Quote of the Day

From Anthony Grayling’s The God Argument (pp. 257-258):

“In the past, people were eager to clutch at legends and superstitions in order to attain a quick, simple closure regarding what they did not know or understand, to make it seem to themselves that they did know and understand. Humanism recognizes this historical use of mythologies, and sympathises with the needs that drive people to treat them as truths.  It points out that what feeds their hearts and minds—love, beauty, music, sunshine on the sea, the sound of rain on leaves, the company of friends, the satisfaction that comes from successful effort—is more than the imaginary can ever give them, and that they should learn to redescribe these things—the real things of this world—as what gives life the poetry of its significance.”

My comments:

1. Not much scientism on view here!
2. Note suggestion by a New Atheist on how to replace human needs supposedly fulfilled by religion.


  1. Grania Spingies
    Posted June 25, 2013 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    I wholeheartedly applaud his recommendations:
    “love, beauty, music, sunshine on the sea, the sound of rain on leaves, the company of friends”.

    The attempts by some secularists to recreate a non-supernatural church experience personally makes me want to run a mile. If people get something out of that sort of meeting, well, cool. But so far I have yet to hear of any of them that do anything new that can’t be experienced at a concert, a book-club or an afternoon tea.

    I can’t stand forced “bonhomie” and I don’t need any well-meaning charismatic to lecture me on ethics.

    (Yes, I am a cranky misfit. Thank you for noticing.)

    • Alexandra M
      Posted June 25, 2013 at 11:17 am | Permalink


      I completely agree. It annoys me no end when believers drone on and on about how atheists couldn’t possible enjoy music, or art, or poetry, or, for that matter, love.

      I agree, too, about the “atheist churches.” There’s a video out there somewhere of Dan Dennett leading secular “gospel” music at the Montreal Humanists Convention. Down in front, you can see me and my companions resolutely hunched over, refusing to get up and sway and clap.

      • Grania Spingies
        Posted June 25, 2013 at 11:29 am | Permalink

        I attended Dan’s talk in Cork, Ireland where he tried out the same gospel music on us. Same reaction: polite embarrassment.

        He was a bit awkward about it and claimed that people had mostly loved it in the States.

        I adore Dan, and I can appreciate good heart-felt gospel music sung with enthusiasm too (on occasion), but no, I don’t need my own special unbeliever version.

        • Alexandra M
          Posted June 25, 2013 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

          TBH, I’m not sure the reaction in Montreal was “polite embarrassment.” Most of the people there went along, and were even physically prodding us to get up and join in. My own embarrassment was more of the “I’d-give-anything-for-the-earth-to-open-up-and-swallow-me-right-now” variety.

          When he signed my book, he asked me how I’d liked the music. Awkward moment, as I’d been sitting in the first row with my arms folded.

          He said I WOULD get to like it. Eventually. Hasn’t happened yet.

        • Marella
          Posted June 25, 2013 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

          Music and singing are one of the great joys. It depends on the context of course but you really should try to let your natural curmudgeonlyness go on occasion and give it a try, it really is enormous fun! I sing in a community choir and it’s the best couple of hours of my week.

          • Grania Spingies
            Posted June 26, 2013 at 1:26 am | Permalink

            I think you have misunderstood my comment. My distaste is for atheist churches and atheist hymns, not music.

            • Marella
              Posted June 26, 2013 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

              Yeah I have no idea what an atheist church even is really and atheist hymns, eewww. Maybe Imagine would be ok.

    • Posted June 25, 2013 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      Here! Here! I also completely agree. A so-called “Church” based on Atheism has been tried on numerous occasions. Latest one where I personally attended a meeting was “Church of Reality” in the SF Bay area.

      It never gained traction.

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted June 25, 2013 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

        I’m guessing that that is because “church” and “reality” are mutually exclusive terms.

    • darrelle
      Posted June 25, 2013 at 11:58 am | Permalink

      I would like to add some more applause. Well said Grania. Forced “bonhomie” is a trigger for me as well. My first thought is usually along the lines of “ah, a proponent of the dirt bag school of salesmanship. Ignore and feel free to smack down if they make a nuisance of themselves.”

