Douglas Murray, atheist, extols religion in The Spectator

This Spectator piece by Douglas Murray, “Atheists vs. Dawkins” (with the subtitle, “My fellow atheists, it’s time we admitted that religion has some points in its favour”), is now six days old, but deserves a brief comment.

The word “Dawkins” in a title always makes me wary, for he, though perhaps the world’s most prominent atheist, is only one of many people who believe likewise (e.g., me), and using his name is meant only to raise the hackles of faitheists and atheist-butters.  And, sure enough, Murray begins his piece by mentioning a debate in which he and Dawkins (on the same side) contested Rowan Williams and Tariq Ramadan.

Sometimes a perfectly good argument can be stretched too far. I heard the resulting snapping noise last week in Cambridge during a debate with Richard Dawkins. We were meant to be on the same side at the Union. But over some months the motion hardened and eventually became ‘This House believes religion should have no place in the 21st century.’ While an atheist myself, it seems to me that claiming that religion should disappear is not just an overstatement but a seismic mistake. So I joined Rowan Williams and my close enemy Tariq Ramadan in trying to explain to Dawkins and co where they might have gone wrong.

You can guess where “Dawkins and co” have gone wrong, can’t you?:

The more I listened to Dawkins and his colleagues, the more the nature of what has gone wrong with their argument seemed clear. Religion was portrayed as a force of unremitting awfulness, a poisoned root from which no good fruit could grow. It seems to me the work not of a thinker but of any balanced observer to notice that this is not the case. In their insistence to the contrary, a new — if mercifully non-violent — dogma has emerged. And the argument has stalled.

These new atheists remain incapable of getting beyond the question, ‘Is it true?’ They assume that by ‘true’ we agree them to mean ‘literally true’. They also assume that if the answer is ‘no’, then that closes everything. But it does not. Just because something is not literally true does not mean that there is no truth, or worth, in it.

No truth in it? Well, no literal truth, but maybe we can find metaphorical truth—IF the stories are meant to be metaphors. (Of course they weren’t, which means are task then becomes to concoct plausible metaphors.) And metaphor is what Murray means:

It is all very well to point out — as Dawkins did again the other night — that Adam did not exist. But to think that this discovery makes not just the story of Eden but the narrative of the crucifixion and resurrection meaningless is to rather startlingly miss a point. You can be in agreement with Professor Dawkins that Adam did not exist, yet know and feel that the story of Eden speaks profoundly about ourselves.

This is, pardon my French, complete bullshit. If Adam and Eve did not exist, and there was no Original Sin caused by human action, and the Primal Couple was just a metaphor, it means that if Jesus really was crucified and resurrected, he died for a metaphor.

And what is that metaphor? Who knows? What, exactly, is the “truth” in the Adam-and-Eve story?  Good luck with that, for those Evangelical Christians who doubt the historicity of Adam and Eve have been arguing for years about what it might mean as a metaphor.  A fictional Primal Couple completely turns the Christian narrative on its head, for a metaphorical Adam and Eve means that humans are sinful not through their own choices and nature, but because God made them that way.  And in that case, why did Jesus have to die, for God could simply have made us good?  If Eden speaks profoundly about ourselves, then what is that profound meaning?

Well, theologians have thought of many meanings, but all of them come from secular reason rather than faith, for you can’t privilege one over the other when making up stories. (By the way, if Murray, as an avowed atheist, also thinks that Jesus wasn’t divine, crucified, and resurrected, then the entire story becomes a meaningless fairy tale, no more “profound” than the polytheistic Greek or Norse religions. Why doesn’t Murray see profundity in the stories of Zeus and Thor?)

If one wants to extract profound meaning from life without having to puzzle over fairy stories, may I suggest to Murray that one consider classical, secular philosophy? There isn’t any interpretation needed: it’s all there in black and white. I argue that if you have to construe “profound truths” from silly stories, you are doing it by imposing upon them some lesson about life that you’ve learned not from religion, but from secular reason, experience, and philosophy.

I, for one, find no credible ‘profound truth’ in a metaphorical Adam and Eve.  We’re born with some selfish tendencies? Evolution tells us that! And there’s nobody to expiate them, so the resurrection story is ludicrous.

As for the “worth” of religion, yes, I admit there is some, but I will not admit that there is more “worth” than we would have if humans never invented God-worship in the first place.  Does religion do more for the United States than socialism and atheism do for Scandinavia? I don’t think so.

Yes, religion meets some human needs, but those needs can be met without the trappings of superstition—and those trappings are why religion poisons so many things. Imagine no religion.  Imagine no marginalizing of women, no terrorizing children with thoughts of hell, no murders based on who was Mohamed’s successor, no creationism, no Holocaust, no Israeli-Palestinian wars, and no discrimination against gays.

Scandinavia has all of the good stuff and none of the bad, and so can we.  (I will admit that Chartres and Ste. Chapelle are lovely buildings, but I’d gladly live without them if I could dispense with the history of religion.)  Murray disagrees:

But it is while high on destruction that one ought most to consider whether what you are pulling down is as wholly valueless as you might temporarily have to pretend it is, and whether you have anything remotely as good to put in its place

. . . But I think we should be frank. There are things which atheists miss.

For example, my fellow atheist opponents the other night portrayed the future — if we could only shrug off religion — as a wonderful sunlit upland, where reasonable people would make reasonable decisions in a reasonable world. Is it not at least equally likely that if you keep telling people that they lead meaningless lives in a meaningless universe you might just find yourself with — at best — a vacuous life and a hollow culture? My first exhibit in submission involves turning on a television.

I proffer the same answer: Scandinavia.  Their culture is not vacuous, the peoples’ lives not vacuous.

Or is Murray proposing that atheists adopt Alain de Botton’s atheist churches as a substitute, a suggestion that always fills me with profound ennui? Murray does, in fact, suggest philosophy (and poetry!) as a substitute for faith, but dismisses the substitution:

Religion, whether you believe it to be literally true or not, provided people, and provides people still, with a place to ask questions we must ask. Why are we here? How should we live? How can we be good? Atheists often argue that these questions can be equally answered by reading poetry or studying philosophy. Perhaps, but how many people who would once have gathered in a place of worship now meet on philosophy courses? Oughtn’t poetry books to be selling by the millions by now?

Yes, certainly we should allow people to derive untestable and contradictory answers from belief in a nonexistent God and membership in churches whose dogma os based on fictional scripture.  But don’t expect that to provide good answers. Try secularism instead. I doubt that all the citizens of Denmark and Sweden are profoundly acquainted with modern philosophy, but I suspect that they are no less happy with their lives than are Americans, and find just as much meaning in existence.  Religion doesn’t provide Americans with answers to these questions so much as dull the pain of a dysfunctional society.

In the end, Murray proposes a deal, which turns out to be a devil’s bargain. The first part is okay:

First, religions must give up the aspiration to intervene in secular law in the democratic state. In particular they must give up any desire to hold legislative power over those who are not members of their faith. In much of the world the Christian churches have already done this. Of course there are other religions and places where this separation has not been so nearly achieved. But the concession is vital, not least because the ability to dictate politics or law is the ability that most rightly concerns the non-religious about religions.

But not so much the second:

But non-believers like me should make a concession as well. We should concede that, when it comes to discussions of ideas, morality and meaning, religion does have a place. Rather than dismissing it as some mere relict of our past, we should acknowledge that religion has an important contribution to our present and future discussion. We may not agree with the foundational claims, but we might at least agree not always and only to deride, laugh at and dismiss as meaningless something which searches sincerely for meaning.

Nope, I refuse to concede that.  Morality, meaning, and ideas are addressed much better with secular reason than with religion.  Again, are the largely atheistic citizens of Scandinavia and Northern Europe bereft of morality and meaning and ideas since they abjured religion? I don’t think so. In the end, a search for meaning based on fictitious foundations only impedes one from finding the best way to live.  The pervasive discrimination against gays, for example, comes wholly from faith.

I claim the right to mock and dismiss those organizations that sincerely search for meaning so long as their search is conditioned by claims about reality that are palpably false.

141 Comments

  1. Posted February 14, 2013 at 6:30 am | Permalink

    “James Murray, atheist, … This Spectator piece by Douglas Murray …”

    Wrong forename in title?

  2. david middle
    Posted February 14, 2013 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    Watched this debate @ Cambridge Union. I felt that the proposers Dawkins et al won hands down. However, the Union thought otherwise, no decent points for those against and of course the atheist on their side had none either.

  3. gbjames
    Posted February 14, 2013 at 6:41 am | Permalink

    I love these bargains that faitheists advocate. In exchange for religion keeping out of government affairs we are expected to play make-believe, offer false respect, and pretend we agree with patent nonsense.

    Aarrrggghh.

  4. Posted February 14, 2013 at 6:41 am | Permalink

    Part of this is what he said in the same debate and I think he is well aware that religion is not about to make the concessions he asking for when he talks their involvement in laws.
    Does religion provide any answers to the questions he mentions, I doubt it unless he is promoting self delusion as answers.

  5. agentwhim
    Posted February 14, 2013 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    Have Scandinavian countries moved from being mostly centre-right monarchies to socialism without me noticing?

    • Dominic
      Posted February 14, 2013 at 7:28 am | Permalink

      I would say they have wived between centre left & centre right.

    • steve oberski
      Posted February 14, 2013 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

      Apparently.

    • Posted February 14, 2013 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

      Isn’t the European centre somewhat to the left of the U.S. center?

      /@

  6. TJR
    Posted February 14, 2013 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    The exact meaning of the sentence

    “religion has an important contribution to our present and future discussion”

    seems to be the crucial bit. It could mean anything from

    a) “priests and religious hierarchies have an important contribution to our present and future discussion”

    to

    b) “books of fairy tales which derive from currently-extant religions sometimes have interesting things to say, just as books of fairy tales which derive from extinct religions and non-religious sources do”

    or anywhere inbetween. My suspicion is that he means something inbetween but hasn’t actually thought it through properly.

    I’m sure none of us would agree with (a) but nearly all of us would agree with (b).

  7. John K.
    Posted February 14, 2013 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    Religion, whether you believe it to be literally true or not, provided people, and provides people still, with a place to ask questions we must ask. Why are we here? How should we live? How can we be good?

