at evidence and thinking for yourself is the only option that’s not a gamble from where I’m sitting.

          • Nowistherighttime

            Claiming to be informed, but then claiming such a baseless, uninformed and ignorant claim that religion is based on faith without evidence, is laughable. Typical new atheists arrogance again, “thinking for yourself and looking at evidence, is the only option”, well umm obviously. Why are you so determined to conceal the logical truth, that it is a gamble.

          • Nowistherighttime

            Just because you felt the need to delete the replies I thought i’d re-post them.

            Belief in God is a perfectly rational choice (something new atheists fail/refuse to understand), you made the choice long ago not to believe, probably through ignorance, because you know in your heart that belief is a threat to all you desire, but also through fear, because if there really is a choice, you may well choose the wrong alternative.

          • Tyler

            I didn’t delete anything in retreat, the comment is still on the page further down, if you link right to a different comment you may have to go a ways to get to our place in the thread and see it. My response is also still where it always was.
            “Claiming to be informed, but then claiming such a baseless, uninformed and ignorant claim that religion is based on faith without evidence, is laughable. ”
            Science has a lot to say about what types of things have positive and negative effects on people and society. What evidence do you have exactly that your religion is more valid than any of the other reasonable options out there? None whatsoever. Unless you would like to present the evidence demonstrating why you are right and everyone with a different religion is wrong? I won’t hold my breath.

          • Nowistherighttime

            I asked you before — We can either agree to disagree, or we can both lay out over several days why we have made the choices we have made (theism/atheism)? However, you ignored me. I asked to explain how raising a child to be religious is child abuse (Such an embarrassingly immature false parallel)? However, you ignored me. Would you like to please answer both and then I will answer your questions. The Bolsheviks (needless to say, of much greater intelligence than you) based their morality on carefully reasoned beliefs and fundamentals, such as scientific atheism as the only truth. Hmm, what did lead to again? Moreover, what nearly happened in the 60’s? Atheism is just as much a choice, with it’s own presuppositions, as any religion. It has its prophets like Richard Dawkins (the child abuse parallel, try reading something more substantial with a tiny bit more weight behind it, apart from his Dawkins’ website or Wikipedia) it’s own disciples (new arrogant atheists and the keyboard warriors), it’s own unanswerable questions. In fact, the only thing it doesn’t have is ethics, because there are illusionary right? If there is no God, logically, everything is permissible? “Philosophical arguments and questionable historical documents do not make you informed”. Not going to lie, that did bring a smile to my face. Oh, of course, philosophical arguments, what stupidity.

            “A significant area of intellectual discourse — the human condition sub specie aeternitatis — has been dumbed down to the level of a school debating society. “–*Clears his throat*

            Try reading Immanuel Kant’s (one of those philosophy guys) – Critque of Pure Reason, or, Dostoevsky’s great novel – The Brothers Karamazov.

            “It is true, that a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion” – Francis Bacon

          • Tyler

            I did not say philosophical arguments are useless but they are simply NOT evidence. Furthermore, what brilliant philosophy do we see from the religious these days? Or from YOU for that matter? I will try and get a response off before work but otherwise you can just wait. Quit crying about posts that weren’t deleted or because I didn’t respond for a day or two when I specifically stated I would get to finishing my point later. Insulting my intelligence also does little to progress the argument. Thanks for the encouraging words, very representative of how Jesus would have acted I’m sure.

          • Tyler

            “Try (emphasis on the try) reading Immanuel Kant’s (one of those pesky
            philosophy guys) – Critque of Pure Reason, or, Dostoevsky’s great novel –
            The Brothers Karamazov.”

            Why the air of superiority? Your assumption that I am an idiot or unrefined in my thinking because I am an atheist is a clear indication of your biased thinking in this matter. There are a host of brilliant atheist minds from history and today and many of the historic ones were going very much against the grain of their time. Why don’t you share some of your own deep philosophy instead of letting others do all your thinking for you? Your quotes do little to convince me of anything.

          • Nowistherighttime

            Boleshevik communists were inherently, in Lenin’s words,
            “militant atheists”, communism goes hand in hand with atheism, It’s the materialistic view that influences this and continues to do so. The Bolsheviks and their belief in militant atheism is what lead them to try to indoctrinate
            the religious and “re-educate” them. So yeah I know what indoctrination is. I could right a thesis on the connections between atheism and Bolshevism, but, for now let’s look at modern day China, and how a contemporary militant atheism works. They persist in shutting down places of worship, harassing Christians through “lawful” detention, incarceration and long stints in labour camps. These are the fruits of atheism and it’s barbarians. Even though it widely known that it is state policy to promote atheism in the media and in society, and despite the persecution
            and discrimination, Christianity is rapidly growing in China (just as it did in the USSR, under much worse conditions, huge failure of the left) and only 15% of China’s population is atheist. So maybe your optimism regarding the future of religion is slightly misguided.

            Hitler was directly influenced by Nietzsche and his idea of the Ubermensch, as an alternative to Christ. You
            can’t draw anywhere near as strong a link with Hitler’s mass genocide and Christianity, than you can with Bolshevism and Atheism, another blatantly misinformed comment. If you really were well learned in the subject, you really wouldn’t shoot yourself in the foot with that one.

            “Many parents essentially ‘choose’ what their children believe without, I think, really knowing it. Scaring a child into believing that people who don’t accept Jesus into their hearts go to hell – or even just don’t get into heaven and live with eternal regret- you are determining what that child
            is going to believe” – You said both your parents were religious and that you were brought up to be religious, yet you rejected it. So how did your parents choose what you believe? If you obviously decided otherwise and the very young age of 12? As I said, and as you partly seem to be agreeing–Not that I think it is as relevant to determining
            belief as you would like to believe, considering the amount of atheists who turn Christian, or Christians who turn atheists and so on and so forth. As one is true and the other false, it is logical that not only one of the two
            upbringings is the right one, but that one of the two is essential and necessarily, how are we to know with certainty, which one is right, if neither of us can prove or disprove the other. Your right there is many ways to raise a
            child, but when it comes to the raising a child to believe in God or not, there is logically only two, the ways to achieve either is obviously numerous. This neutral space you’re implying is agnosticism, but you’re still raising your
            child to be agnostic.

            Not that I think it is indoctrination (such a stupid way of putting it, look at how the Bolsheviks went about indoctrination and you might learn a thing or do),
            but, if you don’t raise a child to be religious your inevitably raising it to be a nihilist or an existentialist or to be a slave to the will-to-power (Nietzsche), far more fearful than heaven. Why can’t you tell your child that (what I
            believe with an informed choice to be true,which, logically you can’t disprove) they have they eternal life, the opportunity to be free from anxiety, a divine moral compass, ten thousand guardians in Christ and that one day every tear shall be wiped clean in Gods glorious presence?

            “you persist in concealing your own fundamentalism and secret desire for totalitarianism.” –

            Again, if you follow your argument consistently that it is child abuse to raise a child to be religious, then you must believe we should legislate against it? The majority of people, rightly so, see child abuse is a moral abomination,
            something which should protect children against, which we do with law, legislation and the consequence of imprisonment. So surely, if it is child abuse, as you claim, then we should legislate against raising a child to be
            religious (despite the fact you are an example of how we have a freely willed choice to believe what we like). However, I have the freedom, liberty and human
            right (under the law) to raise my children to follow a religion, whichever I choose, if they want to follow it (like I have, and you haven’t) then that is up to them. If you believe this liberty (which millions have died to protect) should
            be taken anyway from me or my children to practice faith, then you’re a fascist and your desire is totalitarianism.

            Where do I come up with this stuff, firstly, I’m following your own logic, secondly, an MA in International Relations. Oh, so were all different now, right we can agree, religion is choice, not child abuse or indoctrination. I’m sorry but atheists and theists both agree, if there is no God, everything is permissible, there are no moral objections or natural law, it all comes out in the wash the same, a good thing is to commit a crime and get away with it, this was what Nietzsche was talking about, your left with just
            actions which put us at a social disadvantage. By objective moral values it means, natural and binding values (kant), which exist whether we believe in them or not. Rape is not just a social disadvantage, it is morally wrong, we know
            through human intuition, experience and emotion that rape is wrong. But if you don’t belief God exists then rape is not morally wrong just a social disadvantage (Nietzsche understood this logic). The ten commandments are not
            recommendations, they speak to human appetites, tho shall not, acknowledging human nature on its own can lead to the indulgence of these appitites. Not heard of the book, I’ll try to get hold of copy, loved when I first googled it,
            a quote from the marxist rag which is the Guardian came up, “A brilliant mind altering book, everyone should read”. I ask you to read A critique of Pure Reason, and the best recommendation you can give me is this “dude”. Did you
            read the Rabbi’s article, I’ll just let you read it again, I don’t keep suggesting godless equals immorality, “you don’t have to be religious to be moral”. Nazi Germany and the USSR, say no more, I’m fishing here, take the bait.
            “People who by genetic or environmental influence have come to have no sense of empathy or compassion are going to do bad things whether they grow up religious
            or not. That’s what we have prisons for.” Slight tangent.

          • Tyler

            “Boleshevik communists were inherently, in Lenin’s words,
            “militant atheists”, communism goes hand in hand with atheism,”

            This is false logic. You assume that because atheism logically follows from or is inherent to Bolshevism that you can turn it around and say that atheism naturally leads to Bolshevism or similar ideals. Algebra and geometry are inherently related to mathematics but if all you know is that I am doing a mathematical equation can you say with any certainty that I am dealing with either one or both? I think not.

            “They persist in shutting down places of worship, harassing Christians through “lawful” detention, incarceration and long stints in labour camps. These are the fruits of atheism.”

            It’s the same confusion between correlation and causation. Find me one atheist North American who supports the idea of letting a fascist regime take over our country, control the media and force people to follow a certain belief system. That’s sheer fucking stupidity. You keep claiming that this is my perspective based on your own wild interpretations of what I have said. What is so confusing about the concept of waiting until a child is old enough to rationalize things for himself, and then exposing him to a variety of intelligent people with different perspectives and letting them come to their own conclusion based on their own rationalizations of other people’s belief systems or lack there-of. This is not “raising a child to be” anything. That’s the important point you keep missing. You want to know what I support? Religious education, that is to say standard education encompassing and teaching about the history and beliefs among people of the world, not specifically supporting any one perspective. That and trying to convince people to let their kids think for themselves. You know, kind of like I am doing now? This is how I propose to enact change. Pretty totalitarian/fascist/Bolshevist of me huh?

            “yeah I know what real indoctrination is, its not what your lazily throwing about, may sound profound, but when you break down the logic, it’s superficial”

            There is nothing superficial about it. Deciding what is best for someone to believe and then making that decision for them when they are too young to even grasp the concept fully is essentially robbing someone of the free will that you believe God gave you. You once again failed to listen to my point when I clarified that I was raised with religion but was not indoctrinated or abused and proceeded to go on a rant about how I think Martin Luther King and whoever else was indoctrinated and that’s hilarious blablabla etcetera.

            Straw man. Read my words. Religious upbringing may increase the likelihood of indoctrination but they do not necessarily go hand in hand. Quit exposing the ridiculousness of arguments I never made! It’s kind of frustrating and ruins the enjoyment I get out of a good debate (which I don’t really feel we’re having).

            “But if you don’t believe God exists then rape is not morally wrong just a social disadvantage”

            Yeah but I find it morally repulsive because I was raised to consider the effect of my actions on others. If I found myself in some impossible scenario where I could take advantage of a woman and never have to see her again, say she’s on an island stranded and I only have room on my vessel for one anyways so I couldn’t save her. Might as well rape her right? Except just saying that makes me feel gross and wrong. Answer me this (correction, you already did), if you knew with certainty or believed there was no God and found yourself in this or some similar scenario would you rape someone? Why not? I’ll tell you why not, because you are not a piece of shit and you know it’s a terrible thing to do whether God is around to care or not. Or you would because you wouldn’t have your God given sense of morality? Is that what you believe? Because that is how I would interpret what you said. I’d like to know how you figure that out.

            “If you really were well learned in the subject, you really wouldn’t shoot yourself in the foot with that one.”

            I said that he at the very least used the religion as a tool to achieve his goals, which you just agreed with (shooting myself in the foot indeed). I used it as an example of an easy correlation to make which is not quite justified, I already explained why your point was the product of false logic above.

            “The ten commandments are not recommendations, they speak to human appetites”

            And yet, worship on the Sabbath, false idols, these took precedence over rape? Slavery? Okay the last one is not really a significant human appetite but it could have saved a lot of suffering.

            “However, most people need and society need the restraint of religion and the sanity of life it provides, commands which are respected, rightfully so, as divine.”

            Nazi Germany? Most people were religious. Russia has always been f***ed, they have a significant religiosity today and yet limits on free speech, bigotry, and many other problems persist. Atheism was a mere blip in the history of Russia, not only that but I don’t think the world was ready for godlessness quite yet at that point. Yes I agree religion has served a purpose but I think education ultimately serves that purpose far better and it is becoming more and more irrelevant as time goes on, just to clarify.

            I said probably shit ass luck. The probably is important. Even if there is some divine being that set the universe in motion it was still probably a monumental set of astronomically lucky (for me) occurrences which lead to my exact DNA template forming in my mother 27 years ago. Do you really think God planned out you and your parents and everyone else’s billions of lives 15 billion years ago or whatever the hell it is? There may be a God but you and I are still lucky to be alive. I would rather find meaning in things that are tangible and real, things that I can actually verify mean something. This is not a simplistic worldview even if it was stated rather crudely. Thanks for the continued condescension, but simply accusing me of lacking philosophical depth does little to actually counter what I am saying. Then you go on about the dumbing down of debate. Considering your repeated failure to grasp what I am saying I will take your implied position of superiority with a grain of salt.

            “I have made an informed choice, will you admit this now? That it is choice? Moreover, that you or I could have made the wrong one? Or do you still clinging on to your closet fascism?”

            I do not know the details of your childhood. I have stated clearly more than once and then further clarified in this comment my position on this matter, if you’re parents told you that you were a Christian child and neglected to expose you to other options or perspectives than I would say it’s pretty clear what I think. If you fail to see how this is robbing a person of free will I would suggest you take some time to learn about early brain development. Maybe ask someone with an education in child psychology if there is any validity to what I am saying.

            “child abuse, Mandela & Martin Luther as “racists and products of their time”, as well as the founding fathers of liberalism Adam Smith and John Locke, and the superseding of evidence because of date, etc etc)).”

            Straw man X3. Those men were very intelligent and worthy of respect as I already stated, They were products of their time. You are right this is not a reason to discredit their opinions but it would be foolish not to keep this in mind. I said nothing about superseding evidence only building upon what has been given to us instead of tethering ourselves irrationally to old ideas.

            “I will say this sincerely, do you understand the purpose behind referencing? Using academic, peer-to-peer reviewed sources and authors, the more acclaimed the better, to add weight, validity and background
            information for the reader (you), to show that I (me), AM NOT REGURGITATING OR TALKING SHIT”

            I can see quite clearly and would find many quotes to support the idea that you are indeed doing a lot of regurgitating. I may have used ideas presented by others but I certainly gave my own (sometimes multiple) interpretations. There were no peer reviewed articles referenced in your comments, just irrelevant quotes. Besides these things are intended to support an argument not to be one.

          • Nowistherighttime

            Philosophers agree there is no more a sublime question than why we are here, why something, rather than nothing. Where is the cause or what was it? If out of nothing, nothing comes. Not talking about the Bible here. Yet you keep avoiding the most important one, when pressed, “Shit ass luck”, hmm. So when it comes to the most important fundamental, errr well “Shit ass luck” dude, but but but (here comes the weak tangent)…what about Biblical inerrancies though?!?! And the debate hasn’t been dumbed down? I thought you’d struggle, not that badly though. Shocking but revealing. Living your life for a loving God through living for others is pretty meaningful, treating people as means in themselves, rather than utilitarianism (always flourished under athesism, Neitzche’s will-to-power (really need to understand what Neitzche was on about)), experiencing him in your life gives me an indescribable meaning, it’s something you want to encourage your children to do. Wholly apart from argument you (yes you) can experience God through a relationship with him. Philosophers call this a properly basic belief, it’s part of foundation of beliefs. Other properly basic beliefs can range from the belief in the reality of the external physical world, or the past, we cannot prove these things (you can’t prove you’re not dreaming right now), but that of course does not been they are arbitrary, they are formed and grounded in a sense of experience, we both experience and feel the reality of the external world, thus, can firmly say we believe in it’s existence. You can claim addiction doesn’t exist, you can’t theoretically prove it, and it’s a struggle to define it, however, from peoples experiences we know it be true (don’t want to get into a debate about addiction, just an example). There is no need to get stupid about it. If this properly basic belief that billions of people claim they experience (billions more claim to have an innate feeling of the divine,
            than don’t, you are, a small minority, furthermore, the west is in decline and secularists statistically have less children) is true, and proof of God can be found in this properly basic belief, then arguments will serve as distractions away from God. I honestly believe, among many others such as those racists/child abused/products of their time, Martin Luther King (love to see you tell him he’s indoctrinated), Adam Smith, John Locke (or him about your pseudo hypothesis on law and religion, in fact, I think you should write to the Rabbi and tell him you’ve found the missing secular ethic), Mandela we sincerely seek God then he will make himself known to you, you shouldn’t concentrate too much on the external arguments and fail to hear the inner voice of God and his natural law. For those who listen, God becomes and immediate reality in their lives.

            “What brilliant philosophy do we see from the
            religious these days?” — I seem to be repeating myself (apologies for the cut and paste, it just seems a lot more relevant to your latest comment)…It is a prevalent habit among new atheists, regarding opinions as justified not by their object but by date. Basically, your holding all positions ever held in past to be superseded, and are apparently content that your own should be superseded tomorrow, but in the meantime, before this happens, anyone who disagrees is slandered as backwards. THESE DAYS?! (by putting it in cap locks, is it meant to resemble me shouting? Emphasis? Or is it just some sort of hip keyboard warrior ting? It’s bizarre). How can philosophy not be used as evidence for God? It’s has been used for such purpose for thousands of years, It is a strange statement to make, especially in a debate, you’re shooting yourself in the foot again. How could one follow your logic consistently and not conclude in any other way that you are arguing against the validity of the whole of philosophy as discipline, thus, the foundations of atheism.

            The thoughts and arguments laid out by Aquinas, Anselm and Descartes (I’ll move on to referencing shortly), have not only matured, but have been poorly refuted
            and remain strong. Hence why New Atheists in their anxiety, arrogance and animosity, have resorted to such pathetic and childish arguments. Because, when it comes
            to the most important questions, they either don’t even know why they really believe what they believe, or what they are actually subscribing to when they call themselves atheists, moreover, are blind to the hypocrisy of their feeble arguments. A quick glance at the comments on any article discussing religion and you find the disciples and keyboard warrior’s of New arrogant Atheism, blurting on about flying teapots, fairies, talking mushrooms, and how the religious are mental ill. This is what the Rabbi is talking about in this great piece of journalism, all far too often absent from popular discourse.

            Never claimed you are stupid because you’re an atheist, it makes no sense, if you have perceived that way, sorry, I simply don’t think that. It’s like saying, (people often do, not in the exact words, but they might as well be) a catholic priest is a paedophile, thus, all catholic priests must be paedophiles, further, Catholics’ fund paedophilia.

            I’m guessing you haven’t actually read or heard about the two books I recommended (don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with that), Kant was brought up (abused)
            in a Christian household, yet he agnosticism is clear in his writings (which is why I recommended it, I thought your prejudice wouldn’t hinder you from giving it a shot) and he is very honest and rational. In the Dostoevsky novel, as the genius he was, he speaks about both atheism and Christianity, honestly and sincerely from his heart, exploring with a unique profoundness, the consequences of both if either were true.

            “There are a host of brilliant atheist minds from history and today and many of the historic ones were going very much against the grain of their time.”

            Half the point of the article, the Rabbi is critiquing New Atheism. Where has this thought gone, the dumbing down of debate, and how history will judge secularist
            new atheists.

            “Whateverhappened to the intellectual depth of the serious atheists, the forcefulness of Hobbes, the passion of Spinoza, the wit of Voltaire, the world-shattering
            profundity of Nietzsche? Where is there the remotest sense that they have grappled with the real issues, which have nothing to do with science and the literal meaning of scripture and everything to do with the meaningfulness or
            otherwise of human life, the existence or non-existence of an objective moral order”

            Liberals and New Atheists’ will cry on about the
            stereotypes portrayed by the right wing media when it comes to immigrants etc. but fall hook, line, and sinker for the Christian Fundamentalist caricature perpetuated
            on a daily basis by fascist rags like the Guardian and people like Richard Dawkins (growing incredibly more eccentric every time he opens his mouth, thanks for the prophet definition, i’ve always wondered, HE IS TREATED LIKE ONE). But but but their all fag hating rednecks who believe the earth was created in 6 days…So informed and rational right? They wouldn’t believe an act of God if they saw one, their presuppositions give them a default prejudice, it blinds them from even accepting that there is evidence for God. I have made an informed choice, will you admit this now? That it is choice? Moreover, that you or I could have made the wrong one? Or do you still clinging on to your closet fascism?

            Considering your assuming that I’m assuming your idiot (far from in fact, making a stupid comment, doesn’t make you an idiot, it’s just that, a stupid comment, which undeniably it was (child abuse, Mandela & Martin Luther as “racists and products of their time”, as well as the founding fathers of liberalism Adam Smith and John Locke, and the superseding of evidence because of date, etc etc)). I will say this sincerely, do you understand the purpose behind referencing? Using academic, peer-to-peer reviewed sources and authors, the more acclaimed the better, to add weight, validity and background information for the reader (you), to show that I (me), AM NOT REGURGITATING OR TALKING SHIT (did I get it right? I don’t think I like this cap locks ting “dude”).

            “Quit crying about posts that weren’t deleted or because I didn’t respond for a day or two ” –

            Again, a very weak distraction. I mistakenly thought you had deleted the thread (about a week and a few posts ago I might add, which you know), along with my original comments, here is my apology, sorry, (I never complained about, what was, a reasonable time to reply, or shed any tears), you replied, cleared the air, and we moved on. Now lets, but I doubt (no pun intended).

          • bhudster10

            The Guardian, you call it a “fascist rag”, the Guardian!!??
            mental

          • Tyler

            I guess I should answer your other question, although I thought it was pretty clear that I said I could obviously be wrong. Although I am technically an agnostic, I thought I had said that. I mainly object to the idea of organized religion as opposed to personal belief in God. The fact that most people are probably wrong is the reason I rejected going to church at a pretty young age even though I continued to have faith. I don’t trust anyone who feels confident to teach people what God wants of them. That my friend is pure f***ing delusion. Nobody can know the mind of God and I think to feel justified in giving very serious advice based on what some unknowable Deity which may or may not exist supposedly might think is a terrible form of arrogance. This is what leads people to feel justified by God in their bigotry, sexism, etc (not talking specifically of any faith, although most have at least some denominations that are very much guilty of this) That is not to say there aren’t preachers/priests/whatever that do not make assertions about the mind or will of God but that’s something that’s pretty new I think. Would be nice (In my mind) if that was a foreshadow of where religion is heading. I am really very much the same person I always was, I just tend to lean a little closer to the ‘there’s probably not a God’ side of the argument, especially when that God reads everyone’s thoughts and watches everyone all the time. So yeah, I could be wrong, but I don’t see why that should really be significant to an agnostic, or how that opinion suddenly makes me a fascist, Bolshevik, totalitarian.

          • Nowistherighttime

            I do intend on replying Tyler, I’ve had a busy weekend, and I don’t get a lot of time in the evenings to reply. Also, I prefer my comments to be lengthy, with as much depth and clarity as necessary. However, I would like to apologise if I have given any impressions of superiority, condescension or just general patronising. We are human, and we’ve insulted each other, as we often do, I apologise on my behalf, and intend to move on to some substance to my claims shortly. A large proportion of both our replies are simply “whataboutery”, it becomes pointless. I honestly don’t think you meant the the child abuse comment when you wrote it, most likely it was a thinly veiled insult, or just trolling, it was the persistence afterwards, which drove me to follow the logic and to attack you with it. Your probably not a fascist either, it was the train of thought and the former comment which is rooted in totalitarian thought. As such, I rightly so have no patience for. I’d appreciate if you redacted the “straw man” accusations, it is a silly saying, and my reply to it will inevitably aggravate you.

            I shall reply shortly, apologies once again.

          • Tyler

            Whenever you have time to reply is fine, I enjoy these debates but sometimes real life does not allow the time to really get into things. I don’t mind waiting a while for replies. I honestly had no intention of insulting you, I do not say things with that sort of intention. The only situation I can think of where I would intentionally insult someone is in attempt to socially shame a statement or act of destructive ignorance. This is very different from an insult really in that it is an attempt to create social stigmas and change the way we perceive things like violence towards or belittling of women for example. The point is my intention was not to insult you in the slightest, and I apologize for leading you to believe that was the case. I think perhaps the abuse word is to much of an affront to a religious individual at least in the context I used. Obviously when we feel like we are being insulted we do not respond with openness. I think my less than tactful wording invoked an emotional response and our debate just degraded from there. I apologize as well for what it is worth. If you can look at my last post and try and consider my statement on it’s own, regarding raising a child to understand that there are numerous perspectives which rational, intelligent people come to, perhaps you can see how this might be more respectful to a persons right to their own mind by not accidentally creating any significant bias? We can see quite clearly through people who grow up in isolated religious communities as I described before how parental and community influence can create huge bias, or from your non-religious example, it really doesn’t matter. To try and avoid as much as possible instilling the biases which we will ALL inevitably impart somewhat upon our children (our own biases that is) is the only rational discourse whether you are religious or not. The fact is there is a huge element of plasticity in a child’s brain. In these extreme cases (of indoctrination) it is clearly abuse and disregard for any reasonable standard of human rights. Perhaps the biases that parents instill in their children are not always destructive, not quite tantamount to abuse. They are nevertheless a less extreme version of the examples we both stated which are clearly destructive to a person’s healthy rational mind. I believe our own minds are incredible tools but we must be vigilant if we are to overcome our own fallibility, and to assist the next generation in succeeding where we have failed.

            I dealt with religion because my audience was religious but I believe I gave the false impression that I thought this was an issue that is only relevant to those with faith, or inextricably entwined with faith. I believe it is an issue that can relate to faith as well as many other things. Hopefully this serves to clarify and make you feel less like you are being attacked?

            I really felt like we were going around in circles but now I feel like I learned something about appealing effectively to my audience, which I obviously didn’t do. Even if it is too late to give you some appreciation of where I am coming from I appreciate your time and also your opinions. As I said, respond when you have time and it will be enjoyable, that is the point I think.

            Tyler

            Cheers

          • Nowistherighttime

            I choose to believe not just what my parents believe, but also what Machiavelli, Da Vinci, Lincoln, Descartes, Martin Luther King, John Locke, Mozart, Adam Smith, Nelson Mandela, Max Planck etc etc believe, because like these great men, I also believe it to be true. I believe I was blessed with a good upbringing which enabled me in time to make an informed choice (Christians are also capable of rationale thought by the way). Not that I think it is as relevant to determining belief as you would like to believe, considering the amount of atheists who turn Christian, or Christians who turn atheists and so on and so forth. As one is true and the other false, it is logical that not only one of the two upbringings is the right one, but that one of the two is essential and necessarily, how are we to know with certainty, which one is right, if neither of us can prove or disprove the other. Despite what new atheists claim, there is no God hypothesis, it is impossible to know anything about the existence of God or not, this position is unassailable as the logic is impeccable, a hypotheses by definition must be falsifiable or provable. Both Atheism and Theism, rest some of the most profound fundamentals, on faith. I believe it takes more faith to believe in the creation of the universe by chance, rather than purposeful intelligent design.

            I’m not going to re-write the comments you deleted in retreat, unless you really want me to again.

            We can either agree to disagree, or we can both lay out over several days why we have made the choices we have made.Do you believe what your parents believe? Why or why not?

          • Burt Flannery
          • Walter Bushell

            But being atheist is safer, there are hundreds of religions and the chance of picking the right one are miniscule and thus making the real deity angrier and angrier with every act of worship.

            On the other hand I know Aphrodite exists. You ask me how I know she lives, she lives within my dick!

          • http://www.facebook.com/david.heffron David Heffron

            Well stop using our internet then.

          • Burt Flannery

            For centuries, many people believed in the gods of Olympus or Valhalla. You point is absolutely valid; is the Christian God any more likely?

            You might find interest in the following link:

            http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_6?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=burt+flannery&sprefix=burt+f%2Cstripbooks%2C240

          • Simon Morgan

            That’s the whole point about this nonsense that is religion. Christians ‘know’ their faith is the only true religion. How do they know this? Their ‘god’ told them so, so there!

          • http://www.circumstitions.com/ Hugh7

            They have no more “resonance” or “truth” than the creation myths and fables of many other societies. The story of Maui stealing fire from his ancestress Mahuika is at least as instructive as that of Abraham traumatising his son Isaac by threatening to kill him (a story that should not be told to children, least of all as an example to follow). The people who told them and wrote them may have been intelligent and wise, but they didn’t know, collectively a zillionth of what we know now.

            If you don’t like modern science or the society that gave rise to it, throw your computer out the window and then see how many people read your messages.

          • Burt Flannery
          • Burt Flannery

            You believe that the Old Testament is true yet some of the greatest minds in history – Newton, Spinoza, Hume, Jefferson, Einstein and Russell all disagree with you. You might find the following link of interest:

            http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_6?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=burt+flannery&sprefix=burt+f%2Cstripbooks%2C246

          • Simon Morgan

            But surely ‘feeble-minded’ is the adjective that most applies to the religious? They do believe in nonsense, without any sort of questioning.

          • Eamonn Riley

            This is neither rudeness nor agression, and it says a lot that you believe it to be so. ALL ideas are fair game fir criticism.

          • Burt Flannery

            You might find the following link leads to something less rude but, nevertheless, informative:

            http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_6?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=burt+flannery&sprefix=burt+f%2Cstripbooks%2C246

          • http://www.facebook.com/mike.godfrey.754 Mike Godfrey

            As with most religions !

          • Edden

            Chaotopia….”The Christian Right are an especially backward group of Socially Conservative Christians”….And this is your opinion but you have not offered evidence about this social backwardness at all nor the rubbish about fairly tales. Someone who makes defamatory claims needs to offer evidence or be labelled a slanderer. Opinion is not evidence.
            Don’t simply refer me to wiki bits but try and think for yourself. The word “Christian” involves belief and theology by its very definition. So what is the Christian right? Explain to me? Theologically, traditional Roman Catholicim and evangelical fundamentalism are the exact opposite of each other, the furthest apart poles. So what of those two groups is the right to you? I really think you are the one showing ignorance. Historically speaking we can say traditional catholicism is far right and evangelicalism is far left. Would you define evangelicals as far left?
            The bone idle comment is typical excuse of someone who is not well read and is not possesing much evidence. You need to prove your case rather than offering insults.

          • Guy Swarbrick

            I wouldn’t dream of speaking for Chaotopia, but I’m 99.9% sure that you know very well that he means Americans on the political right (Republican and beyond) with literal biblical positions (and often, coincidentally, beliefs) who, as a bloc, try to influence the GOP to enshrine their views in policy, if not in law.

          • Edden

            Chaotopia probably uses multiple profiles. The oft repeated terminology betrays the fact that he is a typical online atheist type logging in from links on the NSS website.

            This “Christian right” notion has been invented by “secularists” so called in order to advance their prejudices.

          • Guy Swarbrick

            It’s a commonly used political term to describe a real, if disparate group. You knew exactly what he meant.

          • Edden

            The point is not what “he” meant. The term was invented with ulterior motives. It was invented by anti christian people, and it is used in a slander process as well as being partly straw man. The word Christian is primarly religious.

          • Guy Swarbrick

            No, the point is that it’s an accurate description of an influential group of people in one of the world’s largest secular democracies.

          • Chaotopia

            “And this is your opinion but you have not offered evidence about this
            social backwardness at all nor the rubbish about fairly tales.”

            Just listening to their mindless, ill-informed rubbish is the only evidence that the overwhelming majority of us actually need.

            “rubbish about fairly tales”

            Nice try – but extraordinary claims (especially claims about the supernatural) require extraordinary evidence so the burden of proof falls on you to provide actual empirical evidence, that has been tested to destruction, that they’re true or they will simply remain fairy tales

            “Opinion is not evidence”

            But it’s all you actually have!

            “Don’t simply refer me to wiki bits but try and think for yourself.”

            In other words, “don’t provide links to any proof and evidence that you have found on a global, self-correcting encyclopedia that is constantly updated by experts world-wide as that will undermine all my empty assertions to everyone who is reading and demonstrate to all that I am completely wrong – I’d much rather believe a heavily edited, highly selected collection of fact-free fairy tales of illiterate, superstitious goat-herders living in isolated regions of the middle-east during the Late Bronze Age that been distorted over 100’s of years of Chinese whispers.”

            I do think for myself and can use far more resources than wiki- why don’t remove the bible that you’ve replaced your brain with and start doing the same?

            “The word “Christian” involves belief and theology by its very definition.”

            Theology is a study of nothing.

            “So what is the Christian right?”

            That has already been thoroughly explained to you and if, you could actually be bothered to look at the Wiki link then you would already know that this term is the common parlance used to describe a group of Socially Conservative Christians who operate mostly in the US.

            You can split hairs until your blue-in-the-face (pleae) but everyone here knows seems to know what the Christian Right means apart from you, but then, you are incredibly ignorant.

            “So what of those two groups is the right to you?”

            If either are pro-life, anti-euthanasia, anti-contraception, against divorce, against homosexuality or women having equal rights, against people having sex outside of marriage, are Creationists (correction: Cretinists) against people gambling their own private income or using their own private income to drink, smoke or take drugs and so on then they’re both the exactly the same enemy – the Christian Right.

            “I really think you are the one showing ignorance.”

            Hey, you’re the one who doesn’t know what is meant by the everyday term “Christian Right” even when it is linked on a clearly defined entry on a Global Encyclopedia.

            I really think that you shouldn’t throw any stones in that particular green house.

            “Historically speaking we can say traditional catholicism is far right and evangelicalism is far left. Would you define evangelicals as far left?”

            Not is any of them hold any of the attitudes or beliefs I have summarised above.

            “The bone idle comment is typical excuse of someone.”

            The bone idle comment is the correct term of abuse to someone who is far too lazy to do his own research or do a quick google check when he comes across a word or term he doesn’t understand (such as Christian Right) and can’t be bothered to even click on a link on the definition when it has been provided for him.

            “who is not well read and is not possesing much evidence”

            Yet more empty, air-headed assertion based on absolute nothing – you can’t even be bothered to read a link on a global encyclopedia that actually answers the question that you asked so I don’t think that you’re well read at all. I imagine that only ever read the one book.

            As for evidence, if you want to convince any here that the fairy tales are at all true then the onus is on you to provide empirical evidence or they can rightly dismissed as mere fiction.

            “You need to prove your case rather than offering insults.”

            I don’t need to prove that the Bible is untrue – you need to prove that it is.

            Instead trying to prove a negative, which is a logical absurdity and contrary to Empirical inquiry in a way that demonstrates genuine philosophical naivete (are you so ignorant that you don’t know what Empiricism is – I can give you another Wikilink if you don’t know), I’m just going to keep asking you to prove that any of it is even remotely true.

            Your turn.

          • Norma_Stitz

            Chaotopia:

            You are already half way down the road to Damascus!

          • Chaotopia

            “You are already half way down the road to Damascus!”

            Then I should have had my conversion by now but it hasn’t happened.

            I let you in on a little secret, I don’t think it is going to happen. Probably because I’m not a weak minded, pleasure-hating, joyless freak-of-nature like St. Paul.

          • Norma_Stitz

            Yup. Keep on kickin’!

          • Chaotopia

            “Yup. Keep on kickin’!”

            I sure will.

          • TonyBuck2

            St Paul experienced many sufferings in his altruistic zeal to convert others to the saving knowledge of Christ, and eventually died for this belief.

            If this is “pleasure-hating” or “joyless”, the same is true of the servicemen and women who died in World War II to save humanity from Hitler. As for being “weak minded”, his letters reveal an intellect of exceptional strength.

          • Chaotopia

            “If this is “pleasure-hating” or “joyless”, the same is true of the
            servicemen and women who died in World War II to save humanity from Hitler.”

            Utter rot and not remotely true – many of those brave service men weren’t joyless or pleasure-hating and actually enjoyed a good fag, lovely beer and notoriously had lots of affairs. This has been recorded in virtually every book, documentary, film that has been made about the war.

            If you want proof of this then I happily post you link after link and link until I clearly show everyone here that you’re just lying for Jesus (as if he would approve).

            “As for being “weak minded”, his letters reveal an intellect of exceptional strength.”

            No they don’t – they reveal a credulous feeble-minded moron who was expectationally deluded.

          • TonyBuck2

            St Paul was hardly feeble-minded, otherwise he wouldn’t have made the worldwide impact that he undoubtedly has.

            Like most atheists, you too readily believe that religious believers are stupid, credulous, deluded, uneducated, naive or whatever; but you are thus making the fatal mistake of under-estimating your opponents. Most Western Christians are well-educated, cynical people with a tendency to rebel against the atheist / secular accepted wisdom; we Christians are now the counter-culture.

            St Paul wasn’t the joyless, life-denying fanatic you imagine him to have been – but he was prepared to make huge sacrifices; that’s the point I was making about those who fought the Nazis and their Japanese allies

          • Daniel Maris

            You seem to be confusing two ideas. St. Paul can be considered a highly intelligent and perceptive thinker – a very complex and fascinating, and brave man – without us wishing to emulate him or put into practice his ideas.

            Although I love the Acts of the Apostles, St Paul doesn’t come out of it well when they visited Athens. Clearly they found his “wisdom” to be rather crude. St Paul did the thing of shaking the dust of Athens off his shoe and that was that. Those of a philosophical bent don’t find that encouraging.

          • TonyBuck2

            Yes, but no one now believes what the people of classical Athens did. Do you pray to Athene ?

            Many millions of people still believe what St Paul believed, however.

          • bhudster10

            My grandad lost a leg fighting in the Second World War, he was an atheist through and through. Big enough sacrifice for you?

          • itbeso

            Which letters? Half of them are forgeries.

          • Edden

            Chaotopia….You have just repeated what you did before and loaded up your own opinion without even trying to justify yourself with evidence. Who has made extraordinary claims? Why do you lot all copy each other with these phrases and terms? Try and think for yourself. You in fact made claims at least by inference. You in fact referred to millions or probably billions of people currently worldwide as well as down the ages of time as being socially backward. That is a rather bold claim. And all you can offer for your evidence is the fact that you do not like what they believe. Mindless and ill informed? Prove it.

            Please don’t talk about being in an overwealming majority. Perhaps you might try and giving me the membership numbers for the National Secular Society or any other atheist organisation.

          • Fred Scuttle

            Everyone, even the religious, wants a secular society.

          • TonyBuck2

            The Scandinavians are a group of fat cats living a sheltered existence in one of the world’s quiet backwaters. I would suggest their social cohesion and prosperity (which was built on Christian foundations – they were fairly devout Lutherans until quite recently) has much to do with their affluence.

            If their affluence ceases, we’ll soon see what they are really made of. In such circumstances they will either re-convert to Christianity or plunge into despair.

          • Chaotopia

            “The Scandinavians are a group of fat cats living a sheltered existence in one of the world’s quiet backwaters”

            Whose residents have whole heatedly embraced secularism and score at the very top of the ‘happiness index’ which boast some of the lowest rates of violent crime in the world (along with some of the lowest levels of corruption), excellent educational systems, strong economies, well-supported arts, free health care, egalitarian social policies, outstanding bike paths, and great beer.

            One thing is absolute sure, if we carrying on following their fine example and that of France then the sky sure won’t fall in – in the way that it’s claimed by the deceitful propaganda put out by by the lying for Jesus brigade and the faith befuddled of other religions.

            “If their affluence ceases, we’ll soon see what they are really made of. In such circumstances they will either re-convert to Christianity or plunge into despair.”

            Yes, that’s stuff I mean – so you admit that religion is only false hope for those who are terminally miserable and unhappy or fearful or insecure and only ever has any real purchase when people are made to suffer. The triumph of fear and false hope over actuality for the credulous and weak minded.

            Then let’s make sure we do everything that we possibly can to ensure that people remain affluent and happy so religion can be given its proper place in the dustbin of history.

          • TonyBuck2

            I’m not a turbo-capitalist or a Tory, so I don’t badmouth the good aspects of Scandinavian life – but I would point out that these are based partly upon money (and Scandinavia derives this from capitalism) and partly from a Christian heritage.

            If humanity as a whole tries to live the prosperous Scandinavian way, the world’s eco-system will perish.

            It was a gay poet, WH Auden, who pointed out that we human beings “are children in the wood, who never were happy or good.” Atheism cannot make people happy, still less good. Human misery and wickedness will always exist; they are in the nature of this world, they aren’t created by religion – and religion (as the only possible remedy) for them will always exist too. There’ll never be an earthly utopia

            “What Truth can there be if there is Death” asked Tolstoy.
            Only an imbecile isn’t sometimes fearful or insecure; not least because atheism cannot abolish Death; in the face of Death, only religion can possibly give hope – it isn’t false hope.

          • http://coded.ballandia.co.uk/ Derek Law

            “Atheism cannot make people happy”

            Not true; atheism makes me happy.

          • Burt Flannery

            There are surely both happy and unhappy atheists. One thing is for sure – no atheist would ever be happy inflicting pain on anyone on religious grounds. The following link explains:

            http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_13?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=burt+flannery&sprefix=burt+flannery%2Cstripbooks%2C240

          • bhudster10

            me too!

          • Walter Bushell

            “Clearly” is a sign of direct assertion without proof, just like “obviously” is handwaving in mathematics.

      • Ian Glendinning

        Except that this sub-thread is a different topic. Yes secularism is good (See Pinker’s latest too) – so is church-state separation – but not an excuse to throw the baby of the history of how a society’s values came to be, with the (undoubtedly) dirty bath-water of theism and religion itself.

        • Guy Swarbrick

          But you’re implicitly assuming that the values came from religion and I’m not at all convinced that they did. They came to religion from people.

          • Ian Glendinning

            (Addressed this lower down …)

          • TonyBuck2

            Whatever goodness there may be in human nature is a gift from God. Goodness can have no other source.