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted June 25, 2013 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      Agreed, agreed, thrice agreed! [getting caught reading while sipping an afternoon tea]

    • Diane G.
      Posted June 25, 2013 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      Hear, hear, from here, too! And also to several of the above responses.

      We should all bookmark Grania’s comment to haul out whenever this same old tired “replacement” trope arises.

      IMO, most of these efforts stem from narcissistic needs of the organizers (and often the participants as well) to feel smug & superior–just like so many goddists.

      • Posted June 25, 2013 at 1:04 pm | Permalink


        “Hey, everybody! Follow ME!”

        • Dominic
          Posted June 26, 2013 at 3:54 am | Permalink

          Where are you going?!

          • Diane G.
            Posted June 26, 2013 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

            Oh, just have faith!

    • Posted June 25, 2013 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

      After reading this post, I was going to sarcastically ask “what about MY stained glass… MY ritual?!?” Sometimes telling it like it is works so much better.

  2. Alexandra M
    Posted June 25, 2013 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    ” – what gives live the poetry of its significance.”

    Should that be “what gives life?”

  3. Posted June 25, 2013 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    I first heard about the Church of Reality in 2006. I do not like that they have ‘special language’ for insiders.


  4. Dianne Saichek
    Posted June 25, 2013 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    I’m with Alexandra—I think there’s a typo in the quote. Please clarify, JC.
    life or live?

    • Diane G.
      Posted June 25, 2013 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      Really? You think it might be something other than a typo?

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted June 25, 2013 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

      It’s just a mutation
      That’s part of how one gets [a] life

      • Posted June 25, 2013 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

        With another mutation you can get a lime…


        • JohnnieCanuck
          Posted June 26, 2013 at 3:40 am | Permalink

          Another will get you a [d]ime. I remember a [t]ime when it cost 10 cents to make a pay phone call except in N’awlens where it was a nickel. 1970.

          Replication with errors, made you what you are today.

  5. Diana MacPherson
    Posted June 25, 2013 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    I find people are shocked when I actually have a list of things I believe in (like happiness and fairness and kindness) because they think atheists believe in nothing….I call this “over extending the alpha privative” 🙂

    • Posted June 25, 2013 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

      Every religions paint the-others as enemy, less-than-human, even if the-other is the actual source of their religion (as in xtian / Islam vs Jewish, or jews vs egyptians).

      To be convincing in front of their flocks, the priest usually overdo the antagonistic sermons.

      That’s the reason why nowadays xtians see atheism as super-evil and assume the worst -in their mind- for instance as non-moral rapist (something resonant to most catholic-boys) or homos.

      It is my personal belief that what generally considered as spiritual thoughts like assessing beauty, love, kindness and friendship; are not only from religions, organized or othersiwe.

      While religions from millenia tried their might to amplify the feeling by creating super-buildings like stonehenge, colosseum, grand cathedrals and mosques, not to say majestic musics and grand statues and paintings with their ill-gotten funds, in most cases (organized) religions provide you only with the second hand feeling.

      Like fast-food offering, cheap, easy and nominally satisfying. Then some people go their own ways (like what Luther the protestants did, along with millions other ‘reformists’), sometime totally alone.

      Because of lack of standards (as in hygiene), like most amateurish home-cooking, most of these offerings is even more toxic than the fast-food variety.

      Our mind is a complex machine, totally deterministic in each of each atomic components, but arraged in so complex configuration that defies any deterministic outcome (not just lack of current technology), a complex system with emergences.

      So, there are many things that we (by we I mean our natural brain) find satisfaction in complex pathways, that is not known, even will never be known.

      There is nothing super-(or para-)normal about these things. And clearly, anybody (or any grown mind with proper attitude and knowledge) can get it, atheism included.

      For millenias, it is always like this, the difference in current millenium is because now we know much much more than before. Average person nowadays know more than Moses or Jesus or Mohammed ever did. Wisdom is another thing though. Wise men have been around for long time, maybe the same percentage all the time, but knowledge is changing. What we know, is increasing exponentially.

      As Sagan said, we live in a very interesting era, when humankind start to know things. Thus the debates so far.