    What tripe. It is completely possible to ask these questions outside of religion. All religion does is work to satisfy these questions with terrible and baseless answers.

    Religion was portrayed as a force of unremitting awfulness, a poisoned root from which no good fruit could grow.

    Revelation can guess correctly every now and again, but whenever it does it is purely luck. You can throw out the blueprints to a building and go by instinct while building it, and likely there are going to be a few things done well, but it is never going to measure up to the carefully planned and proven methods.

    • Sastra
      Posted February 14, 2013 at 8:20 am | Permalink

      Dawkins approaches the motion ‘This House believes religion should have no place in the 21st century’ in the same sense and spirit he would approach the motion ‘This House believes pseudoscience should have no place in the 21st century.’

      Being against pseudoscience doesn’t mean you can’t recognize how nice people in the cultures which surround them can be, or how fulfilling or inspiring tarot cards or astrology or alternative medicine can be. Sure. Granted.

      And nobody is advocating force or violence.

      But it’s a poisoned root. No, it may not actually harm anyone if your Aunt Edna thinks she can psychically connect with her poodles — but the sloppy thinking, moral decadence, and lack of integrity of an entire society which not only believes in psychic powers but encourages the assumption that believing in psychic powers is the sign of a good person — and that being skeptical is a sign that you are not — is a dangerous thing to let pass out of concern for the Aunt Ednas. That IS harmful.

      Religion is like pseudoscience: dubious beliefs based on insufficient evidence and held in the teeth of criticism through the use of dishonest tactics, poor reasoning, and dogmatic arrogance. They shouldn’t have a place in the 21st century reserved for them with smiles, nods, and a respectful welcome.

  8. Tim Harris
    Posted February 14, 2013 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    ‘Is it not at least equally likely that if you keep telling people that they lead meaningless lives in a meaningless universe you might just find yourself with — at best — a vacuous life and a hollow culture?’

    Instead of mouthing these banalities, the man should read some of the great nay-sayers (say, Beckett, Blanchot, Thomas Bernhard, Schopenhauer)and think seriously about what makes their writing valuable and look honestly at the the kind of culture that emanates from television, rags like the Daily Mail and the Sun, as well as from Hollywood and, to from the kind of men, of which there are far too many, who like to bully women on the internet.

    • Posted February 14, 2013 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

      Against that quote of Murray’s, here’s Bertrand Russell, from “Why I Am Not a Christian”: “When you hear people in church debasing themselves and saying that they are miserable sinners, and all the rest of it, it seems contemptible and not worthy of self-respecting human beings.”

      I used to attend church with my wife when we visited her religious parents. This exact distaste was particularly prompted by this phrase in the Communion: “We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table.”

      /@

  9. Dominic
    Posted February 14, 2013 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    Eloquent as ever. Each time I think
    of some futherence of your argument, it pops up in the next paragraph.

    Why is it Murray is so happy to give room to certain religious belief sets or books, & exclude others? Why should we give any more weight or value to Adam and Eve rather than Ask & Embla?

  10. Barry Lyons
    Posted February 14, 2013 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    This is excellent. I have nothing to add, except to say that if this post and related ones are a taste of Coyne’s next book, I can’t wait to read it!

    • Posted February 14, 2013 at 9:13 am | Permalink

      An apt title might be:

      The Wellspring of Science: And why Religion has Poisoned It

      Just a thot …

      • Barry Lyons
        Posted February 14, 2013 at 9:26 am | Permalink

        Love that! It’s perfect.

  11. Hempenstein
    Posted February 14, 2013 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    Tariq Ramadan. Is that Arabic for Billy Sunday?

  12. Sastra
    Posted February 14, 2013 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    These new atheists remain incapable of getting beyond the question, ‘Is it true?’ They assume that by ‘true’ we agree them to mean ‘literally true’. They also assume that if the answer is ‘no’, then that closes everything. But it does not. Just because something is not literally true does not mean that there is no truth, or worth, in it.

    A lot of arguments against atheism (and in favor of theism) are not designed to show that God exists or probably exists. They’re not trying to convince a reasonable person. They are instead designed to get the atheist to back away and leave the believer alone. Greta Christina has labeled these the “Shut Up, That’s Why” arguments. I like to call it the Argument from Shut-Up.

    Right here, in this quote, Douglas Murray is making a classic Argument from Shut-Up. “So what if it’s not true? Look at the other stuff that comes along for the ride. Community, charity, companionship and chicken dinners; meaning, morals, mission, and managing your life. Look at those things … and then shut up about religion not having ANY value. Shut up about religion. It’s a preference. Don’t be rude.”

    When a theist makes this argument, however, he has conceded too much. If it’s turned back on him then he has to admit that it doesn’t really matter to him if God exists or not. God, souls, Christ, the whole salvation and damnation story are all just stories to him or her. They’re tools propping up a form of personal therapy or a bonding ceremony or an aesthetic expression.

    If taken seriously, that defense of belief would make the theist an atheist. They are immunizing their hypothesis from refutation by throwing it out. Oh, really? Are they really doing this? Or are they only trying to change the subject because their position is weak?

    When an atheist makes this argument he’s also dragging in a Little People Argument. “Sure, we atheists can handle the truth — but we can’t expect the Little People to function without their crutch. They’re not like us. They’re different — but only in a minor little area that makes little difference to how we live together. Make allowances and move on to another topic.”

    No. We won’t.

    Because the people who believe in God only adopt the strategy of emphasizing the things we atheists have in common with them as a tactic to shut us up. The thing we don’t have in common with them — belief in God — is not a metaphor for humanism. It is supposed to be the most important, crucial, self-defining, significant thing in the world because atheists are wrong and God really exists. Believing in God is a moral choice as well as a factual conclusion. The truth on THAT issue is not “besides the point.” Who the hell do the theists think they are kidding?

    I’ll tell you who: Douglas Murray. And rather successfully, it seems.

    • Posted February 14, 2013 at 8:13 am | Permalink

      Pow, bang, boom! (+3, at least)

    • StewedPrune
      Posted February 14, 2013 at 8:52 am | Permalink

      Your analysis, Sastra, both here and above (reply to #7), is very penetrating and helpful. Thank you for setting it out so well.

      • H.H.
        Posted February 14, 2013 at 8:58 am | Permalink

        Sastra has a true gift for articulation.

        • Sastra
          Posted February 14, 2013 at 9:45 am | Permalink

          Thanks :)

          • articulett
            Posted February 17, 2013 at 10:42 am | Permalink

            I agree. Really well said!

    • darrelle
      Posted February 14, 2013 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      You are on a roll on this thread Sastra. Well said, here and your comment above.

      I am not sure that the “Shut Up, That’s Why” type arguments are designed. I think they arise, without the need for forethought, from innate human responses to perceived aggression and that wonderful human trait of hanging on to your beliefs, of any kind or level of importance, with vigor even when you really shouldn’t.

      • Sastra
        Posted February 14, 2013 at 11:23 am | Permalink

        Yes, I think the “Shut up” arguments certainly arise from the general human impulse to defend yourself in a certain way when you’re losing an argument on the merits — but I also think that beliefs which are specifically identified with faith have these defenses already set up in advance. It’s wrong to question or criticize religion. Why? Because it’s faith, that’s why.

        That super special immunity card is supposed to be part of the benefit of having faith: you don’t need to defend your belief against the unenlightened outsiders who are those of no faith. You can do apologetics, sure, you have a rational faith — but you shouldn’t HAVE to. Challenges are unfair and personal. They’re questioning your right to your identity. They’re trying to take God from you. They’re trying to undermine your moral commitment to believe. They’re trying to turn YOU into THEM.

        In her articlke Christina calls this heavy-handed attempt to change or stop the discussion “one of the most pernicious pieces of armor that religion has mounted against legitimate criticism.” It’s an immunizing strategy structured right into the claim. But it isn’t intrinsic to the claim. That’s the point.

        When people try to vigorously hang on to a belief even when they really shouldn’t, then they’re treating it like it’s a religion. The gnu atheists differ from accomodationists like Murray because we don’t think even religion should be treated like it’s a religion.

  13. Posted February 14, 2013 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    Couldn’t the conflict be resolved if rationalist fundamentalist scientismists would agree to tweak the definition of “science” just a teensy?

    Oh wait… apparently somebody thought of this already.

  14. Sajanas
    Posted February 14, 2013 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    Murray seems to have the same problems a lot of the faith-fancying atheists have. He is judging religion by the standards of a pleasant religious grandma. Seriously, its time to look at the overwhelming harm religion does, and indeed, cannot help but do, because of the way it is structured, before you start talking about it like its a sleeping cat.

    He seems to think that people are too stupid to accept other answers, and that people will go crazy without religion. Again, wrong. Religion has a hold because it cheats… it hands out easy answers to children, sick people, and the curious. Its unfair to say religion has something to offer when the correct answer is “we don’t really know” or “Its complicated”. And I think people would be more curious about various moral and existential questions if they weren’t given pat answers at the age of 5.

    • raven
      Posted February 14, 2013 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      Murray seems to have the same problems a lot of the faith-fancying atheists have. He is judging religion by the standards of a pleasant religious grandma.

      Murray seems to be evaluating xianity by the modern European experiences.

      They don’t realize just what we in the USA have to deal with every day. Xian terrorism has been a problem for decades.

      The xian candidate in the last election was a part Reptilian sociopathic Mormon who still ended up getting 47% of the vote.

      • Sajanas
        Posted February 14, 2013 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

        I think its even more narrow than that… he’s evaluating Christianity by those he personally knows. There are plenty of nutty Christians in Europe, its just that he doesn’t bother to go out and find them.

        He should do a post purely about why he is an atheist and see what nutters he draws from the interwebs.

  15. Jeremy Rodell
    Posted February 14, 2013 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    Afraid the posting is incorrect in saying that Douglas Murray and Richard Dawkins were on the same side. There weren’t: http://www.cus.org/termcard/359

    This was a very badly-selected motion in my view. Something like “This House believes that religious privilege has no place in the 21st century” would have produced a more nuanced debate, and almost certainly a different result.