          • Guy Swarbrick

            But badness can? So we don’t have free will? We have goodness from God or badness from ourselves. I can see why he would come out of that smelling of roses…

          • TonyBuck2

            We have badness from Satan and his evil angels, who wage unceasing war against God and God’s goodness.

            As creatures of God, but all too prone to follow Satan’s bad example, we are free to choose between these two powers.

          • lynnnoe

            Satan and the angels were also creatures of god, who supposedly rebelled because he gave humans free will and not them. So – if they had no free will, how could they have been free to rebel?

          • http://www.facebook.com/david.heffron David Heffron

            I don’t get understand. Why doesn’t God just get rid of Satan and his demons.
            Oh, that’s right. I forgot. Logic has no place in fairy tales.

          • Fred Scuttle

            Praise be to Aphrodite!

            Actually altruism is a beneficial evolved trait, also seen in other animals. A Jewish tribal war god is unlikely to be the source.

          • TonyBuck2

            In that case, why bother to be altruistic ? After all, very few people really are.

          • Deanjay1961

            Helping others is so satisfying to the benefactor that the real mystery is why we don’t do altruism more?

          • doctordogood

            “the tribal war god” who ordered a day of rest – even for servants and animals? not to mention laws of humane eating, killing, business dealings, etc? all that is nothing more than war?

          • Eamonn Riley

            The tribal war gods followers got that idea from the Babylonians during their exile. Don’t forget that the punishement for violating this day of rest was death.

          • Burt Flannery

            Thankfully we’ve progressed past the stage whereby it was considered mandatory to do nothing on a Sunday. Have a look at the following link for explanation:

            http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_13?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=burt+flannery&sprefix=burt+flannery%2Cstripbooks%2C240

          • bhudster10

            No-one’s biting Burt, join in the discussion and stop trying to flog your book!

          • Burt Flannery

            That’s a pity, bhudster10, because every time a book is sold it helps to prevent cruelty to another child, helps to save another baby elephant from becoming orphaned and another rhino from having its horn hacked off.

          • Burt Flannery

            Thankfully we can now shop and go to football matches on Sundays without fear of persecution. Have a look at the following link – it might be of interest.
            http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_13?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=burt+flannery&sprefix=burt+flannery%2Cstripbooks%2C240

          • http://www.facebook.com/david.heffron David Heffron

            Good point. God did give people a day off from ordering them to kill the tribes over the next hill.
            Cheers God.
            What should we do with this day off? What’s that God? We should Go To Church! Cracking idea.

          • Dave_Plankton

            Cobblers!

          • TonyBuck2

            Monsieur, if you choose to live in a fantasy world where most people are golden-hearted altruists, that is your problem. You have evidently led a very sheltered life.

            Just read any of the many history books about what happens whenever there are troubled times and people are no longer fettered by civilised values or fear of the police. Civilisation is only a thin veneer at the best of times.

          • Dan

            That is an interesting hypothesis, and one that is indeed testable in the records of history and archaeology. Long before monotheistic religion, there is strong evidence for tribal co-operation.
            But prior to monotheism nothing existst that resembles contemporary values. Almost all pre-monotheistic societies pracvtices infanticide. Pre-Christian Rome had galdiatorial combat, until monotheism took over. Pre-monotheistic societies were almost all extremely hierarchical.
            The idea of equality before the law for all citizens (including rulers) does not appera to exist before the Hebrew Bible.
            Ancient civilisations all valued power and believed (in different ways) that might and conuest was a sign of greatness (often a sign of favour from the gods). The dream of world peace, from the book of Isaiah marks the first known vision in humankind.
            It may be arguable that now we have reached these values, we have no further need for their sources. But I don’t think it is right to deny the transformative impact of monothesitic religion inhuman history.

          • Carol Lynn

            Don’t know a lot of non-christian, non-European history, do you?

          • Eamonn Riley

            Actually the early Israelites practised child sacrifice, and polytheists gave it up as well. Monotheism certainly did not mean religious tolerance. The Hebrew Bible does not prohibit slavery, or religious murder, or rape. After all Abraham raped his slave to get a child.

          • Burt Flannery
          • Dan

            ” The Hebrew Bible does not prohibit slavery, or religious murder, or rape. After all Abraham raped his slave to get a child.”

            He didn’t ‘rape’ her. But the Bible plainly condemns what he did. Is this another example of an atheist’s wilful pig-ignorance of the Bible? (Or else a proof that the pretence of reason is a thin veil for emotional theophobia.)

            What is ‘religious murder’? Definitions could get interesting. How about killing someone so you can go on worshipping the great god orgasm? The ‘modern’ version of religious infanticide.

          • yesspam

            You have an interesting definition of rape. Please explain how a slave can participate in consensual sex with her owner? Try googling slave row, that might help you. The HB does not condemn this act of rape. Please tell me why you think it does? Religious murder, see the death of the priests of Baal, or the genocide of the Caananites. What on earth is the gg orgasm?

          • Raman Indian

            You are being a bit mean to the Buddhists, the Confucians, the Hindus, the Stoics, and many followers of Graeco-Roman religions, are you not? By arrogating all virtue to the Jewish religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – and denying any portion of spirituality or human achievement to anyone else?
            Is there even one moment when you feel ashamed of such ignoble philistinism?
            Who was more tolerant: the monotheists or the others? Ask the Jews. They suffered under Christianity as they had never done under the “pagans” – except when they rebelled against Rome, to be sure.
            Who contributed more to science and philosophy: ancient pagan Greece or montheistic Israel?
            Who told you there was equality under the law in old Israel where there was slavery and crucifxion?
            Ever heard of Socrates? Buddha?

          • Burt Flannery

            Then why after centuries of bloodshed, repression and forced conversion is only about half of the world’s population monotheistic? See the following link for explanations:

            http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_13?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=burt+flannery&sprefix=burt+flannery%2Cstripbooks%2C240

          • Eamonn Riley

            They came to religion from people. I want that on a T-shirt. At the time religion and philosophy were the only ways to discuss ethics. Atheists were simply put to death.

        • Chaotopia

          “Except that this sub-thread is a different topic. Yes secularism is good (See Pinker’s latest too) – so is church-state separation – but not an excuse to throw the baby of the history of how a society’s values came to be, with the (undoubtedly) dirty bath-water of theism and religion itself”

          Anything by Steven Pinker (in particular the Blank Slate) is well worth reading.

          You do have a point and non-believers don’t expect religious people to abandon their precious heart-felt beliefs – they just want the right not to believe and this is something that the evangelical Christians and similar control-freaks who are keen to impose their idiot ideology where it really isn’t wanted are unable to tolerate.

          They want the right to preach to others but soon start crying “persecution” and moaning “militant atheism” when those who don’t believe do exactly the same – well they can’t (and won’t) have it both ways.

          Quite simply, the majority of non-believers want to live in a genuinely secular society that works as a neutral space for all to be able to believe what they like in private but are unable to impose that personal belief on others in the public sphere. It doesn’t necessarily mean a godless society (the US is a constitutionally secular country and one of the most god-fearing nations on earth) but it does mean anyone is free to believe or not believe what they wish – freedom of religion also means freedom from religion.

          There are undeniably good things that religions do – I read a very interesting article about the charitable work that religious do and if this threatened if there are more non-believers:

          http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrew-schwartz-m-div/where-atheism-stops-and-religion-begins_b_3436710.html

          “The New Atheists love proclaiming that religion is dying. It’s a claim that is hard to argue with. Religion is certainly on the decline all across the world. The “nones” (i.e. those who hold no religious affiliation) rank as the third most popular religion in the world, trailing Christians and Muslims respectively. Historically, we’ve never seen anything like this. Atheism was in vogue back in the Enlightenment era but despite all the efforts of Auguste Comte and his peers, it nevergained traction. Religion was too imbedded in the culture and was the best answer to all those pesky questions about where we came from and what we are heading towards. Today, atheists are armed with the answers Darwin gave and a modern metaphysics that allows them to confidently argue against religious rhetoric and comfortably say that there is no god.

          This is a huge cultural shift and, as many prominent atheist thinkers would suggest, a necessary paradigmatic change in human history. What Ifind disconcerting, though, are the holes being left in the fabric of society as we see the institution of religion retreating. As an example:when Hurricane Sandy devastated the eastern Seaboard, it was the synagogues, mosques, and churches that served as bases of operation for the Red Cross, #occupySandy, and other aid organizations. Religious communities quickly rallied their members to come out and aid the victims of the storm in a capacity that few other organizations could muster. This is not say that the non-religious did not show up in force to aid those affected by Sandy. Far from it. It was an amazing response across the board yet that response was certainly undergirded by and maintained through the willingness of faith communities to open their doors, their homes, and their lives to those who found themselves without.”

          And so on – even if I don’t fully agree with the article, there is a powerful point being made here and it is worth a read.

          • Ian Glendinning

            Thanks. I’m not new to the arguments – (been blogging on the topic for 12 years) – and read much Pinker from Blank Slate onwards. You should also (if you haven’t already) read his better half (Rebecca Goldstein) on Spinoza for example or her “36 Arguments” – but I’d recommend Betraying Spinoza.

          • Guy Swarbrick

            The charity argument is a weak one, on a number of levels. Atheism isn’t organised in the same way religion is, so you’re not going to see atheist charities alongside christian ones. But, that apart, much religious charity is no such thing – it’s bribery – worship our god and we’ll give you food, medicine etc. That’s the opposite of altruism.

          • jaybird1951

            Your comment about charity in exchange for belief is a malicious falsehood. Look around the poor areas of the world and observe the huge charitable efforts being provided by Christians, for instance, who extend their help to everyone. I suspect you know better but wrote those words anyway.

          • Guy Swarbrick

            It’s neither malicious nor is it falsehood. It is something of which I have personal experience. And using big words as an alternative format of ‘Liar, liar pants on fire’ does little to elevate the argument.

          • Burt Flannery

            Do you believe that a Christian is any more likely to be charitable than an atheist? Check out the following link to find out:

            http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_6?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=burt+flannery&sprefix=burt+f%2Cstripbooks%2C254

          • TonyBuck2

            And also the opposite of genuine Christianity – genuine Christian charity has no strings attached.

          • Guy Swarbrick

            That’s fine. I’ll accept that. But then those who argue that most charity is religious have to discount, well, most religious charity.

          • Steven Deedon

            Guy, you’ll need some data for this. I don’t know about the UK, but:in makes no sense at all. Just a couple ot examples: 1) in the US the Catholic Church has been providing 25% of the hospital care in the country

          • Burt Flannery

            Some of my friends are atheists and some are devout Christians. In terms of morality and kindness, there’s not a cigarette paper between them. The following link might be of interest:
            http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_13?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=burt+flannery&sprefix=burt+flannery%2Cstripbooks%2C259

          • http://www.facebook.com/david.heffron David Heffron

            I suppose it depends on what you mean by charity and what you mean volunteering.
            If I send in my life savings to a tele-evangelist who promises to inscribe my name on a brick in his new church, have I given to charity?
            If I picket outside an abortion clinic or hold up a “God hates fags” sign at a funeral of a serviceman, am I volunteering?
            The Mormons give to “charity” and spend a year as a missionary. Does that count?

          • Deanjay1961

            Two things: Catholic hospitals are for-profit. Atheists aren’t just people who don’t go to church much. Every time one of these studies has been tightened up to separate atheists from slack believers, the atheists come out as more comparable to the devout than to the intemperate believers. In the USA, no one calls themselves an atheist lightly. We (as a rule) aren’t people who don’t know for what we stand.

          • TonyBuck2

            The secular people of the world don’t reproduce and will die out (ask any demographer) – not much likelihood of a paradigm shift, then.

            The West is at present not merely secular, but aggressively so – but as anyone can see, the West is dying; economically, socially and militarily. As things stand “the barbarians” (i.e. Islamists using religion as a cloak for their Will to Power, as Jonathan Sacks says) will win. Why ? – because the “freethinkers” (atheists, humanists, secularists, rationalist etc etc) have spent 300 years destroying the West’s Christian civilisation and have now triumphantly succeeded. Who on earth’s going to die for atheism or for the secular garbage-heap that the West now is ?

          • Chaotopia

            “The secular people of the world don’t reproduce and will die out (ask
            any demographer) – not much likelihood of a paradigm shift, then.”

            Yet another bone-headed lie for Jesus – you must be getting desperate there.I know lots of secular people who have reproduced and there are many religious people who use contraception – here’s just one example:

            http://www.secularism.org.uk/128176.html

            “Number of Catholic women who use a form of contraception banned by the Vatican: 98%”

            ” The West is at present not merely secular, but aggressively so – but as
            anyone can see, the West is dying; economically, socially and militarily”

            No it’s not – it’s still here with more people then there ever. The sky really isn’t falling in as much as you would love it to -that’s just your wishful fantasing – something that comes naturally to the religious.

            “As things stand “the barbarians” (i.e. Islamists using religion as a cloak for their Will to Power, as Jonathan Sacks says) will win”

            No they won’t – their religion and culture and their kids are being corrupted by the modern world and the West and from within which is why we are seeing its death spasms being played out so spectacularly.

            “because the “freethinkers” (atheists, humanists, secularists, rationalist etc etc)”

            The good guys.” have spent 300 years destroying the West’s Christian civilisation and have now triumphantly succeeded.”

            Good – now its time for us to do exactly the same to Islam.

            “Who on earth’s going to die for atheism or for the secular garbage-heap that the West now is ?”

            Me.

          • TonyBuck2

            The secular peoples of the world are dying out – this is not a “lie for Jesus”, but scientific fact; though certainly many Western Christians have been secularised and are also dying out.

            The West indeed contains “more people than ever”, but increasingly they are from ethnic minorities and thus religious people, since they have no wish to follow the ethnic majority into secular decadence and degradation. This process will speed up, as the ethnic minorities are the people having the babies.

            The sky hasn’t yet fallen in on the West (though it soon will, possibly in 2013) because of the West’s wealth and technology. But these things didn’t save the Roman Empire from the barbarians, nor will they save us.

            As for freethinkers like yourself bringing down Islam – please get real; the Moslems won’t allow you to, partly because many of them are well aware of what the freethinkers have done to Christianity and can see only too easily that the West is rapidly losing its power (witness Iraq and Afghanistan). And in any case, Islam is a more robust religion than Christianity – it has a far shorter way with freethinkers (death without appeal) than the Christian churches ever had.

            While I applaud your sincere willingness to die for secular belief and culture, you can hardly do this on a one-person basis; few will follow your example. You would be happier if you searched for what is best in religion (i.e. compassion – see the books by Karen Armstrong, who as you may know is a former nun and an unconventional religious believer) and if you tried to co-operate with compassionate religious believers against the fanatics.

          • Cestius

            Indeed, the Roman and Greek empires failed to innovate and their opponents caught up. Just like the West is increasingly wasting all its energy and best talent on playing stock markets, commodity speculation and other useless and dangerous pursuits, instead of inventing and building things for the betterment of mankind. There’s no credible rival to the West yet, certainly not China, but it’s dangerous to stand still.

          • Deanjay1961

            2013 is almost over now. Maybe you’ll get to be right about the sky falling on the West next year. Or maybe in 20. Or 50. Or 100.
            And religion doesn’t own compassion. It’s a human trait. That your religion lets you claim something so obviously outrageous, it is clearly damaging your thinking ability.
            We’re happy to co-operate with compassionate beievers against the fanatics. It’s just that it’s so hard to find them.

          • Fred Scuttle

            We no longer keep slaves, hang children for petty theft or put poor people into workhouses. I call that progress. Not believing in imaginary beings is also progress.

          • TonyBuck2

            You take it far too easily for granted (and far too dogmatically) that God is imaginary.

            In fact, God is far realler than we are; we are after all mere figments of God’s imagination.

          • Burt Flannery

            Consigning the supernatural to the dustbin is certainly progress. The following link might be of interest to you:

            http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_13?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=burt+flannery&sprefix=burt+flannery%2Cstripbooks%2C259

          • Raman Indian

            If atheists bug you so much why take against Islam? It is a much more convinced form of god belief and should be the answer to your prayers?

          • TonyBuck2

            Because I’m a Christian and thus cannot accept Moslem theology.

            But if I lost my Christian faith, I’d far sooner become a Moslem than plunge into atheism’s despair and futility.

            In 2011 150,000 people around the world were murdered because of their Christian faith (mainly at the hands of radical Moslems). These 150,00 martyrs were fairly convinced believers in God, were they not ?

          • Jackthesmilingblack

            “But if I lost my Christian faith, I’d far sooner become a Moslem than plunge into atheism’s despair and futility.”
            Have you considered Satanism? We’ve got some great rituals.

          • trekker2002

            Speak for yourself. I am an atheist and am not remotely in despair as I live in a world of wonders set in a Universe which we are only just beginning to understand. I constantly wonder why believers who live in the same world I do, believe that a god large enough to create it, is at all concerned about the minutiae of what language is used in prayer, on what day and facing which arbitrary point on the earth. Not only concerned but willing to consign the creatures he himself designed to eternal torture for failing to believe the correct myths. Thinking about that and the number of people who spend their lives worrying about such things is about the only thing that does inspire a feeling of despair.

          • TonyBuck2

            Trekker2002

            Living in a state of wonder at the natural universe requires a good income, a good digestion and physical and emotional balance and health. Such a philosophy thus has no followers except among the comfortable classes of the Western world.

            God is far more merciful than you seem to think. Gnawing anxiety is not a proper religious emotion.

          • trekker2002

            Your first paragraph is merely unsupported opinion. Have you asked everyone on the planet? If not then you have no idea whether such a philosophy has no followers. Well since I don’t believe he exists his mercy or lack of it doesn’t overly concern me but I don’t think that you can dispute that a depressingly large proportion of the world population do concern a large part of their lives worrying about correct observation and application of religious minutiae.

          • bhudster10

            Then why doesn’t God make it rain during a drought in Africa?
            To stop babies starving to death?
            Merciful my arse!

          • Burt Flannery
          • Deanjay1961

            Dude, I’m an atheist but all you’ve accomplished with your shameless and too often repeated plugging is t ensure that I will never, ever, follow that link or buy your book.

          • Burt Flannery

            Sorry if I offended you Deanjay1961 but it was a way of contacting people of like mind. The idea worked as a number of books were sold. All the proceeds are being donated to animal welfare and children’s charities as I deplore all manner of cruelty to these vulnerable groups. I hope you understand that for their benefit I had to try.

          • Helene Alter-Dyche

            Yes, and what humans eat (kosher “laws”,– very restrictive, arbitrary and expensive–,concocted by nomads in the desert hundreds of years ago with no basis in science or reason, and just an excuse for many middlemen, including rabbis who mumble prayers and “supervise, and then take their cut, raising the price of the food, so that Orthodox families who don’t practice contraception, struggle to feed their large families. This is self- imposed slavery in the name of a god who was silent while 6,000,000 of “his” people were murdered. How can people still believe and accept blind faith when they have been so cruelly treated and their plight so blatantly ignored.

          • wellknownfact

            I’ll just have half of whatever mind altering drug you’re on.

      • GFRF

        Total crap

      • GFRF

        Go investigate how Islam has filled the spiritual vacuum in Sweden!!
        Ignorance is NOT bliss!

        • Guy Swarbrick

          ” the estimatedMuslim population to 500,000. However, only about 110,000 are members of a congregation and of these approximately 25,000 actively practise Islam in the sense that they pray five times a day and attend Friday prayer.”

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweden#Religion

          That wasn’t much of a vacuum. One quarter of one percent of the population are active moslems and, one suspects, the vast majority are not native Swedes who have turned to islam to full the spiritual vacuum.

        • Chaotopia

          “Go investigate how Islam has filled the spiritual vacuum in Sweden!”

          Hey – I don’t think that we should we be important religious nutjobs either.

          If we do need immigrants to fill the skills gap or because of low birth rates then I think we can, and should, be extremely selective, far more smarter and a lot more fussier about where we choose to import people from.

          I think that we should have an immediate halt on all immigration from countries that our Islamist hot spots such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabai, Yemen, Somalia, etc, etc, etc.

          Instead, we should prioritise immigrants from the many countries around the world who do share a common language and culture. I think that such a policy would be entirely sensible, pragmatic and completely doable.

          If you agree then do exactly what I did and write to your MP about it:

          http://www.theyworkforyou.com/

          And spread the word via blogs and social networking.

          • Daniel C. Thompson

            Oops. Seems you mistook this article/thread for an opportunity to flaunt your prejudices.

            I’m afraid the subject is atheism, religion and morality, and NOT immigration or 10-things-you-hate-about-muslims.

            You can go to the Mail for that.

          • Andreas Delsing

            Well said, let’s consider a debate for each subject and stop mixing things together. Integration for me is the key to solve these social porblems. A second problem adds up to the first one, the generation conflict. Think about it, we are most worried about the future of our nations but will take action on the present parents and not on their kids who are the real immigrants and welcome guests. An entire generation is going to be a bunch of angry kids that feels left behind for a cause they didn’t even participate in.

          • Daniel C. Thompson

            Cheers 🙂

      • Dan

        Re Godless Sweden being such a wonderful place, according to an EU study, Sweden has the highest rate of rapes and sex-crimes in Europe (even when accounting for differences in reporting standards) http://www.thelocal.se/19102/20090427/

        As for charitable giving, according to the World Giving Index published by the Charities Aid Foundation, Sweden ranks a measly 46th
        http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2010/sep/08/charitable-giving-country
        despite the fact that it has the 8th highest GDP per capita.

        • Fred Scuttle

          Dan, everywhere is godless.

        • Thursdaythe12th

          But…but…that can’t be true! It’s a liberal paradise!

        • Taccado

          That’s cherry picking. The reason why Sweden has a high rate of rape is because it’s such a developed society; women there actually dare to go to the police to report rape because they know the police will take them seriously and not belittle them.

          As for charity: Sweden has a highly developed social security network. People pay high taxes, and the government then takes care of people. The population does not have to rely on charitable organizations in the same extent as people in other countries.

          But if you want to star playing with statistics about Sweden, here goes:
          – 2nd place in index on best countries to be a mother (Save the Children, April 2013).
          – 7th place in the Human Development Index, out of 186 countries (UNDP, 2013).
          – 2nd place in the Gender Inequality Index, a high ranking meaning high equality (UNDP, 2013).
          – 14th in the Global Peace Index out of 158 countries (Institute for Economics and Peace, 2012).
          – 2nd place in the Better Life Index measuring happiness in countries (OECD, May 2013).
          – 3rd in the ranking of mortality for children under 5-years-old, a high ranking being a good result (UNICEF, May 2013).
          – 2nd in the ranking of neonatal mortality rate, a high ranking being a good result (UNICEF, May 2013).
          – 3rd place in the Legatum Prosperity Index measuring prosperity of countries based on variables like economy, governance, health, safety, personal freedom and safety(Legatum Institute, November 2012).

          These are just a few of many rankings in which Sweden as well as other highly non-religious Scandinavian countries are doing well.

          • Dan

            Nor does it necessarily mean that the non-religious world will never be able to compete in these areas. One could see this as a challenge to humanist think-tanks and institutions to try to construct non-religious alternatives that can supply the same level of society-building behavior.

            But I think it is fair to say that the relatively low level of volunteering and giving in Sweden, especially considering the high GDP per capita, means that Sweden is not a counter-example.

          • Tjaart Blignaut

            “challenge to humanist think-tanks and institutions to try to construct non-religious alternatives that can supply the same level of society-building behavior.”

            What about centuries of secular moral philosophy?

          • Jean Paul Govè

            I don’t think the point is about the functionality of society. Nietzsche, and Dostoevsky before him, described the Last Man society as being of paramount functionality and order, but being internally and humanly dead. (Note that the statistically happiest states in the world also have the highest suicide rates.)

            Ok, so let’s accept that an atheist is better-behaved than a religious person. The question is Why? What morality is s/he following as opposed to the religious person? Why is rape a bad thing? Why is charity a good thing?

            Now I suspect that most atheists presently are still crypto-Christians – they still follow a secularized version of Christian morality, thinking it’s the obvious or natural model. They still exist in the wake of God’s death. Let’s hope they continue to do so a little while longer.

          • Jeremy Rodell

            This illustrates a fundamental mistake some religious critics make of Humanism. The error is to think that humanists reject god-given morality.In fact, in my view, there is no god-given morality. As there’s no reason to believe in the existence of a deity, all moral codes have been originated by humans, regardless of whether they had a religious motivation.

            One thing on which most religious and non-religious moral thinkers have agreed is the Golden Rule – treat others as you would like to be treated if you were them. That’s based on empathy – our ability as humans to put ourselves in another’s shoes. Some animals also have it, but it’s a great human strength. There will always be dilemmas with no simple answer, but to me a pretty good place to start is that actions that decrease suffering, and increase flourishing are good, those that do the opposite are bad.

            The difference between humanism and scripture-based faith arises when we realise that some past norms – such as attitudes to homosexuality and gender equality – were immoral, in that they violated the Golden Rule. Accepting the need to evolve our view of morality in this way is made more difficult for people of faith when it flies in the face of the norms of the Middle East between 1.5 and 3 millenia ago which have been frozen in holy writ and developed by subsequent doctrine. Too often the result is that the advancement of a kinder world is hampered by faith-based objections. The denial of the benefits of contraception in Africa is just one example.

          • Jean Paul Govè

            No, I understand that atheists believe that there is no god-given morality. Are you at all familiar with Nietzsche? That was what I was referencing.

            However, I was also implying that whether Christian morality is God-given or not, most atheists still implicitly accept it under various guises.

          • Jeremy Rodell

            I don’t think anyone could deny that European culture and thinking has been influenced, for good and ill, by Christianity. That’s a historical fact. By the core moral position I was highlighting both pre-dates Christianity and appears in Eastern moral thinking (Confucius and Buddha) as well as European and Middle Eastern. I can’t claim to be “familiar” with Nietzsche, but it is reflected in the views of John Stuart Mill among others.

            It’s a logical fallacy to say that, because Christianity has had an influence on European thought, the moral world will fall apart when we’ve left it behind. I would argue that the simplicity and universality of the Golden Rule, which is based on our needs as human beings living in communities – with global interconnections – and our collective learning from our successes and failures in doing so, is far more robust than any code that depends on supernatural belief.

            It was not faith that gave us the Universal declaration of Human Rights, but the reaction of good people from widely differing backgrounds to the horrors of the second world war.

          • Ed

            Dostoevsky summed up atheism and nihilism best in “The Brothers Karamazov” with his concise axiom “if there is no God, everything is permissible.” It is not possible for man to overcome nihilism without God, because he will destroy himself. Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot are prime examples of Nietzsche’s “will to power” and the egotism and brutality it produces.

          • Paul de Haan

            Yeah, good one. Quote a novelist. You are aware they write fiction, aren’t you?

          • disqus_iKwlEPlTsO

            1. Atheism is not nihilism and does not entail it. 2. Nietzsche was not a nihilist. 3. Religion is no better at grounding morality and giving meaning than secularism. 4. As to your
            quote–I offer one from the philosopher Kai Nielsen: “A Man who says, ‘If God is dead, nothing matters,’ is a spoilt child who has never looked at his fellow man with compassion.”

          • Junis

            You understand that ‘western’ technology was started by Christian men and not atheists? Think of Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell.

          • Jeremy Rodell

            Of course, many Western scientists in the 17-19th centuries were also been Christians, as that was the prevailing belief system in the places they grew up. But I’ve never seen any serious evidence that their scientific achievements were attributable to their Christianity, any more than I guess you would say that Newton’s genius was attributable to his belief in alchemy or Einstein’s to his lack of belief in God.

            Indeed, Galileo ran into a lot of trouble with the Church for saying that the Earth goes round the Sun – removing mankind from the centre of the cosmos and taking the first step in the gradual realisation of how insignificant we are in the universe. As did Darwin, who was so concerned about the religious reaction to his discovery of evolution – which showed that even on the Earth, humans are no more “special” than other animals in the greater scheme of things – that he held back from publishing his findings for many years. The faith-based denial of evolution is still with us in fundamentalist Christianity and in Islam.

          • Taccado

            This could be a very long answer, but let’s just make it short: Secular humanism. No one is saying that it is easy to come to conclusions as to why certain things are good or bad, but at least being a secular humanism means that conclusions about the pros and cons of actions are reached by discussion, debate, negotiations, agreements, evaluations of the pain and suffering caused when doing something, etc. In other words, there is a system that people can use to decide which things are good or bad, at least for the majority. It might be imperfect, but it’s the best we humans have.

            Christianity, on the other hand, cannot be used as a guide for morality what so ever. The reason is that it never explains why its rules are to be followed, and what is the connection between a command and its consequences. God only tells us what to do, without any justification for why the commandments uphold goodness or make us avoid evil. That’s not how morality works. That’s why it’s good that we are leaving Christianity (and other religions) behind, it has never been a reliable guide to behaving well. The Bible is filled with terrible commandments without any reasons for why they should be followed. It also has some good rules, but they are in no way unique to Christianity. Anyone can realize they are good rules without the guidance of the Bible.

          • Mary

            I have difficulty with your conclusions. Communism and Facism require Atheism, that is why they actively try to stamp out religion, it gets in the way of them dominating others. Believing oneself to the arbiter of good or evil (humanism or just plain old arrogance) is what causes problems in our societies. You obviously understand little to nothing about the Bible, the rules are explained in the life of Jesus, and the commandments are logical, not terrible.

          • Jeremy Rodell

            On the basis that all religious moral codes were created by people (invariably men) then the main difference between humanistic morality and Christian morality is mainly that the later is inhibited in its development by needing to adhere to (or reinterpret, or selectively quote) scripture. In fact there is a massive overlap between almost all ideas of morality: no-one thinks that it’s ok to murder people, or steal. And virtually everyone agrees with the Golden Rule, to treat others as you would like to be treated, which is essentially a product of empathetic humans living together in communities.

            The main difficulties we have, such as differing views on gay marriage, arise because of a conflict between our developed view of what the Golden Rule implies (in this case, that it’s unkind to deny people in committed homosexual relationships the same recognition as heterosexuals), and what Christian (and Muslim) scriptures say, which reflect the prejudices of cultures in the Middle East at the times they were written.

            No-one would suggest there is no wisdom in the Bible – it’s a compendium of views from a lot of intelligent people – nor that it also contains things that are completely unacceptable to us. That’s not surprising. But it’s not an argument for preventing our ideas of morality to evolve as we understand more about the feelings and experiences of those who in the past have not been heard.

            For example, perhaps someone could point me to where in the Bible it says directly and explicitly that paedophilia is wrong. This is a high profile crime now largely because the voices of the victims have been heard. Sadly, it seems that no-one listened to them in Biblical times.

          • Burt Flannery

            But is the Bible not an abridged and adulterated fiction? Check out the following website which provides the explanation:

            http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_13?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=burt+flannery&sprefix=burt+flannery%2Cstripbooks%2C244

          • Ed

            Please stop promoting your book as an argument. How crass!
            Just make your argument here.

          • Burt Flannery

            Well Ed, perhaps you’ll also think it’s crass that the proceeds of the book are being donated to children and animal welfare charities to help prevent cruelty to children, to prevent baby elephants to become orphaned and to save rhinos from having their horns hacked off and dying a slow, agonising death.
            Since you’re clearly offended by opportunism, altruistic or otherwise, try reading the words of some of the greatest minds in history – Newton, Jefferson, Spinoza, Hume and Russell, for example, and you’ll see what they think about the authenticity of holy texts.

          • bhudster10

            ooohhh, pompous much?

          • http://www.facebook.com/david.heffron David Heffron

            But the 10 commandments are shortly followed up by the book of Deuteronomy, which if it had a subtitle would be “God gave us 10 Commandments, but here’s a bunch of other stuff we reckon he wouldn’t like and we will stone you to death for”.

            The bible isn’t a buffet. You can’t pick the bits you like.

          • Pud

            The WW2 German Army had “Gott mit uns” (God with us) on their belt-buckles. Wouldn’t it have said “Nobody with us” if they were atheists?

          • Deanjay1961

            Fascism is quite fine with religion.

          • trapezium

            You say Christianity cannot be used as a guide to morality because it’s never explained why its rules should be followed, but secularism can because its rules are reached by discussion and debate.

            That is to suggest that discussion and debate are adequate reasons to follow secular rules. That doesn’t make sense to me: “we discussed and agreed on this” isn’t, for me, a reason to follow a rule. It sounds more like Nietzsche’s will to power.

            Supposing I didn’t agree? In that case your justification for bashing my head when I break the rule is simply the fact that you have the power to do so.

            “we discussed and agreed that I may own slaves” is not a rule of morality.

            “we discussed and agreed that an unfaithful woman may be stoned to death” is not a rule of morality.

          • Burt Flannery

            Morality has developed through a long evolutionary process. See the following link for a further explanation.

            http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_13?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=burt+flannery&sprefix=burt+flannery%2Cstripbooks%2C244

          • trapezium

            Try making an argument rather than referring to “authorities”.

          • Burt Flannery

            The authority I’m referring to is me, so that should be ok shouldn’t it? In any case, all religions proffer lessons of morality – otherwise they wouldn’t be religions. The question is – where does the morality stem from? Is it God, Brahman, Shangdi etc. or has it been acquired through a long evolutionary process by trial and error?

          • Milton Platt

            Wouldn’t attributing things to a god be referring to an “authority”?

          • http://www.facebook.com/david.heffron David Heffron

            Well if you could provide examples where secular humaninsim has lead to slavery or the death penalty, you might have a point.

            I also don’t believe anyone is calling for anyone’s head to be bashed in.
            However slavery, stoning to death and head bashing for disagreements all figure quite heavily in places where it’s a bit religion-y.

          • Josh

            Well… as an Atheist I can pretty much say that I find most of Christian morales abysmally lacking. I don’t think any of my morales are founded on “Christian” morales, Christian morales are simply stolen/founded from the previous morales of society that existed long before that specific religious cult raised it’s head.

          • Ed

            It is spelled morals, not “morales’. Morales is a Spanish surname, Josh. Your ability to spell is “abysmally lacking”.

          • Bob Averill

            Pompous replies like this where Christians try to take credit for atheists being good people are a big part of what convinced me Christians are inherently bad, and to be avoided.

          • Deanjay1961

            Since the Enlightenment, Christianity has been taking baby steps toward the morality of humanism, and then claiming humanists stole their morality from Christianity.

          • Burt Flannery
          • Junis

            Sweden has never been the victim of Western instigated war crimes as compared to countless Muslim countries. Russia, Germany, Britain and America will never attack a ‘white’ country like they have Libya.

        • LoudGuitr

          Dan, whatever used to be the stupidest thing ever said is now in second place. Congratulations.

        • Steven Deedon

          This corroborates what I’ve been told about Swedes. Being of Swedish descent I’ve spent a lot of time interrogating a Swedish friend of mine and his wife, who spend 1/2 the year back in Sweden. I understand from talking to them that Swedes are not very prosocial in person, notwithstanding their social system. And one wonders ,,, if the history of social services in Sweden is anything like that of health care in Canada, it was very long, hard fifloght.

        • PetToqueuse

          What were the rates of rapes and sex crimes in Sweden *before* a the influx of a religious minority changed the status quo?

        • NotTheMessiah

          At least now Assange is out of the way, things are getting better in Sweded.

        • David Syd

          Can you give us examples of religious societies that are more prosperous and peaceful than Sweden? To speed up the process, here are some of your choices: Somalia (99% Muslim), Afghanistan (99% Muslim), Yemen (99% Muslim), Saudi Arabia (99% Muslim), Iran (98% Muslim), Iraq (97% Muslim), Pakistan (97% Muslim), Honduras (99% Christian), Guatemala (99% Christian)…. I could go on, but the pickings after this lot are not whole lot better.

          Religion is not a counter weight against crime (jails are FULL of religious nutters) or a champion of human rights – in fact is a surety that both will go south – literally- check our Rick Perry’s latest insane law forcing Texans to chose a religion. The crime rate in the US, particularly in the most religious Sates is amongst the highest in the Western World. Do you think this is a coincidence? Is your inference that God protects women in societies that are more religious? When in fact it has far more to do with attitude and the structure of law enforcement than any mythical sky daddy doing his thing (I refer you to the same article). Are you even remotely aware of the disgusting way Muslim women are treated by their husbands and government? This the problem with religion – it’s inherently dishonest because god tells you to ignore anything that does not align itself with so called self-proclaimed Biblical or Koran truths.

          According to the CPI Index, Sweden is the most peaceful place on earth, and guess what? it has the highest atheist population as well (Over 85%). So yes, godless Sweden (spelt with a small ‘g’ as they don’t discriminate between the gods they reject), is a wonderful place to live (except for the cold). Free from religious bigotry and extremely well off. They also have a decent ice hockey team. Down with religion.

      • TonyBuck2

        Scandinavians are largely prosperous, law-abiding, middle-class people, the people whom Jesus Christ described when he called them “Whitewashed tombs, that look fine from the outside, but inside are full of rottenness and dead men’s bones.”

      • Bruce Bates

        I don’t question Phil’s findings. But if it wasn’t for the defeat of godless madmen, those in Scandanavia would not have the freedom to practice their philosophy/religion in life. The policies of the Nazi’s and Stalinists were not the logical outworking of worshipping Jesus Christ. The idea that societies can’t function for a long time without Jesus is of course a kenard. Hundreds functioned for a long time prior to and after his coming. Great article, but not sure he has proven his thesis.

      • Burt Flannery

        Having spent quite some time there, I know you’re right about Scandinavia. You might have time to look at this link:

        http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_13?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=burt+flannery&sprefix=burt+flannery%2Cstripbooks%2C251

      • Junis

        A much overlooked reason why Sweden and Denmark are doing well is that they have never been the target of ‘white’ American hostility. Simple.

      • http://www.logosapologetica.com/ Emerson de Oliveira

        WRONG. YOU AND ZUCKERMAN FAIL. This simplistic book of Zuckerman would only have some sort of validity, IF YOU were INTERVIEWING PEOPLE of a SOCIETY with ZERO INFLUENCE of JEWISH and CHRISTIAN MORALITY AND HISTORY. But when interviewing nordics, only shows that came in large part where you are NOW (but it is not known whether it will continue like that) thanks in large part to the Christian worldview. FAIL.

      • http://www.logosapologetica.com/ Emerson de Oliveira

        “This is demonstrable – the secular Scandanavian countries were subject to forensic study in this book:” Ridicule. Scandinavia had Christian influence. Their claims and Zuckerman would have only some sort of validity in a society totally secular and humanist, atheist without any trace of Christian influence since its foundation. This book is very weak.

    • Ian Glendinning

      Agreed, religion has no “exclusive” claim to bedrock material, but we cannot ignore the bedrock that has been built up by society’s religious traditions, and assume that throwing the baby out with the bathwater now will magically replace all that bedrock. Atheists and humanists need to think seriously about how a bedrock of value is achieved.

      • Guy Swarbrick

        Do they/we? I’ve read your blog piece and I have to say it seems to be making the same mistake that Sacks and other ‘opponents’ of atheism make – that atheism is (or should be) in some way a unified philosophy rather than, in fact, simply a rejection of belief in god, There isn’t even any common position on the degree to which theistic philosophy should be rejected as a result, nor could one expect there to be.

        As a criticism of humanism which, unlike atheism, is a philosophy in and of itself, you might be on more solid ground. But the danger with humanism is that it simply becomes the atheist religion that theists accuse atheism of being.

        • Ian Glendinning

          Hi Guy, yes, a more subtle point, thanks. If an atheist simply wants to say “I don’t believe in god” (as the name implies) then fine – no philosophical basis of values need enter into it. But as soon as that atheist wants to express an opinion about some real world situation or other, their values, and those of the “culture” in which they are expressing that opinion, do matter. (Your second point – yes it is part of my agenda too that Humanism could too easily take on the form of a religion – another discussion. I’m not advocating a universally united set of values controlled by one “ism” – not even scientism – just an acknowledgement of the existence of such values and how they are arrived at maintained etc.)

          • Guy Swarbrick

            I’m not sure why you feel that no such acknowledgement exists. Many of those values are enshrined in secular law – which has many bases and which continues to evolve.

            Those bases include the religion prevalent in the country which drafted the laws but most – ‘thou shalt not kill (whith certain exceptions’ are common to most religions and there is evidence that they were societal taboos before religion – for startlingly obvious reasons.

            Some, as has been pointed out elsewhere, appear to exist in non-human primate societies.

          • Ian Glendinning

            Hi Guy, our comments are following each other around.

            I’m saying the acknowledgements don’t exist in the typical baying mob comments against Sacks – of course they (the good bits) are enshrined in much secular law.

            And, historically – I’m not making a distinction between people and religion – all institutions are made of people. Yes all mythical “lore” that became (repeatedly) codified as religious writ, and evolved into secular law ultimately came from individuals, but there were power structures of governance that moulded that evolution too – even amongst primate tribes.

            Not sure we can have the whole debate in this thread, but my point is that Sacks is right to say we need more subtle and informed debate (like yours, and mine, and …) about how we expect to nurture society’s values other than simply “religion bad” or “theism wrong”. We’ve had enough of that, already.

          • Guy Swarbrick

            We won’t have had enough of ‘religion bad’ and ‘theism wrong’ until there’s no more religion, because they are.

          • Ian Glendinning

            Now, now. I said “we need more than” simply that – I said we’d “had enough of” having nothing more than that 😉

          • Guy Swarbrick

            Fair enough. 🙂

          • TonyBuck2

            If law is simply (utilitarian) societal taboo, why should anyone obey it, except from fear ? If morality is simply “internalised fear of the herd”, surely we have a liberty-loving duty to be immoral !

            Now that Christianity has very largely been expelled from the UK and the West, the law still has power (i.e. brute force) but no authority; fewer and fewer people are obeying the law from principle (as in the past), but only from fear of the consequences.

            The result is a creeping anarchy – of which some of the symptoms are: widespread admiration for bold outlaws (e.g. “cop killers” like Cregan of Manchester), paedophile networks, growing domestic and non-domestic violence against women, growing cynicism among those who are law-abiding, the cancerous growth of swathes of the country where the law is hated by all and the police are the enemy.

            Atheism leads inevitably to a society held in being by fear alone; and doomed either to perish (or, in order to survive, become an iron tyranny).

          • Guy Swarbrick

            It’s a lovely Just So story, but that’s all it is. Crime in our secular society is falling – violent crime at a faster rate than general crime. Many highwaymen in God fearing 18th and 19th Century Britain were admired by swathes of the general public. Jack the Ripper operated at the height of the Victorian religious moral crusades.

            And the religious argument for moral authority is the ‘good, God-fearing man’. Why is obedience through fear of the law different to obedience through fear of the Lord? Apart from the fact that the former reflects 21st century realities, not 2-6000 year old ones.