  6. ladyatheist
    Posted June 25, 2013 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    If you have been brainwashed to believe you deserve nothing and that everything good can only come from God’s forgiveness, it’s impossible to imagine people who have self-respect and appreciation for beauty in their lives without God. They are the ones to be pitied, not us.

    • darrelle
      Posted June 25, 2013 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

      Oh, but they so want to pity unbelievers! It gives them that warm fuzzy feeling of moral rectitude that is one of the key features of human nature that religion has evolved to take advantage of, and which is one of the reasons religion is so pervasive and resistant to being stamped out.

      • Posted June 25, 2013 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

        “feeling of moral rectitude” — well, that’s what comes of having rectum-derived morals…


        • darrelle
          Posted June 26, 2013 at 5:21 am | Permalink

          Nothing a stiff glass of prune juice won’t fix.

  7. Tim Harris
    Posted June 25, 2013 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    ‘You know, old chap, I do love other things, apart from death. So many things. Nature. Trees, things like that. A nice blue sky. Blossom. (Pause) Tell me…truly…are you beginning to love me?’
    Nicolas, the torturer, in Harold Pinter’s ‘One for the Road’.

  8. marksolock
    Posted June 25, 2013 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Mark Solock Blog.

  9. Guy
    Posted June 26, 2013 at 12:51 am | Permalink

    Hang on hang on hang on!
    “narcissistic”? “brainwashing”? “forced bonhomie”?

    there are two issues here, and both need to be addressed-

    1. Atheists nowadays don’t generally want to feel “churchy”. currently, most of them have either willingly left a religious congregation, or they’ve never belonged to one. this is not representative of society as a whole.

    2. on the whole, it SEEMS that many people like the idea of congregation, and the feeling of being with people who share the same values.

    I would suggest that Dennett and others are simply attempting to recognize a very wide spread expression of a social need in a social species, and are trying to think of a secular solution.

    So before people run off with the idea that Dennett and others like him are narcissistic egomaniacs, it’s better to instead try to be proactive and answer the question at hand-
    how do we answer people’s need of communion and congregation without totalitarian mythologies?

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted June 26, 2013 at 1:35 am | Permalink

      I don’t think anyone thinks that Dennett is a narcissistic ego-maniac. In fact, I don’t even think I see anyone saying that there can’t be atheist Sunday congregations for those that want them.

      My point (and several other people’s too) is that we don’t need to artificially create placeholders for church: there are already plenty of things to do that fulfill the need for community and pleasure etc. that already exist in normal life.

      And we take exception to people who suggest that atheists are forever lacking until they create and attend The Great Atheist Cathedral three times a week for lectures on how not to be a psychopath.

      • Guy
        Posted June 26, 2013 at 3:52 am | Permalink

        I think you use the word “we” too freely.

        certainly atheists today, who shun away from the beliefs and customs of the overwhelming majority, don’t need to artificially create placeholders for church.

        but let’s be careful not to project. this isn’t about today’s “we atheists”. it’s about suggesting solutions for a secular society, not for a 3% atheist minority.

        • darrelle
          Posted June 26, 2013 at 6:04 am | Permalink

          I don’t know. I don’t have any problem understanding the use of “we” in that comment.

          Let’s not over state the “problem” here. It is indeed a common argument from many believers, accommodationists and even some non accommodating atheists, that religion provides some essential social-cultural-spiritual needs that nothing else does, or even can, provide.

          Like many arguments it just isn’t true. And I am sure that many people who use that argument know it isn’t true, but make expedient use of it anyway. It is not in anyone’s best interests to pretend that the argument is true.

          What is a problem is that many people think that it is true, even though if they looked at their own lives without bias they would see that it is not. It is convenient for them to do so because it justifies their beliefs.

          Instead of playing along and pretending that this is a major problem I think it would be better to point out the real problem. That they are wrong. I think it is a bad idea to lend any credence or respect to an argument that is inaccurate and that falsely validates their religion. Nothing new needs to be invented to replace religion. People can certainly invent new things if they want, but plenty of alternatives already exist. Many of them have always been there.

          • Posted June 26, 2013 at 6:57 am | Permalink

            That’s what I call hitting the nail on the head.

            We don’t need to ape religion to foster community.

