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My Most Faithful Disciple OR That’s Not REAL Religion
Posted: 06 September 2008 07:12 PM   [ Ignore ]  
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I’d like to start with an old story from India.

There was a man who thought that the Deity was a complete crock. He publicly challenged God to smite him. All day he would mumble “There is no Shiva. There is no Vishnu. There is no Brahma. There are no gods.”

Every day rain or shine he’d go to an old Shivite shrine on a hll in the woods, throw things at it and pee on the statue.

One day when he was a very old man he had a fatal heart attack near the top of the hill.

Nobody could have been more surprised when he woke up in the Presence. The Great God Mahabrahma smiled at him and said “Welcome My most faithful worshipper!”

The man (or ghost) was a little taken aback. Hadn’t he been a militant non-believer all his life? Hadn’t he personally desacrated that shrine thousands of times?

“Exactly!” said Vishnu. “You kept Me in mind all the time. Every hour of every day you thought about Me.”

He went on as Shiva “Every day of your life you came to My shrine in remebrance of Me. Your offerings were the most heartfelt, and you were even willing to die to make them.”

I feel kind of the same way about a lot of loudly-professed atheists. They don’t just not believe in one or more gods (as opposed to the Unitarians who believe in at most one God). They define their philosophy and entire intellectual approach life by the absence of very specific beliefs. It seems to go something like this: “I’m an atheist. I don’t believe. I don’t believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth nor in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son who wasn’t conceived by the Holy Ghost or born of the non-Virgin Mary, didn’t suffer under Pontius Pilate, may have been crucified, dead and buried. He didn’t descend into Hell, and on the third day he certainly didn’t rise fom the dead…”

When I read Letter to a Christian Nation I was struck by how much of the book was about not being a Christian. It’s as if Mr. Harris never really got over being raised in a Christian country. Pauline, Trinitarian, sometimes Catholic but mostly Protestant Evangelical Christianity pretty much defines Real Religion for him. Oh, there’s the occasional well-aimed kick at Judaism and Islam, but fundamentally it’s all about Jesus the way they preach him in the megachurches.

As he says over at jewcy.com while arguing with the reprehensible and repulsive Dennis Praeger, there have been plenty of gods. Why then, by his own words, is the Christian version of today’s Abrahamic god the one whose absence defines his atheism? Why not be a little more radical?

I think it’s becase deep down he hasn’t hit the rock bottom of his own honesty and admitted that his lack of faith isn’t the simple absence of belief or even that plus the reasons he doesn’t believe. It’s because at some level he has been effectively programmed and believes that Christianity is the Real Religon. Judaism and Islam have to be mentionedin passing. Nothing else quite counts. We even see that in the organization of the site. There is a section about Christianity. There is a section about Judaism. There is a section about Islam. There are sections about “New Age” and “Cults”. I could get exactly the same thing from the local Baptist church. That’s pretty much how they look at the world.

In other words, the prize atheist looks at the world like a Christian or a Jew in a Christian world. This is a tad reactionary and represents a serious flaw in a number of otherwise worthwhile arguments. The special and exceptional nature of the Holy Mother Church is a poor starting point for a radical critique of all religions and their deities.

I’m not saying all atheists are like this. Most aren’t. But it’s characteristic of many explicitly anti-religious writers including quite a few who should know better.

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Posted: 06 September 2008 10:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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telner - 06 September 2008 11:12 PM

When I read Letter to a Christian Nation I was struck by how much of the book was about not being a Christian. It’s as if Mr. Harris never really got over being raised in a Christian country. Pauline, Trinitarian, sometimes Catholic but mostly Protestant Evangelical Christianity pretty much defines Real Religion for him. Oh, there’s the occasional well-aimed kick at Judaism and Islam, but fundamentally it’s all about Jesus the way they preach him in the megachurches.

You mentioned that you read: Letter to a Christian Nation.  I’m curious, did you also happen to read The End of Faith?  I get a sense that you haven’t, because if you had, you would understand how unsupported your above premise really is.

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Posted: 06 September 2008 10:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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telner,

There’s a couple things about your post I’d like to comment on. Remember, you’re inviting me.

Firstly, I consider myself to be a loudly-professed Atheist. I’m not going to try to defend or explain Harris’ point of view because frankly, the only thing I’ve read about Atheism is his speech about the Problem with Atheism, and once I was turning through the pages of a book (I can’t even remember the title or author) and the thing that caught my eye was the idea of a Positive Atheist (There is no god) and a Negative Atheist (I don’t believe in god) which implies the possibility that there is a god but I just don’t believe it. I have to say, it made sense to me and since then, I considered myself to be a Positive Atheist. Some Atheists here don’t agree with that. However, I professed my Atheism long ago, on my own. I don’t think I even knew a professed Atheist until I got on this forum, quite by accident.