          • TonyBuck2

            The highwaymen were most admired in the virulently pagan days of the first half of the 18th century. From 1750, there was a Christian revival, led by John Wesley – if there hadn’t been, Britain would have collapsed into anarchy or violent revolution.

            We’re now back in 1750, but minus a John Wesley; though admittedly a Moslem equivalent of John Wesley may soon arise; in Mecca, they believe that Britain is ripe for Moslem conversion and I think (with trepidation) that they may well be right.

            The Biblical word translated as fear, is best translated as respect – the fear we feel in the presence of a Himalayan peak or the Grand Canyon. No sane minister of religion wants to encourage a craven terror of God, who is in any case infinitely kind and forgiving; a true cleric wants to encourage a noble faith and the compassion that always springs from a sincere religious faith. But if a human being surrenders to his / her dark side, and doesn’t repent of doing so, they will remain trapped in evil forever – this is Hell.

          • Guy Swarbrick

            ‘no sane minister of religion’ = the subset of priests that share your interpretation

          • Tyler

            “Atheism leads inevitably to a society held in being by fear alone…”
            Which is different from religion how?!

          • TonyBuck2

            You mean religion is “fear alone” ? I think any religious believer will tell you that’s a very long way from the reality.

          • Tyler

            I concede that there is likely far more than fear at play when it comes to religion. This is also true when one looks more closely at the non-religious motivators of good behavior. The point is valid because religion does not really change much, or effect levels of crime or violence in any detectable way. Even a Christian is more likely to act respectfully when he finds himself in a clean orderly environment. For a thorough intelligent assessment of what influences people towards and away from violence I would recommend checking out ‘The Better Angels of our Nature’ by S. Pinker

          • bhudster10

            Are you serious? as the debate has gone on, your arguments have become weaker and more hysterical.

          • $46579571

            I am serious. And an unsentimental glance round modern Britain – with its cynical, unprincipled population, void of all beliefs, except in self – proves that I am also correct.

    • Edden

      “It’s provably false.” Boring terminology. And you have not proved it.

    • Gail Finke

      Guess Russia and China don’t count? Millions upon millions of dead, displaced, incarcerated and missing people…

    • Athena

      That is not the point of his essay. As Chesterton said ” A society that believes in nothing will believe anything”. THAT is where the problem lies.

    • gkchesterton

      It is true that the enlightenment, secularization and development go hand in hand. But that´s somewhat besides the point.

      Sweden is still firmly founded on christian morality, but secularized christian morality (I.e. “Ideology”) mixed with modern liberal thinking (which itself is an outgrowth of christian society).

      The main problem is that this foundation is now philosophically undefensible should it come under any kind of serious sustained attack.

      This has (as pointed out in the article above) already happened several times in recent times (In Sweden fascism never took off, but communism was a huge hit with the intelligentia), and merely pointing out that we have now had 20 years of calm following the fall of the last bastion of communism is a rather weak riposte to that point.

      Fascism, after all, was not defeated in the realm of ideas, but on the battlefield. Communism collapsed chiefly because its moral system was tied to unworkable ideas regarding the organization of the economy.

      The spiritual void that drives radical (as opposed to status-quo liberalism) ideology still remains, and we should not be surprised to see new strains emerging in the future if society is again put under significant stress.

      As for the more subtle issue of how secularism impacts the day-to-day function of society, it is probably a better idea to compare “social capital” across time in a given society rather than comparing societies across the world.

      The reason is selection: Secularization is not random – it is an outgrowth of the spread of enlightenment ideals, meaning more developed countries will ceteris paribus be more secular.

      In the case of Sweden, the question then becomes: Did Sweden have more or less social capital (interpersonal trust, lack of social dysfunction, etc.) in the less secular 1950:ies compared to the present day? Despite present-day Sweden being vastly more wealthy, there is a good case to be made for “less” in a number of areas.

      • Tyler

        “Sweden is still firmly founded on christian morality, but secularized christian morality (I.e. “Ideology”) mixed with modern liberal thinking (which itself is an outgrowth of christian society).”

        Yeah everywhere started out religious, now some people are progressing beyond that and it’s working pretty well so far. No one rocks a proto-type forever, you figure out how you could improve and you move forward.

        “It is true that the enlightenment, secularization and development go hand in hand. But that´s somewhat besides the point.”

        No, it is the point. You are just too busy trying to work your way AROUND the point to see it.
        “The reason is selection: Secularization is not random – it is an outgrowth of the spread of enlightenment ideals, meaning more developed countries will ceteris paribus be more secular.”

        So you agree that the loss of of religion ‘en masse’ generally coincides with a society becoming ‘more enlightened’ (and simultaneously more developed = more educated, less violent, with higher quality of living and less prone to criminality). Yet you still seem to be on the ‘everything is going to fall apart without religion’ side of this whole debate. And why? Based on some brilliant ability to foresee how the masses will deal with a situation which has never really existed until recently?…

        “The spiritual void that drives radical (as opposed to status-quo liberalism) ideology still remains, and we should not be surprised to see new strains emerging in the future if society is again put under significant stress.”

        Im not buying it. Religiosity is not the same thing as spirituality. Most people grow out of religiosity but retain a sense of wonder and awe at the amazing world, and the mind blowing universe we find ourselves in, sometimes more so. We still feel like our life is a precious gift, at least I do. I think any perceived void is probably just a result of shock at not having dealt with issues from a religion-less perspective before. My personal journey out of faith was slow and meandering so it wasn’t really an issue. It’s not so scary and empty out here as you think buddy 🙂

        • gkchesterton

          “Yeah everywhere started out religious, now some people are progressing beyond that and it’s working pretty well so far.”

          Well, if we discount all the various attempts at post-enlightenment that ended in utter disaster for most involved, certainly.

          I should point out that my position is not that “everything is going to fall apart”. Rather, a more likely scenario is the foundation of ersatz-religion based on new falsehoods (I.e. axioms) that replace the old ones (scripture).

          But these axioms are, by their nature, even more flexible than the religions of old, and so the outcome space is very wide. Hence my statement regarding the volatile nature of secular morality.

          Now, you write: “Religiosity is not the same thing as spirituality. Most people grow out of religiosity but retain a sense of wonder and awe at the amazing world, and the mind blowing universe we find ourselves in, sometimes more so.”

          I think that you are correct to note that a vague mysticism is a likely religion replacement for the broad masses in post-enlightenment society, but vague mysticism isn´t really more “rational” than non-vague mysticism, just more… vague. And hence also less useful for actually propping up a useful system of morality.

          “My personal journey out of faith was slow and meandering so it wasn’t really an issue. It’s not so scary and empty out here as you think buddy :-)”

          Glad to hear it. I was practically born atheist, so I´ve ventured further than you on the path of faithlessness. I find my current environs not merely “scary”, but positively terrifying. And it is myself that I am terrified of. Atheism is Nihilism, and Nihilism is never going to be a particularly pretty place.

          • Tyler

            “vague mysticism isn´t really more “rational” than non-vague mysticism,
            just more… vague. And hence also less useful for actually propping up a
            useful system of morality.”

            I recently had a discussion with a friends mother whom I thought was religious, but was actually one of these vague mystical types in the guise of a typical mindless sheep. When you talk to most of these people, they just consider God as a connectedness between everybody and everything, God is positive energy and goodness. Words in the bible do not have fundamental importance or meaning and no one is going to be convinced that there will be a heavenly reward for murder, or feel justified treating women or homosexuals as second class just because they like to think there is a god of some sort. You need a bible to justify that kind of crap. Vague mysticism can actually be pretty rational people just dress it up to seem less logical than it is. If you rationalize or think too hard you might have to accept that your beloved uncle Jerry is probably not in heaven or hell but merely gone except for his memories and influence.

            “less useful for actually propping up a useful system of morality”

            I was a believer but my morality never came from religion. I just can’t fathom where this idea comes from. This man explains very well my thoughts on this matter, and what I think is an innate part of human nature, our natural morality. This can be made more effective with practice and by defining it clearly. Religion is clearly not necessary.

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWNW-NXEudk

            As for atheism and nihilism, why are they inextricably combined? Atheism is indeed a rejection of traditional belief systems but beyond that I fail to see how it is inherently related to nihilism. The war that lead to the freeing of slaves was a rejection of traditional belief as well, and the women’s rights movement. I am not sure why you find the world terrifying, or how you relate this to your atheism. The world is an increasingly wonderful place where many societies are breaking free of the ignorance that has plagued mankind (sexism, violence, bigotry, etc.) throughout history. This is all happening at the same time as we are becoming consistently less religious, and there is in fact a direct correlation between the two happening together in the same places. Yes history is full of some crazy people with crazy ideas. We are finally emerging from a time when widespread death and destruction are the norm, many places are still behind and the path to get here has been a bumpy one indeed, but there has been a clear progression in one direction. You’re going to have to give me some clarification here buddy because I’m just not seeing it. I think you simply need to revise your worldview. What may I ask is so terrible? I honestly feel like you might be some deluded but well intentioned priest/believer making up stories to save me from my own dis-belief. The world is a crazy place…

          • gkchesterton

            “Vague mysticism can actually be pretty rational”.

            Heh. I don´t really know what to say to this statement. I think it´s hard to come up with a *less* rational mode of thinking than “vague mysticism”.

            “Words in the bible do not have fundamental importance or meaning and no one is going to be convinced that there will be a heavenly reward for murder, or feel justified treating women or homosexuals as second class just because they like to think there is a god of some sort. You need a bible to justify that kind of crap.”

            You just restated currently popular moral precepts (both of which are incidentally short-lived anomalies from an historical perspective). And this is supposed to… disprove my thesis? You take your morality as given, which though typical human behavior is no defense against determined intellectual assault.

            “The war that lead to the freeing of slaves was a rejection of traditional belief as well.”

            First off, the abolishonist movement in the US was heavily christian in nature. Second, I have a hard time to come up with an “atheist” rationale for freeing the slaves. ‘The rights of man’ were made to make sense in the US context by attributing them to the “Creator”. There is a reason for the authors took that course. By comparison, more modern statements of rights really don´t even try to justify themselves in a rational manner. They just rely on momentum and irrationalism to carry the day for them. Which works as long as the waters remain calm.

          • Tyler

            “Heh. I don´t really know what to say to this statement. I think it´s hard to come up with a *less* rational mode of thinking than “vague mysticism”.”

            Really? So fundamentalism is more rational than personal spirituality? On the one hand we have people who are logical enough to not fall prey to organized religions which generally claim to be privy to information which is beyond any man to really know, they are simply not quite ready to accept the logical conclusion that there is probably no God, especially not a personal one. They are one step away from the end of the scale which is farthest from religious extremism;young earth theories, anti-evolution, anti-gay rights, anti-science, all the things which are certainly not rational.

            If I understand you believe there is no God and no rational morality, so how do you explain the innate sense of right and wrong that all humans possess? Can you not tell the difference between right and wrong? I bet you can.

            “First off, the abolishonist movement in the US was heavily christian in nature.”

            Did I say anything to indicate that this wasn’t the case? Christians have done lots of good things. The point was that the only way I can see atheism being inherently related to nihilism is that it is an abandonment of traditional systems, to which I replied that this was obviously not always a bad thing (hence my example- thank you Christians). So I will ask again in what other way atheism is inextricably linked to nihilism and also how this leads to a perspective of “not merely “scary”, but positively terrifying.” reality. I was specifically looking for you to clarify your point about how atheism is nihilism. I am constantly told that because I am atheist I ‘must be this’ ,Bolshevik, nihilist or some ridiculousness. There are as many religious belief systems as there are religious people, most of them are inevitably wrong. Atheism is simply the rejection of these forms of belief, brains that reject God don’t suddenly all consolidate into one type of thinking! Just like the religious there are as many different perspectives and belief systems among atheists as there are atheist individuals. Please explain your logic.

            “‘The rights of man’ were made to make sense in the US context by attributing them to the “Creator”, an elegant fusion of enlightenment thought with traditonal morality perhaps only possible in the unique context of the American Revolution.”

            I am not American but it is my understanding their forefathers although religious went through great pains to keep religion(s) as separate from the political system they created. I am sure they would be quite dismayed to see the way their efforts have been distorted and religion has pervaded their politics.

            “I have a hard time to come up with an “atheist” rationale for freeing the slaves.”

            That might be because atheism is simply the rejection of a belief in that which is unknowable, it says nothing about morality. Morality is something else, morality comes naturally to a healthy mind that grew up in a loving environment and was shown the value of compassion, free from negative (or preferably any) dogma or just from irrational ideas if you prefer. That’s all it takes. I can tell you from experience there are very immoral people who are both religious and not, same with strong morality. Religion or lack there-of can be equally destructive, belief is irrelevant to morality. Add to that the tendency to lead people to extreme acts and it’s just not a worthwhile gamble.

            “By comparison, more modern statements of rights really don´t even try to justify themselves in a rational manner”

            Here is one fair attempt by my standards, more about morality but to extrapolate basic rights from his proposed system of morality seems pretty basic from my perspective. Do you really have no faith in your own ability to tell right from wrong?

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWNW-NXEudk

            I think the modern world has a pretty fair idea of what a persons rights should be. Why do we need to discuss and justify into eternity? It’s a waste of time, unnecessary except in the face of religious bigotry. We are obviously going in the right direction some places more slowly than others, unless you are of the ‘sky is falling, regressing into immorality’ variety of nonsense peddlers. I think and hope not. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and move on.

            “They just rely on momentum and irrationalism”

            Hard to respond when I don’t know who you are referring to or what rights they may be defending. As I said a platform for basic rights would be pretty easily inferred from the treatise on morality. If you want to attack irrational thinking you are going to have to be a little more specific about it. I look forward to the answer to my original question about nihilism and how this inevitable result of atheism will lead me and everyone else eventually to your dejected world view. This is really the fascinating stuff I want to talk about.

          • gkchesterton

            “Really? So fundamentalism is more rational than personal spirituality?”

            Yes, because it (as a general phenomenon) at least attempts to present a somewhat consistent case for whatever moral system it is pushing. “Vague mysticism” doesn´t even try. I can justify virtually any morality using “vague mysticism”.

            “They are one step away from the end of the scale which is farthest from religious extremism;young earth theories, anti-evolution, anti-gay rights, anti-science, all the things which are certainly not rational.”

            Here you successfully put your finger on what is perhaps the major fount of Liberal morality: “Rational basis”. “Rational basis”-based arguments attempt to create a source of morality by disqualifying all possible arguments except the liberal one as “irrational”, I.e. false consciousness. The pioneer in the field was Marx, who declared Marxism to be “Science”, and all other modes of thinking or theories of the world to be superstition or “Ideology” (I.e. lies).

            What the doctrine of “rational basis” means in practice is generally that liberals first make rational discussion impossible in polite society on some topic using the highly effective combination of ostracism and megaphone control.

            After they have successfully undermined discourse on a topic sufficiently (I.e. noone with elite aspirations will dare to raise objections for fear of loss of social standing), they declare any opposite view “irrational” or “discredited”, and as noone will speak up against them, they carry the day. It is (not coincidentally) the most sofisticated approach to secular morality.

            While this approach might not be able to solve the problem of explaining why agent in particular should care about liberal morality (I.e, if I can safely become God-Emperor of the World on “irrational” grounds, it´s still a bit unclear why I should not move ahead under a liberal system of morality), but under stable social conditions it seems to work well enough.

            As for actual rationality, I´d say it is far less irrational to believe in, say, young-earth creationism or intelligent design, than to believe in current liberal dogma on, say, biological gender differences (or rather, the lack thereof*).

            Not believing in rather recent findings in geology or biology requires rather little violence on logic and honesty, and nor the finer points of geology or biology impact our daily lives in any significant way.

            Believing in the identikit psychology of males and females, on the other hand, requires inflicting near-constant self-harm on one’s mind on a daily basis.

            ——

            *There is of course *some* research and discussion of biological gender differences in western society, much as there was *some* discussion and research regarding the problems of the planned economy in the Soviet Union. However, such knowledge is not allowed to have significant impact on actual moral or social discussion, and always has to be framed as not to threaten the overall liberal moral narrative.

          • gkchesterton

            I will try to break up my reply into parts, as the discussion length is becoming overwhelming (but that is the price of interesting exchanges in comments sections…):

            “If I understand you believe there is no God and no rational
            morality, so how do you explain the innate sense of right and wrong that all humans possess? Can you not tell the difference between right and wrong? I bet you can.”

            I have elsewhere in the thread explained my view of innate morality; that humans (well, most humans) certainly have a built in framework for morality (I think I termed it “an organ for group living”), and that humans are inherently social creatures.

            However, the actual contents of that framework are hugely variable (take a quick glance at virtually any anthropological or historical text), and from empirical observation, it appears that having a framework of myths (I.e. “lies”) is a necessary condition for creating internally coherent morality (external coherence is another matter).

            Now, as for my personal experience, I certainly still have moral instincts. I feel moral outrage, or compassion. But my overall view of the world in moral terms has gone gray – I really can´t work myself up over moral matters in the way that I could before I thought these things through (I used to obsess over moral behaviour, that is what led me to give these things a large amount of thought).

            As an aside, I also tend to see the cracks in our contemporary “rational” system of morality far more clearly, simply as an empirical matter.

            Pointing out that current myths are indeed… myths is always something of an unrewarding enterprise, as the strongest moral instinct by far is tribalistic conformism.

          • gkchesterton

            “Hard to respond when I don’t know who you are referring to or what rights they may be defending. As I said a platform for basic rights would be pretty easily inferred from the treatise on morality.”

            I am running short of time, but I will try to give the treatise a listen in the morning and resume the discussion. As you correctly point out, this is indeed fascinating stuff.

          • Tyler

            “Yes, because it (as a general phenomenon) at least attempts to present a
            somewhat consistent case for whatever moral system it is pushing.
            “Vague mysticism” doesn´t even try. I can justify virtually any morality
            using “vague mysticism”.

            Consistency in no way implies rationality. You are right spirituality doesn’t even try to define what as I said previously is not tangible (a pointless endeavor). That’s the point, it leaves people to use their own ability to rationalize how their actions effect the world around them and act accordingly. Better than blindly following some corrupt organization that obviously does not act according to the values Jesus displayed, at least according to the account of his life we have. They are hypocrites and I would die on the cross myself before I put my faith in them to tell me what to believe.

            “Believing in the identikit psychology of males and females, on the other hand, requires inflicting near-constant self-harm on one’s mind on a daily basis.”

            What are you talking about? I have no idea. Who said men and women are identikit/identical? Neither makes any sense.

            I will ask again:

            how do you explain the innate sense of right and wrong that all humans possess? Can you not tell the difference between right and wrong? I bet you can.

            AND

            So I will ask again (again) in what other way atheism is inextricably linked to nihilism and also how this leads to a perspective of “not merely “scary”, but positively terrifying.” reality. I was specifically looking for you to clarify your point about how atheism is nihilism.

          • gkchesterton

            “Consistency in no way implies rationality.”

            Being consistent inherently requires some measure of rational thought.

            “You are right spirituality doesn’t even try to define what as I said previously is not tangible (a pointless endeavor). That’s the point, it leaves people to use their own ability to rationalize how their actions effect the world around them and act accordingly.”

            What if I find that, say, becoming the Ruler of Europe would be a pretty sweet deal, even though the price might be a few million dead. This is not exactly some wild hypothetical. And it´s not hard to justify that kind of thing with “vague mysticism”.

            “What are you talking about? I have no idea. Who said men and women are identikit/identical? Neither makes any sense.”

            Under current liberal morality (in which feminism is a pillar), it is not acceptable to imply that differences between men and women have any implications that conflict significantly with current liberal morality (I.e. feminism).

            This is “rational” – once you acknowledge that men and women are indeed different both fundamentally and statistically, it becomes much harder for a liberal to argue for why, say, it is an outrage when men and women are not always treated equally under the law. Which is why liberals work hard to uphold the myth of empirical gender equality. (There are layers of retreat positions, of course, that throw smoke into the air in order to muddle things. “Even if there are some differences, they don´t really matter”, etc. But as we move further and further away from the absolute “rational basis” grounding of feminism (I.e. zero gender difference), the defenses gradually entail more and more personal valuation. Which equals weakness, for obvious reasons.

            —-

            Now, for your questions, I tried answering them in two additional replies to myself (breaking up my post for length reasons), but now I find it is not visible? I will try to repost them if they remain lost.

          • Tyler

            Busy right now but I probably know how to find them. Don’t waste your time yet I will let you know. Cheers

          • Tyler

            “Here you successfully put your finger on what is perhaps the major fount of Liberal morality: “Rational basis”. “Rational basis”-based arguments attempt to create a source of morality by disqualifying all possible arguments except the liberal one as “irrational”, I.e. false
            consciousness. The pioneer in the field was Marx, who declared Marxism to be “Science”, and all other modes of thinking or theories of the world to be superstition or “Ideology” (I.e. lies).
            What the doctrine of “rational basis” means in practice is generally that liberals first make rational discussion impossible in polite society on some topic using the highly effective combination of ostracism and megaphone control.”

            “By comparison, more modern statements of rights really don´t even try to justify themselves in a rational manner. They just rely on momentum and irrationalism to carry the day for them. Which works as long as the waters remain calm.”

            Seems to me I linked a video in response to this, if you continue to dismiss it you leave yourself open to accusations of hypocrisy. Just thought I would point that out. You seem to be deliberately avoiding the questions I am asking you, almost typical of someone who would prefer to be, oh I don’t know, speaking uninterrupted from a megaphone? lol. Let’s try making this a two way conversation. Answer my questions please or I am just talking to myself and I will likely not bother again.

          • gkchesterton

            I thought that I said I´d watch the video in the morning – I think it´s a reasonable request to defer watching a 30 minute video somewhat, no? I don´t dismiss it – I just haven´t watched it yet.

            I remain a bit sceptical of course, as I haven´t seen any strong defense of secular morality by any great post-enlightenment figure, but hey, sometimes greatness hides in unlikely places…

          • gkchesterton

            So I am giving Mr. Clifton´s definition of morality a look.

            Some reflections:

            1.) He defines a moral wrong as something that unnecessarily diminishes happiness, wellbeing or health (with a moral right being the inverse).

            Which just leads me to ask:

            – Who decides which suffering is “necessary” and “unnecessary”? (My answer: Noone can in any non-subjective sense)

            – Why should I care about the happiness and wellbeing of people I don´t like or groups of people I don´t like (or am merely indifferent to for whatever reason)? (My answer: Very unclear)

            – If I can improve my “happiness, wellbeing and health” through harming the “happiness, wellbeing and health” of others, why should I abstain from doing so? (My answer: Very unclear).

            After this section he seems to move into arguing against Christian morality, He also unwittingly provides a fantastic example of how the “rational basis” test of liberal morality operates, I.e. it usually leverages socially enforced ignorance into morality. Which, come to think about it, is how most religions operate.

            That side note aside, later on in the video, it appears that his answer to my questions as stated above is primarily “self interest”, I.e. it´s good for you to act in a “moral” (I.e. in what he defines as essentially a kind and empathetic) way.

            But in instances where self-interest and morality coincide, what use is really morality?

            What if I through rational deliberation (or just by seeking pleasure) determine that it is not in my self-interest to act kindly? For instance, what if I really don´t like the people that I have an opportunity to harm? What if I actually derive joy from harming those that I dislike, or utility of other kinds? This also has significant bearing on the issue of “liking yourself” – people who harm those that they dislike (or who merely profit greatly from harming others) often have no problem not disliking themselves afterwards.

            His answer here is essentially that those that agree with him (he defines this group in a fairly self-serving way by merely refusing to grapple with the who-whom-problems that I lay out above, but that´s an aside) will overpower me if I disagree. So, morality appears to be ultimately a matter of power in his view. Which perhaps illustrates why transcendent justifications for morality have dominated so wildly throughout history.

            He also skirts the collective action problem inherent in his argument regarding that we should act in a fashion that creates the kind of society we would like to live in – I.e: Why should I care? My marginal impact on aggregate social behavior approximates zero. (Now, the question does have some relevance, as the morality of those who actually can move the social needle has outsized importance, but that scenario merely leads to the question below)

            And finally, what if, say, creating the kind of society that I would like to live in (needless to say, a “Healthy, flourishing society”) requires me to inflict lots of harm on the health and happiness of some segment of the population? And I deem said harm “necessary” for the achievement of his goals?

          • Tyler

            Please answer me this one question if nothing else. You said before that vague mysticism can be used to justify any version of morality. I would like to know how you figure this. Specifically how vague mysticism (simply the idea that there is a God of some sort) can rationally be used to support any moral reasoning whatsoever, it seems to me irrelevant and unrelated. On the other hand dogma is used for such things quite often, although I would argue its use is equally irrational. From my perspective any morality based on an intangible idea, whether it be vague mysticism or religious Dogma is equally unreliable. The majority of religious destruction and hindrance of progression through history has been justified by the latter though. What makes you think religious people are more consistent than non-religious? I stated that there are as many atheist perspectives as there are atheists but what you failed to acknowledge in your response was that there is just as much variation among religious people. I see no reason to believe that individual atheists are any less consistent than individual theists. It seems to me that there are thousands of religions, all of which evolve based on the times and the individuals teaching and practicing them. There is a massive amount of variability going on and it is really generally outside any one persons control which direction any faith system might evolve in. Couple this with an inherent value for blind faith built into many of these belief systems and you have what sounds to me like far more of a recipe for disaster than consistent, dependable morality.

            ” Who decides which suffering is “necessary” and “unnecessary”? ”

            Who decides for a religious person? Unless you can explain how a Christian is better equipped to make these decisions I don’t see that you have a point, for Christians surely do make these decisions (based on what?) as I will now attempt to illustrate. There are a million complicated situations in which it might be completely logical to not pay heed to rules such as the ten commandments. Imagine you are in a foreign land, in the middle of nowhere. You lay dying while evil men prepare to do vile unspeakable things to your wife and daughter. But wait, there is a gun in the brush just by you, you can save your family. But maybe they would live anyways, what right have you to disobey the ten commandments and take a life? I imagine many Christians would feel clear of conscience deciding that this is an acceptable moment to inflict necessary suffering. I base this assumption on the fact that many Christians go to war for America, and kill people (with much less justification), and yet I have not heard of any priests decrying that these men have turned from God. I guarantee many are still firm believers who would not question that they will enter into God’s kingdom when they die. Seems very curious to me. Do you know of a justification in the bible for making this or any other of the many difficult decisions which could involve going against what is clearly stated, but obviously not always in our best interest? We all make these decisions and so we need to develop a culture of intelligent, creative, critical thinkers who can actually do this effectively in our complicated society, you could not drag my ass to war without an incredibly and unquestionably good reason (WW2, an unstoppable madman trying to take over the world and create a ‘superior’ Arian race seems like a good example).

            “But in instances where self-interest and morality coincide, what use is really morality?”

            I don’t know. For me personally it is a matter of pride in myself, dignity. I will and do sacrifice what is in my own self interest in the name of upholding this pride in myself and my values. I think there is a serious lack of character in mine and even more in the younger generations. I think this is a problem that plagues the religious and nonreligious alike. Boys don’t have a solid understanding of what it means to be a man. You can see plain evidence of this in the serious decline of work ethic in these generations, at least this is the case where I live. In my experience at least there is little difference among those of faith. People who are intelligent, critical thinkers acknowledge and try to alleviate the negative impact their actions may have on others. Simple minded people exist on both sides of this debate, they are generally resistant or dismissive of evidence that their actions or opinions are destructive. I think the answer here is plainly education, and improvement of educational systems, not religion. I think school children should be exposed to basic philosophy, encouraged to analyze themselves and the types of people they want to be, not just fed ritalin and churned out as good little worker drones that think learning is a shitty thing you have to do sometimes.

            “And finally, what if, say, creating the kind of society that I would like to live in (needless to say, a “Healthy, flourishing society”) requires me to inflict lots of harm on the health and happiness of some segment of the population? And I deem said harm “necessary” for the achievement of my goals?”

            Yes that is a frightful scenario, one which an intelligent progressive society might seek to build fail-safes to protect against. Sort of like the supposed/intended separation of Church and state inmost of North America. Nazi Germany is one example of what you have described, a country which was predominantly Christian, this is very apparent in a few of Hitlers’ speeches. Thus I am once again going to fall back on the argument that religion does not change anything, it does not serve to protect us from or help us deal with these difficult questions any more effectively, and if you truly think they do I would challenge you to clearly explain how they do so.

            “- Why should I care about the happiness and wellbeing of people I don´t like or groups of people I don´t like (or am merely indifferent to for whatever reason)? (My answer: Very unclear)”

            I think in acknowledging the incredible diversity of people in every society we can see that it is in our interest to organize a system that (at least strives to) protects everyone equally. Given as I have already stated the incredibly varied and changing face of many different people’s religions, this is really necessary regardless but even more so in the presence of religious belief.

          • Tyler

            “But in instances where self-interest and morality coincide, what use is really morality?”

            I already responded to this but I want to do so again but in a different sort of way. It’s an interesting question which I have only begun to consider. I think you will find that most people would agree that a moral society is in our best interest, perhaps though someone like Kim Jong Il legitimately would not have use of or benefit from the same morality as everyone else. There are invariably going to be individuals who through unusual circumstances or anomalous personalities would not have the typical motivation for acting in coalescence with the interests of society as a whole. So my question/response to you is: How do you determine that morality must without question exist in an absolute universal form? Why must it have a use for everyone at all times? I think it is in our interest to create a society where it is indeed relevant to every individual, but to assume that it must be inherent seems like mere wishful thinking. I think morality has developed and progressed because people (our human-like predecessors to be exact) saw the value in it and began to develop culture around it, as can be seen in the beginnings of moral development in other primates. This became more complicated as we did until we reached the point we have today, where the Leviathon of government ensures a general conformance to the status-quo. Because of this we live in greater safety and comfort than the vast majority of people to ever have lived. It is the result of the shared values and motivations of many people through history, morality is something we created which has helped us to prosper. Whether it is derived from objective observation or religious dogma, morality is clearly something that has changed greatly with time and continues to do so. It is a valuable tool for humanity and one we can certainly try to develop to near perfection but to think that it always had to be useful for everyone or that there is an absolute perfect morality which could be discovered or known seems kind of naive.

      • Burt Flannery

        Morality doesn’t disappear just because people no longer believe in a judgemental sky god. The following link might be of interest:

        http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_13?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=burt+flannery&sprefix=burt+flannery%2Cstripbooks%2C259

        • gkchesterton

          Thank you for the link, and if I have time to spare I might give your book a read.

          From the blurb it does seem as if you fall into the trap of simply taking “the good” as given, thereby simply bypassing the main problem of “moralistic atheism”.

          In practical terms, why should I consider “peaceful coexistence” an axiomatic good rather than, say, an ocationally necessary compromise?

          (Take the comment above with the appropriate amount of salt – like I said, it´s based on a blurb)

          • Burt Flannery

            Surely “the good” must be a given when one considers the benevolent messages underlying all religions. One could hardly expect anything less. I suspect that rather like the great Benjamin Franklin you feel that organised religion is necessary to keep men good, that we’d be worse off without it. That may be – but does the truth count for nothing? The book recalls the words of some of history’s greatest minds in a quest to
            establish the truth and I’m left wondering why you call moralistic atheism “the main problem”.

    • Burt Flannery

      Couldn’t agree more with the points you make. Have a look at the following:

      http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_6?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=burt+flannery&sprefix=burt+f%2Cstripbooks%2C240
      It might be of interest.

    • Simon Morgan

      “I have no desire to convert others to my religious beliefs. Jews don’t do that sort of thing.”

      -Where did his kids go to school? My guess is they had plenty of converting done to them. In my ‘book’ that’s child abuse.

    • Junis

      The war against Iraq and Afghanistan was called for by atheistic Zionist Jews. Western secularism is only a few decades old and we have already seen how atheist countries such as England and Denmark are happy to join America in her criminal attack on Iraq. Most western atheists also have a hard time in admitting that 9/11 is an inside job despite supporting evidence.

  • Jonathan Sidaway

    I don’t much like sex ‘n’ shopping myself, but how appallingly boring and oppressive that ‘old mild Christian Britain’ was – and I speak as a churchgoing agnostic. The rhetoric of ‘family’ and ‘strong community’ is one used by all sorts of extremists. Friendship is best left to choice and individual effort. Morality is funny stuff: someone once said something along the lines of genuine moral dilemmas being as rare as hen’s teeth. There seems considerable moral consensus in a society largely devoid of formal religious observance.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003749214102 David Thompson

    Rabbi, I don’t think atheism has problems with sophisticated theologians and their bible take, especially when it doesn’t conflict with reality as we know it to be. But sophisticated theology is not where we are at the majority of the time. We are combating the extreme ignorance of evangelical/fundamentalism. Now if sophisticated theologians wanted to do everyone a favor, they would start working with young earth, evolution denying theologians and get a handle on the ignorance with in their own sphere., That would bring the ire down from the atheists, which are upset with those that are making a mockery out of life and science education.

    • Jonathan Sidaway

      Exactly. Thank you.

  • Talis Mancer

    The basis of western civilisation is Humanism & the Enlightenment. Religious has has only one role…as a handbrake on progressive liberal society.

    • Peter Sorensen

      I concur. Religion claims to add one thing, and then takes two things away.

    • TonyBuck2

      Western Civilisation came into being about 315 CE as a result of a political deal between the Emperor Constantine and Pope Sylvester I. Christianity is the West’s basis.

      Humanism and the Enlightenment started about 1680 CE.

      In between, Christianity held the fort for the West; otherwise Europe would simply have become part of the Moslem world (have you heard of Charles Martel’s defence of France against Moslem invaders who had reached the Loire valley, for example ?)

      Don’t imagine that you can (as most atheists try to do) write off the Christian people of the 13 centuries of European history that elapsed between the two dates above; the progressive liberal society you admire is built on the sufferings and achievements of the Christians of those centuries – if you doubt this, may I mention: Alfred the Great, Parliament, Magna Carta – other examples abound.

      Humanism and the Enlightenment are simply by-products of Christianity and thus are unknown outside the West. Those who started them were brought up as Christians; if Voltaire, for example, hadn’t been educated by the Jesuits, would we ever have heard of him ?

      • Eamonn Riley

        Humanism and the Enlightenment started about 1680 CE.
        Rubbish try wikipedia. Humanism can be traced back to Zararathrustra.

        • TonyBuck2

          Zarathustra believed in two Gods, Ahura-Mazda (good) and Ahrimaqn (bad). He also believed in Heaven and Hell. Doesn’t sound like Humanism to me.

    • Burt Flannery

      It was always so with an obscurantist ecclesiastical clerisy. Check the following link as it might be of interest.

      http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_13?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=burt+flannery&sprefix=burt+flannery%2Cstripbooks%2C244

  • eeenok

    how amusing to hear someone talk about intellectual depth, right next to a picture of men wearing magic dresses, hats and ribbons. i think after the barbaric experience of the last few thousand years where every aspect of government and public morality was unfairly commandeered by the irrationality of religion [a good indication of how much unfair power is being wielded is the quality of argument that is considered sufficient to answer complainers. religious institutions have been working at the level of “SO, how do you know so much about carrots then” with most of their captive audience for most of their existence] we are more than ready to try the consequences of a slide away from blind obedience to the principles that appeal so strongly to children; and the suggestion that atheism is best represented by the handful of flabby-thinking famous new atheists is an insult to the thousands of excellent thinkers who have no use for magic at the core of their philosophy

    • Arden Forester

      I don’t understand why those who dislike or disagree or even find religion pointless, have to say so with childish insults. It’s perfectly OK just to say it’s not for you.

      • Shazza

        The problem with this is that it is forced down our throats; we have men in skirts in the House of Lords dictating to us and making laws about how we live our lives according to the dogma of their respective religious beliefs – example assisted dying. This should be an individual choice not decided by some petty, overbearing self-righteous, unelected appointee. We have halal food, etc. forced on us and not allowed to object to this being foisted on us all under the all-embracing umbrella of ‘hate speech’. If we are not careful and do not nip this budding new ‘tolerance’ of islamofascism in our midst, we will enter a new Dark Ages, from whence this sprang. But this time, there will be no emergence from dark into light. Never.

      • Fred Scuttle

        Religion is childish nonsense. Primitive mind control for the simple primitive peasants.

    • Jake Stratton-Kent

      A grasp of semantics – or even history – helps in an argument not based on empty rhetoric and ideological stereotyping. Magic was at the core of Newton’s philosophy for one; a basic fact of the Philosophy of Science, a theory doesn’t have to be true, it has to be useful.

      Hard as good academic historians find the dividing line to draw, religion nevertheless is not magic. Culturally, historically and ideologically magic is much closer to science; it doesn’t dismiss a problem as God’s will, it seeks a solution. Magicians didn’t burn folks for pronouncing that blood circulates round the body, or gag them for heliocentric cosmology. Whether we understand them or approve of them or otherwise, modern occultists are pro-Darwin and resistant to dogma. Draw the ideological battle lines somewhere else, like between opposing sides for instance.

  • Benedict Walshe

    I don’t want to sound condescending, but I really think you exhibit a profound misunderstanding of aethiesm.

    Firstly, you conflate it with secularism. This is patently false, as secularism is about separating church and state- many religious people are secularists, and if you are not then I can only conclude that you either champion the Church of England or you wish to replace it with a Jewish equivalent?

    Secondly, you characterise new aethiesm as superficial, but they do ask all of the questions you accuse them of skipping over. Daniel Dennette, for example, has written a whole book about ‘the truth or falsity of the idea of human freedom’ called ‘Elbow Room’.

    I don’t agree with your argument, but if you’re going to make it all, at least do your homework.

    • Icebow

      You might at least spell atheism correctly! Since your misspelling occurs twice in the same way, I don’t suppose it’s a typo. Moreover, Daniel Dennett has no terminal e.

      • Benedict Walshe

        Thank you for highlighting my poor spelling Icebow, I have since corrected these words. I would like to point out that I managed to spell a lot of the other words correctly though; words like ‘secularism’, ‘conflate’, and ‘it’.

        Please let me know if you have any thoughts on what I said, rather than how I said it.

        All the best,
        Ben.

        • Icebow

          Thanks, Ben. I had half-meant to mention the generally high standard of your spelling, which made the ones in question so surprising, so perhaps that impulse should have been more than a velleity (I may have been distracted by Daniel Dennett!).

          Since you ask, I agree with you as to atheism v. (political)secularism. Atheism is a sort of quasi-faith, or para-faith, based on ‘scientific materialism’, which as a scientist I find intolerable.
          Atheists, like cultural Marxists, do of course go deeply into all sorts of complexity, but I tend to think that this will largely be in pursuit of justification of a pre-existing position; and the same may be true of those of spiritual persuasions. Perhaps we have an innateness, then, like that suggested in the case of the political right and left.

          • Benedict Walshe

            Thanks Icebow, very interesting.

            I think atheism can be a a ‘quasi’ or ‘para’ faith, but I’d disagree that this is necessarily the case. I think for a very large part, most atheists would define their belief system as one that celebrates the revision of beliefs based on sufficient evidence, which is completely contrary to the concept of ‘faith’. ‘Atheism’ covers all manner of positions (as you point out, although I’m a bit uneasy about your analogy to cultural marxism), but at its core it’s just a denial of any form of any kind of supernatural entity- and most often people have a well thought out reason for believing this, and furthermore, it is a belief which coheres with the rest of their belief set more than a belief in a deity does.

            Perhaps I have misunderstood though, and you make your point with recourse to an unquestioned and assumed realism with regards to scientific materialism?I think I’d be more inclined to agree if this is what you mean, but I’d describe that as being philosophically ill informed or brash, rather than a position of ‘faith’ (in the relevant sense).

            The criticism you raise might be better leveled at new atheism or atheism+ (but even then I don’t think I’d agree completely; I think the criticisms would be better made against them as political positions, rather then ‘faiths’)?

            If you don’t mind me asking, what kind of scientist are you?

          • Icebow

            Thanks Ben.

            An atheist qua ‘scientific materialist’ who found evidence for a ‘supernatural entity’ through use of scientific method would merely say that it was natural on account of its discovery through that method, and might well add that this further vindicated his faith in that method.

            In scientific establishments, faith and evidence can become intertwined in ways otherwise unrelated to religion and spirituality. Let’s consider Special Relativity, for example. Einstein made extremely accurate predictions regarding process-slowing (so-called time dilat(at)ion) and mass-increase for relative motion at significant fractions of the speed of light. A few decades back, Herbert Dingle showed, without valid refutation, that the relativity principle implied the absurdity of clocks having to run slow and fast at once. He had been regarded as an expert on relativity; but after spending a great deal of effort talking to established physicists about this, he no longer was. But as he said, no amount of evidence can validate an absurdity.

            The other principle involved is the constancy of the speed of light for all observers regardless of their relative motion. Given Einstein’s proclivity for thought-experiments, I’d be surprised if it never crossed his mind that this phenomenon might represent an illusory artefact rather than a principle of nature. To cut a long story short here, the truth is that all of the experimental evidence taken as validating Einstein’s theory is really evidence for absolute motion, the very thing that his relativity principle implicitly denies, and all established physicists explicitly deny. Imagine if I were a student and went to my professor with such concerns, and persistently declined to accept his ‘correction’. How would you rate my chances of a conventional career?

            The mathematics is perfect, in Earth’s reference frame; and if there is anything that is a general item of faith for modern physicists, it is mathematics. Einstein, moreover, as a founder, is prone to hero-worship (as may ring a bell or two). There is no reason why understanding the situation properly should be to his discredit, but there we are. There’s much more that might be said, of course.

            Since you ask, my degree was in botany, in which I was never very interested.

          • Benedict Walshe

            Okay so I remember some of these arguments from a philosophy of physics module I did a few years ago, extremely interesting stuff, Duhem had some very interesting things to say about this (especially the use of mathematics in expressing our theories) but what you are talking about is an issue of interpretative orthodoxy (or even dogma), but not an issue faith. Whilst these physicists may be stubborn in their interpretation of the empirical facts (and potentially incorrect), their is an evidential basis for their beliefs. Faith is precisely the inference based not upon evidence, and often, in direct contradiction to it. I don’t mean to brush past the details of the examples you give (honestly, I find this stuff fascinating) but I can’t help but feel it is erroneous to cite this as an example of scientific faith. I think it’s more apt to describe it as scientific dogma?