    I guess it was difficult for Andrew Copson, as there are many humanists, me included, who would find it difficult to vote for the motion as it was presented. So the other side had it easy.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted February 14, 2013 at 8:29 am | Permalink

      Well, if you look at the original article, Murray says this:

      “We were meant to be on the same side at the Union.”

      So that original arrangement is what I took to be the case.

  16. marycanada FCD
    Posted February 14, 2013 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    Great post. This preposterous demand for the respect of religion has become tiresome.

  17. Posted February 14, 2013 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    When a religionist admits to an atheistic rational person, “yes we admit there was no actual Adam” a good comeback, since they are in the mood to honor true truth, would be, “Yes but there was an Eve. She lived 200,000 years ago and her DNA is in your cells and everyone’s in this room.”

  18. Jonathan Houser
    Posted February 14, 2013 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    I understand where Murray is coming from, but he is making an argument for Art, not religion. We can say that the story of eden is about humanity’s ideal of perfection and paradise and how we are unable to attain that because ect ect ect, but that is just looking at it from a literary standpoint.

    We can find just as much meaning in Walt Whitman, James Joyce, Shakespear, so on and so forth with one big difference. Nobody is telling a child they can’t have a blood transfusion (such is the case with Jehovah’s Witnesses) because of allegories contained in a Joyce Carol Oates story. Hell, we can even appreciate religious literature such as Ecclesiastes without making it into some fact based assertion about the nature of the universe. We can keep all of that without the man made organizations controlling throngs of people with threats of damnation and guilt.

    Simply saying that our culture has given religion a purpose is different from saying religion is needed to fill a purpose.

    • Sastra
      Posted February 14, 2013 at 9:02 am | Permalink

      Is there any story at all which couldn’t be taken up by helpful people and reworked into being symbolic of something significant? If you’re allowed to use metaphor and encouraged to reinterpret errors, style problems, and poor plot and character development as signs that the narrative is meant to address the primitive heart — is there any piece of writing that can’t be turned into something which “speaks profoundly about ourselves?”

      That would make an interesting challenge.

      The more intelligent and creative you are, the better you’d be at it. And if you do a good enough job — you might even end up thinking you discovered something in the True Meaning of the text.

    • Sajanas
      Posted February 14, 2013 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      I also think its worth pointing out that the ‘story’ of Adam and Eve is different than the confusion double story written in two pages in Genesis. I really think that a lot of people, when the are referencing the ‘great stories’ in the Bible, are actually thinking of more modern versions (like Paradise Lost) that dramatically expand the story and symbolism.

      That’s why I really don’t get ‘the Bible as great literature’ sort of arguments… its not really. Aside from a few parts, its more of a sketch of a story than something that is actually well told. It is more a source of literary inspiration than anything else. If the Bible weren’t propped up by dozens of movies, books, comics, and TV versions, I’m not sure actually reading it through would have near as much meaning.

      • TJR
        Posted February 14, 2013 at 9:53 am | Permalink

        Indeed, the Popish church has spent its entire history propping it up like this.

    • Posted February 14, 2013 at 10:19 am | Permalink

      You can say that Genesis is about anything you like, but that won’t change the fact that it’s a faery tale about an enchanted garden with talking animals and an angry wizard. Or that it’s a story of grossly negligent child abuse — leaving poison mislabeled as food, entrusting the children to a deadbeat babysitter, and evicting the children to the curb, naked, when they naively trust said deadbeat and get themselves sick on the poison you yourself left for them in the ‘fridge.

      A good storyteller can reinterpret even the worst of stories into something wonderful, and that’s what’s been done over and over again with the Bible. But it’s still ultimately an exercise in turd polishing.

      Cheers,

      b&

  19. Veroxitatis
    Posted February 14, 2013 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    Murray mentions poetry and philosophy. Why?
    There is hardly anything in the bible which is historically accurate and the plot, such as it is, is full of holes. So what? Do we look for factual accuracy in great literature? We judge such literature on the extent to which it provides insight into the frailties and absurdities of the human condition. The bible does none of that with the possible weak exceptions of the Books of Ruth and Job. We would do better to have regard to such works as Hecabe, Iphigenia, Hamlet, Lear, Anna Karenin, Crime and Punishment, L’Assommoir, The Magic Mountain & East of Eden.

  20. MAUCH
    Posted February 14, 2013 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Does religion feel that the requirement that we submit our undying allegiance to a capricious holy father or suffer an eternity of unimaginable torture in hell a metaphor? If this is not a metaphor then I have no time for any religion that holds this to be the living and dying truth. They have created for themseves a god that is one sick puppy.

  21. darrelle
    Posted February 14, 2013 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    OK Doug, why the hell are you an atheist? If religion is so wonderful why do you deprive yourself of it? If you think that civilization will fall without religion to bring meaning to people, why do you not drink of the Homo aggrandizing elixir yourself?

    “You can be in agreement with Professor Dawkins that Adam did not exist, yet know and feel that the story of Eden speaks profoundly about ourselves.(my bold)

    How do you expect to be taken seriously when you make silly statements like that? The typical science fiction paperback is more profound than the biblical story of Adam & Eve.

    • raven
      Posted February 14, 2013 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      “You can be in agreement with Professor Dawkins that Adam did not exist, yet know and feel that the story of Eden speaks profoundly about ourselves.(my bold)

      It’s an intriguing story.

      A lot of the interest is figuring out just how incoherent and stupid it is.

      1. Why is the talking snake in the Garden along with a magic tree? Why didn’t god put the Tree of Knowledge on Jupiter instead? If he is omniscient, why didn’t he know what would happen.

      Adam and Eve were set up to fail or god is an idiot.

      2. It says quite clearly that Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden because god was afraid of them. There was another Tree, the Tree of Life and anyone who eats from both trees becomes gods themselves.

      3. And what about the Big Boat story. God attempts to fix his own mistakes by inventing genocide. After killing nearly everyone, it still didn’t work. Plan B was to send himself down to be killed. That didn’t work either.

      Plan C is the Apocalypse.

      All god’s fixes for his own incompetence involve murder or genocide.

  22. rr
    Posted February 14, 2013 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    Religion, whether you believe it to be literally true or not, provided people, and provides people still, with a place to ask questions we must ask.

    I asked a lot of questions and religion couldn’t answer any of them. That’s what turned me into an atheist. And looking back I now see that religion is a huge pile of dysfunction that didn’t help me in any way. Sorry Mr. Murray, the sooner we kick this nonsense to the curb the better.

    • Sajanas
      Posted February 14, 2013 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

      And if you ask too many questions, they kick you out of Sunday School and don’t invite you back!

      • rr
        Posted February 14, 2013 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

        I wish I had asked the tough questions when I was dragged to Sunday School all those years ago. People who wouldn’t know a proton from a prion would take great pride in explaining exactly how the universe worked.

        • Sajanas
          Posted February 14, 2013 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

          Yeah, me too. I mostly just zoned out during Sunday school, or read the weird parts of the Bible. Its nowhere near as epic as my friend who was tasked by a nun to read the whole bible, did it, and told her that it was BS, he was an atheist now and never went back.

  23. Posted February 14, 2013 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    A new inert element for the periodical table has been discovered: faitheistium

    I am afraid that’s what it all about for these atheist butters, that is, they crave to keep the status quo because it takes too much effort and discomfort to challenge it. But instead of embracing their laziness, they present themselves as being caring peacemakers.

    Religion is at its best useless, at its worst, dangerous.

  24. Jim Johnson
    Posted February 14, 2013 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Good people do good things, religious or not. Bad people do bad things, etc. etc.

    Until it has been proven to me that the good people who do good in the name of religion would NOT do that good otherwise, then every argument that religions do good is moot. If the same good people would have done the same good things had they belonged to a secular organization instead, then religion contributed nothing except to claim the accolades.

    As for all the other arguments, for me it DOES come down to the fact that it’s all based on a lie. Sad that you’ll die someday? Your religion can lend a comforting lie. Like all other arguments for the value of religion, the “comfort” argument assumes that valued thing can’t be achieved without the lie (i.e. that you can’t be comforted, you can’t be good, you can’t help others, etc. without religion).

    But of course, you can.

  25. Jim Johnson
    Posted February 14, 2013 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    Jonathan Houser: “Simply saying that our culture has given religion a purpose is different from saying religion is needed to fill a purpose.”

    You said what I tried to, and much more succinctly.

  26. raven
    Posted February 14, 2013 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    Murray is just plain flat out wrong on the facts.

    Religion was portrayed as a force of unremitting awfulness, a poisoned root from which no good fruit could grow.

    This is more or less true. The fundie xians, Jews, and Moslems own the dark side of their cultures these days.

    There are some benign aspects to some forms of religion but they are overshadowed by the malevolent ones.

    It seems to me the work not of a thinker but of any balanced observer to notice that this is not the case. In their insistence to the contrary, a new — if mercifully non-violent — dogma has emerged.

    This is incorrect.

    Murray is looking at it from a position of willful blindness and ignorance.

    The fundies in the USA have been getting stronger and uglier in the last few decades and are the most visible form of xianity. The moderates have gone silent and are disappearing rapidly.

    Same for the Moslems. The Islamic terrorists and suicide bombers are a modern phenomena. Iran was taken over by the Mullahs just a few decades ago.

    Hey Murray, did you know there used to be two skyscrapers called the World Trade Center where a big hole in the ground is now? I wouldn’t call that a mercifully nonviolent dogma. Cthulhu, hardly a day goes by without some xian or Moslem atrocity.

  27. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted February 14, 2013 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    I’ll meet this fellow a quarter of the way if he concedes the following

    Often the good in religions is due to good religious people making the best of a bad start, trying to get a silk’s purse out of a sow’s ear, often by mingling religion with a sprinkling of good secular thinking!

    Bill Maher once said religion does indeed do good, but at too high a price. IMO, the good in religions is inherently undermined by any claim to privileged special revelation, as well as by apocalypticism, bigotry, and all sorts of other temptations of religion. Religions need to change by discarding pretense to uniquely necessary knowledge, or else fade out.

    (I’m using the plural because I’m uncomfortable with sweeping definitions of religion. There are lots of religions, but it can be hard to say what religion in general is.)