Secondly, the reason we even have to profess it is,  well, you mentioned it, being raised in a Christain country and fortunately, still a free one. Atheists are one group on the front lines trying to protect America’s freedom of separation of church and state. Freedom of religion is well and good, hell, you can even make one up of your own, but freedom from religion is even more important. If McCain stands up and professes his god, and wants to create laws based on the bible, or any other religious dogma which I then have to obey, you better fucking believe I’m going to not only loudly profess, but loudly protest.

Thirdly, even Atheists have differences in their views on particular religions. Just take the Big 3. The way I see it, there should be no such thing as a Christain. You have the Jewish god in their book (the torah); the book predicts a messiah(a Jew); some Jews said it was Jesus, some are still waiting. So you have at the most, two Jewish factions (regarding a messiah). The Jews who believe that Jesus was the messiah, even wrote some chapters to attach to what?, you guessed it, the torah. In that torah, it says the father of all Jews had two sons and one went off somewhere to another land, and he took his god with him. He didn’t find another competing god, it was the same god that forms the basis of their religion, Islam. So, they’re all the same god, all three. Yet, they’ve been killing each other in his name for centuries and centuries. Arafat would even tell Rabin, we’re cousins. Go figure.

Breaking it down to it’s simplest most logical form is very helpful. No if’s, and’s or but’s can reconcile the confusion and inanity of it all, more evidence there is no god.

Want an Atheist to stop talking about god? Ya’ll stop talking first. Otherwise, I’m going to go down talking.

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Posted: 07 September 2008 08:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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Telner, your story reminds me of X-Men comics from my youth. It would seem that every time a telepathic character was put into a position where they would need to “scan” the thoughts of a crowd, the thought balloons would inevitably display a number of people obsessing over how much they hate mutants. They weren’t thinking about what to pick up at the store, or whether or not they left the stove on. They weren’t even thinking about sex, they were obsessing about how much they hated mutants.

I think a lot of believers think atheist are like that. That we don’t think about sex, or movies, or art, or whatever, we just spend our time obsessing about how much we hate god. Perhaps I can only speak for myself, nothing could be further from the truth.

You know, because of some of the work I do, I get to spend a good amount of time in churches, and I’ve never felt the need or desire to spit on the icons, piss in the holy water, or defecate in the pews. See, I don’t hate god, or even spend much time considering him. And I would spend even less time thinking about him if certain people weren’t so obsessed with making me acknowledge their god.

For example, we are in the midst of a presidential election where even the democratic candidate can’t seem to stop reiterating his belief in a personal god. And where the republican nominee, a man who has never come across as particularly devout, has picked an extremely religious running mate and has coddled up to morally questionable preachers. All this to pander to the so-called religious right.

And I am tired of it. You may believe what you wish to believe, I just wish you’d leave me out of it. I do not wish to join your club, nor do I wish to have your clubs rule book forced upon me.

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Posted: 07 September 2008 08:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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telner - 06 September 2008 11:12 PM

It seems to go something like this: “I’m an atheist. I don’t believe. I don’t believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth nor in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son who wasn’t conceived by the Holy Ghost or born of the non-Virgin Mary, didn’t suffer under Pontius Pilate, may have been crucified, dead and buried. He didn’t descend into Hell, and on the third day he certainly didn’t rise fom the dead…”

This assumes a neutrality of positions that does not exist.  It amounts to a distorted view of the protests calling for an end to religion’s stranglehold. I’ve heard it before. It’s the same voice who would tell women, gays, blacks, etc. to quit their whining.

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Posted: 07 September 2008 02:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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Well Celsus and goodgraydrab, the particular little section of the website is for comments on LtaCN. That was the overwhelming impression left by reading that book.

Please note - this needs to be repeated - that I am not saying that everyone who does not believe in a particular god or in any god is like that. Most aren’t. Their non-belief is just a part of who they are. It informs what they do, but it doesn’t define them and is not the center of their public existence. And I don’t mean people who fight against the corrosive effects of fundamentalism (anyone’s fundamentalism) on science, education, civic life and government. I try to do that myself in my own small way.

This is about the sort of anti-belief that characterizes, say, Chris Hitchens these days when he can pull himself away from the bottle and his Iraq War cheerleading long enough to put tremulous finger to keyboard. It’s why the essays of Stephen Gould are so much superior to those of a Richard Dawkins. A thousand “No"s don’t add up to one affirmative “Yes”. Besides, Dawkins doesn’t like to say it, but a lot of his scientific writing was full of Strict Adaptationism back in the day, at least when I was reading it as an undergrad. The position is just a whisker away from teleology and theology.