            With regrads to your first point, if one found empirical evidence for a particular kind of entity (in this case a diety) then of course this would vindicate empirical science. Given that the entity was found to exist according to the laws of physics what reason would we have to call it ‘supernatural’? Surely in virtue of how we discovered it, it would be ‘natural’?

            I feel as if perhaps you’re conflating ‘faith’ and ‘dogma’?

          • Icebow

            Hi Ben, I’d somewhat lost track of this. I suspect that our complexities would tend to circle each other for too long. I certainly wouldn’t conflate faith and dogma. With regard to special relativity, I could give you a couple of references if you wished.

          • Burt Flannery

            There are much simpler tests which attach a probability to a supernatural deity. The following link might be of interest:

            http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_13?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=burt+flannery&sprefix=burt+flannery%2Cstripbooks%2C244

          • Icebow

            One very brief review. Describe such a test.

          • Burt Flannery

            It’s always interesting to know which supernatural deity we are talking about. Is it God, Brahman or Shangdi, for example?
            Be that as it may, how about this for a test? Fossilised evidence of prokaryotes (single-celled micro-organisms) has been dated at 3.5 billion years. Eukaryotes (slightly more complex multi-celled micro-organisms) did not appear until a further 2 billion years had elapsed. This inordinate length of time is irreconcilable with an omnipotent deity. Conclusion – a omnipotent supernatural deity does not exist.

          • Icebow

            God = Brahman will do. (I.e. monism not monotheism.)
            Do you think time is real, and if so in what sense? And if so, do you think it is invariable? (No relativistic allusion.) Why should any timeless deity be concerned as to your view of the significance of duration(s), or be in any way concerned about duration(s)?
            And you have written a book about ‘proofs’ of which this is a prize example? If so, what a sad and absurd waste of consciousness.

          • Burt Flannery

            But it won’t do, Icebow, will it? God the Son and God the Holy Ghost in no way equate to Vishnu (the Preserver) and Shiva (the Destroyer).
            Anyway, as I suspected, you are clearly imprisoned inside the metaphorical faith box, intellect completely fettered, unable to escape even if you wanted to. People inside the shrinking box ignore or are oblivious to the words of some of history’s greatest minds – Newton, Spinoza, Jefferson, Hume, Stuart Mill, Russell, for example. If you’ve ever bothered to read them, no doubt you’ve rejected them since they conflict with the conclusions you have independently drawn just as you’ve ignored my argument that an omnipotent deity which requires 2 billion years to create a simple creature from an even simpler creature is a contradiction. I could lay mountains of evidence at your feet but, with your logic and reason suspended, it wouldn’t make any difference, so I won’t bother. I don’t bother to provide evidence to a Flat Earther either.

          • Icebow

            Brahman is a name for That which transcends the Brahma-Vishnu-Siva trinity, and ‘God’ is an appropriate synonym, which, i.e., need not be restricted to Christian/Abrahamic contexts.
            I have indeed addressed your question regarding time in a way suitable enough in your case. As a scientist, I am most concerned by your almost psychotic intellectual arrogance. I think we should perhaps just leave it there.

          • Burt Flannery

            How silly of me, Icebow, not to have realised that the Abrahamic God and the Brahman of henotheistic Hinduism are really the same. I should, like you, be able to reconcile the jealous God of the first commandment demanding that ‘thou shalt have no other gods before me’ and the Hindu god that tolerates a panoply of other gods. Or, is this yet another contradiction? Please explain.

            By the way, I too am a scientist but I require evidence to draw my conclusions, not emotion. Why don’t you give Clifford’s Credo a try – “It is wrong always, everywhere and for anyone to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.”
            In other words, behave like a scientist.

          • Icebow

            Oh dear; I thought we had abandoned this exchange, but since you contacted me intially it might be thought that I was entitled to conclude it.

            You would seem either not to understand or not to have heard of the distinction between monism and monotheism/henotheism. You may need to read, or carefully re-read, the Upanishads.

            You would seem to be a mathematician. I am both acutely and chronically aware of how a certain ‘mathematolatry’, and indeed a mathematical quasi-mysticism, has affected physics and interpretation of evidence therein (you were clearly originally responding to my reply to Benedict Walshe).

            Please do not tell me how to behave, nor how I am behaving.

  • Paddy Briggs

    You just don’t get it do you? You can call me an atheist if you wish but that is not how I refer to myself. “Atheism” (like other isms) suggests a belief system. In fact it is the absence of one. I don’t “Believe” in atheism. I disbelieve in religion.

    I find the bias here and elsewhere in favour of “Faith” absurd, offensive and just plain wrong. Over the centuries, and still today, Religion has been responsible for more evil than any other phenomenon. The idea, propagated so often, that to believe in religion – any religion – is more meretricious than not to believe is preposterous. Mr Sacks says “Nor do I believe that you have to be religious to be moral”. I would put it otherwise. It is possible, maybe, for a devout believer in a Religion to be moral – but the chances are that such a believer will not be. Because it is Amoral as well as intellectually unsupportable to believe in dogma. A dogma that disallows for no logical modern reason the consumption of certain foods. A dogma that forbids the consumption of Alcohol. A dogma that removes the foreskin of newly born male children or the clitoris of young girls. A dogma that pretends that a wafer and a glass of wine turn into tissue and blood. A dogma that forbids the cutting of your hair. A dogma that declares that those who lose their faith should be hunted down and punished. A dogma that turns stories for which their is no scientific evidence into fictitious real events that are supposed to guide or instruct us. A dogma that denies the scientific evidence of evolution. Or prohibits abortion. Or allows (or disallows) polygamy. Above all a dogma that holds out that in the afterlife you will go to Heaven, if you are good, and Hell if you are bad. And that in that heaven virgins await you or in that hell flames.

    Man does not need mumbo-jumbo to know how to behave. The secular ethic requires us to think freely about what is right. Not to turn to some ancient tome for guidance. Man has it within him to live a good life of his own volition. And, as Christopher Hitchens put it:

    “We are not immune to the lure of wonder and mystery and awe: we have music and art and literature, and find that serious ethical dilemmas are better handled by Shakespeare and Tolstoy and Schiller and Dostoyevsky and George Eliot than in the mythical morality tale of the holy books.”

    Amen to that.

    • Shazza

      Hallelujah! Terrific post Paddy!

    • Matt Parkins

      Straw man.

      People aren’t Christians or Jews because it is meritorious. There are no prohibitions in Christianity regarding certain foods and alcohol. Christians are NOT to be circumcised for religious reasons. Transubstantiation is a slender minority view within Christianity and doesn’t exist at all within Judaism. Both Judaism and Christianity freely allows people to come and go as they please, not hunt them down. Neither is the church or Judaism anti-evolution – most Christians I know are pro-evolution. So lumping all religion in together.

      But yes, regarding proscriptions against murdering unborn children, we’re guilty as charged. You got us there.

      Finally, Christians don’t believe that you go to heaven if you’re good and hell if you’re bad. Christianity teaches that we’ve all committed acts of evil and that we needed God to step in, save us from ourselves and change us. The Jews don’t even mention hell in their scriptures.

      Your basis for denying theism seems to be based almost entirely on a mishmash of misconception and fundamentalist belief – but most Christians & Jews don’t believe what you describe either. Straw man.

      • Paddy Briggs

        You prove my point! But you also miss it. My list of dogmas could have gone on for twenty pages. I selected a few almost at random – but all are true of one or more religions. And the proof? That you are perhaps a fundamentalist and a selective one at that. Anti abortion – unlike many Christians – a believer in Evolution – also unlike many Christians! You select what you’ll believe and what you won’t and you call yourself a Christian. And of that sects and schisms are made.And wars soon follow…

        • Matt Parkins

          Almost all Christians are anti-abortion and do not believe in young earth creationism.

          Yes, there are decisions when it comes to working out one’s belief – but Christians don’t believe in most of the stuff that you listed.

          You’re doing exactly what Hitchins mistakenly did in his book “God is not great” which is to lump all religions in together and find the bad bits, the bits that conflict, and say “therefore it is all rubbish”. Sloppy academics.

          • Fred Scuttle

            I’m pro choice and anti abortion. Why? Because abortion is sometimes necessary for a number of good reasons and must remain legal. Unlike the religious I don’t wish to impose my views on other people, but if either of my daughters told me they were having an abortion for a frivolous reason I would do my utmost to talk them out of it.

            There are no good bits in religion.

          • Icebow

            I have nothing to say about your first paragraph. Your second marks you out as collectably stupid.
            For specimen drawer.

          • Fred Scuttle

            How very self-satisfied and smug of you to say so.

            No argument, so out comes the old ad hominem. Very well done.

          • John Fowler

            Yeah, the whole forgiving one’s enemies bit Christ taught really puts the brakes on progress. Charity? Nonsense! Forced redistribution through taxation is the way to bring people together, rather than a willing means of uplifting another through brotherly love.

          • Haoran Un

            “Love your neighbour”.
            “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.”

            Really?

          • Cameron McMillan

            What would a frivolous reason be? Not wanting to have children?

          • Edden

            Fred, I am absolutely astonished. You have done a post that is more than one sentence. What does the Spectator have that the DT hasn’t got?

          • TonyBuck2

            Well, religions permit societies to survive, at any rate – history proves that.

            But no non-religious society can survive – our secular Britain certainly won’t; it’s disintegrating even as we post our comments.

          • Tyler

            Based on what? How many non-religious societies have even ever existed outside of extreme or irregular circumstances? Just keep crying about how the world is going to fall apart without religion, I’m sure a few people will be more than happy to take your word for it. I for one would like to know how you came to this conclusion.

          • TonyBuck2

            Observation of where we’re now at.

          • Tyler

            Confirmation bias + anecdotal evidence= unreliable epistemology (in other words par for the course for most Christians). If you look to the comments below you will see the conclusion you would have come to using unbiased evaluation of the facts available. I’m sure you’re not interested in that though.

          • http://www.facebook.com/mike.godfrey.754 Mike Godfrey

            How do you define a christian, one who was taught christian values or one who practices that religion.

            There are many people like myself who don’t believe in God but certainly believe in christian values and as for abortion, I believe in that also for many circumstances.

          • Matt Parkins

            Repentance & Belief.

            Repentance: turning your life around 180 degrees from evil.
            Belief: which is putting the full weight of your life upon Jesus, his plan, his way of life and that he is Lord.

          • bhudster10

            I don’t think my life is evil, and if I did I would go about changing it. What I wouldn’t do is take the easy way out and be forgiven, then live my life according to some old made up stories. Religion is a cop out.

          • Matt Parkins

            I didn’t say your life was evil. But have you committed acts of evil in the past? Will you commit acts of evil in the future?

            If the answer is no, then you’re right, you don’t need God. Jesus didn’t come for the healthy, but the sick. If the answer is yes, you cannot live a life without committing evil, then surely you need God?

            With regards to repentance: Repentance means to change your life, attempt reconciliation, and attempt to put right what you’ve put wrong. But since you’re never going to commit an act of evil then you’ll ever need to repent – no problem surely?

          • bhudster10

            I’m not sure I’ve been evil as such, but yes I’m certainly not without a dodgy incident or nine in the past.
            I’d feel crappy the next day and yes, I’d try to repair any hurt I may have caused. I would do this on my own accord though, since my parents brought me up to do the right thing. I don’t understand why you need Jesus or God to do this.
            It’s a get out of jail card really.

          • Matt Parkins

            Does it not concern you that you are inclined to commit acts of evil?

          • Alex J. Napier Holland

            Does it not concern you that you feel incapable of stopping yourself committing acts of evil, alone?

          • Matt Parkins

            It does concern me, which is just another reason I turned to God to help me. But if you can be perfect without God then you don’t need him.

          • Alex J. Napier Holland

            And once you realise it’s all bullshit, you really will have nothing stopping you from your chainsaw rapist rampage?

          • Matt Parkins

            Another straw man. If you re-read the thread up until your hijacking of it, you’ll notice I’ve never made any suggestion that man is depraved without God (though some Christians do claim that).

          • Matt Parkins

            Another straw man. If you re-read the thread up until your hijacking of it, you’ll notice I’ve never made any suggestion that man is depraved without God (though some Christians do claim that).

          • David silverman

            A Christian is somebody who believes that God had Jesus, who was himself, nailed to a lump of wood to prove a point about his own wrath at his own mistakes, and because he made this profound sacrifice nobody has a right to not be a Christian. That is the entirety of what distinguishes Christianity as a belief. Anything else is stolen from other religions. You have to be stupid to think that this is a sensible thing to believe and you have to be a psychopath to base your moral compass on it. Don’t even try to correct me on this or I will simply cite Matt Parkins below.

          • Mike

            Rather pedantic and vocal aren’t we.

            Fine, if you want to say that people who don’t believe in God but still believe in christian life style values aren’t true Christians, do I care ?

            Not a bit of it as for all practical purposes it doesn’t really matter.

          • jake stratton-kent

            Hitchins as a thinker still beats the heck out of Dork-ins, whose ‘critique’ is based squarely on Anglophone religions in modern Western society. A parochial ‘preaching to the choir’ approach, centred on the lazy assumption that it applies equally to Neoplatonism, Hinduism, Buddhism, ‘Natural Religion’ etc. Which frankly it doesn’t. Not every religion posits a just & loving God, and the Afterlife – if present at all – is rarely ‘reassuring’ (see Achilles in the Odyssey).

          • Paddy Briggs

            My review of Hitchens’s “God is not great” here: http://www.bloggernews.net/128081

          • Eamonn Riley

            Matt I will beleve you when I see the updated versions of the Hebrew Bible and Quran with the preface nothing in this book is to be taken literally, it is all metaphor. Read it, and then go and make up your own mind.

          • Alex J. Napier Holland

            Just how do you rationalise that your religion has no more evidence than those who believed in Zeus, or Thor? Or who believe in the many gods within Hinduism? That your god is no more or less likely to exist?

            That, even if there is a god, the likelihood of you having picked the correct religion, is pretty dismally small.

            On that basis alone, we can confidently state that most religious people are certain to believe in nonsense – because even if the biggest cohort of all have made the right choice, they’re still a minority.

          • Matt Parkins

            > Evidence for Christianity.

            People who have met Jesus tend to believe in him. People who haven’t tend not to.

            I have never met anyone who has weighed up the relative merits of different religions and then chosen to believe which one they think is the right one. The only real choice involved with contemporary Christianity seems to be whether one will seek God or not because once you’ve either met Jesus or at the very least had a tangible sense of our divine maker then there’s not a whole lot of choosing that can be done in the same way that I have no choice when it comes to believing whether my next-door neighbours exist. Meeting people does that to you.

            > Right choice

            Here’s another straw man. I can’t speak for other religions, but certainly within Christianity while there are people who believe that non-Christians will spend an eternity facing conscious torment, (called exclusivism), there are far more who believe that Jesus will save people that repent (turn from evil) and/or believe/trust God irrespective of whether they call themselves Christians or have even heard of Jesus (called inclusivism). Further, there are plenty of people within a rapidly growing view within Christianity that everyone will eventually repent and be saved (though not necessarily without some sort of rehabilitation), freely and in their own time – this is called Universalism. (I confidently predict this will be the prevailing view of Christianity within a century). It’s straw man to say that all religions, or even Christianity, are exclusivist – it is simply not true.

            It’s not about choosing the right religion, as if when you die God scans your brain and checks to see if you’ve believed the right thing or not in order to let you in. Personally I see the point of Christianity as reconciliation and then union with God. I see our lives here on earth as some kind of spiritual nursery preparing us (all) for life with God – we’ve experienced what life is without God, what it is like to experience evil, to do evil, to live in the brokenness and filth of our own and others’ selfish choices, we know what it is to suffer, to be lonely, without hope and without love. God offers us life in a place without suffering and evil – reconciled and unified with the creator God of perfect love – and this life prepares us to say a yes wholeheartedly to God, and to say no to evil & selfishness for eternity. (Among many other things!)

            > Minority

            Christianity isn’t some tiny religion with a few scattered adherents. Christianity has 2 billion adherents. Together with the other Abrahamic religions there is a clear majority.

            Not that that means anything, and this is important: popularity is no measure of truth.

          • Alex J. Napier Holland

            I know just where you’re coming from Matt, having met VIshnu myself. I remember when I first met him and saw his eight wonderful blue arms. When you’ve met Vishnu.. You’ll realise he’s real and you won’t be able to have a choice as to whether you acknowledge that is is real and true.

            Unfortunately, my friend keeps telling me the same about Neptune God of the Sea. He’s so arrogant, conceited and foolish to wander around trying to assert his whimsical, irrational drivel on people having a sensible conversation.

            Actually, I think he qualifies as being legally insane.

          • Matt Parkins

            I don’t recall any of my Buddhist friends saying they had met Vishnu, and I’ve certainly never met someone claiming to have met Neptune.

            Saying that I qualify as being insane because I’ve met someone that you haven’t probably itself qualifies as being insane.

          • Alex J. Napier Holland

            There is rather an awkward elephant in your living room, Matt. You’re churning out the same baseless tripe that countless other followers of countless other faiths (some of which have already died out) have churned out for many generations.

            Nothing distinguishes your Christian faith from that of a Muslim’s faith, or a Hindu, Sikh or Ancient Greek believer in Zeus. Apart from the fact that you – Matt Parkins – happen to think it’s correct. Guess what – so do they.

            You can’t all be correct. In fact, by definition, only one faith has got it right. And there is no reason whatsoever to suggest that it’s not those who believed in Thor.

          • Matt Parkins

            I’m not looking to convince anyone else that they must become a Christian – for this entire article’s comment thread, all my comments have been about defending Christianity from some of the misunderstandings that prevent some people from seeking God through Christianity.

            I have no need to convince people of other faiths to ditch theirs and join mine – I respect them & their deeply held beliefs highly, and defend their right to hold them – and where I disagree I do so respectfully. Perhaps that’s something you could learn from?

          • Matt Parkins

            I’m not looking to convince anyone else that they must become a Christian – for this entire article’s comment thread, all my comments have been about defending Christianity from some of the misunderstandings that prevent some people from seeking God through Christianity.

            I have no need to convince people of other faiths to ditch theirs and join mine – I respect them & their deeply held beliefs highly, and defend their right to hold them – and where I disagree I do so respectfully. Perhaps that’s something you could learn from?

        • TonyBuck2

          You are making a very good argument for an undivided Christianity – i.e. for the Catholic Church.

      • jdbchandler

        So the entire Christian church is not anti-evolution because a couple of your mates – who happen to be Christians – are pro-evolution?

        And you accuse this guy of logical fallacies and misconceptions…

        • Matt Parkins

          No. The church as a whole does NOT treat genesis as a book of history. Young earth creationism is an idea that is only 200 years old.

          Of the 2000+ Christians that I know, there are a handful that believe in YEC, but they’re also fringe fundamentalists.

          • http://www.circumstitions.com/ Hugh7

            I cannot understand your words “the church as a whole”. What does Eastern Orthodoxy have in common with the Watchtower Society or the Latter Day Saints or the Society of Friends?

          • Matt Parkins

            Not a lot. Again I should be more accurate with my language when making comments in blog posts. I should perhaps have said the ‘church at large’ or ‘in general’.

          • Guy Swarbrick

            Or, perhaps, ‘people who share my set of beliefs’ or ‘true believers’ or ‘non-heretics’ or…

          • Norma_Stitz

            In a word – Jesus.

          • Ohdear!

            So, I love how you count out the Christian people you know. Does it make you feel safer? Hi, nice to meet you btw. My opening line was not a critisism by any means, just genuine amazement. I am an atheist, and I do not know how many atheists people I know. I do not care. People are all the same to me (as long as they don’t throw their religious views down my throat!!!) All I know is what the Rabbi wrote above is wrong….and I needed to post something as I cannot understand why people should listen and believe in that? I feel safe enough in the world today especially knowing that religion on the whole is on the decline. My only “faith”- is in humanity as a whole, if we work together we can achieve survival. Lets not fight about whos right/ or who has their facts wrong in this crazy arguement. Please. We simply need more science, more sense and more clever thinking people- therefore education is very important…… We do not want to end up like the dinosaurs… we have to do better!!!
            The world is moving. I bet we will not even be on earth soon. Did you believe in aliens Matt? Just wandering….

          • Matt Parkins

            > Does counting the Christian people you know make you feel safer?

            I estimated conservatively how many Christians I know – the more I think about it the more of an underestimate I think it must be. Pastors Kid. 2 denominations, active participant or leader in multiple churches in both. Part of a missionary organisation. Visited Missionaries in their churches around the world. Been to countless conferences and gatherings. I’m not suggesting I’m best buddies with 2000+ people – far from it, but 2000+ is very conservative.

            I forget sometimes how lonely it is being outside of the Christian community so I recognise that this might seem a bit mad, but there’s room for more! Come join God’s big family! Many churches will happily encourage you to be part of their local family without any expectation of belief.

            Other than that, it sounds like we’re on the same wavelength 🙂

          • Ohdear!

            Hi Matt,

            It sounds like you have been actively involved in many parts of the Christian life. Yeah… I knew it was just an estimate…..and you have no doubt met some fantastic, nice true Christian people that you have connected with on some level throughout your life. That’s great to hear, and don’t get me wrong, some things about religon I think are great: the huge close community, the passion and drive a group brings when working on a project, the love and general safe happy feeling people get when they belong to Church/God’s hands. In fact, I did try and become a Christian, of at least sought comfort from a local church when a person I know got brutally murdered in Uganda.

            But I just couldn’t fit in. Some Christian groups are just so tght knit already, it’s too crazy to try and join at this late date. I didn’t have to rely on religion in the end- my family/friends helped and individual determination kicked in, allowing myself to heal and carry on.

            But thanks for the invitation 🙂

            These days: thoroughly atheist, and proud of the title, just the same as you are proud of yours. Again lets drop this crazy arguement about who is right….I really don’t think we can change each other’s mind….. I’m too far gone anyway!!
            Sounds like everyone on here who are writing on behalf on atheists are similar to me…. you cannot change their minds…. even if you somehow do win the arguement with your facts etc!

            So do what you do best-join your fellow men and go change the world for the better, in your way. I’ll go too and change the world for the better too- my way!
            And as far as that Rabbi is concerned? Oh dear, I hope someone helps him, and fast!!! Stirring up our atheist community like that, huh! Why?????????

            Who knows. who cares. I’ve decided to ignore him. See ya around my friend, peace out xx

          • Ohdear!

            Hi there,

            Yeah, thought that was an estimate 🙂 🙂 It’s great you have been involved in some great positions throughout Christian life so far.

            Too right, I do value the Christian/Church inspirational ways of getting the community together and acting on issues such as poverty/overseas relief/people living on the streets etc.

            And indeed, I actually did think seriously in joining the faith as a teenager…. as someone I knew got tragically murdered by a tribe in Uganda. Unfortunately though, I couldn’t fit in, it was such a tight knit community- maybe I didn’t try enough, but really- do I need to? In the end, I got the support I needed from my friends/family. I am lucky in this way.

            Since then I had never felt the need to explore faith again. So I guess this is where we part Matt, I know your values are so entrenched (like mine) that’s it’s hard to change them. Of course noone SHOULD even try to. So I’m leaving you alone, as others should as well!! However this be the same back to my fellow atheists…. why on earth would this Rabbi (and others)try and stir up our community? Leave us alone, trust humanity!! Matt, maybe leave this conversation….. no point discussing facts with people on here…. this arguement could go on till the end of time (“And you accuse this guy of logical fallacies and misconceptions” -some guy writes here above…..ekk!!! accusations? That does not sound healthy!! Stop this madness is all I’m saying)…………………………………………….Peace on earth!!

          • Peter Sorensen

            You know 2,000+ people?…

          • Matt Parkins

            Come join God’s big family – there’s room for everyone!

          • Kiwi_Dave

            “Young earth creationism is an idea that is only 200 years old.”
            Yet Bishop Ussher died in 1656.

          • Kiwi_Dave

            Oops – my comment vanished. Apologies if this is a repeat.

            “Young earth creationism is an idea that is only 200 years old.”

            Yet Bishop Ussher died in 1656.

          • Matt Parkins

            See my reply to Guy above for further details, but: The idea of taking Genesis 1 as a literal 6-day period is almost as old as the book of Genesis itself, I should have been clearer that I was meaning its modern traction and form as the modern Young Earth Creationism movement.

          • Guy Swarbrick

            Usher ‘calculated’ the age of the Earth over 350 years ago, so to say young earth creationism is only 200 years old is at best, an attempt to try to reduce the timescale for this absurd doctrine by almost half.

            But it’s also deeply disingenuous. Usher’s calculation was only prompted by evidence that questioned the accepted ‘fact’ that the age of the Earth was a (relative) handful of generations, documented in the Bible.

          • Matt Parkins

            You’re right that I should be more accurate with my language when commenting on blog posts:

            What I should have said is that Young Earth Creationism has gained traction in the last 200 years because it is an expression of the fundamentalist Christian movement of the US which was founded on biblical inerrancy. Biblical inerrancy itself gained traction post-reformation thanks to Cartesian foundationalism – to religious types the Bible seemed the perfect foundation to build on, and so replaced a human pope with a paper one.

            Usher’s work was very probably influential in all this. But actually, the idea of understanding Genesis to be a literal 6-day creation history goes back much farther than Usher and the modern YEC movement. There are seams of it throughout the landscape of Christianity and Judaism, absolutely.

          • ukvillafan

            ‘The Church as a whole’ would be which ‘church’ exactly? Given the schisms within Christianity over the relatively short period of its existence, leading to thousands if not tens of thousands of denominations, your assertion is meaningless.

          • Matt Parkins

            There’s substantial overlap across denominations, though you’re right I should have used the word “church at large” or “wider church”.

          • ukvillafan

            There is little difference in your terminology in the context of your assertion. Your view is clearly wrong in so far as the US Republican party is in the grip of fundamentalist Christians who want to make the US a theocracy.

          • Matt Parkins

            So as you understand it, the church is defined by the US republican party? I’m a bit lost as to why you’ve brought US politics into this – where is the relevance?

          • Matt Parkins

            I don’t follow what US republican party has to do with this?

          • ukvillafan

            In the sense that your terminology “the wider church” is meaningless because AS AN EXAMPLE the Republican party, synonymous with the Christian Right in the US, is part of that ‘wider church’ – a substantial part, and it very much has a fundamentalist, literalist bent. As such, the ‘wider church’ conceptually has no valid meaning that can be attached to it. “The wider church does not treat Genesis as a book of history” is just as wrong as saying ‘the church at large’ does not do so.

          • Matt Parkins

            Thanks for the clarification.

            I’d be interesting in knowing what percentage of the US republican party are fundamentalist Christians – I’m not sure the claim to synonymity would hold. Anyway, I take your point, and the point of people elsewhere on this thread, that there are plenty of people and churches even today that believe nutty things about creation. Sure, consider that point conceded.

            But a large share of the church and believers in it don’t believe in Young Earth Creationism, so for the original poster to say that religion is dogmatic about Young Earth Creationism is incorrect. There are many believers and denominations both today and historically within Christianity that have not accepted YEC – there’s no dogma on this point.

          • ukvillafan

            True – I was merely taking issue with the imprecision of your language rather than anything else. I’m sure that a majority of the religious are not YECs, but there are a large number, particularly in the US, and many of them are, or have been, or wish to be in positions of power and influence. Sarah Palin is, for example, a YEC who believes she has been ‘protected’ from witchcraft by some weirdo African pastor

          • Matt Parkins

            Yes, the thought of a YEC in power such as Sarah Palin makes me shudder in fear too!

        • BZ

          Actually Pope John Paul II stated very clearly that the theory of evolution is not inconsistent with Christian belief. I would imagine that he was a fairly good authority on Christianity.

          • Guy Swarbrick

            Previous Popes had said that it was. So Pope John Paul II was a better authority? Why? The Bible hasn’t changed in a long time…

      • MongoDude

        “People aren’t Christians or Jews because it is meritorious.”

        True, they are probably Jews or Christians because they were brought up to be either a jew or christian.

        “There are no prohibitions in Christianity regarding certain foods and alcohol”

        Sorry but there is. Jesus said he came not to change or abolish the Law, Matthew 5:17, (although, being the hypocrite that he was he went on to change some of it anyway). The Jewish Law prohibits the eating of certain foods, wearing of mixed fiber clothing etc. so as a Christian you should still be prohibited according to His Holy Jesusness. St Paul is the one that says you dont need to follow the law but as he completely contradicts Jesus on almost every point who do you follow? Jesus or St Paul? I suppose if you are a Christian the only teachings relevant should be those of Jesus and the Prophets before him or am I wrong?

        “Neither is the church or Judaism anti-evolution – most Christians I
        know are pro-evolution. So lumping all religion in together.”

        Most Christians or Jews are pro-evolution despite their religious teachings rather than because of them. God seems to be a bit of a thicky mcthick and lacks a lot of scientific understanding in Genesis. Evolution rules out Adam and Eve which kind of makes the fall of man a bit tricky and God says we are separate from other life on Earth. How can we be separate if all life evolved from a common ancestor as is laid out in the Theory of Evolution?

        “But yes, regarding proscriptions against murdering unborn children, we’re guilty as charged. You got us there.”

        According to the Jewish Talmud, Yevomot 69a states that prior to the 40th day a fetus is “considered to be mere water”. How do you murder water? I know science has taught us more about how the fetus develops (another win for science, Yay!) but if we were to follow the religious teachings its very hard to see how you murder water! What’s God’s deal with miscarriage? Is that gods work? Is that part of his plan? It’s a horrible thing to go through (I know my wife has had over 4). If it is then God is the biggest abortionist and hypocrite of them all.

        “Finally, Christians don’t believe that you go to heaven if you’re good and hell if you’re bad. Christianity teaches that we’ve all committed acts of evil and that we needed God to step in, save us from ourselves and change us.”

        Christianity also teaches that we are all scum from the moment we are conceived due to an act committed by a fictitious couple from over 6000 years ago because they ate a fruit from a magical tree and this is why we need forgiveness. Is that fair? Is that even moral? You do know how absolutely hideous and horrible that is don’t you? Your statement basically allows us to murder, rape and torture all we want but just accept God and all is well in the happy meal of heaven. As you say you don’t have to be good to get the reward so how on Earth is Christianity a moral framework for how we should live. And why do we need the murderous hypocrite of Yahweh to step in and change us? Change us to what?

        Given that Theism is an incoherent, contradictory mess then why should we believe in any of it at all?

        • Matt Parkins

          >> “People aren’t Christians or Jews because it is meritorious.”
          >True, they are probably Jews or Christians because they were brought up to be either a jew or christian.

          Every Christian I know is a Christian because they believe they have met Jesus.

          Yes many, like I, were brought up to be one, but most go through a period of turning away from their childhood faith until they encounter Jesus for themselves.

          >> “There are no prohibitions in Christianity regarding certain foods and alcohol”
          > Sorry but there is. Jesus said he came not to change or abolish the Law, Matthew 5:17 …

          Oh, you’re a theologian now. I see.

          No, Christ came to FULFIL the law, not to change or abolish it. When Jesus says “you have heard it said x, but I say y” he is not abolishing the law but highlighting the limits of law, and asking people to follow a higher law of love.

          >> “Neither is the church or Judaism anti-evolution – most Christians I know are pro-evolution. So lumping all religion in together.”
          > Most Christians or Jews are pro-evolution despite their religious teachings rather than because of them. God seems to be a bit of a thicky mcthick and lacks a lot of scientific understanding in Genesis. Evolution rules out Adam and Eve which kind of makes the fall of man a bit tricky and God says we are separate from other life on Earth.

          No. The church historically has had no position on HOW God created. It has almost always seen Genesis as a book of theology, not science. Yes, there are some right-wing churches these days saying that we need to pretend that bronze-age literary work should be treated in the same way as a modern historians are, but these are fringe churches that typically also like to erase the human authors of a work that is traditionally seen as a collaboration of both the human and divine.

          > What’s God’s deal with miscarriage? Is that gods work? Is that part of his plan? It’s a horrible thing to go through (I know my wife has had over 4). If it is then God is the biggest abortionist and hypocrite of them all.

          No, when it comes to personal tragedy God is not the cause (see Jesus on the temple of siloam), but instead he weeps with those who weep. Miscarriage is not God’s plan or work, and I’m sorry for your loss – it must have been awful.

          >>”Finally, Christians don’t believe that you go to heaven if you’re good and hell if you’re bad. Christianity teaches that we’ve all committed acts of evil and that we needed God to step in, save us from ourselves and change us.”

          > Christianity also teaches that we are all scum from the moment we are conceived due to an act committed by a fictitious couple from over 6000 years ago because they ate a fruit from a magical tree and this is why we need forgiveness.

          Again, only the fringe fundamentalists believe the Genesis account to be a literal event that happened 6000 years ago. The view that humanity is scum from the moment we are conceived again is not found within Christianity as a whole – the form of original sin you’re claiming Christianity teaches is again a fringe view with most teachers sticking to us inheriting a disposition to sin (out of selfishness & self-preservation). The form of original sin you’re talking about (we’re all scum) is much closer to the Calvinists’ doctrine of total depravity, but again, its a fringe view.

          > Is that fair? Is that even moral? You do know how absolutely hideous and horrible that is don’t you? Your statement basically allows us to murder, rape and torture all we want but just accept God and all is well in the happy meal of heaven.

          No, Christianity teaches that one day we will be held to account for the things that WE have said and that WE have done, not for anything anyone else before us has said and done. Christianity does not teach that we should just accept God and all is fine, but it teaches that we must repent (which means to turn 180 degrees from sin, evil and selfishness) and trust Jesus (or to ‘lean on’ Jesus, which means to put our full weight upon his teaching). Amusing that so many conveniently forget repentance, and then consider belief to be some kind of mental assent.

          > Given that Theism is an incoherent, contradictory mess then why should we believe in any of it at all?

          I don’t expect you to believe in any of it, no. But if you meet Jesus, then yes I do. It’s that simple. Every Christian I know has met Jesus. Every person I know that isn’t a Christian hasn’t.

          So for me I see no need to shove my views down people’s thoats. But the reason I write here is to put right the misconceptions about Jesus that so many have – people are being fed a lie about what Christianity is and is not and so are not free to evaluate genuine Christianity.

          • Debra Cleaver

            Couple things:

            1. Thank you for being so clear in explaining your points. I must say, it’s something I rarely encounter on the internet and as a result, tend to not involve myself in discussions as frequently.
            2. While I can certainly appreciate your view point, I would disagree that people’s colored perceptions disqualifies them from evaluating ‘genuine Christianity.’

            Religion is, by necessity, subjective. Christianity has evolved into many things it was not when Peter went to Rome. The ‘One True Church’ split, reconnected, split again, and each time the Bible was amended. Over 2000 years, as science has revealed more and more of our natural world, Christianity has been forced to change with it.

            Further, I would ask what makes a ‘true Christian’? Knowing Jesus in one’s heart? Is that enough? Repenting of one’s sins? Knowing the gospel and living it? No True Scotsman fallacies aside, Christianity has a tendency to be, at its base, divisive when it comes to what makes a Christian.

          • Matt Parkins

            I think you raise some great points here, and you’re right that Christianity can be divisive with regard to what counts as a Christian.

            I think honestly there must be middle-ground somewhere. Practically speaking, I do know people who have rejected Christianity because of misconceptions.

          • MongoDude

            Thank you for your thoughts on my wifes miscarriages, it is appreciated. It was a terrible time for my wife and I. We’re still trying to get over it even after 2 years. If I appear at any point to be disrespectful of you in my reply here please forgive me as it is not my intent.

            “Every Christian I know is a Christian because they believe they have met Jesus.Yes many, like I, were brought up to be one, but most go through a period of turning away from their childhood faith until they encounter Jesus for themselves.”

            Every Christian I have met was brought up as a Christian and never chose to be. How do you know you have encountered Jesus? What standards do you use to make sure that it was Jesus?

            “Oh, you’re a theologian now. I see.”

            Nope.Theology is the art of making stuff up to justify the unjustifiable . I’ve had a really good look at the hideous thing know as the bible and cant fathom why anyone can take any of it as anything more than fantasy.

            “No, Christ came to FULFIL the law, not to change or abolish it. ”

            And he also supposedly said “Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest part or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.” (Matthew 5:17)

            As the world hasn’t ended I think Jesus is saying until it does the law should be followed. I could be wrong. He also dooms anyone who preaches against any part of the old Law does he not?

            “No, when it comes to personal tragedy God is not the cause (see Jesus on the temple of siloam), but instead he weeps with those who weep.”

            Is that in Luke 13:4? If it is then Jesus seems to be saying to his followers if you don’t repent the same horror will happen to you. Am I wrong? I cant find anything about him/god/the holy toast weeping for anyone. If anything he seems to be telling his followers repent or I’ll hit you with the other tower.

            “No, Christianity teaches that one day we will be held to account for the things that WE have said and that WE have done, not for anything anyone else before us has said and done. Christianity does not teach that we should just accept God and all is fine, but it teaches that we must repent (which means to turn 180 degrees from sin, evil and selfishness) and trust Jesus (or to ‘lean on’ Jesus, which means to put our full weight upon his teaching). Amusing that so many conveniently forget repentance, and then consider belief to be some kind of mental assent.”

            If God has forgiven all sin by sacrificing Jesus then what is the point of repentance? He’s already forgiven you for what you have done. That is probably why most verses say something similar to “Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9. There can be no accountability in Christianity for anything. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life”, John 3:16. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9. Nothing in any of those about judgment, nothing about the fact that your actions and deeds should count. In fact the last one rules out actions altogether! The only requirement is belief in Jesus/God/Cheeses.

            “Again, only the fringe fundamentalists believe the Genesis account to be a literal event that happened 6000 years ago.”

            You don’t have to go too far back in history to see that all the churches certainly did enforce this belief. It took scientists like Copernicus, Galileo and Charles Darwin to show how wrong the church was and still is. Even then it’s been a long slow process of showing how completely idiotic the Genesis account is before churches would drop the nonsense (some still refuse to even today).

            Without the Genesis account Christianity, Judaism and Islam falls very short. You basically have to say God created us as a broken, flawed species and he doesn’t like us because of this. He holds us in low regard because he’s crap at his job and we must beg his forgiveness for this. So God created the problem for mankind in the first place. I wouldn’t worship him even if he did exist as he’s just horrible.

            “So for me I see no need to shove my views down people’s thoats. But the reason I write here is to put right the misconceptions about Jesus that so many have – people are being fed a lie about what Christianity is and is not and so are not free to evaluate genuine Christianity.”

            I commend you for not shoving your views down other peoples throats. The problem is that the bible accounts for Jesus are so contradictory how do you know that you have the correct interpretation? Why is God so unable to communicate his message? If we have it wrong why doesn’t he turn up and say “Excuses me but your doing it all wrong!”.

          • Matt Parkins

            > Every Christian I have met was brought up as a Christian and never chose to be. How do you know you have encountered Jesus? What standards do you use to make sure that it was Jesus?

            I can’t speak for other people’s friends, or how other people encountered Jesus, though most of my friends and I have had times where we’ve walked away from God as teenagers, and then come back – for me this was when I encountered real difficulty and met Jesus within it. For me God seemed to reveal himself in a way that can only be described as meeting my creator – I mean, how do you describe something that has no parallel or simile – asking someone to describe the indescribable is hardly fair!

            > Nope.Theology is the art of making stuff up to justify the unjustifiable . I’ve had a really good look at the hideous thing know as the bible and cant fathom why anyone can take any of it as anything more than fantasy.

            Theo (God) + logos = word. For some that means it is the study of God, but for many (and me) it means “our dialogue about God”.

            I really wouldn’t start with the bible if you want to get to the bottom of Christianity – I can see how that wouldn’t work. I would start with prayer – talking to God. Telling him how pissed off you are with what’s happened over the past few years is a great place to start. The primary image Jesus gives us of God is as a Father, not just any Father, but an “abba” or daddy kind of father: the implication here is that you can sit on you heavenly daddy’s knee, hit his chest in frustration and anger and know that he’s big enough to take it – he’s not offended in the least.

            >> “No, Christ came to FULFIL the law, not to change or abolish it. ”
            >And he also supposedly said “Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest part or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.” (Matthew 5:17) As the world hasn’t ended I think Jesus is saying until it does the law should be followed. I could be wrong. He also dooms anyone who preaches against any part of the old Law does he not?

            Yeah, fulfilment of the old law. Paul’s understanding of what Jesus was doing was that the Law was like a babysitter or a nurse-maid until the law of love could be grasped. The idea being that if you sign up to the new covenant then you’ll meet the old law anyway and Jesus’ sacrifice will make up any shortfall anyway.

            So the old law might say things like: Don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t commit adultery, etc.

            The new covenant said: Love one another – in doing so you fulfil all the requirements of the old law.

            Why have the old law at all then? Well, assuming a bronze-age era people could have understood it, it helps us understand very clearly what evil is. Then followed a period of 500-1000 years where the best human attempts at keeping that law failed and revealed a need for a higher law (love!), and a saviour to transform us away from our inner disposition toward sin (among other things!).

            >> “No, when it comes to personal tragedy God is not the cause (see Jesus on the temple of siloam), but instead he weeps with those who weep.”
            >Is that in Luke 13:4? If it is then Jesus seems to be saying to his followers if you don’t repent the same horror will happen to you. Am I wrong? I cant find anything about him/god/the holy toast weeping for anyone. If anything he seems to be telling his followers repent or I’ll hit you with the other tower.

            Right passage, though when Jesus is talking about perishing he means in an eternal sense – some even argue that perish means “go bad” in the same way that food perishes. What I meant when I drew your attention to it was that when it comes to personal tragedy God is not the cause – Jesus is saying bad things happen to good and bad people – you’re right that to draw on “God doesn’t plan evil things” I’d draw on other passages. I’m just acutely aware that there are lots of theists out there that will say God causes evil in order to bring about good – which is a rather horrific idea.

            > If God has forgiven all sin by sacrificing Jesus then what is the point of repentance? He’s already forgiven you for what you have done. That is probably why most verses say something similar to “Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9.

            Repentance & belief is how we sign up for Jesus sacrifice atoning for us. How about this: Imagine there’s a flood coming. Jesus builds an ark to save the world (it’s a big ark). But we still need to get in the ark. Repentance & Belief is how we do that. Why? Imagine that the ark is full of the people you’ve hurt with the evil that you’ve done in your life – Jesus is saying I can’t let you in here unless you promise not to hurt them again, not to destroy the boat, and you try to live in a way that means we can all live in this boat together happily. And then he tacks on the end “don’t worry, I’ll help you”.

            >There can be no accountability in Christianity for anything.

            Well, there are places in scripture where Jesus and Paul do focus on being called to account, and Hebrews and Revelation are in there too, and Jesus talks in Mark 14 about repentance and belief among other places.