  28. Roo
    Posted February 14, 2013 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    I think he had a valid insight and then went too far with it. Say you notice someone has a vice – you visit a poor South American country and see orphaned children on the streets huffing glue; your uncle sits by the window and drinks himself silly every night while staring at his dead wife’s picture; your neighbor puts all her faith in snake oil cures when his toddler regresses into autism.

    People are causal creatures – we do not tend to do things at random, for absolutely no reason. So you can observe behavior and understand that it serves some purpose or function – people don’t ping through the universe doing things absolutely at random. Religion is no different. If people turn towards it, they do so for some reason. In the above scenarios, yes, it does strike me as unkind to view the “best” solution as snatching away the vice triumphantly and leaving said person to his or her misery. The vice or behavior is a communication of sorts, a red flag – it tells us where something needs to change, be sorted out, or improved upon. Again, I think that’s completely valid. But he seems to have concluded that we should just buy the poor kid another can of glue, and I don’t like that either.

    • gbjames
      Posted February 14, 2013 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      I don’t buy that argument. Sure people don’t do things at random. No living creature does things at random. Nor to rocks, for that matter.

      The fact that people turn to religion for some reason is not an argument that the reasons are legitimate. We need not excuse religious delusions because believers “have reasons”.

      People don’t commit homicide at random, either. But we take actions to prevent murders out of enlightened self interest. (Not enough, of course.)

    • raven
      Posted February 14, 2013 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      Most people don’t turn to religion.

      They are brainwashed from childhood. This is then reinforced by any and all social means of control ever invented. Including murder of defectors when they can get away with it.

    • Sastra
      Posted February 14, 2013 at 11:36 am | Permalink

      Trouble is that your analogies have to be extended so that the vices have been redefined as virtues. You’d have to imagine that this South African country where everyone, rich and poor, huffs glue or gets drunk or buys snake oil is one where they also insist that doing this grants them special insight into the nature of the universe and speaks well of their discipline, character, and intelligence. In fact, those who fail to indulge are the miserable ones. So there!

      The religious aren’t sheepishly admitting to a weakness. They’re proud as all get-out that, say what you will about them, they’re not atheists. I’d think that’s bound to change the nature of the discussion, from our point of view.

    • Roo
      Posted February 14, 2013 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for the responses! I’ll just consolidate into one reply so as not to hog up a bunch of space.

      gbjames – Agreed, but if there was a city in the US that had 10 times the normal murder rate, what would our first response be? Probably, to say “Hey, what’s going on here? What can we adjust or fix to lead people down a different path?”

      raven – Yeah, I don’t know. I guess I do know a lot of people who have turned toward religion, but there’s never any way to resolve the “I know different people than you do!” debate, so I duly note that this has not been your experience.

      Sastra, I don’t know that this changes my analogy – the sad old uncle might very well tell you to shut up, he can quite any time he wants and you’re the one with the problem, darn it. Self-awareness doesn’t necessarily make or break the fact that something is a crutch, behaviors have a function and behaviors are often best addressed via replacement behaviors that serve the same function in a healthier way. Or maybe I’ve just been brainwashed by behaviorists, that is also a distinct possibility.

      • gbjames
        Posted February 14, 2013 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

        I’m confused by the “but” part that follows “Agreed,”. It doesn’t seem like a “but” at all.

        • Posted February 14, 2013 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

          I’m with gbj here.

          Roo, your closing questions are exactly the questions hard-line atheists are asking. How can we get people off the path of uncritical, unreasoning, faith-ridden thinking and on the path of a rational commitment to evidence-based, reality-based thinking. A big part of the answer is social improvement, just like in the murder scenario.

          • Roo
            Posted February 14, 2013 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

            I’m not entirely sure if james and I agree or disagree, actually, but this seems to happen to me a lot on skeptic-type message boards, so I’ll take the blame in this case – apparently I just suck at writing clearly. And thanks, I agree with your agreement of my closing questions that I metaphorically asked even though I’m not really sure if you agree because you said you’re with james and I’m not sure where he stands. See! What could be clearer than that!

      • raven
        Posted February 14, 2013 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

        You’ve never heard of Sunday school?

        The vast majority of people are the religion of their parents. That is why the US is mostly xian and Saudi Arabia is mostly Moslem.

        I know a huge number of people who have left their natal religion. Including me, an ex-xian. Where do you think all these atheists are coming from. Even Dawkins, Myers, and Hitchens were brought up as xians.

      • Roo
        Posted February 14, 2013 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

        gbjames – Agreed that we wouldn’t say “Oh, well, you have your reasons, murder away then!”, but we would still look for underlying reasons driving the behavior. Raven, you seem to think it’s all based on childhood indoctrination. I disagree, but that’s nothing but my intuition, it’s not as if I’ve studied this.

        I did do Sunday School, by the way, from age 3 to 18. I remember lots of punch-out figures of Jesus and lambs, and then at some point in high school no one wanted to teach teenagers so we had hippie church members who would wax poetic about how acid brought them closer to God in college or how God is contained in the beauty of the time-space continuum and also quantum mechanics (you always have to add that in such conversations: “Also – quantum mechanics. Game set match.”) Fond memories, even if it was boring as all get out.

        • gbjames
          Posted February 14, 2013 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

          Roo, what gave you the idea that I, or anyone here, isn’t interested in underlying reasons for behavior? What is in question is whether someone’s personal “reasons” for believing nonsense is cause for the rest of us to accord those beliefs any respect. It isn’t, whatever those “reasons” might be.

          • Roo
            Posted February 14, 2013 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

            Probably the voices in my head, they tell me all sorts of things. I know, by the way, that you have your eye on the cheese I’ve been stockpiling for the coming Zombiepocalypse, james. Yeah. Thought I wasn’t clued into that, did you?

            My point is what I said above – simply that I think it’s unkind to take away a vice (and to ridicule others for it, actually,) without addressing the underlying causes. You don’t buy the kid more glue, but you don’t point your finger and laugh at the “Glue heads!” either. To me, the compassionate response is not to ignore the problem but to address it (by all means, take it out of the kid’s hand and have a talk with him,) and to address underlying causes as well.

            I feel like I’m probably precariously close to the back-and-forth posting limit (I’m not sure what the formula for calculating this is, I believe it involves the square root of a negative so I won’t even try,) so if you post again and I don’t respond I’m not being rude, just agreeing to agree or disagree, whatever the case may be.

            • gbjames
              Posted February 14, 2013 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

              If you are saying that ridicule of religion at the bedside of a dying, believing, grandmother is inappropriate, then sure. I’m in full agreement. But if you are saying that ridicule of religion in public spaces like newspaper comments, Facebook status posts, or other similar contexts should be off-limit, then I completely disagree. It is especially appropriate when confronted by people who are willfully ignorant and for those who push their personal fantasies of god into public policy. For them, ridicule is too kind.

              People like Douglas Murray deserve every bit of ridicule that they get.

            • raven
              Posted February 14, 2013 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

              My point is what I said above – simply that I think it’s unkind to take away a vice (and to ridicule others for it, actually,) without addressing the underlying causes.

              You are saying, that people turn to religion because their life is miserable and they have had adverse life events.

              Sure that happens.

              The USA has 75% religious, 225 million people. And they all had their pets run over right after they lost their jobs, and were diagnosed with incurable cancer.

              Not likely. Most of them went to Sunday school, possibly religious owned private schools of which there are a lot, and are just running on automatic pilot. Atheists in some places in the USA some of the time face severe consequences. You can’t even get elected dogcatcher in virtually all of the USA.

              We know what causes religion. It’s serious and relentless childhood brainwashing backed up by social control mechanisms. In some Moslem countries, leaving the religion is a death penalty offense. Up until a few centuries ago, the same was true of xianity. People who aren’t brought up in religions don’t generally miss them.

        • raven
          Posted February 14, 2013 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

          I did do Sunday School, by the way, from age 3 to 18. I remember lots of punch-out figures of Jesus and lambs, and then at some point in high school no one wanted to teach teenagers so we had hippie church members who would wax poetic about how acid brought them closer to God in college or how God is contained in the beauty of the time-space continuum and also quantum mechanics

          Sounds good to me and much like what my Pagan friends are into it.

          However this isn’t the sort of religion that we deal with here in the USA.

          I’ve been getting death threats from xians for over a decade. They’ve assassinated 8 of my colleagues. There have been 8 or so creationism in school bills introduced so far this year and it is only February.

          There have been two terrorist incidents near my house. The xians firebombed the local mosque and some guy had a gun battle with the cops while on his way to bomb an environmental group.

          In the last two years there were something like 800 anti-women bills introduced in state legislatures. Planned Parenthood gets attacked regularly. It goes on and on.

          What you and Murray fail to realize is that things are different in other countries. Hundreds of thousands have been killed in Iraq in fighting between Sunnis and Shi’ites. Children and killed by the hundreds as witches in Africa. Religion isn’t harmless at all.

          • Posted February 14, 2013 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

            “I’ve been getting death threats from xians for over a decade. They’ve assassinated 8 of my colleagues.” — I know you’ve shared this before, but I still find it deeply shocking. I don’t know if I’m really glad that you can keep doing what ever it is you do with that hanging over you … I sincerely worry for you.

            /@

            • raven
              Posted February 14, 2013 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

              This isn’t unusual for scientists.

              I don’t know about Jerry Coyne but PZ Myers has gotten up to 100 death threats. In a day.

              As to keeping going, they have sort of worked. I haven’t had a public presence on the internet under my own name for over a decade. And no intention of ever having one again.

              I couldn’t, or wouldn’t at any rate, do what PZ Myers, Coyne, and many others keep doing. Posting with their real names.

              • Posted February 15, 2013 at 5:10 am | Permalink

                But how many of PZ’s and Jerry’s colleagues have actually been killed? (I hope it’s none.)

                I totally understand your need for online anonymity. I hope I’m never in a position to regret my conspicuous lack thereof.

                /@

  29. tomh
    Posted February 14, 2013 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    @ #12
    I like to call it the Argument from Shut-Up.

    I like the way Ring Lardner put it in an old story; “Shut up”, he explained.

  30. Posted February 14, 2013 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    “A fictional Primal Couple completely turns the Christian narrative on its head, for a metaphorical Adam and Eve means that humans are sinful not through their own choices and nature, but because God made them that way.”