It makes a point. Maybe it galvanizes the unfaithful to action which is a good thing, especially when we are close to electing a President who follows Hagee and Parsley and a VP who thinks you can “Pray out the Gay” and is fundamentally hostile to science as a concept.

In the end it’s still a religious screed even if the message is “The message you believed is wrong.” Like all fundamentalist tracts it distorts and ignores in its quest to make the data fit the curve. It shoots the arrows and then draws targets around them. The Know Nothings are highlighted. The effects of the first three Great Awakenings are ignored even though much of what Mr. Harris believes rests on their philosophies.

And it betrays his scientific training. If there is a physiological basis for believing in something, not necessarily a Big Guy in the Sky, then we’re left with an inconvenient conclusion. You won’t get rid of belief unless you fundamentally alter our anatomy and biochemistry. We will always have gods even if we call them The Dictatorship of the Proletariat or The Invisible Hand of the Market instead of Mumbo Jumbo God of the Congo. LTaCN just lets that slide on by. It’s a serious failing in a work by a good writer who is obviously very intelligent.

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Posted: 07 September 2008 09:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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Jefe - 07 September 2008 06:39 PM

Telner, are you aware that LtaCN was written as a response to the feedback he received about TeoF? Or more specifically, feedback from the funadmental christian right about TeoF?

Ah, didn’t know that. It makes a difference.

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Posted: 08 September 2008 01:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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Telner, you’ve confused atheism with wanting-believers-to-shut-up-about-how-great-their religion-is-and-how-much-I-suck-if-I-don’t-believe-like-they-do.  If you want to be religious I’ll ridicule you but I won’t stop you, but if you want to ram your religion down others’ throats then you’ve got a fight.  About 90% of the posts by atheists on this forum can be classified as “I wish the religious would keep me and my government out of their sanctimonious inconsistencies.”  It’s not God or Vishnu or Allah we’re against - it’s their followers’ demands everyone conform to their capricious rules.

The story you cite is a remarkably inaccurate description of what atheism is, and is clearly a fantasy written by a believer which describes what could be termed as ‘anti-theist’ (if there is such a term), but even this term implies belief a god exists since logically one must believe something exists before being against it.

Lastly, you’ve got to write much more clearly than you have in all of your other rather cryptic posts.  At best I figure you’re insulted by the tone and content of the posts by atheists.

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Posted: 08 September 2008 09:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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skipshot, your resentment, defensiveness and inability to read simple declarative prose are noted but not accepted as excuses.

Do you know what my religious beliefs, if any, are? Have I tried to “ram” anything “down your throat”? No and no.

Have I said “All atheists are xxxxx?” No.

Have I very carefully distinguished between atheists in general and a particular sort who is obsessed with religion? Yes. Twice. Three times now.

Is that all understood? Got it? Good.

Now as I was saying when the projection started, a real weakness of LTaCN and the first few chapters of TEoF which I have just started is that it’s fundamentally Christian. In spite of his supposedly radical critique of religion he has fixed on Evangelical Protestantism as defining religion. It simply doesn’t.

His knowledge of the history of religion including Christianity is deficient. He ignores his one great professional strength, a background in neurology, which might offer some insight into the biological basis of the religious impulse. He’s highlighting his weaknesses and ignoring his strengths. That’s always a mistake.

An intellectually honest person would acknowledge his own bias and areas of ignorance. Mr. Harris doesn’t. He doesn’t even consider the fact that his intellectual substructure is profoundly influenced by the first three Great Awakenings and their philosophical and social consequences. It doesn’t mean that the religion they came out of has any more validity than Vodun or Tlingit Shamanism. But it is a weakness to ignore the facts. That’s fundie thinking. It undermines his attempt to capture the intellectual or moral high ground.

I’m sorry. I know the books appeal to you emotionally, but these are undeniable flaws.

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Posted: 08 September 2008 09:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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As for the other part, the Truest Believer, well it’s pretty apparent. It might not be flattering, but that’s how life is sometimes.

If someone doesn’t believe in a god or gods he’s an atheist or an agnostic depending on whether he says “I think not” or “I don’t know”. If he goes to school board meetings to preventthe inclusion of the Bible in Biology class or “voluntary” prayer meetings he’s a civil libertarian.

If he goes to regular meetings at the Atheist Community Center - which I used to do - or switches careers to write books about the idiocy of Christianity or similar, then he’s taken another step. He’s defined himself not as a humanitarian or civil libertarian but in opposition to Christianity. He’s become the negative space around his idol. It ties him to the object of his hate and derision at least as tightly as it does the believer. If the Church changes its shape he perforce has to change his to accommodate it.