            But you’re also right that Christianity is an absolute scandal. We are totally undeserving.

            >> “Again, only the fringe fundamentalists believe the Genesis account to be a literal event that happened 6000 years ago.”

            > You don’t have to go too far back in history to see that all the churches certainly did enforce this belief.

            Historically everyone in the whole world has believed nutty things about the universe and this is also true of Christians in the church. Your original point was to say that Christians believe in a literal adam & eve and are 6-day creationists. My point is that yes there are some that believe that, and historically there is a seam that runs right through Christianity that shows it is there as an idea, but really it has only gained real traction in the US over the past 200 years due to the rise of fundamentalism. Christianity is much wider than Christian fundamentalists.

            > Without the Genesis account Christianity, Judaism and Islam falls very short. You basically have to say God created us as a broken, flawed species and he doesn’t like us because of this. He holds us in low regard because he’s crap at his job and we must beg his forgiveness for this. So God created the problem for mankind in the first place. I wouldn’t worship him even if he did exist as he’s just horrible.

            Man you’re so close. I can’t speak for Islam or Judaism on this point, but regarding Christianity the view would be that genesis is either a poetic story (or reinterpretation of creation myths of the day) to help the Israelites identify their “beginnings” as being with God. Christianity generally does identify a kind of separating from God, a fall of some kind, but wouldn’t say that the Genesis account was a literal one.

            This is where I differ with the church and say that I think it was intentional. I think of this world not as a probationary test to work out who should go to heaven or hell, but as a spiritual nursery where we do our basic growing up and then get “planted” in eternity (once we repent and believe, whether here or whether once we meet God) – I think of our existence here as a sandbox. Here we learn what it is like to live without God, to live with the effects of evil, and selfish choices, and extreme riches and poverty side-by-side. We realise through this life that we need a good God. (Which is not to say that you shouldn’t think otherwise right now – that’s all part of the journey).

            So to your point, when Christ instantiated the universe, he was also choosing to die for it and ensure we’d be saved (once we repent and believe), so he doesn’t hold us in low regard as you suggest but thinks of us as his “handiwork” and the pinnacle of creation. You don’t need to beg for forgiveness – he’s more than willing to forgive – you may need to beg forgiveness from the people you’ve hurt in your life though. And often forgiving ourselves can be even more difficult. But God will even help us ask for forgiveness if we find it hard – you just have to ask.

            I mean if you look at the acts of evil that you have done, are they really down to your genes, or circumstance, or something else that you could blame… or did you just freely make the wrong choice? I think God is just asking us to take responsibility for the things we are responsible for.

            > I commend you for not shoving your views down other peoples throats. The problem is that the bible accounts for Jesus are so contradictory how do you know that you have the correct interpretation? Why is God so unable to communicate his message? If we have it wrong why doesn’t he turn up and say “Excuses me but your doing it all wrong!”.

            I understand your frustration. I think actually God doesn’t want to shove himself down your throat either. I think God has intentionally hidden himself – he wants to be plausibly deniable in order to protect our free-will. If he reveals himself then there’s no way for us to reject him in this life, and if there’s no way to reject him them we can not *freely* accept him either. I’ve gone into this in another comment quite a bit – could you look up that response, I’m running out of time… 🙂

        • TonyBuck2

          Please don’t call Jesus a hypocrite; He died for his beliefs – hypocrites don’t.

          If Jesus had considered us scum, He wouldn’t have bothered to die a terrible death in order to save us from ourselves (and from Satan).

          And speaking personally, I practise the Christian faith DESPITE a Christian upbringing, not because of it !

          • MongoDude

            “Please don’t call Jesus a hypocrite; He died for his beliefs – hypocrites don’t.”

            I thought Jesus supposedly died to fulfill God’s wondrous plan for mankind, you know, to forgive us our sins and all that bilge, not for his beliefs. And as God just refers to people as being sinners, ie not worthy, I think I’m pretty much correct in my assessment of what Jesus probably though of everyone – scum unless they accept him as their Saviour. If not burn in hell for eternity regardless of what you do. Very modest man that Jesus.

            And besides he is a hypocrite. HE said one thing and did another. Don’t call people fools or you burn in hell was on thing and then he promptly runs around calling everyone fools. Hypocrite he is. Do as I say not as I do.

            “If Jesus had considered us scum, He wouldn’t have bothered to die a
            terrible death in order to save us from ourselves (and from Satan).”

            Well as I said above the plan was for him to be the scapegoat, the sacrificial lamb, to forgive us for our sins. This was God’s/his plan. A terrible plan. He could have just forgiven but he does like his blood sacrifices does

            Yahweh.

            “And speaking personally, I practise the Christian faith DESPITE a Christian upbringing, not because of it !”

            Well I’m glad your a Christian despite having been brought up as one. Out of curiosity why aren’t you a Sikh or a Muslim or a Buddhist or anyone of the other faiths that flap around the world? I know I sound flippant and I’m sorry but why did you choose Christianity over all the others?

      • Fred Scuttle

        You don’t really have a god, so there’s nothing to deny. Your book of tribal middle eastern folklore tales is all you have.

      • eyesopen

        If the earth is billions of years old, and evolution is true, then there was no literal Adam and Eve. Meaning there was no original sin. Making Jesus’s death and resurrection unnecessary. Making the core of Christianity false.

        You can’t have it both ways. It’s a cop out, to avoid accepting the silliness of the bible’s mythology, while still saying you believe in god to get to heaven/avoid hell.

        • Matt Parkins

          No. Jesus’ death and resurrection was not to pay for the first sin that happened, but for all sin for all time.

          Most introductions to hermeneutics are all about understanding the genre of the text and the intention of the author. Bronze-era literary works mix myth and history and to expect otherwise would be anachronistic.

          This is basic stuff guys – do you not think the millions of academic man-hours spent working out doctrine & theology would not have considered what you guys are coming up with?

          • eyesopen

            Herein lies the problem. Over 40% of the population in the US believes the earthuniverse is less than 10,000 years old, and there was a literal Adam and Eve, and original sin, for which we all must repent.

            Yours is just another interpretation of the same book of mythology. They can’t all be right, but they certainly can all be wrong.

          • Matt Parkins

            40% of the population of the US do not dictate what is believed by the wider church as a whole both today and historically. Many churches in the US are in the grip of fundamentalism which has risen up in the past 100-150 years, but they do not speak for the wider church.

            Besides, breadth of opinion on subjects does not mean that they’re all wrong – there is a breadth of opinion in every sphere of life wether political, economic, theological or scientific – are they all undermined by the fact they have nutty thinkers on the fringe, or just Christianity?

          • BZ

            Where do you get this statistic about the percentage of the US population who believe in creationism and a literal interpretation of the Bible? Has this study been published in a reputable journal and produced by a reputable organization or are you just operating on myth and steroetype?

          • Thursdaythe12th

            The US is drowning in debt. The president is spying on his citizens. Immigration is out of control, with amnesty for up to 30 million illegals around the corner. Obamacare kicks in next year with premiums in Ca predicted to rise between 60-140%. And your concern is how old 40% of Americans think the earth is?

            Dear oh dear.

          • eyesopen

            Also, if there was no original sin, then there was no “fall of man”, meaning that we aren’t all born with sin. Face it, it all falls apart if there’s no literal Adam and Eve

          • Matt Parkins

            We weren’t all born with sin. What court would convict a 1 day old baby of anything? Original sin is about the disposition of humanity toward committing acts of evil, (usually out of selfishness), and a will that is weak.

          • Fred Scuttle

            We were all born atheists though.Religion has to be taught.

          • TonyBuck2

            No – young children have an instinctive awareness of God.

            And how did religious ideas originate anyway ? Who taught them in the first place ?

          • Carol Lynn

            Probably from guys too self-important to herd or farm who wanted good dinners so they convinced other people to give them good portions of sacrificial meat by threatening them with invisible gods who needed to be propitiated.

          • TonyBuck2

            Religion begins with the sheer horror and tragedy of human life, which nowadays our unprecedented wealth insulates us from to some extent and which we cover over and forget as much as we can (that’s what TV, Travel and Entertainment are for !)

            Religious rites thus go back to Palaeolithic times – did a Stone Age mum who had just lost a beloved child want to become an atheist ? Do the hordes of people today who take a keen interest in Spiritualism want to be atheists ?

            Comrade Stalin said “Death always has the last word” (and he should know !) An atheist is a person who wants Stalin to be right.

          • Carol Lynn

            No. An atheist is someone who realizes that what is actually, provably real and true has more meaning than any set of made up narratives designed to make the stone-age mum feel better about not understanding the universe. The stone-age mum had no resources for knowing that, for one example, it was a bacterial infection from fecal contaminated water that killed her baby. We know better, thanks to people using science to understand and prevent the tragedies that the stone-age mum could only lament after the prayer and sacrifices to whatever god she imagined failed. Theodicy, the “problem of evil,” is not a problem for an atheist.

            I’m sorry that death scares you to the point of irrationality but I do not share your fear. Think of it this way (forgive me if you have already considered this): the universe got along just fine without you before you were born, and there was no “you” to care. You don’t obsess about where that unborn “you” was. After your death, it’s the same “there is no ‘you’ there” state. There is no reason to fear it or obsess about it, any more than worrying about where “you” were before you were born.

            There is no contemporary reason to passionately cling to stories about the after-death state that were made up by some stone-age mum, or a series of bronze-age goat herders, or a group of classic-age and medieval mystics.

          • TonyBuck2

            Carol Lynn

            1) Religious believers don’t “make up” their beliefs – they believe that they’ve received an illumination; this may be an illusion, but it isn’t self-deception, otherwise religion wouldn’t last five minutes. Nor is it wishful thinking, which is the province of atheists, who imagine that by denying religion they will escape God’s judgement, although no one can.
            2) Looking down on religious believers of the past is a form of snobbery. Ridiculous, too, since you’re no wiser than they.
            3) It’s a pity that the people of the past had to suffer so terribly in the cause of “Progress”, i.e. so that little us nowadays can be comfortable.
            4) In any case, without religion, they would have gone mad or topped themselves and there wouldn’t be any Progress (or us !)
            5) I still fear suffering, but am much too old and disillusioned to fear death itself – any like that great opponent of Christianity, Professor T H Huxley, who in his last days of illness cried out “I would rather go to Hell than become extinct.”
            6) Much greater scourges than the fear of Death are

            – Grief; often an incurable and agonising (and often fatal) illness for those bereaved people who have no religious faith
            – Weltschmerz (“world pain”); the gloom, sadness and futility of a world where the individual is without hope (no God = no hope for the individual), where everything and everybody is on the road to nowhere (along with the entire Universe) and where all human history, endeavour, achievement and suffering will ultimately prove wholly futile (which they will, if you atheists are correct – though fortunately, you aren’t).

          • Carol Lynn

            LOL- no of course, YOU have not “made up” your religious beliefs. You are just following along with what you have been taught. But someone, somewhere, at some time did – even if you consider their illumination as being from god, I consider them made up.

            I do not look down on religious believers from the past. They did the best they could with the information they had. They were certainly not less intelligent nor less human than anyone else. Thanks to the courage and questioning of those in the past and the continuing efforts of scientists to this time, we have better, more accurate information now. Of course, there are still unanswered questions, but “god did it” is not a useful explanation. It predicts nothing further about how reality works and tells us precisely zero about our reality. How boring life would be without unanswered questions!

            I am so sorry that your belief in god has brought you to a place where you see nothing but suffering and death and futility in this world. I have had a happy, optimistic and fulfilled atheist life and I have great expectations for humanity in the future. My hope is that reliance on a vindictive and capricious god to sort out the troubles of the world will not shackle us for much longer.

            Oh – and that TH Huxley quote – You want to give me a citation ooks to me like some religious you feel better. Why i types just have to assert, “Important agnostics call out to god on their deathbed!” whether it’s true or not? You parroted it without checking on it’s actual reality – just like everything else you believe.

          • Carol Lynn

            Sorry about that last paragraph. My cursor went wonky and started a mass delete when I tried to edit out that bad apostrophe and trying to edit it again made it worse. It should have said:

            Oh – and that TH Huxley quote? You want to give me a citation? I can’t find a source anywhere that says he ever said that. It looks to me as if some religious type made it up to make you feel better. Why do some religious types just have</i< to assert, "Important agnostics and atheists find god on their deathbeds!" whether it's true or not? You parroted it without checking on its actual reality. – just like everything else you believe.

          • TonyBuck2

            CarolLynn

            Implicit in all your remarks, as in the remarks of almost all atheists, is the taken-for-granted assumption that you are wiser, braver, tougher and better than religious believers. But you are none of these things.

            And speaking for myself, I’m a Christian despite (not because) I was taught Christianity when young.

            As any honest physicists will tell you, they cannot even tell us what “gravity” is; they can observe and measure it, but haven’t any more idea of what it actually IS than when Newton first pinpointed it.
            If they’re at such a loss about such a basic concept of Physics, their comments on Religion obviously can’t be regarded as important.

            Like the Bible Fundamentalists, you’re still missing the important point – religion isn’t about information, least of all scientific information; it IS about human nature and human life (especially the individual’s suffering and transience). Therefore the progress of human learning, scientific or other, is wholly irrelevant. We know no more about human nature or the human condition (rather less, in fact) than the people of the Stone Age.

            Suffering and death are of course, the central facts of human life – only very cossetted people (or incurable optimists) imagine otherwise; most people in the West do of course fall into one or other of these categories.

            I don’t consider humanity or human life futile – but that’s only because I believe in God (the infinitely kind, forgiving and merciful God revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ – NOT a violent, capricious God). If God doesn’t exist, everything human will sooner or later come to nothing as the Universe itself will.

            If you have any hopes that humanity can sort out its problems (or even survive) without God’s help, then you an Optimist indeed, where “an optimist is a pessimist who is badly informed.”

            Regards

          • Carol Lynn

            And saying, “god did it!” gives us a usable explanation of gravity, or the human condition, or anything else, exactly how? I also notice you do not bother to engage with any of the actual questions I put to you. Still care to give me citation on that deathbed quote or admit it was made up?

            Sure, religion is about the human condition. Life is about the human condition. Why you insist the best way to figure that out is to have to reinterpret and cherry pick some book written in a different culture for a different set of social conditions to fit it in with today is the puzzlement. Why not start over and leave out the stoning and slavery and rape as a property crime and untrue cosmology and genocides and murders and bad mythology?

            You say “incurable optimist” of me as if that’s a bad thing. Your assumption that only a ‘cosseted’ person could be an optimist is way off the mark. Yeah, I’m an optimist. Why does that concern you? I pity your depressing view of the universe, but I do not pity you or think I am wiser, or tougher, or braver, or anything else you want to to accuse me of so you don’t have to engage with my ideas. Our ideas of how the universe works are different. That isn’t a problem unless you insist your view is the only correct one and try to suppress mine.

            Why does the “come to nothing” part of existence scare you so much? So? As long as I do the best I can with the life I have and try and make the future better for whoever comes after me, the eventual heat-death of the universe is not – and should not be – our problem any more than we can influence the past. Our umpety-times-great descendants, whatever they have evolved into, will use what resources they have to figure out the problems of their times or they will be gone. In either case, it’s not personal to me. Unless you truly believe in magic thinking – that somehow not eating pork or being against marriage equality or worshipping in some particular fashion – will affect the outcome of physics (in which case, seriously? We have nothing more to talk about.) time is inexorable and there is little we can do besides make the best of our life while we have it. You have faith in a loving god present in the world and trust in a glorious afterlife, and that still makes this life a dire and depressing existence? That is so outside my worldview.

            Yes. There are terrible things in the world. I am not unaware of them, unexperienced with them, nor ignorant of people doing evil things. A lot of things have been made a lot worse for a lot longer than they needed to be by blindly following that book, and others like it, that you are so fond of. Your answer, like the rabbi’s, is to expect, and possibly enforce, obedience to your ‘truer’ interpretation of the books? In all of history that has never worked. There was never a ‘golden age’ when everyone believed the same and life was hunky-dory and there can never be such a society.

            Isn’t one definition of insanity doing the same things over and expecting the results to be different?

            Maybe it’s time to really follow the First Amendment idea and let’s work towards a worldwide truly secular society – where anyone can be as religious or not as they choose but no one can enforce their beliefs on anyone else or casually expect that their beliefs will take precedence over any other belief or the lack of belief – and see if a better, less depressing over-all existence shakes out.

            I am not trying to ‘shake your faith’ or make you into an atheist. Go ahead. Believe what you like. Just do not legislate your religious views in ways that make it impossible for me to live the life I see as best. And I promise to do the same for you.

          • TonyBuck2

            CarolLynn

            The Spanish writer Unamuno wrote about “The Tragic Sense of Life (“La Senza Tragica de La Vida” is I think the original title). You pity me for suffering from this, I pity you for not doing so.

            A worldwide secular society simply isn’t happening outside a few prosperous Western societies; it’s unlikely to spread any further and would never last even if it did.

          • Carol Lynn

            We can agree to disagree on theodicy.

            You still have not either provided me with a citation for your death bed recantation Huxley quote or admitted that it was made up to make the theist position look better – though I will be charitable and say that you may have believed someone else who lied to you about it. Lying for Jesus is still dishonest.

            I believe a worldwide secular society is inevitable as it becomes clearer that people of differing faiths and no religion at all have to work together to survive and thrive. I believe you have also misunderstood what a secular society is – not one without sincere private and personal religious beliefs but one that does not favor or privilege any specific religious belief or lack thereof over any other in the public sphere.

            I do not look forward to the series of holy wars you seem to be expecting. I think we can avoid them. I can look around the globe and see that secular societies are spreading and thriving quite well: the more secular, the better they are at providing health, wealth and happiness to their citizens. Perhaps you ought to consider that simply asserting that they are not is another instance of ‘lying for Jesus’ and you ought to cite your sources if you want that to be taken seriously.

          • TonyBuck2

            CarolLynn

            I took the Huxley quote from what I believe to be an honest work of Catholic apologetics I glanced through about 1990.

            In Europe at present we have a secular space which claims to be neutral, but is in practice bitterly anti-religious.

            The good in the world’s secular societies is derived from their Christian heritages (or at one remove, from the Christian heritages of other secular countries). If you doubt me, consider what the West was like before it became Christian, i.e. the Roman Empire of, say, 300 CE. Almost all the good achieved since, is attributable to Christianity, which has illuminated even bitter opponents of Christianity such as Voltaire.

            However, the world’s secular societies have been undone by their success, which has led to excessive wealth and thus to decadence and approaching collapse. All this is observable and is the universal law of the history of all civilizations.

          • Carol Lynn

            So… lying for Jesus, or at least making things up to have some particular theology look better, is a long and honored tradition. A tradition you are happy to uphold by actually admitting that you prefer to state untruths that suit your narrative to conducting a quick google search for an inconvenient but more accurate piece of data. Got it. Do you ever bother to look at sources outside of Christian literature for a reality check?

            The Roman Empire did a pretty good job of having a decent civilization for its time and it didn’t go really downhill until it embraced Christianity. The invading barbarians were also fully Christianized tribes, after all. The Romans were not a perfect society – no more than we are – and we do better now on a lot of moral and ethical fronts despite having been under the influence of Christianity for a long time not because we have a Christian tradition.

            Ah, Voltaire – yes, the Enlightenment. Since Christianity had total control of European thought for more than a thousand years, saying that Voltaire drew on the Christian tradition is hardly surprising nor does it say anything about the truth claims of Christianity. When the philosophers and scientists realized that Christianity didn’t have all the answers, they went looking in the natural world, that is, science, for better answers that the Christian tradition and Christian scripture was not able to supply. Science does not have all the answers, but I can happily sit here, with all the mod cons science has provided me, while I contemplate the deeper questions of existence.

            Nice to see you agree then that the secular societies have had more success in making their citizens happy, healthy and wealthy than theocratic ones. “Bitterly anti-religious”? Oh, you mean religion isn’t automatically privileged any more and theists are expected to respect everyone’s beliefs even when they differ from theirs.

            My hope is that secularism spreads to more areas so more people can be happier, healthier and wealthier while still retaining all their personal beliefs. Oh wait… there’s that optimism of mine rearing its happy head again. Sorry. I just can’t be as miserable as you think I ought to be when I contemplate a – more secular – future. I have to hope that the theistic barbarians are not on my doorstep ready to invade civilization again and toss us back into another Dark Age.

          • TonyBuck2

            The Greek and Roaman civilisations were astonishingly brutal; the barbarian invasions were in many ways Progress.

          • Carol Lynn

            I have no idea what point you are trying to make. Are you asserting that the brutal practices that take place under Christianity have some inherent superiority to non-Christian brutality? Christian-sponsored brutality, up to and including genocide – does “Cathars” ring a bell for you? How about “Inquisition”? “Thirty Years War”? and that’s just a small selection from Europe! – ought to be ignored or praised as some kind of capital-P “Progress” because…? Because….? I got nothing.

          • TonyBuck2

            Carol Lynn

            It’s hard to believe that European history would have been pleasanter without Christianity. It would in fact have been far worse, as an unsentimental view of the Classical world makes clear.

          • Carol Lynn

            An unsentimental view of history shows that Christians are just as brutal – or not – as any other human. An unbiased view of European history shows that the forces that reduced cultural brutality and war in more modern times were not particularly Christian in origin and in fact run contrary to most standard Christian beliefs. (There is quite a nice article on the causes of the overall reduction of violence and war in modern times in this month’s “Skeptical Inquirer”. Historically, cultures that value women and allow them into the governing process tend to be less violent and warlike. If you don’t think it will give you cooties or something to read it, you might try some research outside of your comfort zone.) Many cultural institutions that flourished under Christianity were, quite unsentimentally, also brutal ones. Since you seem to think that cultural and institutional brutality done by Christians represents capital-P “Progress” and are practically salivating at the thought of a holy war to impose your theocratic beliefs on everyone else, I ask again, why is Christian brutality more acceptable than non-Christian brutality?

            This has probably been linked elsewhere in this thread, but I repeat it here. http:// iheu. org/ story/ were-not-terrifying-response-atheism-has-failed
            remove spaces to link.

          • TonyBuck2

            Carol Lynn

            Obviously I’m neither lying or making things up. As Jonathan Sacks points out, the theistic barbarians are already on our doorstep (and within our gates) and the barbarians always win.

            The whole Enlightenment project is a spin off from Christianity (a Christian heresy, in fact); nothing like it has arisen where there is no Christian tradition. You create a false opposition: science versus theocracy – but most religion isn’t theocratic, though atheists may well make it so, since most Islamism is a backlash against overweening secularism and a fear of where atheism leads; Moslems can see where secularism has led the West (to degradation and the verge of collapse) and understandably wish to avoid following our example, at all costs. If the Islamists take over, it will be thanks to wild-eyed secularists like you.

            Many scientists were and are Christians. But science is only knowledge about the natural world / universe; it cannot determine whether the supernatural exists and is thus no more in competition with religion than a fishmonger is in competition with a home linens store. Atheism isn’t and never can be a scientific theory or “fact.”

            Secular societies are in fact very unhappy – look at modern Britain – since “Man does not live by bread alone.” Health and wealth don’t satisfy the human soul, even for those who make a religion of them. As for the future being secular – dream on ! That’s the one thing it won’t be.

          • bhudster10

            You come over as deeply unhappy I’m afraid.

          • bhudster10

            Ha ha ha ha, that is the most preposterous drivel I’ve heard for ages, atheists are Stalinists! ha ha ha.

          • Fred Scuttle

            They do not.

          • TonyBuck2

            Even sadder that you no longer believe in God and are thus without any realistic hope, especially in the face of Death. Only God can be relied upon; all secular hopes are delusion.

          • Cameron McMillan

            A will that is weak which was given to us by God – why not just give us stronger wills?

          • Matt Parkins

            The view we’re talking about is that we inherit weaker wills and disposition to sin because of the fall.

          • ukvillafan

            The whole concept of Christianity, both fundamentalist and traditional catholic, begins with that ‘we are born in sin’. As you rightly point out, this is entirely irrational both practically and conceptually, but just because you choose not to like a central aspect of doctrine does not mean you can ignore the fact that it is a central tenet.

          • Matt Parkins

            You’re projecting one view of original sin as the only view of Christianity. This is not the case.

          • ukvillafan

            No, I’m detailing THE basic aspect of the idea of original sin which is the fundamental basis of the concept. If you have a different view of ‘original sin’ then you are sadly ignorant of the basis of the Christian faith. You may call anything you like ‘sin’ but there is only one ‘original sin’, which is rather the point, both theologically and linguistically.

          • Matt Parkins

            There’s little to discus then. Yes you’re bound to find people that original sin means a 1-day old child deserves to burn in hell for an eternity simply for having the audacity to be born. But most Christians realise this is nuts.

            So we disagree – I say that I have found a many many churches and denominations believe what I said before, that original sin is about the disposition of humanity toward committing acts of evil, (usually out of selfishness), and a will that is weak.

          • TonyBuck2

            Original sin is the universal human tendency to be bad – it is proved to exist by any day’s news headlines.

            Atheism can’t abolish it.

          • ukvillafan

            Original sin is a specifically Christian concoction, in the context we are discussing it. Indeed, sin is a particularly religious idea. Atheism does not seek to abolish these concepts at all, and you are mistaken if you believe so. As an atheist, I merely say neither you nor, particularly, the church has the moral right to a) determine what is or is not sinful (for example, who I decide to have sex with) or b) categorise everyone as a ‘born sinner’ which is fundamental to the concept of redemption by ‘accepting Jesus’ and thus being ‘saved’.

          • Carol Lynn

            Who could convict a one day old baby? Many “good Christians” would send that baby to Hell in a heartbeat if the right rituals had not been performed over it, or some magic words were left unsaid, or it was born from a non-Christian mother. Just because, perhaps, you wouldn’t do that doesn’t mean that many, many “good Christians” wouldn’t.

          • Matt Parkins

            Really? It’s not something I’ve heard of these days – perhaps in the past. Do you have a source?

          • Carol Lynn

            Does everything I learned from the nuns in grade school count? We were routinely impressed with the importance of baptism and how “pagan babies” were in Hell. It was held to us an example of right thinking and action that a “good Catholic” would of course baptize a baby in danger of dying even against the wishes of its parents so that it would not go to Hell. I’m not that old that it doesn’t count as contemporary. Mostly, I find that Christians cherry pick the bits they like and play the “god is love” card so they can ignore the truly heinous bits of their scripture and dogma. I’ve heard far too many fundamentalists say things like, “Of course my child was born to evil and needs to know she is a horrible sinner” to believe that a lot of people wouldn’t consign a baby to Hell.

          • Matt Parkins

            I really shouldn’t be amazed that people have said that kind of thing with our lifetimes. You’re right that people will believe nutty things, and cherry pick beliefs – that is part of what humans do and Christians in general are no different. But that does’t mean we should give up trying to gain a consistent view of Scripture and belief. Our response to bad interpretation of scripture should not be “no interpretation” but rather finding a way to find “good interpretation”, but I understand why someone would just want to get out of a community that said the things they said to you.

            As I’m sure you’re aware, there are many different forms of church and denominations, and while they all hold inaccurate views in some shape or form, there are plenty out there who don’t have the abusive view of the afterlife that you’ve encountered.

          • Carol Lynn

            Thanks, but no thanks. As an atheist, I don’t have to cherry pick or interpret the Bronze-Age Goat Herders Guide to the Universe to be a good person. You say, “that does’t mean we should give up trying to gain a consistent view of Scripture and belief.” That’s a pretty limited definition of scripture and belief you are working with. With 40,000 (or some such absurd number) Christian denominations and thousands and thousands more of other current and historical religions to choose from any quest for a consistent view among them is chasing a nonsensical goal.

          • Matt Parkins

            When I said consistent view, I didn’t say consistent across Christian denominations, but rather consistent across scripture – ie, not cherry picking is the goal, rather than rejecting scripture.

          • Carol Lynn

            Good luck with that. There is no consistent view of scripture possible, because of that pesky problem of other people not agreeing with you because “scripture’ says a lot of things can be “interpreted” various ways. You cherry pick as much as anyone else while you are deluding yourself into thinking you are are finding the ‘real’ meanings. Unless you are willing to use to force make other people at least superficially agree with you, consistency isn’t going to happen.

            IF there was a god AND he cared how people followed his supposed ‘word’, why would his holy book need to be “interpreted” at all?

            Any scientist can get people to agree about a fact of the universe and can use real, repeatable, falsifiable things to support his ideas about how it works. Anyone can do science and get the same results. No one can read scripture and get the same results. You can stand around and try and get others to see scripture the same way, or stand in front of a congregation and interpret it to them, or insist that your way is right and try and eliminate anyone who thinks differently, but history show s that none of that works very well.

            A scientist does predictive stuff that, if he got it right, correlates to reality too! And if reality works differently than a scientist’s idea predicted, a scientist changes the interpretation to match reality, not reinterpret reality to match his ideas on how reality ought to be. Scripture has never predicted anything and it got a lot of things about reality wrong. Science works in a way that scripture does not.

          • Matt Parkins

            I didn’t suggest we attempt to find consistency across Christian denominations and other religions – you’re right that would be absurd. My words were that finding a consistent view of scripture is a good goal, and that throwing out scripture because many people have either daft or abusive interpretations of it is understandable but ultimately nonsensical.

            On that point, again I’m sorry you were taught that you need to be a Christian to be good. People need to find their own need for God. As you say, you don’t need God – that’s fine by me – as far as I understand it God is only looking to help people who want him to help. Personally, I do.

          • TonyBuck2

            But as the Bible says: “No one is good, no not one.” This is much closer to the human reality than atheist blather about what good people they are.

          • Gareth

            Yet we don’t have to teach young children to be ‘naughty’. It seems to me that there is an innate tendency within human nature to fall short, even of the standards we set ourselves, not to mention the standards that others might set for us.

            A significant part of the reason that I’m a Christian is because I find the Bible’s diagnosis of sin reflects my own life consistently, accurately and inherently.

          • Raman Indian

            You say:

            “”A significant part of the reason that I’m a Christian is because I find the Bible’s diagnosis of sin reflects my own life consistently, accurately and inherently.”
            The exact opposite with me: I found it a small minded, petty, bigoted, mean, cowardly, spiteful way of thinking. Everything in it was shoddy, clearly the invention of third rate minds and soulless people.

          • Gareth

            “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2)

            “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4)

          • ET

            Yes, however, of the millions of academic man-hours spent, the vast majority have been spent by scholars who are so emotionally tied to the religious beliefs with which they have been indoctrinated that accepting the human authorship of the Bible is not an option they are open to considering. That’s why the term “delusion” is so apt. It’s not these religious scholars aren’t intelligent or aware of all the contradictions, scribal errors, historical errors, scientific errors, anachronisms, glosses, and other indications of human authorship in the Bible. They just delude themselves into accepting all sorts of contortionist explanations to reconcile the facts with their deeply held beliefs, because they feel they have no choice. I know, because I spent most of my life as one of them.

            Finally, If it’s such “basic stuff” that the creation story is a myth, why didn’t the Jewish & Christian scholars say that the creation story was a myth 2000 years ago — BEFORE science proved that it’s a myth?

          • Gareth

            What’s your evidence for asserting that the vast majority of scholars have not been open to considering the authorship of the Bible? In my experience, the Christians who have the strongest convictions in their faith are those who spend the most time studying the Bible – not just reading it but thinking deeply about it, questioning it and considering how it might apply to their lives.

            I don’t see that the term “delusional” fits with human psychology. It’s only possible to hold onto beliefs which do not accord with reality by suppressing them. Examined beliefs only survive if they find some basis which substantiates them.

          • ET

            Gareth, thinking deeply about it and questioning, etc, does not mean they’re really, truly willing to consider and accept that the Bible is not divine. E.g. perhaps no religious Jewish scholar questioned and thought very deeply more than Maimonides did in his Guide for the Perplexed, yet in his introduction he states that he’s taking as a given that there is a god and that He wrote the Bible. He wasn’t open to any other possibility.

            I don’t know how you could say delusional beliefs don’t fit with human psychology. If someone is not open to considering the world is more than 6,000 years old, he will delude himself into thinking that all the heaps of scientific evidence are shoddy. Similarly, if someone is not open to considering that the Bible is not divine, he will delude himself into thinking that all the hundreds of contradictions, errors, etc, can somehow be properly explained in a way that will uphold their deeply held beliefs, no matter how far-fetched and contorted those explanations are.

          • Gareth

            Maimonides is but one scholar. It’s a huge stretch from that to your assertion that “the vast majority” are not open to considering other possibilities.

            It seems to me a significant weakness in the “atheist critique” of Christianity that it relies on people either not thinking through their beliefs or not truly believing them. There seems to be an assumption that it’s so plainly self-evident that there is no God, no historic Jesus Christ and no credibility to the Bible that anyone who holds a different view must be ‘deluded’. It might persuade people who are not Christians that it is not worth examining the gospel. But for so many Bible believing Christians, it is an argument which does not hit home, because we know that we approach our faith intelligently, think carefully about these things, and question openly. It’s the people who don’t do this who tend to be those who drift away from their faith, not the other way round.

          • Matt Parkins

            I’m sure some did and some didn’t. You’re welcome to your opinion on how worthwhile the man-hours spent on theology are – but I would have thought that having met God they would be reasonably placed to have something worthwhile to say.

            It would be anachronistic to expect the scholars to have come out and said definitively was myth from the start. The development and understanding of history has its own history.

          • Cameron McMillan

            Ok, so if he’s paid for all sin for all time doesn’t that mean that it’s ok for us all to sin now? In fact if we didn’t all commit sin all the time then you could argue that he died in vain.

            What I don’t understand is where he went after he died? Did he go to heaven? If he’s in heaven now (rather than in hell) it doesn’t seem like he made much of a sacrifice to me. I mean he’s obviously not suffering in heaven is he?

          • Guy Swarbrick

            Oh come on. He was dead for a couple of hours. In the full knowledge that he wouldn’t be for long. Who else but the loving son of god would put themselves through that minor inconvenience?

          • Gareth

            Crucifixion was one of the most excruciating, agonisingly painful tortures ever devised.

          • Guy Swarbrick

            And commonplace – so no great deterrent, even to people who didn’t know they were going to survive it.

          • Matt Parkins

            I would have thought you’d show a bit more respect for people who had their lives torn from them for refusing to renounce their faith.

          • Guy Swarbrick

            Why?

          • TonyBuck2

            Why respect the heroes of the two World Wars then ?

            If it’s absurd to die for a religion, why is it OK to die for a mere nation or tribe or for a transient political philosophy ?

          • Guy Swarbrick

            Or to stop the genocide of another religion?

          • Matt Parkins

            Wow. So if someone threatened you to renounce your atheism you’d say ok? Wow!

          • Guy Swarbrick

            Would I die because some half wit would only stop torturing me if I pretended to believe in his invisible friend? No, I don’t think I would.

            I have the advantage of not being gullible enough to think that that saying I believe something I don’t will condemn me to an eternity of dam national so it’s staggeringly easy for me not to care what people think I believe…

          • TonyBuck2

            Christian martyrs die.

            Moslem martyrs kill first.

          • Guy Swarbrick

            Possibly generally true today. Irrelevant to the point at hand, but….

          • Matt Parkins

            If you repent (turn your life away from committing evil) and believe (put the full weight of your life upon Jesus & his way) then you’re not going to going around committing more acts of evil. Paul argues this through in Romans. As sin increases, grace increases all the more. Does that mean we should go on sinning? By no means. Worth a read.

            And yes, Christianity is an absolute scandal.

            The credal statements would say that after he died, Jesus “descended to the dead”. Being sinless he then rose again, and eventually ascended to be at the right hand of God the Father.

            The point is not the suffering (much). It’s that the immortal died.

        • John Fowler

          What a pedestrian interpretation. Your argument is like saying if David were not a historical figure, Israel does not exist. This isn’t Sisyphus we’re discussing, but a belief system that shaped world civilization to the point we are here engaging it millennia later. Furthermore, if you think people embrace it to avoid an unpleasant afterlife, you really don’t know people. In fact, I’d wager I hear unbelievers discussing views on the afterlife far, far more than I hear Jews or Christians address it. As with atheists and agnostics, most Jews and Christians do what they do because they think it is the right thing, as opposed to doing it out of fear of an unknown future.

          • http://www.circumstitions.com/ Hugh7

            Yes, many religious people are good in spite of what their religion teaches them.

          • TonyBuck2

            And even some atheists are good people, despite the nihilism that is an inevitable and built-in component of any logical atheism.

          • John Fowler

            I’m sorry you haven’t found a religion that teaches altrustic concepts such as forgiveness or charity, but the tone of your post suggests your ego is enough to fill that void.

          • Guy Swarbrick

            What an fallacious analogy. eysopen didn’t say that because Adam and Eve didn’t exist there is no Christianity. He said, quite correctly, that belief in one of the religion’s core tenets – original sin – is incompatible with the fact of evolution.

            You can believe in both and still call yourself – believe yourself to be – a Christian. Of course you can. All you need is is a lot of compartmentalism, some cherry picking and not a little delusion – but those are fundamental to any post-enlightenment religious belief.

            But you cannot, honestly, say that the one doesn’t invalidate the other.

          • John Fowler

            “What a fallacious analogy.”
            Saying something doesn’t make it so.
            “He said, quite correctly, that belief in one of the religion’s core tenets – original sin – is incompatible with the fact of evolution.”
            You’re assuming quite a bit here. The animal versus spiritual nature of humans would fit quite well with evolution, in fact.
            “You can believe in both and still call yourself – believe yourself to be – a Christian. Of course you can.”
            People do it all the time. I’d guess most Christians and Jews do.
            “He’s still a friend; he’s now a priest (encouraging people to embrace religion for the reasons you claim they don’t).”
            Because of his method of proselytizing, my claim about most religious people I know is false? He might want to try a different bait, because there are far better ones.

          • Guy Swarbrick

            So ‘most Christians’ is now ‘Most Christians I know’? Can you save me some time by conceding that you stop back pedalling when you get to ‘I’?

        • Jackthesmilingblack

          Adam and Eve: Think about it. Entrapment and a put-down of women.

          • TonyBuck2

            Satan’s entrapment. The curse of Eve – women’s oppression by men – is a consequence of our fallen state – it wasn’t God’s idea nor is it His fault or the fault of the Judaeo-Christian tradition. Nor is the curse of Adam – the tear down the middle of every man’s personality and the resultant moroseness and gnawing sense of dissatisfaction that afflict men.

      • rob232

        I don’t understand this kind of dishonesty.

        Christians do believe in heaven and hell. Christ certainly refers to hell on several occasions in the gospels.

        Half of all Christians are Catholic and do believe in transubstantiation – it forms the basis of their religion.

        And if Christian people have the freedom to change their religion it is because they are protected by the law. It hasn’t always been like that during the last two thousand years.
        And as for eating special foods, I was brought up a Catholic during the fifties and sixties and I assure you that my diet was restricted on Fridays, during Lent and most certainly if I wanted to eat the body and blood of Christ at mass.
        Your post is full of the characteristic intellectual dishonesty of the religious.

        • Matt Parkins

          Full of characteristic intellectual dishonesty? Let’s take this point by point shall we?

          > Christians do believe in heaven and hell.

          If you actually read my post you’ll see that I don’t deny that Christians believe in heaven and hell. I’m pointing out the misconception that many people have: the idea that *good* people go to heaven and *bad* people go to hell. Christianity teaches that even people we consider good have committed acts of evil and without Jesus’ sacrifice, and their own repentance and belief, would have no reconciliation with God, and would instead face an eternity without God – or hell as it is known.

          > Catholics believe in Transubstantiation

          Fewer than 30% of Catholics actually believe in transubstantiation – presumably it is fewer than that in more free thinking/developed nations.

          > Christians have not historically had the freedom to change religions, and can only do so now because of the law.

          There are some places in some times throughout history where that hasn’t been the case, sure. But the original poster was saying that that religious groups right now have a dogma that doesn’t allow people to leave the faith. I was saying the Church does. Talking about what the church was like 400 years ago (awful!) doesn’t really aid the debate.

          > Special foods: Fish Fridays

          It’s nice that your parents respected such a quaint tradition, and I’m sorry you took the full force of it, but it is not a proscription found within the New Testament or within the wider church. Sure local, even larger denominations, may come up with interesting festivals and ideas…

          …but to project your experience as representative of the wider church in order to try to score points is “intellectually dishonest” to use your phrase.

          • rob232

            No.

            Without Jesus’s sacrifice they had no possibilty of going to heaven. With his sacrifice they had the possibility of going to heaven if they led good lives performed good works etc. I f they did not perform good works they would be sent to hell.

            ‘Depart from me accursed ones to the fire prepared for the devil and his angels etc etc”.

            Transubstantiation is the key dogma of the Catholic faith. 50 per cent of Christians are Catholic.

            I was not brought up in 21 st century London but in Fifties USA by Polish Nuns.

            I’ve spent most of my life in Spain. My Spanish wife also grew up as a Catholic as did most of my friends. Please do not patronise me by pretending that normal Catholic customs belong to a few eccentrics.

            There is a whole wide world outside wherever you live. Liberal Christians and especially liberal Catholics are so because they have had to learn to live as a minority. And you know this is true.
            If they had the power to impose their beliefs, they most certainly would.

          • Matt Parkins

            > If they did not perform good works they would be sent to hell.

            Good works are the outwork expression of the inner reality. Deeds are over-emphasised in Catholicism and are certainly not a reason that someone would be “sent to hell” as you say.

            >Transubstansiation is key

            And yet fewer than 30% of catholics believe in it. Why is that?

            I too have been around many denominations and movements and churches – let me tell you there’s a whole wide world outside catholicism too, buddy. We will just have to disagree about whether traditions are the same as scriptural proscriptions.

          • TonyBuck2

            Neither Catholics nor Protestants still believe in imposing religious belief by legal or political force. I think you’ve got us mixed up with the Islamists.

          • rob232

            You mean you no longer try to impose your beliefs on other people. When did you stop?
            The Holy Inquisition stopped in the nineteenth century about the same time as Catholic Emancipation in the UK.
            But there are many countries where the church didn’t permit divorce until quite recently. Religious fanatics in the US try to introduce Creationism in schools. The list goes on and I submit that you know this deep inside. You are simply intellectually dishonest.
            We live in liberal democracies and are protected by laws but if they could impose their beliefs on us they would.