    Reduces to the same thing. God made our nature one way, could have made it another, and is ultimately responsible for our choices.

  31. Posted February 14, 2013 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    There is no “metaphorical truth.” There is truth, and there are metaphors. Full stop.

    “Do you swear to tell the whole truth etc ?”

    “Bailiff, am I to assume you mean “literal truth”? Please be more precise.”

    eyeroll

    • Posted February 14, 2013 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

      Also, it’s incomprehensible to me that so many faitheists can’t see the real argument. If theists would start treating their stories and dogma as metaphors that would be great! Nobody’s arguing against appreciating metaphors. Does Dawkins go around telling people to quit learning or drawing inspiration from obviously metaphorical works like Aesop’s Fables? Here’s perhaps a silly analogy, but I think it’s apt nonetheless:

      Murray is arguing that punching someone in the face can’t be all bad because sometimes people have cathartic, stress-relieving experiences when punching a pillow. Dawkins argues only that people should stop punching other people in the face. Murray then straw-mans this, claiming Dawkins wants people to have no outlets for relieving stress. But that’s not the anti-faitheist’s argument. If people would only punch their pillows, that’d be great!

  32. Posted February 14, 2013 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Jerry writes:

    “I argue that if you have to construe “profound truths” from silly stories, you are doing it by imposing upon them some lesson about life that you’ve learned not from religion, but from secular reason, experience, and philosophy.”

    QFT

    Eisegesis.

  33. Posted February 14, 2013 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    Jerry again:

    “(I will admit that Chartres and Ste. Chapelle are lovely buildings, but I’d gladly live without them…”

    There’d be no need to live without them. Talented people will create wonderful things, with or without religion. Religious ideas may have sometimes provided superficial inspiration, but the desire to create comes from somewhere else entirely.

    • Posted February 14, 2013 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

      We still have the Aztec pyramids in Mexico. No one says we have to “do without them” simply because no further human sacrifices are taking place.

      • Posted February 14, 2013 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

        Indeed. Even as an atheist, I still enjoy great music set with religious texts.

        But I think Jerry is dating that he’d be willing to live w/o “religious” music or architecture because w/o religion they wouldn’t have been created in the first place.

        But I contended that’s not the case. Great music and amazing architecture would’ve happened (and would continue to happen) even in the absence of religion. It’s what people do.

  34. Persto
    Posted February 14, 2013 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    Denmark and Sweden are nonreligious but they are still Christian, at least culturally Christian. Of course, God and Creed don’t mean much to them, but Christianity still means a great deal. In fact, most Danes and Swedes still self-identify as Christians. An aged Dane put it best when questioned about the ethical culture of his country: “We are Lutherans in our souls — I’m an atheist, but still have the Lutheran perceptions of many: to help your neighbor.”

    You peddle Scandinavia as a template for what a global society would resemble if it jettisoned religion altogether. But that’s not what transpired in Scandinavia. They didn’t discard Christianity they just created a much more refined version of it. A version that Murray desires to construct worldwide.

    As for the rest of your post, it is a testament to dogmatic atheism. A true thinker must be prepared, as William James said, “(…) never to have done with doubt on these subjects, but every day to be ready to criticize afresh and call in question the grounds of his faith of the day before(…)” Do you do this? If so, then Pascal has been proved right that some of us are made so as we can’t believe, but, in your inherent certainty, you must remember, as Cardinal Gasquet remarked to Pope Pius XI, we are none of us infallible.

    Quickly, as an atheist, it strikes me as a strange and an incredible weakness of atheist thought to assume that humans can remake the world as we would wish it to be, forgetting that this very notion goes against the naturalistic outlook and that the interchange of a multiplicity of divergent purposes is inclined to result in the achievement of none of them.

    Regards

    • Sastra
      Posted February 14, 2013 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

      Your “refined” version of Christianity looks like it’s been so refined that virtually all the specific content has been removed, reducing it down to a vague and bland “everybody be nice” form of humanism. Taking out all the details doesn’t rescue Christianity or make it into another version of Christianity. It fades it out.

      This is about as useful as calling the natural universe “God” and claiming you’ve found a successful compromise of reason and faith. The only people who will be fooled are the people who didn’t want to deal with the subject in the first place.

      Do you do this?

      Yes, Jerry does. The systematic process and method which forces us to “criticize afresh and call in question the grounds of (our) faith of the day before” is called “science.” It is what we have learned about how not to fol ourselves.

      Quickly, as an atheist, it strikes me as a strange and an incredible weakness of atheist thought to assume that humans can remake the world as we would wish it to be …

      Quickly, as an atheist, it strikes me as a strange and incredible weakness of atheist thought to assume that improvement is meaningless or impossible unless we totally “remake the world as we would wish it to be.” The perfect is the enemy of the good. We work for progress, not perfection. As an atheist, that should be a point you’ve already slowly pondered. Assuming you’re not dogmatic.

      • Persto
        Posted February 14, 2013 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

        Sastra,

        Yes, that is exactly what I am saying, and that is what happened in Scandinavia. Christianity, in Scandinavia, is more about holidays and ritual passages than God or Creed.

        “The systematic process and method which forces us to “criticize afresh and call in question the grounds of (our) faith of the day before” is called “science.” It is what we have learned about how not to fol ourselves.”

        Hahaha! Well, you sure put me in my place.

        “The perfect is the enemy of the good. We work for progress, not perfection. As an atheist, that should be a point you’ve already slowly pondered. Assuming you’re not dogmatic.”

        Did I say perfect? I am pondering it.

        Try reading my comment again.

        Regards

        • Sastra
          Posted February 14, 2013 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

          Jerry is a cultural Jew, a humanist Jew. He keeps some of the traditions and holidays without any of the underlying religious beliefs. He does not consider himself religious.

          A cultural Christianity which is structured along the same lines would be the same situation, I think. They’re both examples of atheistic humanism jettisoning the religious aspect out of what still has secular value; they’re not examples of why we can’t get rid of religion. Jerry is not Jewish, and Scandinavia is not Christian. Not in the serious sense which takes those terms as religiously meaningful, that is.

          Maybe I misinterpreted what you wrote. I thought you were accusing Jerry’s post of advocating some sort of unachievable Utopia (a common straw-man charge made against gnu atheists.) It seemed as if you were saying that a thoroughgoing naturalism would reject the idea that there can be any sort of human progress. If not, then I apologize.

          • Persto
            Posted February 14, 2013 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

            Sastra,

            There is no need to apologize. I’m with Jerry on a good many things except the idea that religion has no part to play in the future. It does, but it is a role more about culture and social justice than God or dogma.

            Many theists claim that because humans are innately spiritual animals that, therefore, religions deserve a place in society to assess this spiritual need. In fact, on that point, they are correct. It is true, religion has a spiritual role to play, but it is not the role they have played. Their new role is more about culture and community than the dogma of years past. Scandinavia is a testament to what can happen if Christianity ceases to be Christianity.

            I think like the old Danish gentleman mentioned above. I am an atheist but in my soul I am a Christian. In other words, Christianity has shaped my moral and intellectual positions like no other force. I don’t think it would be absurd to say that without Christianity I would be worse off. Yeah, it gave me some bad stuff, and some even worse stuff, but it gave me some good stuff too. And that is what I want to keep–the good stuff. The noble precepts, the poetry, the courage to stand up for one’s beliefs, the hope, the love, the community, and the cultural and intellectual heritage of Christianity. In many ways, probably like many atheists who come from Christian backgrounds, I think like a Christian and I feel like a Christian. In this sense, I am a Christian. I don’t need God or Jesus or dogma. I just need the narrative expression; the human issues. Maybe I could find these things somewhere else, but I didn’t and I haven’t, at least not yet.

            Oh, sure Shelley soothes me and Debussy makes me smile and polymer chemistry fascinates me, but, even now, there is something special, not more special than those things, but equal to them, and more reverential about Christianity. Maybe it is the hope for a transcendental reality. Not God, necessarily, but a universal truth. The philosophy of Kant, Spinoza, and Descartes without God as the necessary philosophical function, perhaps. Maybe that is it, but I think it is just a human hope, a hope for hoping, as Whitehead phrased it, something a “man does with his solitariness.” Christianity, for me, is an expression of hope, however, untrue its claims, however, nonsensical its foundation, however, repressive its dogma. Just listen to Bach’s cantatas, Mozart’s masses, Handel’s ‘Alleluia Chorus,’ John Newton’s ‘Amazing Grace,’ and Paul’s hymn of love. There is something so spiritual, so hopeful about them. That is what I want to keep. I don’t want to be, as Sartre put it, “condemned to freedom.” I want to keep what Christianity got right: that salvation or liberation consists of a new and limitlessly better quality of existence which comes about in the transition from self-centeredness to reality-centeredness.

            My point in the comment above and in that last sentence is that from a purely naturalistic standpoint this worldview cannot materialize because human beings have no more objective value than a cockroach or a plant. Human behavior is just as subject to physical laws as physical bodies are. This seems to be all true, of course–though I agree with Popper’s rejection of naturalism, but an informed morality takes into account the spiritual component that is at work in most religions. It is a human component that can’t be discarded when humanity, in the words of Marx, “has been deprived of illusory happiness by the abolition of religion.” I don’t mean that humanity will fall into nihilism unprepared for Nietzsche’s vision, but that humanity can’t fall into nihilism if we allow that spiritual component to operate within bounds in society–obviously, traditional religion carried the torch too far, but that doesn’t mean we should put the torch out.

            In fact, the reason atheists aren’t nihilists, for the most part, is that they find the spiritual, albeit subjective, meaning to life that transcends the individual. For you, Sastra, it may be atheism itself or writing or whatever, but there is something you do and most everyone does that gives spiritual meaning to your life and their lives, outside the naturalistic scope. For theists, it is God; for atheists it is something else. But, usually, it is something for which a purely naturalistic viewpoint must fail to take into account. Your life and my life have greater meaning than solely genetic propagation because we think they do for some unnaturalistic reason.