I know atheists like this. You know atheists like this. Not all atheists are like this - as I’ve said several times - but you can’t deny that they’re pretty common among those who proclaim and spend a lot of time declaring their atheism.

Maybe this is a little too close to the bone. Let’s take another example.

There are plenty of people who have kids. On average everyone has more than one or the species would have died out.

Some people don’t have kids either because they can’t or don’t want to.

Some people are in favor of family planning whether or not they have kids of their own. They support planned parenthood and comprehensive sex education, lobby to make Plan B available and against the “health provider conscience exemptions” and redefining birth control as abortion.

Most people who don’t have kids are happy with the decision or regret it but get on with their lives.

Then there is the Child-Free Movement. I had a housemate who was active in it. They have special bulletin boards where they talk to each other about the joys of being child-free. They have get togethers where they can meet and talk with other people who are child-free. They can go on for hours about how happy they are with the Decision. Some of them write books extolling the virtues and pleasures of the Child-Free Lifestyle to anyone who will listen.

Is there a difference between the last two? Absolutely. Is there a strong streak of “Methinks the Lady doth protest too much” in the last sort? Hell, yes.

Substitute “god” for “child”. Anyone who denies that it happens is a fool or a damned liar.

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Posted: 08 September 2008 11:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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Well, Telner, then stop dancing around and clearly state your position if you wish to be taken seriously.  So far I’m not impressed with your attempt at intellectualism via obscure references, undeveloped ideas, and stringing together of unrelated sentences.  If you can’t make yourself understood to your audience then revise your act. 

What’s your point? 
Why do you care?

I’ll give you maybe two more chances to make sense to me before writing your posts off as incoherent, angry blather.

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Posted: 08 September 2008 12:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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Telner, if your point is that not all atheists are perfect, then (bell rings) here is your prize. I am an imperfect atheist myself. Nearly any group of people who you care to define likely has a few folks on either end of the bell curve. So the fuck what? What is your point?

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Real honesty is accepting the theories that best explain the actual data even if those explanations contradict our cherished beliefs.-Scotty

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Posted: 08 September 2008 12:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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Telner, your critique is very odd given that the title of Sam’s book is ‘Letter to a Christian Nation’ and is in response to letters and emails (hate mail) he received from Christians quoting chapter and verse.  So is it any wonder why he concentrates and narrows his RESPONSE to Christians, although not exclusively, to reinforce his counterpoints.

So your statement, “In other words, the prize atheist looks at the world like a Christian or a Jew in a Christian world. This is a tad reactionary and represents a serious flaw in a number of otherwise worthwhile arguments. The special and exceptional nature of the Holy Mother Church is a poor starting point for a radical critique of all religions and their deities.”, is so strange I’m not sure why I feel the need to respond.

And given that Sam’s book is a response, it also makes your quaint mythological story way off the mark as it would only be slightly relevant had the God and his followers been attacking the old man all his life.

In essence, you haven’t seen the forest for the trees and as a consequence your argument of, “me thinks he doth protest too much”, can be levelled at you.  But then, it is obvious that you are not sure what you are protesting about.  I don’t think I’ll bother asking why you are protesting against something you haven’t yet grasped, but given the reverence with which you address the “Holy Mother Church”, I can guess.

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Posted: 22 September 2008 12:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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It’s because at some level he has been effectively programmed and believes that Christianity is the Real Religon.

telner says that of an atheist? Of all of his post, that is the most illogical, for it is precisely the religious, by definition, that are “effectively programmed.”

Religion is taught. Belief in “in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth.. in Jesus Christ,” etc. is taught. The Christian has not arrived at his/her belief through education, experiment, examination, etc. but has simply been told what to believe. The Christian does not, once a “believer,” perform any further learning on the subject of religion due to his/her havin been told that their “truth” is absolute. Once that absolute belief has been acheived no further education is required. (Including much of science, philosophy and history.)

Atheism can be taught too—to the child of atheists for example—but atheism, I put to you, is a conclusion one comes to by education—specifically education regarding the worlds religions.

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Posted: 22 September 2008 12:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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Re: “an old story from India.”

What does that story say about the so many “Christians” who are constantly talking about drugs, abortion, contraceptives, homosexuality, etc.?

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Posted: 01 October 2008 11:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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mr.g - 22 September 2008 04:36 PM

What does that story say about the so many “Christians” who are constantly talking about drugs, abortion, contraceptives, homosexuality, etc.?

My hidden point exactly >:-)

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