      • Robinoz

        Matt P, if I was God, I would be absolutely disheartened and shattered to think that anyone could write such nonsense as exists in most religious “Holy Books” and attribute it to my work. I would have done a much better job, so good that the truth of it would make absolute sense to even the dimmest of dimwits and we wouldn’t have Muslims running about cutting off people’s heads. Only humans have produced holy books, religious artifacts, bleeding statues etc; God is evident by his eternal absence and hasn’t created one book, one drawing, one place of workship, in fact nothing of anything.

        • Matt Parkins

          I think you rightly highlight a very important issue.

          Let me start by saying that I think God intentionally keeps himself hidden and needs to be plausibly deniable in order to protect our free-will. In order for us to freely accept him we must also have the freedom to reject the idea of him and (I hope) come toward him when we are ready and out of our own free will. If God were either provable (observably, scientifically, mathematically) then that we would be compelled to believe in him. That said, God is also in the habit of revealing himself to people individually – sometimes dramatically (think Paul on the road to Damascus) and sometimes more subtly through a sense of what can only be described as the presence of one’s maker – how does one describe the indescribable?), but even then he does it in a way that allows space for us to reject him.

          So when it comes to communicating with humanity God has chosen routes that allow people to reject him. Whether that’s God in flesh (Jesus: to some he was the messiah, to others a trouble-maker), or written revelation in the form of scripture (God inspired the human author to write – thus allowing people the freedom to see the divine voice within it, or reject it as solely a work of humans).

          The difficulty is then is not the book God has given us (who are we to argue?) but rather how we interpret it: and one interpretive option is fundamentalism. Within Christianity, fundamentalists will treat scripture as if God had controlled the pens of the various authors of scripture – and will play down and sometimes dismiss the role of those human authors. This Docetic approach to scripture causes countless problems within Christianity and outside it too.

          What this means is that for many Christians is that they will assume that God is the narrator in a piece of narrative, or that Paul’s words in his letters to various churches in his care are actually God’s words to us. This mistake wouldn’t be a problem if those same Christians were overflowing with humility, love and gentleness. What is rarely asked is “where is God in this passage?” – the evangelical-right will almost always assume that He is on the surface of the passage, but not everyone does.

          Some passages, particularly in the Old Testament, are in my opinion negative object lessons as people kill and ethnically cleanse in the name of God. For me this seems to be a warning about the abuse that can be perpetrated in the name of God.

          The answer to “poor interpretation” is not “no interpretation” but rather “good interpretation”. We should not reject scripture because people have and still do abuse it to manipulate people and situations, but rather we should strive to make better (non-fundamentalist!) approaches the dominant views of our age.

          • Guy Swarbrick

            Can you genuinely read that back to yourself and not conclude that it’s self-referential, self-justifying, illogical, utterly inconsistent twadlle?

            God hides himself; except when he doesn’t. And then he does really. Sort of. So that we know (because he looks made up) that he’s real.

          • Matt Parkins

            I could have been clearer, sure.

            God hides himself in order to protect our free will. At various points in your life God may intervene in your personal journey by revealing himself to you in a way that you can write off as being your imagination. He is looking to woo us to him, and for us to come freely.

            That wasn’t hard was it?

          • Guy Swarbrick

            It’s still entirely self-referential. God hides himself; except when he doesn’t – when he’ll look like a figment of your imagination (because he’s still trying to hide so he doesn’t mess up your free will) but if you allow your faith to convince you that your hallucination – however convincing – is, in fact, God not hiding very well…

            You couldn’t make it up.

          • Matt Parkins

            You’re right I couldn’t make it up.

            You misunderstand the middle point. God makes a move toward us but doesn’t come all the way so that faith still has a choice about it. There are exceptions to this – Paul on the road to damascus would be a dramatic exception – though what he lost in free-will, he gained in the honour of being used in the way he was.

          • Guy Swarbrick

            So he’s interfering with our precious free will – but only for those who have faith? That’s quite a reward.

          • Matt Parkins

            That’s not what I said. I give up.

          • bhudster10

            lol

          • Martin G

            Could somebody explain to me in simple terms why an omnipotent God (of whatever religion) cannot “… intentionally keeps himself hidden and needs to be plausibly deniable in order to protect our free-will. In order for us to freely accept him we must also have the freedom to reject the idea of him and (I hope) come toward him when we are ready and out of our own free will.” whilst making sure there is no pain or hardship or any evil in the universe and only universal happiness for all of his/her creatures?

            I’m sure I’ll be called simplistic, but please give me an answer so I know

          • Matt Parkins

            If you give someone free will they must be free to choose what to do with it, which includes causing suffering to others.

          • Martin G

            But God could give us free will and ensure that no suffering is ever caused to anybody. He is omnipotent after all

          • Matt Parkins

            I’m not convinced it is possible – I think you’re asking for a square triangle.

          • Martin G

            Not sure I understand. So you are saying that some things are impossible for God?

            1) That would indicate to me that there are ‘laws’ or ‘rules’ that are beyond God’s power and by which God is restrained, which seems to contradict his/her omnipotence

            2) And if so, how would one define impossible? Most rational thinking people would say it is impossible, for example, for a virgin woman to become pregnant (without the aid of any artificial insemination) and give birth to a perfectly healthy child. So since that is also not possible, how did God do it?

          • Matt Parkins

            Yes, some things are impossible for man (virgin birth for instance), and some things are impossible to do full-stop. For God, for instance, God cannot lie, God cannot go back on a promise – because he is essence or is committed to holiness & being good. Theoretically it is possible, but he couldn’t do x without breaking y.

            Then there are categories of nonsense, such as: can God create a 4-sided triangle?

            What you’re asking for is for God to give people free-will but also not give it to them.

          • Martin G

            So there are 3 levels of possibility? Possible, impossible for man but possible for God, and impossible for man and God?

            And how is the line between each one defined? Who decides what is possible for God and what is impossible for God? Who has made these rules? Or are these inherent laws of mathematics/nature/the universe? Such as the impossibility of planet earth being less than 10,000 years old.
            I’m just trying to understand what rules are governing what is possible and not possible for God. There is no use saying something is nonsense. It is only nonsense because it defies inherent laws of the universe and logic. And yet to be religious one is expected to believe what is clearly nonsense also. How are we differentiating between one piece of nonsense and another? How are we defining what is possible for God and what is not?

          • Fred Scuttle

            “I think God intentionally keeps himself hidden”

            And imaginary!

        • Raman Indian

          Well said.
          Nietzsche pointed out sardonically that whatever else there was to be said for God, on the evidence of the New Testament he wrote wretched Greek. It is a very good thing indeed that we can be sure it is God writing; otherwise one would jump to the conclusion, judging from style and content, that it was some uncommonly ignorant, narrow -minded men.
          One Arab poet in the time of Mohammed said something similar about the Koran: had we not known it was Allah speaking, said the poet, we would think it was one of our worse poets.

      • bhudster10

        People are Christians/Jews/ Bhuddists etc because their parents are.
        Young Sarah at number 32 will be brought up with certain Christian beliefs, while wee Mohammed two doors down will be told different fables from the Muslim faith, it’s an accident of birth.

        • Matt Parkins

          I can’t work out what you’re responding to here with this comment. I can’t imagine I’d have said that one’s parents have no bearing on one’s expression of faith.

    • S Cruise

      Good post Paddy. Partly agree with you on how the ism can be perceived but, really when you are an atheist, it is describing something you are not: if you are not theist, you are a(meaning: not) theist. Theism, on the other hand, suggests a belief system around a deity. A(not)theism can really be taken to mean: no belief system around a deity.

      • TonyBuck2

        You are pretending that atheism or secularism are neutral. Clearly they are NOT – the atheist and secular denunciation of religious belief proves them (beyond a shred of doubt) to be bitterly and fanatically anti-religious, rather than (as they dishonestly claim to be) merely non-religious.

        • Carol Lynn

          So if it’s a neutral position towards belief and disbelief, it means you’re being persecuted and it has to stop, but if it’s tilted towards your belief, that’s fine and all the anti-religious people just have to lump it (which is probably what makes them occasionally bitter and fanatical)? I have seen no possibility of it being tilted towards non-belief.

        • Eamonn Riley

          So your argument means that all religious people are anti-atheist? Do you see now how ridiculous thst makes your argument look?

    • PapaDocPenfro

      Excellent comment, except: don’t you mean ‘meritorious’ rather than ‘meretricious’ in your second paragraph? Sorry to quibble, but ‘meretricious’ = “of or relating to a prostitute : having the nature of prostitution” (Merriam-Webster online)

    • Nigel Atkinson

      Paddy writes
      It is Amoral as well as intellectually unsupportable to believe in dogma..

      That wouldn’t be a dogma by any chance would it Paddy?

    • Nigel Atkinson

      Paddy writes:

      it is Amoral as well as intellectually unsupportable to believe in dogma

      That wouldn’t be a dogma by any chance would it Paddy?

    • Ian Glendinning

      Paddy “Religion has been responsible for more evil than any other phenomenon.”. Well yeah, but that’s just a truism – since Religion has been the basis of governance in some form for most people of the world for most of the last 6000 years. For the last few hundred years, secularism and church-state separation has caught on – and democracy as the worst from of governance – that battle is won. The question is now what ?

      (Like you I don’t generally accept the tag “atheist”, but I’m not “anti-theist” either – I’m “non-theist”.)

    • TonyBuck2

      So religion caused the 2 World Wars and the massacres of Hitler, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung and Pol Pot – no, of course not; but the LACK of religion DID.

      Like most atheists, you choose to be wildly over-optimistic about human nature. Very few secular people are moral at all – look around today’s Britain, where the police are the main (only?) source of morality. But you may be an exception – you’re certainly far more dogmatic than any religious believer.

      As for the music, art and literature Christopher Hitchens applauded – most of it was created by religious believers – Shakespeare and Dostoyevsky were Christian believers (the latter fanatically so), while Tolstoy and George Eliot were rebels against devout Christian upbringings, but nonetheless steeped in their Christian heritage. In art, virtually all the West’s artists until about 1600 were devoutly Christian. In music, Bach was devoutly Christian, and Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven deeply influenced by Christianity.

      Thus no Christianity = no Western music, art or literature.

      • Fred Scuttle

        Muslims argue similar points about Islam. all nonsense of course. We did well despite having Christianity inflicted on the population by force, not because of it.

        • TonyBuck2

          Fred

          The Anglo-Saxons (like the Welsh , Scots, French etc) CHOSE to become Christians; Christianity wasn’t inflicted on them.

          If they hadn’t become Christians, they would in time have become Moslems – though conceivably a Dawkins of the Dark Ages would have persuaded them to become atheists !

      • Eamonn Riley

        Very few secular people are moral at all You clearly have no idea as to what morality really is.

    • Poitings

      Paddy there is a big, glaring ‘A’ attached to the front end in the word ‘atheism’. So no, the word atheism does not suggest a belief system. It very specifically does the opposite of that. Theism suggests a belief system and ‘A’theism suggests a rejection of belief.
      Then you go on with the old trope about how religion has killed more people than anything else. Don’t you do any original thinking, or research, or even researching your own cliches?
      The vast majority of people who died violently did so at the hands of another who lived by the ‘do unto them before they do unto me’ principle. Then there are the countless wars of conquest. I’m pretty sure Julius Ceasar didn’t kill half a million Gauls in the name of religion and neither did Alexander, Napoleon (3 million), Hitler (50 million) or Communism (150 Million).

    • northierthanthou.com

      I wish the original article had half the insight f Paddy’s posts, but the again, it is a lot more of a debate-camp piece than it’s author would seem to believe.

  • Joe G

    An important point that you don’t raise, Rabbi, is that of the truth of religious claims. It seems that you’re content for people to carry on as ‘cultural theologians’ when they are clearly deeply skeptical about the claims that religions make. Truth claims underpin entire religions, so how is it reasonable to expect people to subscribe to a value system when they find the whole thing so unfeasible from the start? I think, for example, that’s fairly important that children are not taught to behave well for fear going to hell, a concept that is as cruel as it is unlikely.

    Also, to equate the decline of religious values with the rise of rabid materialism and consumerism is something of an oversimplification. There is no zero-sum sliding scale between religious convictions and rapacious capitalism, people may reject or subscribe to both.

    It seems you’re eager to turn back the clock to a pre-digital, pre-skeptical era, rather than to work constructively to maximise the examples of people who are not religious but are moral. When it comes to humanity, my glass is always half full.

  • Chaotopia

    So the Rabbi is arguing that the way to counter evidence-denying, fact-free fairy tales of illiterate, goat-herders living in isolated regions during the Dark Ages is with evidence-denying, fact-free fairy tales of illiterate goat-herders living in isolated regions during the Late Bronze Age.

    Yeah, right.

    Let’s just try dropping the infantile fairy tales altogether and giving that a good try to see if even more people can embrace a life without the minds cluttered and their precious time wasted on the self-induced imbecility of religion. More of us are:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2109488/2030-The-year-Britain-cease-Chrsitian-nation-march-secularism.html

    I do agree that we should not be importing religious fanatics and that all immigration should be immediately halted from all well-known Islamic hot spots such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Somalia, etc, etc, etc. We can and should be far more fussier about who we choose to live on our tiny, over crowded island.

    If we do actually need immigration because of a skills gap or low birth rates then it is perfectly practical and entirely sensible to prioritise migration from countries where we, at least, share a common language or culture. That’s just stone-cold common sense and a mere matter of changing immigration and border control policy – nothing to do with brainwashing kids in religious dogma to counter the kids brainwashed in a different religious dogma.

    • http://twitter.com/ahm Avery

      Illiterate goat-herders might have known something you don’t. A frightening thought.

      A lot of the Shakespeare conspiracy theorists think it’s just extremely unlikely that a poor leather worker’s son could have understood the human condition so well and expressed himself so elegantly.

      • Chaotopia

        Avery

        “Illiterate goat-herders might have known something you don’t. A frightening thought”

        I’m sure they knew far more about herding goats than I ever care to.

        Hardly a thought that “frightens” me but they would have been understandably ignorant of the force of Gravity, that the Earth goes around the Sun, that the earth is billions of years old, that human beings share a common ancestor with other primates, that we evolved through a process of natural selection, that the 2nd law of thermodynamics means that there is continual change from order to disorder, that the behaviour of subatomic particles can only be understood in terms of chance and probabilities because cause and effect break down at this very small level, and that we are our the survival machines created by selfish genes to perpetuate themselves to adapt to an ever changing environment and so on and so on..

        Therefore, illiterate, superstitious goat-herders living in isolated regions of the middle-east during the Late Bronze age or Dark Ages (in the case of Islam) really aren’t a reliable source (and certainly not an authority) when it comes to our origins, how we got here, what we are and why we do what we do.

        BTW, I’m not a Shakespeare conspiracy theorist but suspect that he wasn’t the sole author or, at least, had help due to the vast vocabulary evident in his plays.

        • http://twitter.com/ahm Avery

          How fascinating that you think the belief that ” we are our the survival machines created by selfish genes to perpetuate themselves” is important in your everyday life. How does being a machine inform your daily decisions?

          • Chaotopia

            “How fascinating that you think the belief that ” we are our the survival machines created by selfish genes to perpetuate themselves” is important in your everyday life. How does being a machine inform your daily decisions?”

            Knowing what we are and where we come from and how we came to be allows me to be able to put everything in its proper perspective and evaluate what is really important in the short, very finite life span of the survival machine created to perpetuate my genes (namely myself).

            It informs me in such a way as to see straight through Creation myths and religion generally (extremely valuable) and, in particular, allows me to be critically sceptical of various “truth” claims made by religions and supernatural charlatans in general.

            It helps me to understand human behaviour and animal instincts and how and why these have evolved in the way that they have.

            I could go on and on but I think you get the idea that being a “machine” doesn’t remotely bother me. Why would it? There is nothing that anyone can do about this state of affairs – it is what it is and being in bone-headed denial of this hard fact won’t ever change it at all so why waste even a single millisecond of one’s finite lifespan worrying about it?

            And this is the this is the most important insight that this knowledge brings to my everyday life – I can come terms with the nature of my mortality so I don’t have to worry allowing me to enjoy my brief existence to its very full.

            Much better than that stupid solipsism which characterises religious faith – the vain, self-regarding Narcissistic belief that an utterly inexplicable super being creator would be remotely interested in the life of a true believer anymore than a scientist would concern himself with the experiences and impressions on an individual virus.

            Does that help?

        • http://www.retailsmart.com.au Retail$mart

          For what it is worth; the 2nd law of thermodynamics means that there is continual change from order to disorder = argument against the existence of a highly organised and interconnected ecological system

          • http://www.circumstitions.com/ Hugh7

            “the 2nd law of thermodynamics means that there is continual change from order to disorder”
            Not quite “Continual” – Inevitable but not steady, and only in a closed system.
            The 2nd law means order can come out of disorder with the expenditure of energy from outside the system. The earth is continuously provided with energy from outside, which it does indeed use to maintain “a highly organised and interconnected ecological system”

            (Note for Creationists: using the 2nd law to disprove evolution equally disproves LIFE. Give it up.)

          • http://www.retailsmart.com.au Retail$mart

            Lotta ifs and buts in that 🙂 But just a quick follow up if I may be allowed:
            Where is ‘outside’?

          • Kiwi_Dave

            “Where is ‘outside’?”

            Perhaps things are different where you live, but here in the antipodes, I often see in the sky a bright yellow thing. Perhaps that’s where ‘outside’ is.

          • http://www.retailsmart.com.au Retail$mart

            I must not understand kiwi humour – sorry – but if you are referring to the sun, then it is certainly not outside the universal ecological system. Unless of course Australia and NZ are in parallel universes 😉

          • Kiwi_Dave

            Hugh7 explicitly referred to the earth. You’ve added a word, ‘universal’, which wasn’t in your or his previous comments. As I understand it – I’m not a scientist – entropy happens overall, but permits localised and temporary exceptions.

          • http://www.retailsmart.com.au Retail$mart

            I did add that – maybe a bad assumption that we are talking about all of creation, which might mean universal is not even the right word.

            I don’t understand physics well enough to argue the point but I did not think that ‘laws’ like that were limited?

          • Guy Swarbrick

            > I don’t understand physics well enough to argue the point

            That’s going to make it tough. There are plenty of good books on the subject, but I will save you a little time. None will support your assertion that the 2nd law of thermodynamics does not allow for evolution.

            If you want a basic guide, try Dave Gorman’s critique of Duane Gish in his Googlewhack Adventure.

          • http://www.circumstitions.com/ Hugh7

            Outside the earth? It’s usually called “space”. (You do know that the sun is not fixed in a glassy sphere enclosing the earth, don’t you?) The energy necessary to sustain life (and hence drive evolution) comes from the sun, which is running down, in accordance with the 2nd law.

          • David Edwards

            No it doesn’t. All that’s needed is an external energy source to power it. See that big yellow thing in the sky?

            Incidentally, scientists no longer consider entropy to be about “disorder”, however that is defined. Because several scientific papers have established the existence of systems whose entropy increases when they arrange themselves into ordered structures. Phospholipids being a classic example.

            As for any fatuous attempt to try and erect the tired old creationist canard about the second law of thermodynamics purportedly “disproving” evolution, there are at least two scientific papers in circulation demonstrating that evolutionary processes are entirely compatible therewith, I could probably find more if I performed a suitably diligent search on Google Scholar. This arises from the fact that the second law of thermodynamics operates in different ways in isolated, closed and open systems. The Earth is clearly an open system.

  • Fred Scuttle

    Religion is all about unelected power. That’s why men invented them.

    • Icebow

      They are names for the same Goddess, you fool.

      • Fred Scuttle

        Yep, just like Allah, God and the fairy Jesus.

        • http://www.circumstitions.com/ Hugh7

          = Vishnu, Brahma, Shiva, Rama, Krishna…

  • Avadon

    I don’t know any prominent atheist championing relativism and individualism. The article is nothing but fallacy, assertion, and attacks on atheists which have no basis. If you’re going to try to write an objective article try to at least pretend to have some objectivity.

    We largely get our ethics and morals from social cues. That’s why we are mostly good when others are mostly good and mostly behave badly when others are behaving badly. The religious love to pretend it came from their holy books, but if you look at western ethics they are all ethics that have come despite religion. The bible, which condones slavery, rape, murder, genocide and other perversions is hardly the basis for our western society. In fact secular ethics, starting with the founding fathers, was the basis for keeping these religious ills out of our government. Thereby delivering us from the tyranny of a theocracy.

    I don’t know any intelligent person who argues for relativism or absolutism. The choice of that false dichotomy is something left to weak minded religious people; which is funny because this article boasts about atheists not raising the intelligence level of the debate, then continues to drop the discussion to an infantile, all time low. Honestly, the article isn’t even very well written, which is sad in and of itself.

  • Avadon

    I’ve also noticed a much younger generation of atheists than ever before in modern human history and much of them are highly informed on their disbelief of religious BS. I think that is what is pissing off these theists so much, that the tables are turning sharply, that the last bastions of religious bigotry (i.e gay marriage) are being cast off our society and humans are becoming more communal as humans, and not by subsets of superstitions. I could see how that would make fundamentalists extremely timid, fearful even enough to challenge, mislabel, and demonize secular ethics. But it is no matter, the future is moving forward and it is quickly pulling away from religion. No one is asking for more religion and new religions are not on the rise. The trend isn’t per se to atheism, but rather rational and critical thinking. -and when people stop praying and start thinking the worlds problems start actually being addressed.

  • A J MacDonald Jr

    I wholeheartedly agree. I wrote a book concerning this subject: The World Perceived, which goes into much greater depth, and concerns a phenomenological approach to science, religion, theology, and the Bible

    Internet Archive: http://archive.org/details/TheWorldPerceivedATheologicalAndPhenomenologicalApproachToThinking

    Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-World-Perceived-Phenomenological-In-The-World/dp/1440462143

    Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/World-Perceived-Theological-Phenomenological-World/dp/1440462143

  • John Modra

    Our support for the Rabi’s points would be somewhat dissipated if readers could point to a coherent emerging morality that is /was happening .Maybe the key issue is depth and deep ideas that keep producing fruit . I would suggest believers actually working in geology or ecology do not stumble over a young earth interpretation of a few verses of Genesis , accepting that many people just don’t study anothers professions very deeply . Big picture thinkers of all persuasions are rightly cynical that mere word pedantry can bring the house down philosophically (broadly) or even scientifically.( part of the Rabi’s point) One reason many believers ( who aren’t young earth advocates) resist the old earth and evolutionary link is simply because it forces followers to believe that time rather than God is the great healer .Such tight brief for life is more a driver for surfing than studying history and the substance of something like the three fundamental forces working together ( once just a religious idea )

  • Richard Liggins

    What we are seeing in the unrest across the globe is the disintegration of the major world religions, and a desperate attempt by them to wrest their former unparalleled power over the populace back under control.

    Religion is responsible for monstrous pain and suffering for millennia, and the legacy of that is a world riven with discord, mistrust and outright hatred. The rejection of organised religion wether it be by atheism, agnosticism or any other personal process is the only thing that will save the world from further discord.

    In the words of Stephen Fry, “Religion, I shit it.”

  • Alec McAllister

    “Some people get religion; others don’t. Why not leave it at that?”

    We atheists would love to leave it at that … if religious people would stop demanding privileges on the basis of their beliefs.

  • Daniel Maris

    I have never found the Chief Rabbi a convincing ethicist ever since that letter from him emerged into the open:

    ” Sacks provoked considerable controversy in the Anglo-Jewish community in 1996
    when he refused to attend the funeral service of the late Reform Rabbi Hugo Gryn and a private letter he had written in Hebrew, which (in translation) asserted that
    Gryn was “among those who destroy the faith,” was leaked and published. He wrote
    further that he was an “enemy” of the Reform, Liberal and Masorti movements,
    leading some to reject the notion that he is “Chief Rabbi” for all Jews in
    Britain. He attended a memorial meeting for Gryn, a move that brought the wrath
    of some in the ultra-Orthodox community.[18][19] Rabbi Dow Marmur
    argued that after attending the memorial service, Sacks then attempted to
    placate the ultra-Orthodox community, an attempt which Marmur has described as
    “neurotic and cowardly.” ” (From Wikipedia)

    Sounds like he pursues his petty vendettas beyond the grave… great example for people, eh?

    • Wilhelm

      Who knew Maris was an anti-semite.

      • Daniel Maris

        Nobody, because it’s not true. However, just because he’s Chief Rabbi doesn’t mean he’s above criticism. Same goes for the Pope who has a lot of questions to answer about his behaviour during the “Dirty War” in Argentina.

  • Matthew Prorok

    So, the message here is that we shouldn’t care about what’s actually true, about the knowledge we can actually gain about the world, but only what is convenient for fighting people who are fanatically devoted to even more ridiculous beliefs? Somehow, that sounds like a terrible idea for long-term success.

    And if you think that atheism leads to moral decay, you’re really not looking at the world as it actually is. If you haven’t seen a successful non-religious ethical system, it’s because you simply haven’t looked. If you had, you’d know that Humanism is a thing, and that far from stuttering, atheists have talked about the basis of their morality so much that they’re simply tired of answering the same stupid question over and over and over again.

  • Stuart

    Dear Chief Rabbi: please explain how the absence of a belief in something can be said to have failed.

  • David Edwards

    A quick question to the author of this tiresomely predictable apologetics. Please explain to us all, how treating unsupported mythological assertions as if they dictate how reality behaves, without bothering to ask whether or not reality agrees with this, contributes any substantive knowledge?

    The simple fact is, NONE of our invented mythologies contain anything other than unsupported assertions presented as purportedly constituting fact. Treating these assertions uncritically as fact, which is all that “faith” and “belief” constitute when analysed properly, is absurd. Several of those assertions are untestable, and therefore useless as a foundation for substantive knowledge, whilst several other assertions contained within mythologies are plain, flat, wrong, and have been known to be wrong ever since scientists started paying attention to reality. The idea that these mythologies constitute some sort of “privileged knowledge” is fatuous in the light of this.

    Indeed, supernaturalists across the planet cannot even agree amongst themselves WHICH of their beloved mythologies is purportedly the “right” mythology, or which of the assertions contained therein are purportedly the “right” assertions. Yet on this utterly, farcically vacuous basis, supernaturalists want their pet mythologies and their pet assertions to be treated as being equal to, or in some cases superior to, empirically supported scientific theories that in some cases are in accord with reality to 15 decimal places. Yet we’re supposed to accept the author’s wholly ridiculous contention that taking account of these elementary facts purportedly constitutes some sort of “deficiency” on the part of those who don’t treat unsupported mythological assertions as fact. The REAL deficiency, on the other hand, lies with supernaturalists, whenever they insist that their unsupported assertions dictate to reality, without an atom of evidence in support of this grandiose claim.

  • Bonzodog

    And absolutely savaged by Jerry Coyne over at WhyEvolutionIs True …

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/06/13/rabbi-sacks-is-an-ignorant-fool/

  • AndyB

    I would simply suggest that a man (or woman) who looks backwards in order to travel forwards is likely to fall on their backside.

  • S Cruise

    It seems the new barbarians tend to be mostly theist – and often extremely religious. So maybe it is theism that has failed and not atheism?

    “Nietzsche was not an anti-Semite, but there are passages in his writing that come close to justifying a Holocaust.”

    There are also passages in Jewish scripture justifying genocide. I’d also argue that Nazism was an attempt to maintain a Christian identity – with its traditional values(including anti-jewish/anti-semetic values that were influenced by theologians and religious scripture) – in a world that was becoming increasingly liberal, knowledgeable, atheistic & secular. So it was a reaction against all that.

    And we all know what those particular theistic barbarians did: they lost!

    • David Edwards

      Indeed, Hitler declared in one of his speeches that the Nazi movement had “stamped out atheism”. But once again, the elementary facts don’t stop supenaturalists from wheeling out the tired old “HIlter/Stalin/Mao/Pol Pot was an atheist” canard. None of these people were atheists in the rigorous sense of the word, they were pushing yet more doctrines based upon unsupported assertions, and in doing so, were simply behaving in the same manner as supernaturalists. That the doctrines in question happened not to contain assertions about magic entities is an irrelevance from the standpoint of a properly rigorous analysis, what counts is that they were peddling unsupported assertions as fact.

      Incidentally, so-called “New Atheism” isn’t that “new” at all. Jean Meslier wrote a treatise back in 1729, that is, if you read it, the 18th century version of “The God Delusion”, and in that treatise, Meslier dissected supernaturalist assertions and canards with a ruthlessness that would, if he had published it today, lead to the usual tiresome accusations of being “strident” or “militant”. For those who are interested, Meslier’s treatise, “Superstition In All Ages”, can be found in an English translation on the Gutenberg Project website.

  • Jeff Donnelly

    All present “-isms” of Western civilization have been shaped by Judeo-Christian ethical monotheism in some way, including humanism and secularism. They didn’t just spring up out of nowhere. The fact that we’re even having this discussion shows how much it has impacted us. Judeo-Christian values have shaped our entire way of thinking and being. Nothing we do will eliminate the religious ground in which our whole civilization grew, including the religious foundation that preceded the Judeo-Christian dominance of Western Civilization (i.e., Greco-Roman, etc.) It’s simply futile to attempt either to deny or eradicate them.

    • Matthew Prorok

      We wouldn’t have the modern practice of chemistry if it hadn’t been for alchemy. This historical legacy doesn’t mean we have to care about alchemy today. Because it’s nonsense. Understanding what factors influenced our current culture doesn’t mean we have to retain those factors in our modern thinking.

    • David Edwards

      The only reason that mythology has had an impact upon these other developments, is because Europe spent the best part of a thousand years under the yoke of ruthless enforcers of conformity to doctrine, who made damn sure that it had an impact upon everything around it. if the mythology in question had been required to stand upon its own merits, it would have been discarded long ago, not least because the whole “fall” scenario in Genesis involves a plot that would be laughed at if a modern writer tried to present it in a fictional work.

    • rafimetz

      “Judeo-Christian” is itself a misnomer, and misses the fact that “Judeo-Christian” like “New / Old Testament” is a Christian concept. Judaism is a fig leaf of morality for Christianity, which is a radical departure from Judaism. You are correct that all of the “isms” are shaped by something, but it’s Christianity, not Judaism. Christianity drowns out the subtlety of its Jewish roots, and creates an all-or-nothing, atomized, ungrounded society with nothing but magical thinking for meaning.

      • Jeff Donnelly

        I agree with you, rafimetz, that it’s more predominantly Christianity that has shaped Western society. But, I certainly wouldn’t agree that it’s simply an ungrounded society with nothing but magical thinking for meaning. You may align more with Judaism than with Christianity, but that in itself doesn’t negate the effectiveness of the meaning that Christianity has brought to, not only Western society but all of the world, because in the final analysis, Western society has made an indelibly positive mark on our world as well.

        • http://www.circumstitions.com/ Hugh7

          The positive aspects of that mark virtually all date from after the Enlightenment and the decline of the religious imposition of values. Christianity can take a great deal of the blame for the slave trade, for example, and little of the credit for its abolition. Likewise segregation, women’s suffrage, GLBT emancipation, etc.

  • Aoc Crow

    “The new barbarians are the fundamentalists who seek to impose a single truth on a plural world. Though many of them claim to be religious, they are actually devotees of the will to power. ”

    Convenient, relabel religious fanatics as not really religious. Attack religious fanaticism and leave atheists alone. Better yet, promote separation of church and state.

  • Tony W

    It’s interesting that the Chief Rabbi supports his position quite a lot with reference to all the evils of society – evils that a good religion should guard against. This seems to me a fear based response.

    When I see these sorts of moral and ethical debates focus (perhaps unduly) on the fear of a secular state vs fear of a fundamentalist state, I think something has been missed.

    What about taking the opportunity to mention love? I don’t think you can truly find that either in scripture or in society, so perhaps it never will make for good copy.

    But without it, there sure seem an increasing amount of restraints to live by, religious or not.

  • Mervhob

    As Kipling so accurately portrayed it:
    ‘Holy State or Holy King, or Holy people’s will,
    Have no truck with the senseless thing,
    Order the guns and kill!
    Saying after me,
    Once there was The People, Terror gave it birth,
    Once there was The People, and it made a Hell of Earth,
    Earth arose and crushed it – Listen Oh ye slain!
    Once there was The People – It must never be again!’
    McDonough’s Song – ‘AS Easy as A B C’

  • mike

    All your comments are astounding intellectually bereft. The only examples of societies built on Atheist/secular principle are communist Russia, (and that was hardly built upon it; but rather a hostile take over) Citing Denmark and Sweden is premature at best. Secularism took hold of western Society for only about the last 80-100 years. That is hardly a sterling example of a “religionless” society. Lets give these people their children and grand children and see what happens.

    You all talk about knowing about how the earth revolves around the sun.Exactly what has that done to “improve” society? Does knowing the earth revolve around the sun make me recognize the value of every human life?

    We have a society that knows how to split the atom but doesn’t know how to restrain self gratification. Science has been a vacuous black hole for ethics, history, art, literature. Yes we have cell phones and airplanes, but we are more disconnected now that ever in the past. I can fly to Hong Kong in a day, but if I don’t care about the neighbor right next door beating his wife what kind of human am I?

    You are all blind, short sighted idiots. Sure deny our need for God and see what happens. It’s like most sins: The worst addictions and sins seem enlightened, fun and liberating until they aren’t any more. It’ll be the same with God.

    Enjoy your prodigal son story. As of right now the son still has all the money that the father gave him. But when that money runs outs, and it will run out. When secularism has expended the last drop of moral force from the Judeo- Christian past, and it will eventually, don’t be surprised if you find yourself sitting in a pig’s sty longing to eat the pods from the pigs.

    Eventually you will have a society that doesn’t understand why human life should be valued, why the fittest shouldn’t be the only people to survive, why the will to power is a bad idea. Eventually we will inherit it what we have sown. We have not seen the harvest from the grain planted over the last 80-100 years. We only just now beginning to see the fruit.

    Like most idiotic western people you only see what has occurred in your lifetime. You think 10 years is a long time, in terms of history it’s a blurp, a fart, a whim. Moral, free and open societies only work with moral, free and open people. We are breeding an entire culture of people who are immoral, slaves and socially retarded.

    Soon we won’t deserve an open society, and you’ll wonder how we got here. Thats the point where you’ll sit in the pig filth and wonder how it happened. Don’t be surprised.

    • Matthew Prorok

      Ask yourself a simple question: if you stopped believing in god, would you stop being a good person? Would you no longer be moral? If not, then you don’t need god to be a good person. If so, that says some very unflattering things about you.

    • Benjamin

      “Moral, free and open societies only work with moral, free and open people. We are breeding an entire culture of people who are immoral, slaves and socially retarded”

      I fully agree to that point – but what does that have to do with the atheists?

    • David Edwards

      First of all, how is it possible to “deny” an entity that has only ever been asserted to exist? Supernaturalists have had 5,000 years to provide evidence for their various invented magic entities, and in all that time, all we’ve had is apologetics, namely the erection of convoluted semantic fabrications for the purpose of providing the illusion of support for presuppositions, with which to dazzle the gullible and uneducated.

      Second, I see the infamous and entirely predictable apologetic fabrication about a despotic state purportedly being founded on “atheism” has been erected. Yawn. The Soviet Union was erected by people espousing another assertion-laden doctrine, and by doing so, were behaving like supernaturalists.

      Third, the idea that your religion forms a foundation for ethical behaviour is refuted wholesale by historical fact. Wind the clock back far enough, and failure to make the right doctrinal noises resulted in whoever failed to do so being carted off to the nearest dungeon, introduced to assorted torture implements, and quite frequently being put to death afterwards, despite a purported “commandment” in your mythology prohibiting murder.

      Fourth, as for your entirely specious cant against science, science doesn’t pretend to be in the business of issuing moral strictures. It simply concerns itself with the business of finding out which of our ideas about observational reality are in accord therewith. Yet, despite this, it’s actually been extremely informative with respect to such matters as the biological and evolutionary basis for [1] our capacity to engage in ethical behaviour, and [2] the classes of behaviours falling within the “ethical” remit. I have in my collection the best part of a dozen scientific papers covering this, which are far more informative about the subject than any number of mythological assertions. In short, science doesn’t tell us what we should do, but it tells us a lot about how we came to possess the capability to make those decisions, and how that capability operates when we make those decisions. Needless to say, this did not involve any fantasy magic fruit.

      So before you subject us all to tiresome proselytising, you might want to engage in a little elementary fact checking first.

      • MichtyMe

        The ethical bit reminds me of a piece of work by some university folk in the US that I read about decades ago which involved a wallet left in a public place and the religion and actions of the people who came upon it. Can’t now recall how the faiths and denomination ranked but it was the atheists who were the most honest.

        • GordonHide

          The same experiment was done in several different countries. The Danes proved to be the most honest. – they are mostly atheists.

      • mike

        how is it possible to “deny” an entity that has only ever been asserted to exist?” Are you saying that you KNOW God does not exist? Listen you may not believe God exists. That’s your option. I can’t prove the number 2 exists. I can’t empirically prove the logical law of non-contradition. I can’t prove we are not living in a “matrix” type world. I can’t prove the physical world is real.

        You can delude yourself into thinking that you only believe what is absolutely proven, and that’s your option. But there are lots of things I believe to be true that I simply cannot prove and the more education I get the more I realize that truth.

        Now as to your argument. 1 My point was that 80-100 years is not a very long time to declare that we can successfully build a society on the foundation of atheism and secularism.

        2 “failure to make the right doctrinal noises resulted in whoever failed to do so being carted off to the nearest dungeon”

        Your simply spouting a polemic that has very little understanding of history. The “past” you are referring to is a bit more complicated than the church is bad. Rulers and kings also had a lot to do with with what your talking.

        3 we cart people off NOW and put them in dungeons for exactly the same thing. Look at what we do with al quada and guantanimo. You make yourself sound like we are so much more superior than they were. We stick people in prison and murder them and kill them we just call it national security, commercialism, truth. Lets not pretend we are superior we murder kill and put people in prison we just do it for different reasons, reason that we “justify” in our minds. You may not find it “justified” to murder people with drones but plenty of other people do.

        4 “out which of our ideas about observational reality are in accord therewith”

        right as if science is idea feee and neutral. As if what we observe and what we see is not impacted by our philosophy and what we want to believe. The problem with science is that computers don’t do it… people do. People are subject to philosophy, perspective and understanding of the world, pretending that they are not is naiveté.

        • David Edwards

          Oh look, so many canards in so few paragraphs.

          [1] If an entity is merely *asserted* to exist, but said assertion is accompanied by zero real evidence supporting it,then said assertion is discardable. This is an elementary rule of proper discourse. The onus is on whoever erects the assertion to support it. All the rest of us have to do is sit and wait for the success or failure thereof. Since supernaturalists have a 5,000 year long track record of failure, we’re not required to treat their beloved mythological assertions as fact, no matter how much doing so tickles the ideological erogenous zones of supernaturalists.

          As for your fatuous statement “I can’t prove the number 2 exists”, Willard Van Ormand Quine provided a framework for deriving the natural numbers from a combination of quantificational logic and set theory. You can find this in his seminal textbook, “Methods of Logic”. I suggest you read this.

          Meanwhile, if the law of non-contradiction doesn’t hold, then quite literally, anything goes, including the logically absurd. You really didn’t think this through, did you?

          [2] Once again, I see the entirely typical supernaturalist conflation of *proof*, which is a formal procedure restricted to pure mathematics, with *evidential support”, which is the means by which postulates about observational reality are either supported or refuted. Though the two processes are different, they possess similar levels of rigour.

          [3] Actually, the beginnings of secular society lie in the Enlightenment, the beginning of which dates back to the middle of the 18th century. This was the time when the first declarations on the value of separation of church and state were issued. Which, simply put, means that the state should not take sides in religious disputes. It’s why you’re free to treat your favourite assertions as fact, something that you wouldn’t be if the state took a side other than yours.

          [4] As for trying to hand-wave away the unpleasant facts about past supernaturalist abuse of power by claiming that other rulers were in on the game, quite a few of those were motivated by the same fear as the common people, namely that if they didn’t make the right doctrinal noises, they would find themselves on the receiving end of ssome very nasty actions. Even kings weren’t immune to this, as the ruler of the Cathars discovered to his cost.

          [5] Actually, Al-Qaeda operatives are incarcerated for trying to kill people. Rather a lot of whom died in New York in 2001 as a result of the actions of some of those operatives. Unless of course you’re going to indulge in conspiracy theorising on the subject. Plus, here in the UK, not to mention much of the EU, the death penalty has been abolished. Amnesty International cites 21 nations as retaining the death penalty, and lo and behold, almost all of them are nations in which religion plays a big role in politics, with China being the one major exception. As for the “War on Terror”, I hasten to remind you that the impetus for this came fromn George W. Bush, who claimed that his invisible magic man told him to go after various people.

          [6] Meanwhile, with respect to this:

          “right as if science is idea feee and neutral. As if what we observe and what we see is not impacted by our philosophy and what we want to believe.”

          Oh no, it’s the tiresome “interpretations” canard so beloved of creationists rearing its ugly head, a duplicitous apologetic fabrication aimed at trying to misrepresent the scientific endeavour as “another doctrine”. Which fails spectacularly for one reason, namely, if a scientist erects an assertion, and cannot support it with actual empirical evidence, that assertion is DISCARDED, which is the very opposite of what happens in religion. Quite simply, science is in the business of testing assertions and presuppositions to destruction, and the only “interpretation” that matters to scientists is whatever observational reality happens to agree with. Do learn this elementary lesson before peddling more of the same tired and previously debunked apologetic fabrications. Scientists have actually expended a considerable amount of intellectual effort aimed at *eliminating* presuppositions from their work, as you would know if you had actually studied some of this, and have expended much diligent labour devoted to the matter of determining which conclusions can be robustly drawn from empirical evidence. Indeed, one of the ways in which scientists win Nobel Prizes, is by *overturning established paradigms*. See for example, Barry Marshall and Stanley Prusiner.

          Come back when you have some substance.

          • mike

            Willard Van Ormand Quine, argument depends upon the a priori acceptance of numbers as foundational to the scientific enterprise. It’s arguing from a naturalist position that depends upon numbers usefulness to prove their ontological existence. I find this particular argument tautological: Science cannot be done without the reality of numbers, so numbers must ontologically exist. Moreover, Harty Field in 1980 directly countered Quine’s assertion. In Science without numbers. So without coming down on a position I simply remain agnostic about the reality of numbers. Its interesting that you are the dogmatic one ignoring any dissent from your pet theory. Im not asserting that Quine is wrong, I’m simply saying, his argument isn’t overwhelmingly convincing and am agnostic.