            Finally, I hope to live long enough to be proud of my old faith. A religion where God is not required, but is allowed. And I think the world is headed there now, considering the largest growing bloc outside traditional religion isn’t ‘atheists’ or ‘agnostics.’ It is the ‘spiritual but not religious’ group. It appears there is a reason UU churches are growing at a rapid click. They are the future. The old faiths’ clocks are ticking and their time is almost up, but religion isn’t going anywhere. It is just changing forms, for the better.

            Regards

            • whyevolutionistrue
              Posted February 15, 2013 at 4:36 am | Permalink

              Enough. This exchange has run its course,and, Persto, your comments are a bit longer than tose I’d like here.

              • Persto
                Posted February 15, 2013 at 10:44 am | Permalink

                I apologize.

                Regards

            • Posted February 15, 2013 at 5:03 am | Permalink

              “… but there is something you do and most everyone does that gives spiritual meaning to your life and their lives, outside the naturalistic scope.”

              Why do you think what gives meaning to our lives is outside the naturalistic scope? What call this spiritual? As Hitchens noted, “We have a need for what I would call ‘the transcendent’ or ‘the numinous’ or even ‘the ecstatic,’ which comes out in love and music, poetry, and landscape. I wouldn’t trust anyone who didn’t respond to things of that sort. But I think the cultural task is to separate those impulses and those needs and desires from the
              supernatural and, above all, from the superstitious.” All of this is naturalistic. It’s just the product of those lumps of meat in our skulls.

              /@

            • gbjames
              Posted February 15, 2013 at 6:02 am | Permalink

              When I read this I hear a person who longing for the happy days of an imagined childhood past. Better to live as an adult facing the universe as it is. One doesn’t need make-believe to live a fulfilled life.

            • Sastra
              Posted February 15, 2013 at 9:03 am | Permalink

              Well, I would reply to Pesto but Jerry has apparently closed this interesting line of inquiry. Too bad. I had such a good objection, too. Lost forever now.

              • whyevolutionistrue
                Posted February 15, 2013 at 9:05 am | Permalink

                okay okay, you guys each get two more posts on this thread!

              • Sastra
                Posted February 15, 2013 at 11:01 am | Permalink

                Heh. Never be aggressive when being passive aggressive is more likely to work…

            • Sastra
              Posted February 15, 2013 at 11:00 am | Permalink

              Persto wrote:

              I want to keep what Christianity got right: that salvation or liberation consists of a new and limitlessly better quality of existence which comes about in the transition from self-centeredness to reality-centeredness.

              Briefly, Christian humanism is far more humanistic than Christian. The message you derived from your Christian experience was ultimately derived from the human nature, goals, ideals, and attitudes which formed the religion. It wasn’t the other way around.

              The problem with insisting that the Christian perspective is unique here is not just that it isn’t, but that doing this feeds into the common tendency to demonize a marginalized group. It’s the equivalent of a black person saying that they appreciate their upbringing in a white household because they learned things they couldn’t have learned any other way — honesty, hard work, and respect. Those are not “white” values any more than they are Christian values. They are human values.

              My point in the comment above and in that last sentence is that from a purely naturalistic standpoint this worldview cannot materialize because human beings have no more objective value than a cockroach or a plant.

              Value to whom? This line of reasoning shows your Christian heritage. Naturalism does not entail that values and evaluations have to exist “out there.” It only entails that they have to exist in nature — and WE exist in nature. Worldviews materialize from human standpoints.

              What you are calling a “purely naturalistic standpoint” is what we call “greedy reductionism” and it comes right out of the religious belief in supernatural essences. I reject the frame. You should re-think.

              • Persto
                Posted February 15, 2013 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

                Sastra,

                So, religion is not really religion? In your mind, the only aspect of religion that is religious is God and Creed, right? If so, then we should be in agreement about the sort of religion I want to keep.

                “The message you derived from your Christian experience was ultimately derived from the human nature, goals, ideals, and attitudes which formed the religion. It wasn’t the other way around.”

                I can’t think of anything for which this wouldn’t be the case.

                I am only saying that Christianity is where I learned certain things, and for that I am grateful. I didn’t learn them elsewhere and, to a certain extent, I haven’t learned them elsewhere. I don’t think it is at all absurd to say I got some good out of a bad situation and that the good I got out of that bad situation has shaped my moral and intellectual character. And that I think that that good deserves a place at the moral and intellectual table, as long as the bad is stripped away.

                I reject naturalism because it is uncritical, as Popper said. I reject naturalism because, as G.E. Moore said, moral facts cannot be reduced to natural properties. I reject naturalism because it can reduce an individual to utter skepticism. I reject naturalism because, as Mackie said, it fails to do justice to “the categorical quality of moral requirements.” Even Quine couldn’t embrace full-on naturalism. I reject naturalism for a number of other reasons that would take for too long to mention. I offer you a challenge to provide a sound rebuttal to Moore’s open question argument.

                Regards

  35. exsumper
    Posted February 14, 2013 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Sorry Jerry, But it would appear that you’ve been the subject of a con trick. I wouldn’t worry too much about the opinions of Douglas Murray. He’s a rather confused individual. At one point he was piously religious; he has only recently become an athiest. Although I wouldn’t rely on that too much either. His religious or atheistic beliefs appear to shadow public opinion. He professes to be as I am a staunch supporter of Israel. But he is as you have found, most probably a fair weather friend if that.

  36. DrBrydon
    Posted February 14, 2013 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    We should concede that, when it comes to discussions of ideas, morality and meaning, religion does have a place.

    No. To say that religion can contribute to discussions of morality invites it back into the discussions of law.

    If we really believed that the Bible, for example, is a source of moral precepts, then we would have to accept that there is a potentially valid case to be made against gay marriage from a religious standpoint. Once we begin to discount those things in the Bible that do not make sense to us and our modern sensibilities, then we might just as well ignore the whole thing, and rely on more modern concepts, like equality before the law.

    At the same time, as Jerry has pointed out repeatedly, looking to religion for guidance loses its value when you remember that there is no such thing as “religion”, but only many sects which do not agree, and that no one has determined how to sort out the value of their claims one against the other. In the end we fall back on reason.

  37. Brygida Berse
    Posted February 14, 2013 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    Just because something is not literally true does not mean that there is no truth, or worth, in it.

    This is another way of saying “The truth doesn’t matter”.
    Sad.

  38. Neil Schipper
    Posted February 14, 2013 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    The Richard Dawkins site almost always posts videos of debates he’s participated in. This one has not.

    Also, I’ve been banned from that site.

    Hints of Stalinism can be discerned.

    • Posted February 14, 2013 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

      Given that kind of off-hand snark, I can understand why you’ve been banned!

      /@

  39. Neil Schipper
    Posted February 14, 2013 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    Douglas Murray is a heavy hitter in the culture war on creeping Islamism and Sharia taking place in Europe. Lots of videos are on-line.

    He wants a big audience for that message. Cultural enemies include left-wingers, most of whom presumably reside far north of equatorial theism, and who play to Islamists, perhaps for votes, in the name of diversity.

    There’s a place for Little People promoting purist philosophy by playing tippety-tappety in blog comments. But sometimes they could pause to notice grown-ups working against clear and present danger on the street.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted February 14, 2013 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

      Okay, apologize for calling the readers Little People playng tippety tappety or you’re gone. That’s a rude and snarky comment.

  40. Posted February 14, 2013 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    Late to the party, with nothing much to add to what’s already been said. But I’m reminded of arguments I’ve had on Twitter (when I had time to have arguments on Twitter) about religion being a “force for good” or some such: My as-yet unmet challenge to my interlocutors is to identify any good that comes from religion that comes solely and uniquely from religion (rather than, say, Classical philosophy or the Enlightenment).

    • Persto
      Posted February 14, 2013 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

      Ant,

      I agree with your overall sentiment, but what if I were to say: identify any good that comes solely and uniquely from atheism; rather than, say, science, history, or the Enlightenment.

      Regards

      • Sastra
        Posted February 14, 2013 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

        I don’t think anyone is claiming that atheism per seis a “force for good.” It’s a rational conclusion parallel to the conclusion that God exists. Neither is a life philosophy. For that you get religion (or specific religion X) vs. scientific humanism.

        We can identify goods which come from humanism either by looking at what developed from the Enlightenment or by considering what falls under the general definition of humanism. Since it’s not a revealed religion and seeks universals, we’ve got a lot to choose from.

        • Persto
          Posted February 14, 2013 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

          Sastra,

          Humanism has good to offer, but humanism is not atheism. In fact, I could be a humanist and a theist. Humanism is not limited to the non-believer.

          However, for atheism to have any good to offer it must be viewed within a larger context of other areas of thought. If I separate science or history or philosophy from atheism it does not offer much, but if I view it within the larger context of these things it offers a great deal. Religion operates similarly. If I view it within the larger context of music, literature, philosophy, and history then it has some good to offer after all.

          Also, religion’s greatest good is charity and that comes solely and uniquely from within religion.

          I think I should probably make clear, I am not defending religion. I just think the issue of religion’s place in society is less obvious than many believe, on both sides of the argument.

          Regards

          • Brygida Berse
            Posted February 14, 2013 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

            However, for atheism to have any good to offer it must be viewed within a larger context of other areas of thought.

            I believe that it is more important to ask not what good religion or atheism do, but what evils they bring about. Or not.

            Atheism doesn’t promote superstition and dogma. It doesn’t interfere with rational thought and scientific progress. It doesn’t instigate wars and persecution. It doesn’t opress women or sexual minorities. In short: it doesn’t do bad things that most religions routinely do.

            Also, religion’s greatest good is charity and that comes solely and uniquely from within religion.

            I’m sorry, but that’s complete nonsense. Are you suggesting that there are no charitable atheists?

            • Persto
              Posted February 14, 2013 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

              Brygida,

              Yes, you have a point there, but atheism does not, necessarily, constitute a morally or intellectually preferable worldview. Some extreme examples are Mao, Stalin, Than Shwe, and Pol Pot. Milder examples are Ayn Rand, S.E. Cupp, and Helen Schucman.

              Atheism is not an infallible refuge from error, superstition, or dogma, as theses examples illustrate.

              No, I was only pointing out that charity comes from within religion without a secular motivation and I think I can safely say Christian charity is quite unlike any other charity.