        • Notagod
          Posted June 26, 2013 at 6:18 am | Permalink

          I think you use the words “people need” and “overwhelming majority” too freely.

          Even the majority of christians don’t attend their brainwashing sessions regularly as adults. I think you are projecting the hobby (not need) of a few onto the whole of humanity. And don’t fool yourself, there is a substantial amount of unhelpful gossip and degrading of outsiders that takes place at those christian meetings. That christian social activity isn’t something to be admired.

          However, a community may derive benefit from having regular meetings of the community members to work on solutions to problems that need to be addressed by the community as a whole and the community might do well to have some fun and learning events scheduled too but, the idea that people “need” what is taking place at “church” is bullshit.

          • Guy
            Posted June 30, 2013 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

            you try so hard to “straw man” my point…
            I said people need to congregate. that’s an observable fact, regardless of mythology. some “groupthink” is always required, or there is no group to speak of.
            Also, people need to gossip. gossip has good and bad implications, but it is of real importance to any group with a social structure. if you’re ignorant of that, please look up the subject. it will help ease some of your evident self-righteousness.

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted June 26, 2013 at 6:24 am | Permalink

        The “replacement for religion” argument is very odd in a couple of ways.

        Giving up religion is a personal choice, and generally one replaces religion with life, in their own way. That could even include seeking a secular replacement for the religious social club, for those who feel they need that.

        But what is most odd is that this line of thinking seems to imply that the church is a kind of central authority, and that atheism is vying to replace that as the new central authority. By this logic, it’s incumbent upon the new authority to meet the needs of the helpless children who depend so heavily on the protection aand guidance of that authority.

        This central planning model of how society is ordered is for paternalistic worryworts. Guess what? As people realize they don’t need religion, as they become liberated from religion, they will make their own choices about how they want to live, which may include ritualistic societies and social clubs to “fill that void” if a person wants that. Such organizations will spring up on their own as the need arises, and this does not require the pope of atheism to decree it be so.

        People worried about the “replacement” for religion don’t quite get the pardigm shift. It’s like somebody worrying about what kind of typing machine would replace the typewriter. Well, actually there are different kinds of applications running on a myriad of different kinds of computing machines, in the cloud, in mobile apps, enabling email, document editing, graphical design, document management systems, blogs, websites, on-line newspapers, e-greetings, social media sites, etc.

        Occasionally somebody needs to print out a piece of paper, and they are free to do so. It can even be graphically formatted to appear as if it were produced on a typewriter.

        I don’t think Dennet is a narcissistic egomaniac, but, based on his last book, particularly the story “The Truly Nefarious Neurosurgeon”, I think Dennet is in fact a bit of a paternalistic worrywort. But only just a bit. I generally enjoy Dennet’s books and lectures, and agree with him on most things.

      • Diane G.
        Posted June 26, 2013 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

        ” . . . for lectures on how not to be a psychopath.”


      • Diane G.
        Posted June 26, 2013 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

        A nausea-inducing example of this non-existent-void filling was this recent NYT article:


  10. HaggisForBrains
    Posted June 26, 2013 at 2:28 am | Permalink


  11. TJR
    Posted June 26, 2013 at 3:03 am | Permalink

    One of my friends is actually trying to start some sort of “atheist church”.

    Oh dearie me.

    I’ll report back if the results are funny enough……

  12. Dominic
    Posted June 26, 2013 at 3:51 am | Permalink

    That chimes with Carl Sagan
    “In its encounter with Nature, science invariably elicits a sense of reverence and awe. The very act of understanding is a celebration of joining, merging, even if on a very modest scale, with the magnificence of the Cosmos. And the cumulative worldwide buildup of knowledge over time converts science into something only a little short of a transnational, transgenerational meta-mind.”

    Other more pertinent quotations are available!

  13. sambricky2013
    Posted June 26, 2013 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    Am now reading this book. Thank you Jerry for the heads up.

  14. Kevin
    Posted June 27, 2013 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    “In the past, people were eager to clutch at legends and superstitions in order to attain a quick, simple closure regarding what they did not know or understand”

    Prove it.

  15. Me
    Posted June 27, 2013 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    “In the past…” etc.

    Prove it.

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