            Now as to this: “if the law of non-contradiction doesn’t hold, then quite literally, anything goes,” 1 This is arguing from consequences. ie if it’s not true X will result, so X must be true.

            2) You ignored the point, I didn’t say the law of contradiction wasn’t true, I said I cannot PROVE it’s true. Which you illustrated you cannot either because your only response is a logical fallacy: ie if its not true bad things will happen.

            I see the entirely typical supernaturalist conflation of *proof*,..with *evidential support”, which is the means by which postulates about observational reality are either supported or refuted.” Interesting, I am not “conflating” things I mean it in both ways, I cannot empirically demonstrate these things, NOR can I mathematically prove these things.

            As to the Enlightenment; there is a profound difference between what intellectual assert is true/believe and what the larger society lives believing is true. Yes the enlightenment has its foundation in the late 18th century, but that doesn’t mean our society was based upon it. Unless you are willing to assert that the intellectual elite are equivalent to society you would be hard pressed to demonstrate those values “took over” western society until after WWII.

            “about past supernaturalist abuse of power” Considering you don’t believe such entity exist this is silly. How can a non existent deity be blamed for anything let alone abuse of power?

            My guess is you are referring to PEOPLE in positions of “power” abusing those positions. Which proves nothing. Letting kings and rulers off the hook by blaming the church is ignorance of history. Try Henry the VIII. My point isn’t that the church was innocent simply that abuse can be spread around.

            Also if these people are simply “murders” why are we holding them in guantonimo instead of in normal prisons? Please…

            “the only “interpretation” that matters to scientists is whatever observational reality happens to agree with.”

            you should try reading thomas Khun and the Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Let me give you an illustration: Evolution is believed to have happened gradually over time, and also held to be immediate. Punctuated equilibrium and traditional gradual evolution. Both cannot be true.Neither is proven nor disproven both are held by esteemed scientists. Are you telling me perspective and belief has nothing to do with Science? I think that demonstrates ignorance of any intellectual endeavors.

          • David Edwards

            Addressing this latest collection of canards …

            [1] Quine’s development of numbers from quantificational logic and set theory does not depend a priori upon the acceptance of numbers, as you would have learned if you had actually read the work in question. Zero is DEFINED in this framework as the class containing all empty sets, which doesn’t need an a priori concept of number. It simply needs us to recognise a distinction between empty sets and non-empty sets.

            Additionally, science doesn’t erect any assertions about the “ontological status” of numbers, it simply regards them as useful, because observational reality can be represented using them extremely well. Last time I checked amongst my fellow mathematicians, a good many of them regarded numbers as existing *within a particular abstract realm*.

            [2] This isn’t a fallacious appeal to consequences. Failure of the law of non-contradiction to hold *by definition* permits the logically inconsistent and the absurd to be true, including observational absurdities. That said permitted observational absurdities are never observed tells us something important here.

            [3] As a corollary of the last part of [2] above, I contend that we have evidence supporting the soundness of the law of non-contradiction.

            [4] See above.

            [5] You really think anyone here with functioning brain cells needs to be told, that there is frequently a difference between lay understanding and academic understanding? Typical supernaturalist hubris. Plus, academics in the field leave mere *assertions* to supernaturalists. They provide *evidence* to support their assorted postulates. Do learn this lesson before trying to caricature academic research as another exercise in assertionism.

            [6] When I talked about supernaturalist abuse of power, I was, of course, as anyone else reading my post understood perfectly well, talking about abuse of power by human beings pushing a supernaturalist agenda. Which would have been understood even without knowing that I regard asserted mythological entities as mere figments of the human imagination. That you have to resort to apologetics this lame in response to my posts speaks volumes about the vacuity of the entire supernaturalist enterprise.

            [7] I didn’t claim for one moment that people in positions of power outside of supernaturalist organisations were somehow magically free from the temptation to abuse that power. We have plenty of evidence that they are. Once again, a red herring on your part.

            [8] What I contend, on the basis of relevant evidence, is that the supernaturalist enterprise, based as it is upon insistence that blind assertions equal fact, *necessarily* leads to said abuse of power, especially when there does not exist any rigorous means of subjecting several of those assertions to test. Once again, an elementary concept that many others here understood when reading my post.

            [9] The reason for holding Al-Qaeda operatives in places such as Guantanamo, according to the people who formulated the relevant policy, is because these operatives pose a special threat if allowed to continue roaming freely. Given the propensity of these people to conspire to commit acts of mass murder, and act upon said conspiratorial plans, those formulating that policy point to this as the basis of that special threat. Whether one agrees with those formulating said policy is, of course, a separate question. Plus, I remind you once again, that said policy was formulated originally by a US president who claimed that his inviisble magic man told him to “go after” certain people. As a corollary, if you disagree with his policy, you might want to ask yourself about the soundness of his claim about his magic man.

            [10] Oh no, not the entirely predictable nonsense about punctuated equilibrium being purportedly “diametrically opposed” to phyletic gradualism. Yawn. This tiresome creationist canard has been dealt with time and again. First of all, phyletic gradualism never postulated a constant rate of change. All that punctuated equilibrium postulates, is that *variable rates of change conform to a specific pattern in certain observed lineages*. Do learn something about the actual science, instead of regurgitating known creationist canards. Furthermore, given that we have *evidence* for both slow and fast changes, the rate thereof being a consequence of the gradients within the fitness landscape, your assertion that “both cannot be true” is duly flushed down the S-bend. If you check the actual scientific literature, you’ll find that several authors regard PE as applicable to sexually reproducing eukaryote lineages, whilst phyletic gradualism in its modern form is applicable to asexually reproducing prokaryotes. Reasons for this are active research topics, incidentally.

            Once again, come back when you have some substance.

          • mike

            Wow, I am continually amazed my the bizarre animosity here. My statement was simply there are lots of things that I cannot prove that I believe in. And you are determined to make me not just believe Quine’s argument but to ignore Harty Field’s argument which post dates Quines.

            What is amazing is not that you believe you Quines, as I said I am agnostic about the existence of numbers, but your refusal to allow dissenting views to be expressed. My point was there are things that I cannot prove to be true yet believe. You then proceed to show me why I’m ignorant to to express doubt about the so called solutions.

            I never asserted that I was a creationist, nor did I assert evolution was wrong. I simply pointed out that there are different ideas about what evolution is; not that it was false or wrong. I simply pointed out that dissenting views exist as to how it happened.

            I find it interesting that you ignore the main thrust of my posts and hang on details. As if proving that numbers “actually exits” somehow demonstrates my point about believing things with out proof is some how wrong.

            For example I highly doubt you refused to participate in mathematics until you had read Quines works. More than likely you, like the rest of us, used, studied and learned math without even questioning numbers existence. In other words you simply operated as if numbers were real or at least useful without even getting proof that they were.

        • bhudster10

          I can’t prove that the tooth fairy doesn’t exist in some way, but I am certain that it doesn’t,
          Ditto God.

    • bhudster10

      So you need to believe in some god or you will ignore the next door neighbour beating his wife? I’m an atheist, and instinctively I would intervene, not to gain god points, but because it is the right thing to do.

  • Piobairean

    I believe you are right on a number of points; religion will be difficult to replace and without it cultural homogeneity will be much more difficult. The experience of the Jewish people is a prime example of the power of religion to maintain a cultural identity. It’s also true that religion does provide moral principles, although all religions have managed to twist the teachings to justify the oppression of ‘others’ even if they happen to worship the same deity i.e. Christians, Jews, Moslems or Protestants vs. Catholics or Sunnis vs. Shiites. Marcus Aurelius (I think) said that the administrators found the religions of Rome ‘useful’; governments today find them the same as the use of religion by Putin in Russia shows. I think something will or must replace religion, I only hope it will contain the best moral precepts of religions in general and consign the bad to the dustbin of history.

    • MichtyMe

      Lucretius “All religions are equally sublime to the ignorant, useful to the politician, and ridiculous to the philosopher”.

      • Piobairean

        Thanks. A great truth.

  • http://www.humanism.org.uk/ Steve Ollington

    “Jonathan Sacks 15 June 2013”

    Well I was an atheist, but since the Rabbi has performed a miracle in front of me by transporting two days into the future to write this article, I now must be sceptical of my scepticism… I suppose if divine intervention includes faces of messiahs on toast, we can call this one real despite how pointless and other-wise easily explained it would be.

    Ramen.

  • Chuck O’Connor

    I read this and think, “Of course a person who is going out of business would write this.” It is a good thing that fear appeals in an age of evidence aren’t as effective as they were in pre-enlightened times. But I do want to know, if I embrace religion again, do I have to grow out a hipster beard and tie card-board cubes to my forehead?

  • bob126

    My kids used to believe in Father Xmas – this helped me keep them under control while they felt they would be rewarded for good behaviour – or more importantly that they would lose out if they were naughty.
    Now they no longer believe in this code they pay little attention to what I say.
    I still have faith that in time they will mature and we will resume a relationship based on mutual respect.
    Only religion can defeat the “new” barbarians? That’s all bunk.

  • Mike De Fleuriot

    Listen!

    IS YOUR GOD REAL, CAN YOU SHOW EVIDENCE FOR HIM?

    IF NOT, WHY SHOULD WE ACCEPT YOUR VIEWS?

    (waiting..)

  • Vin Rohm

    Great people of wisdom are few. Even in their own time, Hobbes, Spinoza, Voltaire, and Nietzsche were rare among like thinkers. They do exist today…and soon another will rise to take his or her place among them.

    • http://www.circumstitions.com/ Hugh7

      We have them, but not necessarily philosophers and not theists; Sagan, Attenborough.

  • Rossspeak

    You speculate what “future intellectual historians” will opine – I would speculate that in a few thousand years ( it may take that long) – Humanity will view the historical belief in Deity/ies in the same way that we now view worshiping the sun god that was the belief system of ancient Egypt – the foremost civilisation of its time.

    It is strange to me how anyone with even a scant knowledge of astrophysics and the mathmatics of our known universe can possibly believe in any deity – let alone the Judeao/Christian God and/or the bible tales.

    After all – in a few billion years our star ( and galaxy) will implode – that much is certain – whereas Faith is simply faith.

  • naysayer

    So the theory is basically that we have to become barbaric once again to fight barbarism? That’s… unfortunate.
    I’d rather fuck for firginity.

  • Michael

    Besides a number of questionable historical accuracies and allusions, Sacks seems to be arguing (to paraphrase) that a wishy-washy commitment to religion is all that will save us from religious fundamentalism. One supposes he accepts that fundamentalist religion, religion conducted within an inch of the words and codified tenets of which ever religious book or books one chooses, is inherently a danger to society. What he fails spectacularly to recognise is that the more wishy-washy (“mild”, “tolerant” to directly quote him) forms of religious commitment which apparently used to define British society (though when exactly was this golden age? A student of history myself I find no age without crisis, violence, exploitation, not to mention widespread dissent from conventional religious and theological understandings) were modified by lived-experience and by what one might term “common sense” morality (something Sacks refuses to acknowledge the existence of) or at least by increasing “secularist”, at the risk of being anachronistic, thought. While the term “common sense” is indeed slippery and its exact meaning obtuse, it is surely our only recourse to understand why everyone, who considered themselves a Christian or Jew in Western Europe (for example) is not a hardline puritan of whatever theological colour. Sacks himself does not follow “ultra-orthodox” practices such as the payos for example. Why? Presumably because, despite it being a commandment in the Torah, he can see no reason according to his own rationale and understanding of his religion that his God would abandon him over something I would suppose he considers a ‘triviality’ or at least a ‘thing indifferent’. If it is not this, then one can assume that his own theological background is influenced by the liberalising tendencies that came with enlightenment thinking in the eighteenth-century. It was during this period that religion became ‘rationalised’ and (predominately in this country Protestant) congregants and thinkers adopted the ‘rationalist’ ideas of Locke, Hume and even Spinoza into their own religion – partly to make it more respectable. Whether common-sense or secular philosophical thought, it was a product of the morality and principles of the ‘secular’ enlightenment that influenced (and presumably still influences) the conduct of ‘Judeo-Christian’ religion, and the adaption of personal behaviour and practice. It was not the other way around, religion and greater religiosity (which Sacks here understands as the answer to fundamentalism) has often, though not always lead to a less liberal world-view. It was these enlightenment principles which the likes of Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens defended and presented as a basis upon which to construct the morality of society.

    His argument that without Judeo-Christian morality that society would necessarily fall into moral degeneracy is also ridiculous on a number of counts and the one that rubs me most is the historical one. Does he suppose that pre-Christian (or Judaic) societies (whether Greek, Roman, or ‘Barbarian’) had no morality? That they permitted murder, theft and any other number of offences to civility and common morality? If he does I think he needs to go back to the history books. Yes these societies may have been ‘religious’ in some senses but it is not the sort of religion we would now recognise, and certainly not that of the wishy-washy religiosity that Sacks here promotes (their god and goddesses were rather more vicious to ne another and mankind and on the whole more ‘human’, often in all the wrong ways). However, those societies managed to get by and construct their own morality (not one that is necessarily admirable but it’s worst aspects, in my opinion, including slavery were not condemned by either Jewish or Christian scriptures. Paul’s injunction that ‘the powers that be are of God’ is perhaps one of the most damaging aspects of New Testament political philosophy. And, yes, it was Christians who ended the slave trade, and framed it through Christian charity and dignity, but it would have been very much more difficult for them to have done so had they not already hybridised their faith with the secular philosophy of the ‘rights of man’ of the French and European revolutions).

    What is most annoying about the piece is his, implicit, lauding of empire. That the fall of the Greek and Roman empires was a great loss to western europe is something of a fallacy. Yes they had developed water systems and sewage works- but for who? Not the average ‘Joe’ (if there were any so-named). They also dogged us with some of the worst understandings of the workings of the human body and potential medicines anywhere in the world. Plus what about all the people who wanted some autonomy and didn’t want to be subject to a power-base in Rome (or Constantinople), who wanted some self-determination? What’s more is that his characterisation of the fall of Rome is also inaccurate. There were very few pitched battles, and very few sackings of great cities (the Vandals in Rome aside). It was not a ‘clash of civilisations it was about emigration and the Germanic peoples wanting the opportunities that came with the Roman Empire. The process of deconstruction started with migration of Germanic peoples to Roman lands, and outsourcing of military service and protection to these Germanic lords, who as the whole justification for Rome prior to Christianisation (and a great chunk of their validity after) was based on military strength and conquest, decided that if they were going to do all the fighting they’d have a part in government as well thank you very much. The fall of the Roman (and Greek) empires is not a tale of cultural destruction, but of cultural explosion and diversity away from the hegemony of Rome, it gave us Sutton Hoo and the treasures of the Visigoths. (and the English language for that matter). it is also not a comparable situation. The philosophy of Lucretius is hardly to blame for the fall of the Roman Empire, and even those who might argue it was generally look to it as having a moderating impact on religion (here lauded by Sacks) where a strict puritanical religion would have saved the empire. While ‘Epicureanism’ is hedonistic, it has a less known Buddhist flavour, in seeking pleasure in as few wants as possible. Furthermore Lucretius was rediscovered and played a role in forming the ‘mild’ ‘tolerant’ Christianities and Christian humanisms of the Renaissance and Enlightenment periods so lauded by Sacks in his article. His grasp of history is thoroughly misguided, and has led some ridiculous claims in his article.

  • revjimbob

    Nowhere in this article does he even mention the likelihood of the existence of a god.

  • Richard Baron

    Sorry, Mr Sacks, we all know for a fact that there is no God. Would you have us build our society on a lie? To evade this difficulty by pretending that religion is about our sense of the meaningfulness of life, or the existence of a moral order, is just laughable. No God, no Abrahamic religion in any of its varieties, full stop.

    As for a sustaining an ethic without God, we could do worse than go back to Aristotle, in whose ethic his concept of a non-interventionist God plays no important role. (OK, it pops up in Book 10 of the Nicomachean Ethics to justify the view that the best life is one of contemplation, but that is not important to the bulk of the book.) That ethic needs amending a bit for our modern society, but as you will know, virtue ethics is a flourishing field. One thing we should certainly preserve from it is the idea that humility is not a virtue – contrary to the view of religious leaders who are keen to sustain their own authority.

    As for whather religion has done good or ill, I refer you to Voltaire’s Philosophical Letters, number 8. As he remarks, in Rome, one never saw the horrifying madness of wars of religion. That abomination was reserved for the devout preachers of humility and patience.

    • http://twitter.com/bbcgoogle Rockin Ron

      “Sorry, Mr Sacks, we all know for a fact that there is no God.”

      As you are not objectively able to prove this assertion, this is akin to a faith statement.

      It takes a lot more faith to be an athiest than to be a thiest, so I do acknowledge your faith position.

      • Steven Carr

        ‘”Sorry, Mr Sacks, we all know for a fact that there is no God.”‘

        You’ll be telling us there are no unicorns next.

        Produce your deity.

        That’s the trouble with New Atheists. They keep pointing out that the Emperor has No Clothes. If only they had faith!

        • Peter Sorensen

          Faith is worthless and grants no facts, and facts are the only grounds upon which your actions and beliefs should be based. New atheists are becoming disturbingly dogmatic as of recent times (even rivaling most theists), which has forced me to distance myself from the movement (atheism) as a philosopher.

      • Susan Macdonald

        Any testable repeatable proof that there is a god? Any, any at all, even the tinyist thing?

      • Peter Sorensen

        Atheism isn’t an assertion, it’s the lack of belief in another. We cannot ever know anything for certain, so Richard Baron’s notion regarding God’s non-existence being a fact is unsound, but you must be a few cents short of a buck if you think atheism requires more faith than theist systems of belief.

        • Richard Baron

          We may not know anything beyond all doubt (although some doubts really are crazy, a point G E Moore implicitly made very nicely with his proof of the external world). But there are a great many things we know beyond reasonable doubt. The empirical adequacy of relativity theory on a macroscopic scale, for example. Or the non-existence of God. It may be neither possible nor sensible to put precise numbers on the notion of “beyond reasonable doubt”, outside special contexts such as scientific experiments (the five sigma level that is used in partile physics, for example). But the notion is still clear.

      • Guy Swarbrick

        You’re correct that we cannot know there is no God. Or Krishna. Or Flying Spaghetti Monster. If atheism was the assertion that ‘we all know for a fact that there is no God’ then by your own there is no difference in faith required to be a theist or an atheist.

        Your claim that it would, were that a sensible definition of atheism, that ‘it takes a lot more faith to be an atheist than a theist’ is patently absurd.

        In fact, since there is no evidence for any of the gods (and a huge body of evidence against many of the claims made in their holy books), believing in their existence requires enormous faith and assuming their lack of existence requires none at all.

  • pinkgunnergirl

    Good article, but it is amazing that you managed not to mention that the ‘threat’ comes from our old friend the Religion of peace, apart from a couple of hints. If even the Chief Rabbi is being cowed then we are already too far down the road. It’s a shame because the people they hate the most are the Jews.

  • Steven Carr

    If only people here could be as religious as those in the Middle East, how peaceful life would be!

  • Brett Jones

    Nietzsche, like all philosphers, was speculating. At the time there was no atheistic society to examine. Today, there are a number of them. And, lo and behold, these societies are flourishing. Of course, correlation vs. causation, etc., but the existence of this strong correlation between peace/justice/progress and atheism does at the very least utterly disprove the baseless contention that an atheistic society will crumble.

    The assumption throughout history has always been that the origin of human morality has been through our religious and social institutions. Well, it turns out that recent research has shown that primates share a great many of what we would consider our moral behaviors. For instance, a Rhesus monkey will not accept food if accepting means a fellow monkey will receive an electric shock. There are a number of cases where this sort of behavior has been observed. Read more here: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/20/science/20moral.html?pagewanted=all

    This evidence, coupled with the peaceful, successful atheistic nations such as Sweden and Norway would indicate that causation lies in the opposition direction as has historically been assumed: our sense of morality is in fact a selective advantage for the group, and social/religious institutions evolved over time to serve as an explanation or reinforcement for the behaviors humans were already exhibiting.

    Name-drop as many philosophers as you like, throw in gratuitous Latin phrases, cite unrelated social ills and feel free to make disjointed historic references spanning two millenia, but your basic argument that secular, atheistic society will inevitably crumble is patently false. We live in the most prosperous, peaceful period of human history, and as individuals we reap these benefits in near-direct correlation to the decline of religion in the nations we call home.

    • Steven Carr

      ‘but your basic argument that secular, atheistic society will inevitably crumble is patently false.’

      Well, we have Richard Dawkins and the theists have Ahmadinnejad. I know which one Dr. Sacks prefers, and it ain’t Dawkins – it’s the Allah botherer who Sacks thinks has the faith we need.

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    ” The precursors of today’s scientific atheists were Epicurus in third-century BCE Greece and Lucretius in first-century Rome.”

    Epicurus and Lucretius, who didn’t really have that much influence, existed centuries before classical civilization failed. A much stronger argument can be made that the ascendance of state Christianity, along with the persecution of the old pagan religions after 381 AD, wrecked the social cohesion of the Roman / Hellenic world far more than the Epicureans.

  • Richard Baron

    (Apologies if this post appears twice. The first attempt seems to have vanished into the ether.)

    Sorry, Mr Sacks, we all know for a fact that there is no God. Would you have us build our society on a lie? To evade this difficulty by pretending that religion is about our sense of the meaningfulness of life, or the existence of a moral order, is just laughable. No God, no Abrahamic religion in any of its varieties, full stop.

    As for a sustaining an ethic without God, we could do worse than go back to Aristotle, in whose ethic his concept of a non-interventionist God plays no important role. (OK, it pops up in Book 10 of the Nicomachean Ethics to justify the view that the best life is one of contemplation, but that is not important to the bulk of the book.) That ethic needs amending a bit for our modern society, but as you will know, virtue ethics is a flourishing field. One thing we should certainly preserve from it is the idea that humility is not a virtue – contrary to the view of religious leaders who are keen to sustain their own authority.

    As for whather religion has done good or ill, I refer you to Voltaire’s Philosophical Letters, number 8. As he remarks, in Rome, one never saw the horrifying madness of wars of religion. That abomination was reserved for the devout preachers of humility and patience.

  • Steven Carr

    SACKS
    In one respect the new atheists are right.

    CARR
    Yes, you worship an idol that doesn’t exist.

    In that respect, the new atheists are right.

    Your only argument is that a society of idol-worshippers is a better society than a society that doesn’t worship your idol.

    That might be true.

    But you still worship an idol.

  • George Scoresby

    Never mind “altruism, virtue, self-restraint, honour, obligation and trust in the other.” How about an ethic that tells people to wash their hands after they defecate?

    The clue to the failure of secular ethics is in the word “tells.” Secularists dream of a better tomorrow, but they haven’t a clue how to get a billion people (much less the twenty members of the Bloomsbury Humanist Society) to wash their hands after they use the toilet.

    • David Edwards

      Really? I could probably do this without much effort. “Here’s a photomicrograph of Vibrio cholerae. This is what happens to you if you let these bacteria get a foothold – you shit yourself to death in about eight hours. If you don’t want this to happen, here’s some soap, Oh, and build a proper sewer system while you’re at it.”

    • David Edwards

      Oh, and following on from the above, care to tell us all what happened in 1348, when Europe was effectively a theocracy? Oh, that’s right, the Black Death turned up. Europeans wasted three years kissing the arse of a mythological magic man in the hope it would go away. 25 million dead Europeans was the price paid for that particular piece of supernaturalist failure. So before you erect fatuous canards about washing hands, try a little fact checking. The hilariously named Thomas Crapper, by inventing a working flush toilet, did more to better the lot of mankind than all the supernaturalist mythologies on this planet combined.

      EDIT: this post was supposed to follow the one below. but the system decided upon a different sort algorithm.

  • dontalk2her

    I spent every Sunday and much of the week in chapel until I left home at 18 and discovered the world. Chapel, in the 50s and 60s, was my social life and school. There I learned to read and sing in public, put on shows, sit giggling with my cousins to the comical disapproval of the extended family; I heard truly wonderful speakers painting vivid pictures with words and watched a women of 80 singing “Llef” catch her top teeth with the skill of an Ozzie fielder. Every week, we children sat with the deacons after Sunday school as they took verses from the Bible and subjected them to what we now call close reading. I took the congregation and its unwanted concern for granted. It was difficult though not impossible to misbehave. The Set Fawr would visit those who abandoned wives and children or drank too much to remind them of their duty.

    It was, of course, unsophisticated, even risible. i don’t know if I believe in God but I believe in chapel and I miss it. It was a place of old rituals, a magnificent organ, freezing damp, spectacular fungus and a mostly humble community that strove to be better than it was. So far, nothing has come near it’s unique qualities.

  • mmmmikkimac

    I want to live in a secular society. I have seen what theocratic societies in other countries have done to women and children, treating them like cattle, as if the men owned them. People can still have morals and standards and be good people without attending a place of worship, or even believing in any religious doctrine.

  • skeptimal

    “..and you cannot expect the foundations of western civilisation to crumble and leave the rest of the building intact…” The foundational values of western civilization are the Enlightenment values: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, etc. Those are not religious values. You won’t find them in the Torah, the New Testament, the Koran, or the Book of Mormon. It’s true that atheism is not an ethic, but at least atheism has the humility not to claim it speaks oh behalf of an unquestionable supreme being.

  • Susan Macdonald

    The meaning of life is to construct things: I can create knowledge or I can build things for people to use in life; I can create in my children, people who will go on to be stunningly successful and experience everything that life has too offer; or I can sit on my backside and create nothing and have a meaningless life.

    Ethics comes from a self interest, it is cooperation, a cooperation that builds a stronger society that can better support me in my life. Helping your neighbour is good if one day your neighbour will help you.

    And if we strip out the cohesion of religion, then we should not be ashamed to promote cohesion through national pride. The people who demonise nationalism promote a fragmentation of society.

  • margaret benjamin

    Its by grace you are saved through faith and this not of yourselves it is the gift of G-d, its not of works so that no man can boast.Ephesians ch2v 8-9

    As I understand that faith is a gift from G-d so that the person of Yeshua or Jesus is made manifest to the individual through the impartation of faith that can only come from G-d. Grace traditionally Favour or Beauty. So no one can just work this faith up its a revelation from G-d.

    How do we get this faith to believe! well first we must come to the Farther and seek him with all our hearts, then we will find him. G-d will never accept praise from man that we can in some way earn hid favour, for G-d hates pride, that is why it says not of works so that no man can boast.

    You know I put the flowers in church this week and helped the vicar with the raffle tickets, that’s good but not a way to attain favour with G-d.

    We know that the church came out of Jerusalem and Judaism is part of our bible.We get our principals based on the bible that we may know the right way to go.

    Now religion is totally different, outwardly moral people are not that uncommon.we see a lot of Religiosity that has nothing to do with G-d or his word.

    True belief is to believe in G-d and his eternal everlasting word.

    • Fred Scuttle

      Your g-d has man’s fingerprints all over it.

      • margaret benjamin

        Care to elaborate ?

        • Fred Scuttle

          Is clearly a man made construct.

  • stinkyboy

    the only thing the rabbi has done here, is to justify himself being a rabbi. the content of what he says, however, is totally disconnected from the reality. i am as good a man as you are, sir. i just don’t have any fake phony magic friends, up in the clouds.

  • Avocado Punk

    LMFAO!!! Well.. Umm.. This is just too funny.. I can’t believe it’s for real.

  • Avocado Punk

    This is fake… Right?

  • Peter Sorensen

    I agree with the author when he says that new atheists are merely ‘fans of science’ when in reality science is not in any way the antithesis of religion and theology: it’s philosophy.

    I disagree with him, however, when he says that it comes down to ‘getting’ religion. I understand religion, however, I simply have no basis for believing in any of them. Understanding, appreciating, ‘feeling’ or getting a religion doesn’t mean it’s accurate/true. God’s existence, on the other hand, is a completely different kettle of fish. The falsity of Christianity/Islam/Judaism etc. does not constitute the falsity of God’s existence. The main problem I have with modern atheism is that it’s ‘popular’. People aren’t just atheists because of their intellectual convictions, but because of the sub-culture of it all. The same goes for religious systems: Descartes was a Roman Catholic but only because it was part of his upbringing. I dare say that if he were born in a more modern era, he wouldn’t be a theist; moreover, I would guess, he would tend to be an agnostic-atheist like myself and most philosophers. I myself am an analytic philosopher, and am an atheist in terms of belief and an agnostic with regard to knowledge.

    ..and Christianity (or any other religion for that matter) didn’t invent morality. Evolutionary altruism has been with us for billions of years.

    • Logicophilosophicus

      “Evolutionary altruism” is not “morality”. If so, then (example from Dawkins’s “The Selfish Gene”) fratricide in swallow chicks is also “morality”. Closer to home, it was generally true of primitive societies that kin were treated “altruistically” while outsiders were routinely tortured, murdered, cannibalised… Moral actions are specifically actions performed despite our natural inclinations – e.g. despite that natural xenophobia.

      From ancient civilisations up until Utilitarianism, ethics was based on such “virtue”. The “wellbeing” based ethics of the New Atheists (“The Moral Landscape” – Sam Harris) is also utilitarian, and is similarly flawed. It is easy to construct situations in which the utilitarian good involves the killing of innocents (e.g. three men in a submarine with only suffient oxygen for two, or three starving men in a lifeboat…) The “sanctity of [human] life” is a contrary, non-evolutionary, non-utilitarian principle.

      Rabbi Sacks is right to state that we take a dangerous risk if we discard the baby of the culturally developed ethics of the First World with the bathwater of its archaic religious texts. Festina lente.

  • V Avigdor

    Sachs, you should read Atlas Shrugged

  • Robinoz

    If only we could extract those good, healthy, sensible ideas from religions and discard the supernatural nonsense, we would all be better off. I think this is what will happen; people will discard religion which is now anachronistic … how can you run a 21st Century world on ancient texts? … but implement those parts that make sense and improve humanity. Religion can then be seen as a stepping stone that has served us well, but now needs to be abandoned for something more useful to our time and place and predicament.

    • Fred Scuttle

      Religion is a product of the society in which it was invented, so has no good ideas of its own.

  • Mace

    //I have not yet found a secular ethic capable of
    sustaining in the long run a society of strong communities and families on the
    one hand, altruism, virtue, self-restraint, honour, obligation and trust on the
    other//

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reciprocity

    If Vampire bats can manage it I think we
    should be able to have a go at it also, Chief Rabbi..

    //Whatever happened to the intellectual depth of the serious atheists, the
    forcefulness of Hob bes, the passion of Spinoza, the wit of Voltaire, the
    world-shattering profundity of Nietzsche? //

    Usual ad hom..

    //Where is there the remotest sense that they
    have grappled with the real issues, which have nothing to do with science and
    the literal meaning of scripture and everything to do with the meaningfulness
    or otherwise of human life, the existence or non-existence of an objective
    moral order, the truth or falsity of the idea of human freedom, and the ability
    or inability of society to survive without the rituals, narratives and shared
    practices that create and sustain the social bond?//

    http://lmgtfy.com/?q=humanist+manifesto&l=1

    ///Time
    and again in his later writings he tells us that losing Christian faith will
    mean abandoning Christian morality. No more ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’;
    instead the will to power. No more ‘Thou shalt not’; instead people would live
    by the law of nature, the strong dominating or eliminating the weak. ‘An act of
    injury, violence, exploitation or destruction cannot be “unjust” as such,
    because life functions essentially in an injurious, violent, exploitative and
    destructive manner.’ Nietzsche was not an anti-Semite, but there are passages
    in his writing that come close to justifying a Holocaust.

    This had nothing to do with him personally and
    everything to do with the logic of Europe
    losing its Christian ethic. Already in 1843, a year before Nietzsche was born,
    Heinrich Heine wrote, ‘A drama will be enacted in Germany compared to which the
    French Revolution will seem like a harmless idyll. Christianity restrained the
    martial ardour of the Germans for a time but it did not destroy it; once the
    restraining talisman is shattered, savagery will rise again… the mad fury of
    the berserk, of which Nordic poets sing and speak.’ Nietzsche and Heine were
    making the same point. Lose the Judeo-Christian sanctity of life and there will
    be nothing to contain the evil men do when given the chance and the
    provocation.///

    Wow, just WOW!!!

    A chief Rabbi defending a Christian Hitler
    over Lex talonis!!

    Well I can die happy now as I HAVE seen
    everything..

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=StaPF5qqFDk

    //But
    if asked where we get our morality from, if not from science or religion, the
    new atheists start to stammer..//

    pppppardon my ssssssstammmer..

    http://www.ted.com/talks/frans_de_waal_do_animals_have_morals.html

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZTAW0vPE1o

    http://www1.umn.edu/ships/evolutionofmorality/bats.htm

    //In my time as Chief Rabbi, I
    have seen two highly significant trends. First, parents are more likely than
    they were to send their children to faith schools. They want their children exposed
    to a strong substantive ethic of responsibility and restraint. //

    Now that is pure bullshit..

    The trend has been established because of a perception of superior education at
    Private schools, regardless of them being faith based or not..

    //In one respect the new
    atheists are right. The threat to western freedom in the 21st century is not
    from fascism or communism but from a religious fundamentalism combining hatred
    of the other, the pursuit of power and contempt for human rights. //

    Well that I can agree with..

    His solution seems to be more religion however..

    That seems as smart as the more guns will end gun violence or less regulation
    will lead to a more ethical stock market..

    Neither seem to have worked so I wonder at the naivety..

  • http://www.circumstitions.com/ Hugh7

    Why should we believe these people have any advantage at knowing right from wrong when they can’t agree with each other? Rabbi Sacks and the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope may all smile benignly on each other, but each quietly believes that either of both of the others is fundamentally wrong, if not a devotee of the Father of Lies who will burn forever after they die. Don’t even think of adding an Ayatollah or Imam into the mix, though they “all believe in the same God”. They can’t even agree about bacon cheeseburger! http://www.top.net.nz/~hugh/Articles/guidetogod4.pdf

  • StephanieJCW

    “They tend to argue that ethics is obvious, which it isn’t, or natural, which it manifestly isn’t either, and end up vaguely hinting that this isn’t their problem.”

    How about option three – using well argued reason and logic?

    Why do religious people believe there can never be this option? If we cannot use this to explain why it is wrong to kill or rape and such restraint can only be implemented through invoking a Sky God we are in serious trouble.

    Besides, religion has never really lead to altruism or self-restraint etc. Immoral behaviour has always existed and always will.

    “I have no desire to convert others to my religious beliefs. Jews don’t do that sort of thing. Nor do I believe that you have to be religious to be moral. But Durant’s point is the challenge of our time. I have not yet found a secular ethic capable of sustaining in the long run a society of strong communities and families on the one hand, altruism, virtue, self-restraint, honour, obligation and trust on the other. A century after a civilisation loses its soul it loses its freedom also. That should concern all of us, believers and non-believers alike.”

    You may not have the desire to do so, but this is the inevitable conclusion of what you discuss.

  • Fred Scuttle

    It’s about time humans discarded the barbarism and wanton ignorance that spawned the fictitious tribal Jewish war god and the other barbaric nonsense “faiths” of Abraham. Till then the secular world will continue to be caught in the crossfire.

  • Jim Strange

    “Future intellectual historians will look back with wonder at the strange
    phenomenon of seemingly intelligent secularists in the 21st century
    believing that if they could show that the first chapters of Genesis are
    not literally true…the whole of humanity’s religious beliefs
    would come tumbling down like a house of cards…”

    I don’t think that any of the “new atheists” have made such a vacuous claim. So you set the stage for your entire essay against a straw man argument. That doesn’t bode well.

    “Where is there the remotest sense that they have grappled with the real
    issues, which have nothing to do with science and the literal meaning of
    scripture and everything to do with the meaningfulness or otherwise of
    human life, the existence or non-existence of an objective moral order,
    the truth or falsity of the idea of human freedom, and the ability or
    inability of society to survive without the rituals, narratives and
    shared practices that create and sustain the social bond?”

    These may be the “real issues,” but religion’s answers are founded on a truth claim that shows not one iota of evidence. What’s the point of saying, “religion has an answer to all these questions” when it’s the wrong answer?

    “Time and again in his later writings he tells us that losing Christian faith will mean abandoning Christian morality.”

    Christian morality is just humanist morality, hijacked and snapshotted at a point in time. The rest of the human race has moved on; religious morality is stuck in the dark ages. Again, you completely misrepresent your opponent in an attempt to score a cheap point or two. You’re either dishonest, or ignorant.

    “They tend to argue that ethics is … natural, which it manifestly isn’t…” – Assertion without foundation!

    “Marriage has all but collapsed as an institution, with 40 per cent of
    children born outside it…” — so what?

    “…and 50 per cent of marriages ending in divorce.” Are you proposing that people should be forced to remain in an unhappy “institution,” with all the psychological harm that has been shown to result, just because your unproven religion says so?

    “…in the words of historian Will Durant, ‘There is no significant example
    in history, before our time, of a society successfully maintaining moral
    life without the aid of religion.’” Erm – Sweden? Japan? Or to turn the argument around, let’s look at the most religious nation in the developed world – the USA. Not exactly a beacon of morality!

    Your essay is full of errors, poor reasoning, and straw man arguments – typical of all theistic arguments against atheism.

  • Aphorisms & Musings

    But you would say that.

  • E Hart

    Miguel de Unamuno was right. You need reason and right to persuade. No further paraphernalia is required. Regrettably, allowing people to usurp responsibility for their own actions – by invoking a higher authority or no authority at all – has often had disastrous consequences.

    With or without religion, humans, though, have a dilemma. If they eschew what they hold in common, humanity, for that which they don’t, religion, atheism, materialism, nihilism etc. they are inviting the possibility of division and conflict on themselves. In a society without moral and ethical underpinning, when anything goes – everything goes. It’s not just Cole Porter that thought that, so do the CEOs of Starbucks, Amazon, Google etc. They’ve thrown off the ‘shackles’ of morality and ethics for the paradoxical freedom of parasitism. Their response is the stock one of the morally bankrupt everywhere – they abnegate it and say, in effect, we are ‘irresponsible’ because they allow us to be. There are similar injunctions in God is Great/Allah Akbar/There is no alternative/I believe in non-believing/It’s what God would have wanted/You can have any colour you like…

    You can have any religion, faith system or none, if you prefer, but in the end it must put the needs of humanity as whole over its own. That’s the rub. Plurality must allow political, social and cultural evolution and it must mean that morality and ethics, whatever their intellectual basis, are the servants of humanity not is prosecutors. All empires fall under the burden of their own weight more than by concerted efforts from without. They always start with the germ of their own demise written into their fabric; they fail because they coerce rather than persuade. Religions are awash with cultural mumbo-jumbo which is taken as read – something divinely attributable – whereas in reality they have no more divine ordinance than a shell suit, a set of furry dice or a tattoo of Angelina Jolie. Symbols are always taken rather too literally (e.g Moses and the tablets, Joseph Smith and the tablets and the average American housewife and the tablets…). What’s the value of having a symbol and being symbolic yourself?

    What is the point of escaping the endless natural loop, if by turns, we are hapless slaves to irrationality and superstition? In essence, all thought is a human construct and all consequences thereof are down to us. This doesn’t mean there isn’t something other but we should take more responsibility for what we know is. As Ortega y Gasset noted: “Man has one foot in nature and the other in humanity.” Unfortunately, the one in nature is often wiped on the trouser leg of the one in humanity.

  • Rebel Druid

    ” ‘An act of injury, violence, exploitation or destruction cannot be
    “unjust” as such, because life functions essentially in an injurious,
    violent, exploitative and destructive manner.’ Nietzsche was not an
    anti-Semite, but there are passages in his writing that come close to
    justifying a Holocaust.”

    Because the Nazis cynically manipulated his philosophy to suit their own genocidal ends. That’s like saying Darwin was an anti-Semite because the Nazis also used social Darwinism to justify sending people to the camps.

    “The history of Europe since the 18th century has been the story of
    successive attempts to find alternatives to God as an object of worship,
    among them the nation state, race and the Communist Manifesto.”

    Nope. The nations of Europe pre-WW1 were populated by people who invariably believed their ruling monarch had the divine right from God to rule. As well as this, the monarchy was invariably sponsored by religious institutions e.g. the Tsar was backed by the Russian Orthodox Church and the King of England was supported by the Church of England.

    After WW1 some countries continued to cling to that belief; Britain being a good example.

    “The precursors of today’s scientific atheists were Epicurus in
    third-century BCE Greece and Lucretius in first-century Rome. These were
    two great civilisations on the brink of decline. Having lost their
    faith, they were no match for what Bertrand Russell calls ‘nations less
    civilised than themselves but not so destitute of social cohesion’.”

    Wrong again; Greece was not a unified nation for most of its history leading up to the third century BCE. Greece was conquered because Rome was a stronger military power – not because the Greeks had lost faith in their gods (it’s worth bearing in mind that the Roman gods were almost identical to their Greek counterparts). The Western Roman Empire also fell apart because it became too unwieldy, their millitary grew weak & inflexible; the state became more reliant on hiring mercenaries. I find it interesting that the Rabbi would use the ‘they failed because of their lack of faith’ argument when the Empire went from being a Pagan power to a Christian a hundred years or so before it’s demise.

    “Our newly polarised culture is far less tolerant than old, mild Christian Britain.”

    Except when it comes to the blasphemy laws Britain used to have, the intolerant stance the British government used to take to things like polytheistic religions i.e. Hinduism, issues like abortion & contraceptives, Hinduism was persecuted when India was ruled by Britain. Those were the positions of Christian Britain. Now religions other than Christianity are treated equally (to a certain extent), laws made because of Christian religious teachings are being repealed etc. This won’t herald the collapse of our society – merely a culture shift.

  • Madeline Bayford

    I’m not that clever or deep but would like to chip in and say that I only see hate and wickedness in the world in the cause of protecting this “God/Allah/Whatever” that religious people believe in. The headline says it all, “Only religion can defeat the new barbarians”. Fighting talk and hatred is all I hear from people of faith….count me out of it.

  • Ian Glendinning

    As an active atheist and humanist I say Sacks is right : http://www.psybertron.org/?p=5819

    • Fred Scuttle

      As an atheist you must realise that belief in the mighty Thor cannot benefit society.

      • Ian Glendinning

        One court-jester per thread is OK 😉

  • Trevor

    I agree and disagree Chief Rabbi !!

    I DO AGREE with your premise “Nor do I believe that you have to be religious to be moral. But Durant’s point is the challenge of our time. I have not yet found a secular ethic capable of sustaining in the long run a society of strong communities and families on the one hand, altruism, virtue, self-restraint, honour, obligation and trust on the other. A century after a civilisation loses its soul it loses its freedom also. That should concern all of us, believers and non-believers alike.”