              Regards

              • Brygida Berse
                Posted February 14, 2013 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

                Please, not the Mao and Stalin argument again! How many times does one have to refute this? OK, one more time, here we go:

                The secular dictatorships of Stalin and others did not draw their ideology from atheism. In fact, they replaced one dogmatic belief system with another, which was virtually indistinguishable from religion, complete with a living deity. In today’s North Korea, they even have a dead guy as head of state. If that’s not religion in everything but the name, I don’t know what is. Anyway, neither Stalin nor Mao murdered people in the name of atheism, while many atrocities in history were committed exactly in the name of religion.

                As to you assertion that Christian charity is unlike any other, I genuinely have no idea what you’re talking about.

              • tomh
                Posted February 14, 2013 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

                Persto wrote:
                I was only pointing out that charity comes from within religion without a secular motivation and I think I can safely say Christian charity is quite unlike any other charity.

                The motivation for Christian charity is the conversion of the recipients of the charity, whether it’s the Salvation Army insisting on services and encouraging conversions before feeding the hungry, or missionaries, whose whole purpose is to convert the native populations. As an aside they may bring medicine and cure the sick, or improve living conditions, but without the possibility of converting the natives they wouldn’t be there. You’re right that Christian charity is unlike secular charity but that’s not necessarily a good thing.

              • Persto
                Posted February 14, 2013 at 11:38 pm | Permalink

                Brygida,

                I think you might benefit from reading my comment again. I never said the things you are replying to.

                This is what I was responding to:

                “Atheism doesn’t promote superstition and dogma. It doesn’t interfere with rational thought and scientific progress. It doesn’t instigate wars and persecution. It doesn’t opress women or sexual minorities. In short: it doesn’t do bad things that most religions routinely do.”

                Firstly, atheism does not do anything to my mind and nor should it.

                Secondly, my point had nothing to do with saying atheism is responsible for Stalinist genocide. How absurd! Nor was my point to claim that atrocities have not been committed in the name of religion. I think you will find I never said any of these things.

                My point was that being an atheist does not, necessarily, improve one’s morality or intellectual viewpoint, as all of those examples illustrate. To reiterate, being an atheist isn’t the panacea to human error or corruption.

                As for Christian charity, I mean that Christian charity is extremely unique. In my mind, it is quite different from most other charities. Not better, necessarily, but different no less.

                Regards

              • raven
                Posted February 14, 2013 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

                Some extreme examples are Mao, Stalin, Than Shwe, and Pol Pot.

                Quite the routine collection of mindless xian fallacies there.

                You left off Hitler!!! Because he was a Catholic.

                Mao, Stalin, and Pol Pot didn’t do what they did because of atheism. They did it because of a quasi religious political ideology.

                If you want to blame communism on atheists, you have to also blame World Wars I and II on…xians. Xians started them and fought them. Same thing with the US civil war, and in fact all Western wars back to the fall of the Roman empire, pushed over by Germanic xians.

                Atheism is not an infallible refuge from error, superstition, or dogma, as theses examples illustrate.

                No it isn’t. I hope you aren’t an atheist. Because if you are, you just proved your own point here.

              • Brygida Berse
                Posted February 15, 2013 at 12:06 am | Permalink

                Persto,
                Insisting that atheism is no better than religion, because it doesn’t cure all evil is akin to insisting that health is no better than disease, because a healthy person can stil die in a plane crash or slip on a banana peel.

              • Posted February 15, 2013 at 4:48 am | Permalink

                “I think you will find I never said any of these things.”

                I think you will find that what you did say, with your segue from “atheism does not … constitute a … preferable worldview” to “Some extreme examples…”, allowed that as a clear inference.

                If that was not what you meant, rather than taking umbrage at others’ reasonable interpretations of your words, it behoves you to write more carefully.

                /@

            • Persto
              Posted February 14, 2013 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

              Raven,

              Did I blame someone? Try reading my comment again.

              Regards

            • Persto
              Posted February 15, 2013 at 12:59 am | Permalink

              Brygida,

              Once again, you are replying to something I never said.

              Let’s try this again:

              You said, “it doesn’t do bad things that most religions routinely do.”

              My reply, “Yes, you have a point there, but atheism does not, necessarily, constitute a morally or intellectually preferable worldview. Some extreme examples are Mao, Stalin, Than Shwe, and Pol Pot. Milder examples are Ayn Rand, S.E. Cupp, and Helen Schucman.”

              My point: being an atheist doesn’t make one, necessarily, not an evil doer, not dogmatic, not stupid, not repressive, not superstitious, not sexist, and so on. I provided individual examples of people who are and were self-professed atheists who held some, if not all, of these traits and convictions. So, it appears being an atheist doesn’t, necessarily, make one any better than a theist or anyone else for that matter.

              I don’t think atheism can cure human evil nor can religion that is my point! You talk as if being an atheist makes you immune to human error, superstition, ignorance, dishonesty, and so on, but I am telling you that is just not an accurate contention. Here’s why…

              Regards

              • Brygida Berse
                Posted February 15, 2013 at 8:42 am | Permalink

                Persto,
                I believe that I addressed exactly the points you were making. Unfortunately, you created a strawman that you keep atacking, namely the view that atheism is a universal cure for world’s vices. Nobody in this thread argues that. However, it can be argued that atheism, just by virtue of being devoid of religious dogma and superstition, is a more benevolent worldview. It cures some of religion’s vices; it doesn’t generate any new ones on its own. In the words of Steven Weinberg: with or without religion, good people can do good and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil—that takes religion (I would broaden that to include any dogmatic belief, not necessarily relating to a deity – that takes care of totalitarian systems like stalinism or maoism).

                Also, the prevalence of atheism in a (democratic) society strongly correlates with indices of societal health; our host wrote and lectured about it on numerous occasions, including many times on this website.

          • Persto
            Posted February 14, 2013 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

            tomh,

            Yes, I agree with you. Although, as you point out, the Christian charities get a lot done. While I don’t agree with certain Christian charities’ practice of attempting to convert the very people they are supposed to be helping. In truth, they are taking advantage of disadvantaged and exploitable individuals. It is shameful. However, there are a number of Christian charities who don’t do this and, overall, Christian charities do a fair amount for the impoverished and abandoned in different regions of the world. Having said that, if you were to give me an option between being assisted by a Christian charity and a secular charity, I would choose the secular charity because I just like secular people better, but I am grateful for how much Christian charity accomplishes and has accomplished worldwide.

            Regards

            • tomh
              Posted February 15, 2013 at 1:28 am | Permalink

              Persto wrote:
              I was only pointing out that charity comes from within religion without a secular motivation and I think I can safely say Christian charity is quite unlike any other charity.

              You haven’t explained why you think Christian charities are so special. And you claim that there are many are not motivated by the desire to convert the helpless. You give no examples and I doubt this very much.

              • Persto
                Posted February 15, 2013 at 2:07 am | Permalink

                tomh,

                I don’t think they are special in any better or greater sense; just different from most charities that I know about in size and mission.

                Medical Teams International, World Vision, Catholic Relief Services, and Bread for the World. Also, there were a number of local Christian charities in my hometown that were not motivated by converting the poor. They just wanted to help, whether or not you accepted Christ was irrelevant.

                Of course, you could Google the subject or you could make another wildly speculative claim about the thousands, perhaps, millions of Christian charities worldwide that I will assume you have researched thoroughly, since you are claiming that none of them actually care about the poor; only growing their numbers. Does a generalization like that not bother you?

                Regards

              • tomh
                Posted February 15, 2013 at 11:27 am | Permalink

                Persto wrote:
                or you could make another wildly speculative claim about the thousands, perhaps, millions of Christian charities worldwide that I will assume you have researched thoroughly

                You mean like your wildly speculative claim that the “millions” of Christian charities are not motivated by the urge to convert heathens to Christianity. And why won’t you explain why you think Christian charities are so different from secular charities. For instance, what makes Medical Teams International so different from Doctors Without Borders, except that MTI includes in its mission statement, the first sentence, in fact, “The mission of Medical Teams International is to demonstrate the love of Christ to people affected by disaster.” With Christians it’s all about bringing people to Christ. This is not speculation, this is their own professed mission.

            • Posted February 15, 2013 at 4:39 am | Permalink

              It is still not clear to me what you think it is about Christian charity that is both (a) good and (b) solely and uniquely Christian… ?

              /@

          • Sastra
            Posted February 15, 2013 at 8:53 am | Permalink

            Persto wrote:

            Religion operates similarly. If I view it within the larger context of music, literature, philosophy, and history then it has some good to offer after all. Also, religion’s greatest good is charity and that comes solely and uniquely from within religion.

            I think that the basic problem with trying to figure out what goods come uniquely from religion is similar to the problem with trying to figure out what goods come uniquely from alternative medicine.

            If there are techniques, nostrums, therapies, or medicines which can be scientifically demonstrated to work, then they are medicine period. They’re not “alternative.” Those who defend science-based medicine are not willing to let homeopaths and naturopaths lay claim to areas and elements which are not ‘theirs’ in order to gain legitimacy. Nor should they. Alternative medicine is not defined by where it just happens to overlap with science. It’s defined by where it does NOT overlap with science. It’s energy medicine, not massage and exercise.

            The same issue applies to separating religion apart from humanism. When there are religious techniques, values, music, literature, philosophy, and history which make sense to people who are not in the religion — which appeal to humanistic universals — then they are humanist. They belong to people regardless of whether they believe in God or not because they’re grounded in the world instead of doctrine or creeds. Like alternative medicine vs. medicine, the only things religion can lay a UNIQUE claim to are the things which no atheist would want. The concept of charity itself does not come solely and uniquely from religion. There are secular ethical systems, and humanism is included. Religion is defined by where it does NOT overlap with humanism. It’s salvation or karma, not charity or art.

            Science comes out of humanism. Religions can only overlap with humanism when they extend themselves beyond whatever they believe about the supernatural. They can’t use science on the supernatural. They are not humanists at the foundation. But we atheists can and have. We’re humanists all the way down.

            • Brygida Berse
              Posted February 15, 2013 at 9:56 am | Permalink

              Sastra, excellent argument, as usual.