    I JUST DON’T agree with your solution. The question for me is how do we build and caring, loving, supportive, unselfish, responsible, tolerant & inclusive society *without* religious belief at it’s core? Religion hasn’t solved the problem. It’s generated a lot of racism, division and it’s own problems. So I believe it’s possible to build an atheist but civil society. It’s the kind of society which would attract me most to live in. I’m happy to be an atheist. It’s the only rational position that makes sense for me.

    Chief Rabbi : I grew up in Reform Judaism. See you were right. It’s a slippery slope. Look at me now!!!! (I jest)

    • Guy Swarbrick

      I’d love to see world without religion, but I can’t see it happening in the next hundred generations. In the meantime, as others have said elsewhere in the comments, I don’t think an ‘atheist but civil society’ is a likely, or even desirable situation.

      A secular one, where law (and the common moral framework on which it is based), democracy and (state, at least) education are completely decoupled from religion, but where freedom of belief (however absurd) is guaranteed but lawbreaking on religious grounds (from sharia courts to genital mutilation) is not permitted – tacitly or explicitly – is possible.

  • WiseGapist

    You mention the passion of Spinoza… Remember the Jews attempted to pay him not reveal his views, and then tried to have him killed when he refused, and that’s from the same Bertrand Russell book you’re VERY selectively quoting.

    “The new barbarians are the fundamentalists who seek to impose a single truth on a plural world. Though many of them claim to be religious, they are actually devotees of the will to power.”
    – Not the ‘new barbarians’, dogmatic religion as whole. Only the most naive fools believe religious institutions have some other goal than the will to power, the Catholic Church has proven as such for centuries.

    I find it funny that, on the one hand you talk of the now gone tolerant Christian Britain, then speak of the need to unite under the banner of religion to fight these ‘fundamentalist barbarians’ of another religion. Are you talking about a second Crusade? Maybe, but tolerance? No.

  • Rob

    I don’t take advice from a man with a box stuck on his head.

    • Guy Swarbrick

      I don’t, routinely. But I don’t automatically assume that having a box stuck on one’s head invalidate’s one’s argument – although I suspect it’s a not a bad rule of thumb.

      • Rob

        It just seems to embody the stupidity of religion. On the whole I can’t take religious people seriously.

        • Guy Swarbrick

          I can’t take religious people talking about religion seriously. But the fact that you need to compartmentalise religious and non-religious ideas in order to function in society means that you can’t automatically assume that religious people’s non-religious thoughts are as stupid as their religion – or even consistent with it.

          • hamous

            I can’t take non-religious people talking about religion seriously. But seriously, atheists are fooling themselves. Humans have evolved with certain social structures which cannot be eliminated. if you suppress them they will manifest themselves in another way. Radical environmentalist groups such as PETA are an example of such manifestation. Or, as Michael Crighton put it, “You can not believe in God, but you still have to believe in something that gives meaning to your life, and shapes your sense of the world. Such a belief is religious.”

          • David Edwards

            No you don’t. All you need, in the case of ethics, is evidence that a given course of action leads to avoidable harm being dispensed to the recipients thereof. Which is sufficient reason to bring that action to a halt.

  • Chaotopia

    Here’s some stats that may be of interest here:

    http://www.secularism.org.uk/news/2012/08/number-of-atheists-around-the-world-is-rising

    “According to the latest global poll released by Red C Opinion Poll, part of WIN-Gallup International, a world-wide network of leading opinion pollsters, the number of self-declared atheists in the world has risen by 9% since the measure was last taken in 2005.

    The massive poll, conducted in 57 countries (not, apparently, including Britain) among 51,000 people asked a single question “Irrespective of whether you attend a place of worship or not, would you say you are a religious person, not a religious person or a convinced atheist?”

    It shows that on average 59% of the world said that they think of themselves as religious, whereas 23% think of themselves as not religious and 13% think of themselves as convinced atheists. Naturally there are enormous variations from country to country.

    The countries with most self-described atheists are China (47%); Japan (31%), Czech Republic (30%), France (29%), South Korea (15%), Germany (15%), Netherlands (14%), Austria (10%), Iceland (10%), Australia (10%) and Ireland (10%).

    The most religious countries are: Ghana (where 96% of people define themselves as religious), Nigeria (93%), Armenia (92%), Fiji (92%), Macedonia (90%), Romania (89%), Iraq (88%), Kenya (88%), Peru (86%) and Brazil (85%)”

    Never in the history of the world has non-belief been so popular or widespread and it is growing at a truly astonishing rate. So the whole premise of this article is completely misguided – Atheism is spectacularly successful and the Barbarians will be stopped at the gate through the sheer number of people who see straight-through their Dark Age claptrap.

    • Norma_Stitz

      “…. Dark Age claptrap….”

      Again, I ask, why do you find it necessary to be so rude and aggressive?

      Are you really incapable of expressing an opinion without sounding like a petulant adolescent who has had one too many in the Students’ Union Bar?

      • Guy Swarbrick

        It’s a perfectly natural reaction to the kind of absurd cultural relativism that raises demonstrably false ancient superstition to the same level as testable hypothesis.

        It’s not big and it’s not clever, but really not surprising.

      • Guy Swarbrick

        It’s a perfectly natural reaction to the kind of absurd cultural relativism that raises demonstrably false ancient superstition to the same level as testable hypothesis.

        It’s not big and it’s not clever, but really not surprising.

      • Fred Scuttle

        It is dark age claptrap though.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mike.godfrey.754 Mike Godfrey

    Banning religion except in peoples on homes should work !

  • Martin G

    “I have no desire to convert others to my religious beliefs. Jews don’t do that sort of thing.” ????
    Except any children born to parents who share your religion …. presumably

  • ukvillafan

    Given that this article fails at any substantial level to identify that anti-Semitism has its roots in religious teaching rather than it being a product of attempts at secularisation, the whole edifice is built on such weak foundations that his arguments have no prospect of standing firm. The world did not need Nietzsche to introduce or modify the idea, it has been a substantial part of Christian ideology from the outset.

    To identify the second world war as some form of secularist attempt to replace God is simplistic and naïve. Hitler was a Catholic, from which faith he would have learnt the basics of anti-Semitism from the cradle, and his ‘final solution’ is nothing more than the logical conclusion, as he would have seen it, of the anti-Semitic teachings of his faith which, if one reads his written works, remained heavily influential in his formative thinking. What is more, he was supported by the Catholic church throughout (on the basis that it could see nothing wrong with his inherent anti-Semitism, presumably) and has never been excommunicated. His concepts of racial purity and racial politics are direct descendants of his Catholic ideology.

    There are so many fallacious points in this article it is hard to know where to move next, without committing to writing a rebuttal that, inevitably would be twice as long. He quotes Durant as saying:
    ‘There is no significant example in history, before our time, of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion.’
    Firstly, one cannot just take that ‘on faith’. Perhaps the Chief Rabbi would like to examine and compare the crime statistics of the least religious communities in the world, say Scandinavia or other parts of northern Europe, with those of the self-proclaimed most religious, the USA, South America, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia or the majority of Africa for example. At the same time, he might like to consider the disparity between the rich and the poor in these same places.
    Equally, he might like to tell us where there is a ‘significant example in history’, before our time or during it, of a society successfully maintaining moral life WITH the aid of religion!
    I could go on.

  • Gareth Rees

    “Turn natural selection into a code of conduct and you get disaster … They tend to argue that ethics is obvious, which it isn’t, or natural, which it manifestly isn’t either”

    Or perhaps Rabbi Sacks could bother to get up to speed on the science, and understand that altruism is an evolved behaviour and is adaptive. It’s such a gross mischaracterisation of “Darwinism” to say that it is tantamount to Spencer’s conception of “survival of the fittest”, where “fittest” is construed as meaning “strongest” rather than “best adapted to its environment”.

    Even if there wasn’t an objective basis for our morality (be it hard-wired into our psychology by evolution, or imprinted on us by a god) it’s absurd to say that we cannot achieve a workable morality purely through philosophy and the discussion of ethics. The old “religion has a monopoly on morality” trope … still as weak as it was a century ago.

  • Sam

    “Levels of trust have plummeted throughout the West as one group after
    another — bankers, CEOs, media personalities, parliamentarians, the
    press — has been hit by scandal.”

    Priests?

  • Greg Lauren

    Looks like Chief Rabbi has been reading my article lol

    Islam’s Odd, Yet Useful Purpose in Life

    http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/islams-odd-yet-useful-purpose-in-life/

  • ellemnop

    You can have an ethics of…Ethics i.e. using philosophy and reason to decipher moral (mutually beneficial, compassionate etc.) courses of action and their consequences and decide on one. I don’t understand the argument that people are:

    1) inherently immoral (i.e. destructive, selfish) which isn’t substantiated in a real world context (natural altruism in all primates, less than a 1% of the population without mirror neurons or “consciences” and remorse, no explicit laws for or against several behaviours we engage in willingly to increase social cohesion for no immediate personal gain etc.)

    and

    2) that religion and dogma produces any better moral behaviour than in any other population or control group e.g. higher rates of gendered violence in more orthodox faith communities than in the general population.

    Is it theology, law, or concern for well-being that motivates you to rush across a restaurant and administer CPR to a stranger?

  • Daniel B.

    This might be the biggest straw man article I have ever read. Well done. The problems with religion go far, far beyond these trite ephemera. And just because this one writer has not heard of the things he mentions being addressed does not mean that they aren’t. He hasn’t looked very hard.

    Secondly, the reason secularists and atheists have to point out the ostensibly obvious detractors he mentions is because a metric ton of people still hold those things to be true. This fact should of course not be misinterpreted as the full breadth of the atheist’s arsenal.

    And the strapline is just one big ridiculous doomsday device: “If we don’t rediscover religion our civilisation is in peril.” Oh really?

    And now it’s time we state the obvious: Democratic societies that are majority atheist or agnostic are among the most morally healthy countries in the world by about every index that is measurable. Nordic countries, such as Norway, Sweden (some 90%), Finland, and Denmark are all majority atheist and by every objective measure are healthier, as are all open, liberal, secular societies compared with closed, bigoted, superstitious ones.

    “When nations are ranked according to a Human Development Index, which measures such factors as life expectancy, literacy rates, and educational attainment, the five highest-ranked countries — Norway, Sweden, Australia, Canada, and the Netherlands — all have high degrees of nonbelief. Of the fifty countries at the bottom of the index, all are intensely religious. The nations with the highest homicide rates tend to be more religious; those with the greatest levels of gender equality are the least religious. These associations say nothing about whether atheism leads to positive social indicators or the other way around. But the idea that atheists are somehow less moral, honest, or trustworthy have been disproved by study after study.”

    – Greg Gaffin, Anarchy Evolution: Faith, Science, and Bad Religion in a World Without God

  • Tom Loghry

    The secularist’s measure of morality is a small measure. Basically as long as everyone isn’t killing everyone else, that seems to them to constitute a moral society. Everything else you can call good. You can call abortion and euthanasia good. You can call the destruction of the family structure through fornication, adultery, pornography, and divorce good. As long as everyone has healthcare and has a middle wage income, it’s all good. The atheist gospel is health and wealth…but it’s all just a cheap veneer that rings hollow when a person looks at their life and wonders why their life is in shambles.

    • Guy Swarbrick

      Sources? No? Did you make that up, or did your bible study group tell you that?

    • Matt McDowall

      Really Tom? Are you being forced fed crap again?

    • A B Holden

      Do all of these things you abhor appear in the bible?

      Where they do, does that alone demonstrate their moral soundness? Do you not have a way of differentiating between these and all of the, err, less savoury recommendations in said book?

      Where they do not appear, might you have determined that they are wrong in some other way?

      If you answer these questions with honesty, you might see whose life, or at least world-view, is really in shambles.

  • Brandon N. Towl

    I agree with some of the sentiments here. But I’m always disturbed by the lumping together of various thinkers, or various groups, or various ideas as if they were all the same, and all worthy of debunking. For example: ” This is what a society built on materialism, individualism and moral relativism looks like. ” Is it all three together? Or some? Are all three necessary for decay? Sufficent? Do they always travel together? Do they need to?

    Obviously not! I would count myself a materialist, but not a moral relativist. And I’m not even sure what being an “individualist” means these days. I hate that the debate always devolves into the black and white of “atheism vs. belief”, when truly the space of ideas worth exploring is painted in full technicolor.

    • Chaotopia

      “”individualist” means these days”

      It’s a blanket term of abuse employed by the religious and those on the Political Left against anyone who has the temerity to believe in personal freedom and individual liberty.

      Yes – that’s why they’re the enemy of each and every single one of us.

      BTW, I’m also a very proud materialist. It is very popular to diss materialism nowadays which I think is profoundly idiotic – unlike everything else, at least materialism does some have evidence in favour of it.

      • Blorgh

        I don’t think blanket statements one way or the other about materialism are terribly useful. I like the kind of materialism that gives me central heating in the winter and lets me comment on this ridiculous article over a wireless connection. I dislike the kind that has led to the current rate of species extinctions or that turns people into debt slaves. So what does that say about materialism? Only that we have a complex relationship with it.

  • freethinker

    “Religion is regarded by the common man as true, the wise man as false, and the rulers as useful.”

    ~Seneca the Younger 4 b.c.- 65 a.d

  • Chaotopia

    Perhaps Atheists need to deal with the Barbarians by arming ourselves with this:

    http://www.malcontentsgambit.com/2013/06/12/a-path-from-faith-to-reason-a-manual-for-creating-atheists/

    “Portland State University Philosophy Professor Peter Boghossian and I discuss his new book, A Manual for Creating Atheists, in which he provides conversational strategies and tactics designed to lead religious believers from faith to reason. Throughout his book Boghossian offers diagnostic methods, provides practical examples, and supports his project with evidence. He also criticizes a disturbing trend in modern liberalism that helps fuzzy reasoning flourish. A Manual for Creating Atheists will be published in November 2013 by Pitchstone Publishing.”

  • albobo

    There seem to be a LOT of straw men being knocked down in this essay – almost too many to list!

    But here goes:

    1) The suggestion that the writings of Harris, Hitchens, Dawkins et al are solely concerned with proving that ‘the first chapters of Genesis are not literally true’ is just complete nonsense and suggests the writer hasn’t actually read or listened to any of them.

    2) The suggestion that atheists start to ‘stammer’ the moment they are asked where we get morality from is also total nonsense. Sam Harris, after all, wrote an entire book devoted to the question! (The Moral Landscape) To put the case ludicrously simplistically: morality must be viewed within the context of our ancestor’s evolving so as to be able to feel empathy (a hugely useful trait for our species for all sorts of reasons). The moment we evolved to be able to ‘put ourselves in the shoes’ of another being is the moment we slowly started to want to ‘do unto others and we would be done to’.

    The writer also ignores the countless ways in which religious ‘morality’ is often completely at odds with this ‘natural’ morality on countless issues. Just look at Muslim countries that have the death sentence for apostacy, or the Catholic’s church appalling stance on condoms in Africa. Here a nonsensical religious ‘crime’ (wearing a condom) is seen as more important than a matter of genuine human suffering (countless men women and children dying of AIDS).

    3) The idea that Nazism took the form it did because Germany had become more secular is just arrant nonsense. In fact, their treatment of the Jews was a continuation of centuries of Christian tradition, not a break from it!

    4) Possibly the most laugable point of all – The writer lists a number of scandals that have hit society as a result of the decline of religion, but ignores that some of the worst ‘scandals’ imaginable have hit religious organisations. Was is a lack of religion that caused countless Catholic priests to rape thousands of children and then for the entire church machinery to attempt to cover it up?!

    5) The point about increasing number of parents sending children to religious schools?! I think we all know that that has far more to do with the level of their funding than some desperate desire to see children taught about Leviticus and Numbers!

    I’d direct the writer to the work of Steven Pinker, who argues beautifully that mankind has become more and more peaceful, less and less inclined to murder, and more and more civilised over time. It is the worst kind of Daily Mail-style, rose-tinted-spectacled nonsense to suggest that somehow life was more moral and kinder 200 years ago.

  • Papa Mincho

    ” But if asked where we get our morality from, if not from science or religion, the new atheists start to stammer.They tend to argue that ethics is obvious, which it isn’t, or natural, which it manifestly isn’t either, and end up vaguely hinting that this isn’t their problem.”

    It is obvious, and would be more plainly obvious if your befuddlement wasn’t the result of supernatural thinking and iconography. Cultural mores change from generation to generation: the slave-holding cannibals of the Biblical Bronze Age were upstanding citizens by their standards, but would be abhorrent today. Social policy continues to advance through intellectual movements like the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, and more complicated nuances of ethics come with new ethical problems.

    Morality and ethics are not universal, and we should not be relying on the ethics of the past to treat the problems of today. Why didn’t you mention more contemporary atheist philosophers who WEREN’T New Atheists, like Foucault, Derrida, Krishnamurti, or Sartre?

  • TonyBuck2

    The New Atheists claim
    – that they can give society a moral basis apart from religion; but they haven’t and they can’t
    – that they can enable Humanity to be grown up and free to control its own destiny; but they have no control over anything, their own personal destinies least of all.

    If God doesn’t rule, then Fate and Chance do.

    • Guy Swarbrick

      No, just chance. Fate is superstition.

    • Chaotopia

      “- that they can give society a moral basis apart from religion; but they haven’t and they can’t”

      Yes they have many times – tribal customs, codes of conduct and morality has been shaped, corrected and perfected to its current form because it dramatically improves the mutual survival of living organisms enabling them to be able to pass on their genes to the next generation. So there is a biological imperative, a Darwinian basis for morality that involves no “holy” books.

      “that they can enable Humanity to be grown up and free to control its own destiny”

      Within reason but what exactly is actually wrong with the human race being able to control its own destiny and not fall prey to disease or preventable disasters or some other misfortune?

      “but they have no control over anything, their own personal destinies least of all”

      Deeply muddled sweeping generalisations and empty assertions. I have control over my TV – does that count? Does anyone have any actual control over their “persona desires” if free will is no more than an illusion anyway?

      http://phys.org/news186830615.html

      “If God doesn’t rule, then Fate and Chance do.”

      We know from Quantum Mechanics that Fate and Chance rule – that’s why the behaviour of the very small (specifically subatomic particles) can only be properly understood in terms of probabilities because cause and effect breakdown at this level.

      The 2nd law of Thermo Dynamics states that everything in the Universe is continaully changing from Order to Disorder so, ultimately, everything in existence will be subject to chaos and chance will win out in the end.

      • Blorgh

        Well said.

      • TonyBuck2

        Chaotopia

        Speaking for myself (and I would guess many others) I am prepared to obey the rules of Christianity, but not for a moment prepared to obey any of the “tribal customs, codes of conduct and morality” ever invented or any rules that Uncle Tom Cobley and All might want to inflict on me. This is because I respect Jesus Christ but have total contempt for Uncle Tom Cobley and All.

        WE can’t control our own destiny – medicine causes over-population, economic development causes global warming. Our problems are now so urgent, complex and interlocking that only God can save us now. It’s our Western arrogance that has brought us to a position where we certainly can’t save solve our problems (or even get the economy moving again).

        Still less can we control our own destinies – e.g. how and when each of us will die.

        If we aren’t at the mercy of God, then we’re at the mercy of blind chance. God is kinder than chance – and has a kind plan for each of us as individuals; His plans for the world are yet to be revealed.

        Regards

    • Fred Scuttle

      “The New Atheists claim
      – that they can give society a moral basis apart from religion”

      Nope. Atheism is just a lack of belief in imaginary gods. So called Christian moral values were derived from the morality prevalent in society at the time it was dreamt up. It is therefore far more primitive than society is now.

      All of our values are the product of an evolving consensus in the society in which we live. It varies over time and differently in different societies.

  • Matt McDowall

    Wow….this is a terrible article….where to begin…

    Well suggesting atheists are trying to disprove the first chapters of a book is absurd…yet again, atheism does not need to disprove…the burden ain’t on us. the author miserably fails to address this…The claim in the book is freaking absurd and grounded in zero evidence…it is up to the people making the assertion to prove it…not for Hitchens and the like (or anybody else for that matter) to disprove it…

    And moral argument is useless…even if someone could not answer it…and BTW they do – but even if they don’t…this is not by default go to – a magical sky daddy did it. This is commonly referred to an argument from ignorance or the Gods of the Gaps Fallacy.

  • http://justdfacsmaam.wordpress.com/ MarkNS

    What a knucklehead.

  • Shoe On Head

    as a radical agnostic* believing ONLY in what happens NEXT this is all meaningless.

    * read as couldn’t give a sh!t.

  • stevehill6

    “Unless we rediscover religion, our civilisation is in peril”

    No Jonathan, *your* civilization is in peril. The one that screwed everything up far too many times for it to be pure bad luck or coincidence. The one which has hundreds of millions of avoidable deaths on its conscience inflicted in the name of religion. The one that uses religion to deny basic human rights to women, or to gays, or to ethnic minorities, or to people who just believe in the wrong sort of fairy. The one that indoctrinates children into perpetuating the abuses perpetrated on their parents.

    I want that civilization to die. It has nothing left to offer. I am more interested in helping to build its replacement.

  • Blorgh

    The rabbi has put forth a very lazy commentary.

    In claiming that science cannot explain “morality”, he is apparently ignorant of the evolutionary mechanisms that created altruism. The scientific literature is full of discussions about this. Bats feed the young of other bats because of a benefit to their own genes’ transmission. We can calculate this benefit mathematically. It has nothing to do with the commandments of a bat deity. Altruism can be – and has been – explained by natural selection.

    The rabbi also tells us that Western Civilization is founded upon Judeo-Christian values and would collapse without them. I’ve heard sweeping statements like this from Christian clerics as well. But the simple fact is that Western Civilization emerged circa the 8th century BC in pagan Greece, around 1000 years before the Greeks started converting to Christianity in any sizable numbers. The rabbi points out that classical Greek and Roman civilization went into decline, but he seems oblivious to the timing of this decline. Is it really a coincidence that the Hellenistic culture of knowledge-creation stopped dead in its tracks when Christian emperors like Theodosius started destroying every physical link to that culture? Is it a coincidence that life gradually became better again for all of us once institutional Christian domination was challenged, first in the Renaissance and then more prominently in the Enlightenment?

    To be sure, our civilization has developed a strange, contradictory mix of Judeo-Christian and classical values. I’m not denying that. But it’s important to realize that there has always been a struggle between these competing identities. (I’m sure the rabbi celebrates Chanukah every year. What is this but a commemoration of an ancient civil war between traditional Jews and Hellenized ones – that is, between Judaism and classical values?) Ultimately, science and history both reveal that we can be quite kind, friendly, loving people even without religion.

    • Raman Indian

      You say:

      “Ultimately, science and history both reveal that we can be quite kind, friendly, loving people even without religion.”
      Or with an agnostic – non-God believing – religion such as Buddhism or Confucianism.
      From an Asian point of view I am astounded how hard Westerners find it to imagine religion without God. For them the two go together like ice and cold.
      This is due to your very long, unconscious training in the Judeo-Christian- Islamic outlook that equates religion and God.
      Westerners, having the Jewish, Christian and Muslim outlook in their very bones, imbibed with their mother’s milk, find religions like Buddhism and Confucianism utterly bewildering because they don’t care a hoot about God.

      Yet they have maintained functioning societies far longer than Christianity. Their moral standard has been very decenty comparable to or better on the whole than the Christian, and certainly much more tolerant. There is no Hitler Holocaust in the annals of Buddhism.

  • Elijah Coleman

    “They tend to argue that ethics is obvious, which it isn’t, or natural, which it manifestly isn’t either, and end up vaguely hinting that this isn’t their problem.”

    Many of today’s prominent atheists (e.g. Harris, Dennett, Hitchens, Dawkins, Dillahunty) have argued successfully that morality is a human thing, not a divine one nor an animal one. It is based on society and can be rationally determined using the “veil of ignorance” thought experiment. Religions have adopted and claimed ownership of these morals and invented others which are clearly ridiculous. As Louis CK pointed out, the first 4 commandments are all about God, only 2 or 3 are relevant, and rape and slavery aren’t even listed in there…. Religious morality is spurious at best and oxymoronic at worst.

    “in the words of historian Will Durant, ‘There is no significant example in history, before our time, of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion.’”

    That is because we are only just becoming a race of people who are mature enough to look honestly at the world without the safety blanket of supernatural babysitters looking out for us and protecting us from what we don’t understand. When we were ignorant and new, we did not know what made things happen, yet we are wired to want to know the causes of things; therefore we invented causes for things we could not explain, and we called them gods. Now, however, we are using science and reason to discover exactly what the world is. We still have these vestigial superstitions despite our recent advancements. We must let go of what-we-wish-were-true-even-though-it’s-not if we want to progress as humans out of our infancy and into maturity.

  • allanhayes

    I was deeply disappointed by this article: it had such a limited perspective. Only when I read the last few paragraphs did I find a glimmer of the Jonathan Sacks whom I admire.

    “The threat to western freedom in the 21st century is not from fascism or communism but from a religious fundamentalism combining hatred of the other, the pursuit of power and contempt for human rights.”

    “The new barbarians are the fundamentalists who seek to impose a single truth on a plural world. Though many of them claim to be religious, they are actually
    devotees of the will to power. Defeating them will take the strongest possible
    defence of freedom, and strong societies are always moral societies. That does
    not mean that they need be religious. It is just that, in the words of
    historian Will Durant, ‘There is no significant example in history, before our
    time, of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of
    religion.’”

    But even here there a narrow perspective: it is not just western freedom that is at stake, it is humanity; and Durant may be right, but what is a religion? We need a vision of humanity that we can all share.

  • Taccado

    Sigh…not again.

    Same old, tired arguments. And that’s what so curious about this. I would expect people who never think about religion, never engage in conversations about it and never encounter arguments for or against it to spew out stupid assumptions about atheism. But Sacks is not an amateur in this ball game. He has literally decades of experience dealing with these questions.

    Therefore, I’m 100% sure that several people have explained to him countless times what atheism is, how morality works without faith in gods, and that lack of faith has no causal connection to what he sees as destruction of society. The points he presents in this article have been thoroughly rebutted countless times. Nevertheless, somehow he has managed to miss all this. He is still throwing these arguments at us despite they’ve been shown not to stand up in light of evidence. That means he is either not listening, he doesn’t understand what is said to him or he is knowingly spreading falsehoods thinking that no one will notice.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1357724115 Dennis Lurvey

    Since I became an atheist at the age of 54, I have never been so at peace, never been happier, kinder, more generous. Religion puts barriers on people. Regardless of all the christian teachings, they do not suffer non and other believers well. If I were most of the christians I have known, I would never give money to a homeless person without first asking them if they know Jesus. If they said no I would have to convert them before I gave them anything. Typically christians only help other christians, the same with most religions. Atheists have no restrictions, I can help anyone, give to anyone, and care for our planet not because god will reward me but because its the right thing to do.

  • Pleiadian

    Judgmental, narrow minded, unsubstantiated crap article. This person does more to perpetuate “the problem” than they do offer up an unbiased opinion on the matter. Considering they were a Rabbi I expected nothing less than biased but it was still terrible. Religion seems to corrupt morality for many, they live a deplorable, hateful, self centered lives all the while depending on God for his infinite understanding and forgiveness so they get to Heaven when they are dead. So if god isnt holding them accountable for their actions as long as they “repent” why not say a few hail marys and our fathers and continue to fuck over your fellow humans, its a free for all as long as this “god” is on your side. What a load of self serving rubbish. Yes I suppose that is a biased opinion as well which makes me no better, just had to get it off my chest. I’m getting off this rock and going home…

  • kgr

    After reading this article, I am unconvinced that belief in a god is relevant to human progress.

    To move the dialogue forward, I would love to see a conversation between The Chief Rabbi and (atheist) Alain de Botton about the efficacy of finding meaning in communal tradition & practices in a secular society founded on human values and human aspirations, rather than on the false pretense of “the mystery that is god”.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    What do they look like? Fancy dress party and everyone came as a religious nutter.

  • Fasdunkle

    So, to sum up – islam is here in numbers – so go to church

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    We have Christians here in Japan, but the vast majority weren’t born into a Christian family, thus were not brainwashed from birth. Which means you can hold a rational conversation with them on the subject of religion and/or belief in God. It’s the parachuted in US missionaries you really have to watch out for. “So what church do you attend?” What a ridiculous assumption.

  • lyn.bartlett@comcast.net

    ‘he tells us that losing Christian faith will mean abandoning Christian morality’. Bullcrap! I don’t need a god to tell me to love my neighbor or not to kill.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Occasionally us residents abroad get into this maudlin mind set, often following the rapid intake of alcoholic beverage. You have to realise that the England of blessed memory no longer exists, except perhaps in the collective recollections of those old enough and drunk enough to remember its final couple of decades after WWII. How did we (make that you) get into this irreversible state of decay best characterised as “UK Trash Culture”?
    The lower orders have risen and no one today is prepared to relinquish their
    so-called rights for the benefit of the majority. Face it guys, the multiculti Liberal Left has shafted Britain, but you let it happen. So us residents abroad are pretty miffed with you risk-averse stay-at-homers. Dreams of returning to Mother England to retire have disappeared in a puff of smoke. The word is finally out
    as reality catches up with image.

    “The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
    Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
    Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
    Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”

    Ironically that’s a verse from Omar Khayyám; good translation wouldn’t you agree, albeit a little heavy on capitalization?
    Jack, Japan Alps

  • SimonNorwich

    “But if asked where we get our morality from, if not from science or religion, the new atheists start to stammer. They tend to argue that ethics is obvious, which it isn’t, or natural, which it manifestly isn’t either, and end up vaguely hinting that this isn’t their problem. Let someone else worry about it.”

    That is pure, steaming bullshit. Sam Harris, probably the world’s most famous “new atheist” after Richard Dawkins, has written a whole book specifically on the issue of morality – The Moral Landscape. And all the well-known “new atheists”, from Richard Dawkins, to Anthony Grayling, to Daniel Dennett, to Christopher Hitchens, have frequently provided explanations for the origins morality (extremely simply explained by evolutionary necessity, as it happens).

    So, to make the argument in this article, is to be either unbelievably ignorant, or unbelievably deceitful. Either way, this article is not worthy of publication in The Spectator.

  • Jeremy Rodell

    If Lord Sacks accepts, as he does, that those of us who are not religious can be moral, he must also accept that a predominantly non-religious society could be a moral society.

    It is not moral relativism to realise that Moses et al were not always right, and that for example, denying people who are homosexual equal marriage rights – or denying those dying in pain/indignity the right to choose the manner and time of their departure – means avoidable suffering, so the old view needs to be changed. We’re still learning what treating others as we would wish to be treated really means in practice.

    This emergent morality is being reflected in the edifice of national and international secular law that we are constantly refining and improving as society’s views change. Inevitably, as with all human endeavours, this is an imperfect process, but the direction is clear. Religion as such did not give us the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

    For a long time now the power of religious institutions and ways of thinking have been in decline. We now live in a plural society in which we, rightly, educate children to think for themselves and to have equal regard for fellow human beings from different backgrounds. More people are realising that they do not believe in the myths of religion, nor identify with the tribalism which too often accompanies it. It is no longer a betrayal to marry someone from a different background to your own – uncomfortable though that idea may be to some.

    It does not help to set up and attack the straw man of an imaginary extreme new atheism. Atheism is already moving on. The new President of the British Humanist Association, Prof.Jim Al-Khalili, calls himself a “new, new atheist”, and his tone is respectful and inclusive.

  • rasa2013

    KeithMann said it eloquently enough. All I wanted to add is that our evolution as a social species explains perfectly well the aspects of our nature that can hold us together, even as we must resist the aspects of our nature that tear us apart.

    We are capable. The question is if we are willing.

  • Simon Gardner

    We should all be as thick and unhinged as the theists. I don’t think so.

  • mikehorn

    Is this what passes for religious moral thought? Let’s see: straw men, post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, false dichotomy, a few more. Mr. Sacks needs to address his own logic and ability to think through problems before he starts critiquing anything at all. For our future’s sake, I sincerely hope he doesn’t have any students anywhere learning this type of schlock.

  • Herpderp

    Human morality does not arise from artificial constructs, such as the holy books from which religion preaches. Humans are born with an innate sense of right or wrong. With our higher intelligence, we have the capability to comprehend the predicaments our “neighbors” undergo, thus giving us empathy. Religion does not create morals; higher intelligence does.

  • Nick

    I’ve read the article and many of the excellent posts in response,so I’ll summarize what your all saying……
    Religion is really just a pile of sheite……Yes? Am I right?

  • Daniel Maris

    Reading this, I feel quite queasy as any right thinking person must.

    “I have no desire to convert others to my religious beliefs. Jews don’t do that sort of thing.”

    Then what are the rest of us if you don’t want to convert us to your way of truth? Are we just another version of Mehdi’s “cattle”?

    “The threat to western freedom in the 21st century is not from fascism or
    communism but from a religious fundamentalism combining hatred of the
    other, the pursuit of power and contempt for human rights.”

    Why not come out and say what you fear…is it fundamental Methodism…fundamental Anglicanism…fundamental Buddhism…fundamental Hinduism?

    Come on – give us a bit of help here… 🙂

    • Invictus_Lux

      Exactly, He’s saying “I have something that works for me and the rest of you I feel no compelling obligation to save from your ignorance.” Some religions take parochialism and insularity to the point of a closed club elitism that is unfit for consumption by the majority of the dogs and savages in the mongrel races. This sort of thinking leads to indifference. The worst insult anyone can inflict on another is to ignore them as unworthy of even bothering to dialog with and share truth with. On the other hand I don’t think a just God would grant a true faith to anyone so indifferent to others that they would not want to share it with anyone irrespective of their competency to market it by good example.

      • Raman Indian

        One way of looking at it is that all the main religions and indeed atheism and agnosticism (Buddhism is agnostic) have much to contribute and should be left to their followers. Your religion is not the only truth. No need to convert, as the world would be impoverished spiritually by one religious tradition defeating the rest.

        • Invictus_Lux

          There’s where your wrong Raman. There is only one true faith just as their is only one true God. The very principal of Truth necessitates that its not multi-variate. While perfection in condition of time-space can be modulated in endless expressions of the some pure truth in the same way a start twinkles to the eyes behind the prism of one’s view there remains only one primal truth. This is anxiomatic by every principal of reason

  • http://dan.tobias.name/ dtobias

    I’m not going to believe in superstitious nonsense simply because society would be better off if everybody believed in it.

    • Invictus_Lux

      What alternative sort of nonsense would you trust and endorse or are you just committed to a hope in a gloomy oblivion and looking to get out with no debts owed? Devotion to supreme skepticism or pessimism is just another sort of worship with its own cult following.

      • http://dan.tobias.name/ dtobias

        I “trust and endorse” things that are backed by evidence and logic, whether gloomy or bright, in preference to fantasies that make you feel better but are not backed by any evidence.

        • Invictus_Lux

          Like the evidence of the great atheist ideologues: Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot who collectively murdered 100s of millions in their quest to enlighten us and deliver their utopiac vision for heaven on earth by way of Statism and Marxism? Shall we count the skulls or just gaze upon them as relics of the fun memories of the great fools like Hamlet did when he gazed upon the empty eye-sockets and flesh-less lips he once kissed of Yorick?

          • Raman Indian

            Every time you open your mouth to splurt such soulless inanities Chrisitanity loses a few followers. You are the anti-converter. No one would want to belong to a church of which you are a pillar.

          • Invictus_Lux

            Be gone with your sophistic phantasmic projections. You are neither omniscient nor an oracle.

          • Raman Indian

            Another reason why I am thankful for our secular European society of today which has cut itself off from Christianity: the likes of you are no longer able to impose your hideous bigoted views. Good riddance.

          • Invictus_Lux

            And you consider yourself an enlightened man Raman? A return to paganism and hedonism is a preferable culture? You must subscribe to the Hindu Thuggie blood lust.

            Behold a man who eats contradiction as if it was ambrosia.

            You are a living manifestation of the zeitgeist which pervades and inflicts Europe like a parasite which gnaws it’s host own brains while singing a lullaby to lull it to sleep. Foaming at the mouth rhetoric. You’re inflicted with malefic idiocy. Be gone before the exorcists are sent in and send you home.

          • bhudster10

            Stalin never lost his faith.

  • VoodooQ

    Man look at the crazy outfits worn by the people in the above photo. Sure who doesn’t love fancy cress but when the party is over, surely getting back to reality is necessary.

    Enough already with giving special status to swivel eyed loons who use magic rituals to mesmerize the the emotionally immature.

    People can bond at a Bollywood dance class and that does a lot less harm to the culture and in fact brings exuberant joy to participants.

  • Invictus_Lux

    The dear Rabbi speaks out of both sides of his mouth like a Janus joining in the cacophony of babel singing a dirge from one set of lips while howling at the lunacy of nature from the other. There is NO principal of unity in plurality anymore so than the snakes coiled on the head of Medusa or the legion of demons within the corpus of the Gerasenes demonic achieve a functional unity through integration in one disfigured framework of common human corruption.

    The problem is that there is no common vision by which an E pluribus unum can be achieved when a unity is considered too impersonal and too restrictive to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. No one has a clue how to be happy unless by that we mean to chase one’s tail in its pursuit and take delight in the perspiration.

    Truth can not be subdivided into an obscene heterodoxy to war with itself. There is only one Truth – one true faith. This is a guarantee of the principals that science and theology are co-hinged on – non contradiction and the assumption of a rational universe (even in the presence of a profoundly ubiquitous infestation of human irrationality).

    There will never be a sustained peace nor a sustained civilization unless a single truth can be held within a corpus of humanity. Truth while self evident is not in and of itself transmittable to those who have turned a deaf ear or blind eye to that axiomatic principal. These will always want to go the way of the heathens and the barbarians to take pleasure in the lowest and most ignoble aspects of a fallen human nature. The stakes are eternity and in lost potential of a single human being should be the greatest crime known to humanity. We must raise up the ignorant and for those who’s nature is resigned to a debased aspiration – these must be sequestered and removed from society in the same way one quarantines a diseased person. There can be no quarter given to malefic impulses. Banish these to Babel and let’s move humanity forward. We’re all tired of suffering the recurring patterns of rise-and-fall seen through out history. The pattern must be broken.

  • grigory99

    Wow. Just… wow. England’s top rabbi wrote that?

    I know I’m overreacting to the overabundance of fallacies in this article, but I just couldn’t help myself and blogged about it: http://atheism-101.com/1/post/2013/06/how-not-to-argue-against-atheism.html

  • Raman Indian

    As with most priests advocating what they are paid to advocate, this is half-baked, obdurate crud.

    Sacks brays:

    “Heinrich Heine wrote, ‘A drama will be enacted in Germany compared to which the French Revolution will seem like a harmless idyll. Christianity restrained the martial ardour of the Germans for a time but it did not destroy it; once the restraining talisman is shattered, savagery will rise again… the mad fury of the berserk, of which Nordic poets sing and speak.’ Nietzsche and Heine were making the same point. Lose the Judeo-Christian sanctity of life and there will be nothing to contain the evil men do when given the chance and the provocation.”
    Could someone point out to this fellow that it was because of the long and terrible tradition of Jew-baiting promoted for two thousand years by Christianity that Hitler was able to stage the Holocaust? Without Christianity, no Holocaust.
    And only because the capitalist sytem collapsed in 1929 did he ever get into power anyway.

    Besides, one forgets so easily that the worst death toll in European wars was due the religious conflicts set off by the Christian (YEP!) Reformation: ONE-THIRD of Germans died in the Thirty Years’ War…

    So much for the Judeo-Chriostian ethic restraining killing.

  • Raman Indian

    At least Sacks does admit he himself is an atheist.

    What other interpretation can one put on these words of his:

    “the real issues….have nothing to do with science and the literal meaning of scripture and everything to do with the meaningfulness or otherwise of human life, the existence or non-existence of an objective moral order, the truth or falsity of the idea of human freedom, and the ability or inability of society to survive without the rituals, narratives and shared practices that create and sustain the social bond”
    In honest words: Sacks is saying, the religious stories are admittedly all crud, but he dare not stop saying he believes because all hell might be unleashed as we will lose the ethics God-belief underpins.

    God doesn’t exist, but, says Sacks, we have to act as if he does…..

    I would actually respect Sacks if he was honest enough to say this. It is his deliberate, contemptible pretence of believing that nauseates.

    Besides, this is purely a Judeo-Christian-Islamic problem. In Indian and Chinese religions, God is unimportant; you can believe or not believe, as you choose.

    The Buddhists are downright agnostics. As Buddha said, so wisely, so long ago:

    “If God is all-powerful, He is not Good
    If he is not all-powerful, He is not God”

    Confucius in China dismissed talk of God.

    Morality does not collapse in the East because eastern religions are agnostic. So that’s the answer, Sacks: become a smiling, serene Buddhist or Confucian!

  • Raman Indian

    I do not believe in God, but I do believe in ethics.
    Why?
    Because I believe what I believe.
    Illogical?
    No more so than belief in God.
    That is a good Hindu position. We don’t suffer from your Middle Eastern Judeo-Christian-Islamic hang ups.

    • Invictus_Lux

      The Hindu Thuggies, an assassins religion would love your devotion to situational ethics. What ever feels good at a particular point in history – do it?

      Ethics – just another word for moral relativism.

  • Raman Indian

    One question;
    Why do fellows like Sacks talk of a “Judeo-Christian ethic” but not a “Judeo-Christian-Islamic ethic”?

    Why is Islam the forgotten daughter of Judaism?

    Is it because the Christianity has loved Judaism so much more, historically?

    I do wonder.

    Theologically, Islam is actually much closer to Judaism than Christianity is. Islam is monotheistic, unlike Christianity with its three gods and mother godess. Islam’s dietary rules are very similar to kosher.

    • Blorgh

      Spot on. The history of Western civilization is divided between the Greco-Roman-Renaissance-Enlightenment stuff, and the Abraham-Moses-Jesus-Mohammad stuff. Judaism can’t claim some of its offsprings without claiming the rest.

      • Invictus_Lux

        Just because some early Arab Caliphate shanghaid some Jewish and Christian concepts and reformed them does not make the Jews responsible for the illegitimate happenings down stream. In your system of reckoning the Jews were responsible for both Hitler and the atheists Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. Absurd.

        • Blorgh

          I didn’t blame “the Jews” for anything. I blamed their system of beliefs. I can distinguish between the two.

          Judaism is an irrational system of beliefs based o