            • Posted February 15, 2013 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

              Tim Minchin, “Storm”:

              And try as I like,
              A small crack appears
              In my diplomacy dike.
              “By definition”, I begin
              “Alternative Medicine”, I continue
              “Has either not been proved to work,
              Or been proved not to work.
              Do you know what they call ‘alternative medicine’
              That’s been proved to work?
              Medicine.”

              /@

      • Posted February 14, 2013 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

        What Sastra said, plus:

        It’s the theists that (often) claim theism is necessarily a prerequisite for moral behavior. Ant’s challenge is only meant to show that’s not true.

        • Persto
          Posted February 14, 2013 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

          MB,

          Yes I agree with you and Ant on that, which is why I said I agree with the overall sentiment in my initial comment.

          Regards

    • Posted February 14, 2013 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

      Ah, yes. Hitch’s old challenge.
      :)

  41. Claudia
    Posted February 15, 2013 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    Your confusion about Scriptures is amazing.

    • Sastra
      Posted February 15, 2013 at 8:27 am | Permalink

      You’re going to have to expand on that if you want to be understood.

  42. Posted February 15, 2013 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Persto: “Also, religion’s greatest good is charity and that comes solely and uniquely from within religion.”

    An outrageous and insulting claim.

    Which came first, the evolved emotions and practices of feeling for and caring for one another (love) or religion? Obviously I am begging the question: love and caring (charity) evolved. You cannot claim they did not exist prior to the very recent construction of “religion” as an organizing device. These traits exhibit in non-human animals despite any evidence of religion, not to mention rampant evidence of humans raising loving, caring, charitable children under parenting that does not involve either God or religion.

    In counter to your outrageous claim, here is my outrageous question: since on your claim charity only comes from religion, when a religious person raises up a child, they must proactively instill religion into her/him since it is unnatural. How do you account for:

    a) legions of religion-indoctrinated humans with no or little love and charity in their hearts; and

    b) legions of atheist-raised humans with healthy and generous hearts full of love and caring?

  43. Persto
    Posted February 15, 2013 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    I am going to address some criticisms of my comments and then leave you guys the floor. I will strive for brevity.

    Ant,

    Maybe, my sentence was unclear, but I think I have explicated what I was venturing to communicate. Of course, there are times when words can be woefully inadequate in conveying one’s thoughts, as T.S. Eliot explained. And for that, I am sorry.

    Regarding Christian charity, I have addressed those issues in other comments, but I think, perhaps, this time it was your wording that was at fault. It seems I read your comment differently than the way you intended it to be read, I apologize.

    I agree with Hitchens and those are the things I want to separate from dogma as well, but, of course, the ‘transcendent’ and the ‘numinous’ are not part of the naturalistic scope, unless you are using a definition of which I am unaware. For this reason, and others, I take a Popperian stance on naturalism.

    Brygida,

    I am sorry, I have not said any of the things you are saying I have said. If, as Ant pointed out, it was a result of my deficient writing then I apologize, but I don’t think that excuse can be employed more than once because, since my initial comment to you, I have clarified my meaning.

    Sastra,

    Humanism is not atheism. Period. However, I think you are professing that the humanistic aspects of religion are not a result of religion, but are the consequence of some other secular endeavor that infiltrated or has infiltrated religious thought, am I right? I wonder what Erasmus or More or Pope Pius II or Pico would say to that? Of course, I wonder what pre-humanist Augustine would say to that? Or post-humanist Dostoevsky? Even though, I still don’t know what any of this has to do with atheism.

    gbjames,

    I am human, that is all. I appreciate your honesty, but, contrary to what you may think, I am an adult, a young adult, but an adult, nonetheless. Our differences stem from my thinking that the issue is much more complex than you are willing to concede and, largely, without such a simple solution, as ‘be an adult.’

    Finally, I appreciate the honest and thought-provoking replies from all of you guys. If I have upset anyone then I apologize. I have attempted to be as polite, cogent, and open-minded as possible during this discussion, and I hope that I have been. Thank you Jerry for allowing me this one last comment.

    Regards

    • gbjames
      Posted February 15, 2013 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      I didn’t mean to say you weren’t an adult. I never actually considered that possibility.

      I did mean to say that the kind of wishful thinking that is found in longing-for-the-warmth-of-religion is a way of thinking that is established in childhood by the indoctrination of children. Many people never grow out of it. Adults can have childish notions. IMO, life would be better for us all if they gave them up along with Santa when they reached maturity.

    • Sastra
      Posted February 15, 2013 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      Oh, nested comments …!

      I replied to your long post before I traveled down here and saw this. You’ll have to scroll up if you haven’t seen it already.

      And now I am done, promise.

    • Posted February 15, 2013 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      Comment #42? Hmm… 

      3. But “the transcendent” and “the numinous” are human experiences and therefore perfectly naturalistic. Terry Pratchett (apologies to those who’ve seen this quotation here before) [my emphasis]:

      So what shall I make of the voice that spoke to me recently as I was scuttling around getting ready for yet another spell on a chat-show sofa?

      More accurately, it was a memory of a voice in my head, and it told me that everything was OK and things were happening as they should. For a moment, the world had felt at peace. Where did it come from?

      Me, actually — the part of all of us that, in my case, caused me to stand in awe the first time I heard Thomas Tallis’s Spem in alium, and the elation I felt on a walk one day last February, when the light of the setting sun turned a ploughed field into shocking pink; I believe it’s what Abraham felt on the mountain and Einstein did when it turned out that E=mc².

      2. I presume you’re referring to, “…identify any good that comes from religion that comes solely and uniquely from religion…”. I see no ambiguity, but perhaps it might be less than pellucid.

      1. But the meaning was very clear. Our – Brygida’s, raven’s, my – “wrong” interpretation was far more obvious than the one you later claimed you intended. Perhaps I’m being uncharitable, but other statements you’ve made on this page (your comments about Christian charity, for example) have been similarly clear but, you later assert, not quite what you meant. If someone were being cynical, it might seem as if you are continually shifting your position in the face of criticism.

      /@

      • Persto
        Posted February 15, 2013 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

        Ant,

        3) See my comment to Sastra above about naturalism.

        2) Ok. I’ll concede you were clear and that I was wrong, but you still haven’t addressed my main criticism of that comment.

        1) Fine. I really believe, as a thinking person, that one form of charity is superior to another form of charity, even though the charity I am claiming is superior to the other forms of charity is the very charity, I have already stated, I wouldn’t prefer. Rightttt.

        On my other points, I am afraid I have been quite clear, repeatedly.

        Regards

        P.S I promise Jerry this is my last comment.

        • Posted February 15, 2013 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

          A shame then that you won’t be able to respond to these.

          1. Evidently not.

          2. I don’t see your criticism of that comment. You turned the question around in a meaningless way and I though that others had dealt with that adequately enough not to need a direct response from me. But I might add that, to my mind, atheism is itself a rational conclusion about the world that comes from Classical philosophy and the Enlightenment.

          3. Then I think we’re using “naturalism” in rather different ways. For ex., Popper was referring to methodological naturalism, which he (narrowly) equated with the inductive theory of science. I’m not familiar with the others you mention. (And what on earth does Moore mean by a “moral fact”?) What I’m talking about is naturalism contra supernaturalism; that everything in reality stems from the physical (matter, energy, quantum fields, &c.) and nothing mental exists that doesn’t have its origin in the physical. (H/t Sastra, iirc.) Nothing that you claim flows from naturalism flows from this.

          /@

  44. Posted February 17, 2013 at 4:58 am | Permalink

    I’m certain that a lot of people commenting here have never heard of Douglas Murray. I was disappointed in his having joined his “closest enemy” Mr. Ramadan, and I disagreed with his general stance, but you really do have to know the politics of what it was about.

    Douglas Murray, more than most people here, is an entirely political animal. He’s gay, he’s an atheist, and yet he’s a conservative who was part of the culture of Church of England. A friend of Christopher Hitchens, and a neoconservative in England (you can imagine how well that goes down with audiences), he is not exactly an unfamiliar face on the BBC or in other media outlets. And like Hitchens, he never is afraid of being a contrarian.

    You might think that his atheism trumps everything else, but that isn’t always the case. I know that we lose sight of it as a community, but atheism is, in fact, only a small part of the political game. Douglas Murray’s game centers around civilizational conflicts (for the most part), and because of that – just like Hitchens – he has to sometimes choose sides he’d rather not side with on certain issues.

    I have to say that I don’t think he made a very convincing argument, and that’s a telling thing when talking about Murray because, frankly, his arguments usually decimate the opposition. I think, frankly, he chose this side for political purposes and not for entirely ideological ones. It’s fairly clear, having watched literally dozens of debates and interviews with him, that he doesn’t like religion one bit. He just tries, ever so gracefully, to sometimes be pragmatic about it. I believe that this is, in part, to give himself cover when talking about the *very* real problem of muslim extremists in his own country and in Europe, without exposing himself too much to the tune of being an Islamophobe. That’s something which he sometimes has to worry about.

    Once again: I don’t think that Murray did himself any favors this time, and I disagreed with his stance, but I know that it was more political than anything else. Murray sometimes does try to make concessions to the moderates to have the ability to fire full blast at the extremists, and I think that this debate was an example of this kind of politics. I don’t particularly agree with it, but I understand that he has slightly different concerns than many of the rest of us.

    Sorry for being so lengthy, but I really admire and respect Douglas Murray. I may not always agree with his politics, but I think that he definitely is a brilliant debater, speaker and writer. And just because we disagree on a few points here and there doesn’t mean that he still isn’t a good ally to have on our side.

  45. Posted February 17, 2013 at 5:03 am | Permalink

    Oh and I’d like to add one more thing about Murray’s political choice here: He’s looking to confront mostly Islamic extremism in his society (and Europe at large). You have to understand that in many parts of Europe, the only people who usually talk about this problem are extremists from the other side: racists, xenophobes, etc… Murray has been trying to make a case since a few years that it is not only a concern of the racists and xenophobes, but also of the “common person” in the street. Remember that many of those moderates he may be reaching out towards to form an alliance are not atheists. Many of those people may see atheists as the extreme left, which is seen by many as part of the actual problem. So by sometimes siding with the moderate religious people, he forms a common bond against the extremists.

    Again, I may not agree with him during this debate, but I think I understand why he did it.


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