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The Next Step??
Posted: 28 December 2006 03:39 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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Merry Christmas, as they say…I was just given "Letter.." and "The End of Faith" as Christmas presents. It's been odd reading them over the holiday, staying here with my parents who are devout - albeit liberal - Catholics.

I always thought of myself as Agnostic, not even really knowing what that meant. I just thought that "Atheist" rhymed with extremist in many ways, and I was more proud of the fact that I didn't give a toss about the whole thing.

Anyway, (and there's a question brewing here), in the past two days of reading I've come to realize that ignoring religion is bad for one's health, bad for the health of this planet, and bad for the whole human race.

I haven't finished The End of Faith, butsomething is already haunting me:

Last week I was listening to NPR's This American Life. It was the episode called Shouting Across The Divide and it featured the story of a lone Muslim family living somewhere in America, presumably a conservative, Christian town. I'll leave you all to listen to it, but it came down to Muslim children being horribly ostracized over their faith. It all started when a teacher (with the support of the school district) distributed a book characterizing Islam as a dangerous and violent religion. Nothing beyond what Sam Harris has said. The immediacy at which the other children, adults, and teachers reacted to these printed words as truth and used it as evidence to isolate and harass their neighbors was alarming - and saddening. I don't know if any of you have ever been continually ostracized as a child, but it's effects can be deep.

My question is this, and I ask it humbly:
It's evident that religion, (especially those which hold these ancient books such as the Koran and the Bible to be truthful), is dangerous to humanity. Now, if we also hold Mr. Harris' views on pacifism and the use of violence and torture to prevent further violence, where does that leave children (and adults) who practice their faith in "peace"? Or do we believe that such people are the rightful targets of harassment, in order to save the world?

I can picture these kind of people caught in a horrible crossfire. Sam Harris said himself that currently, some of the only people bold enough to stand up to religion are fascists. That doesn't bode well for folks like my parents who support secularism and rightfully fear fundamentalists of every stripe. And this discussion of moderation and tolerance being negative (I have serious doubts about the word "tolerance", but anyway…) scares me as well. Could we not see Atheists picking up guns one day, to rid the world of religious extremists?

At any rate, what's next?

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Posted: 28 December 2006 04:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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[quote author=“emvem”]Merry Christmas, as they say…I was just given “Letter..” and “The End of Faith” as Christmas presents. It’s been odd reading them over the holiday, staying here with my parents who are devout - albeit liberal - Catholics.

I always thought of myself as Agnostic, not even really knowing what that meant. I just thought that “Atheist” rhymed with extremist in many ways, and I was more proud of the fact that I didn’t give a toss about the whole thing.

Anyway, (and there’s a question brewing here), in the past two days of reading I’ve come to realize that ignoring religion is bad for one’s health, bad for the health of this planet, and bad for the whole human race.

I haven’t finished The End of Faith, butsomething is already haunting me:

Last week I was listening to NPR’s This American Life. It was the episode called Shouting Across The Divide and it featured the story of a lone Muslim family living somewhere in America, presumably a conservative, Christian town. I’ll leave you all to listen to it, but it came down to Muslim children being horribly ostracized over their faith. It all started when a teacher (with the support of the school district) distributed a book characterizing Islam as a dangerous and violent religion. Nothing beyond what Sam Harris has said. The immediacy at which the other children, adults, and teachers reacted to these printed words as truth and used it as evidence to isolate and harass their neighbors was alarming - and saddening. I don’t know if any of you have ever been continually ostracized as a child, but it’s effects can be deep.

My question is this, and I ask it humbly:
It’s evident that religion, (especially those which hold these ancient books such as the Koran and the Bible to be truthful), is dangerous to humanity. Now, if we also hold Mr. Harris’ views on pacifism and the use of violence and torture to prevent further violence, where does that leave children (and adults) who practice their faith in “peace”? Or do we believe that such people are the rightful targets of harassment, in order to save the world?

I can picture these kind of people caught in a horrible crossfire. Sam Harris said himself that currently, some of the only people bold enough to stand up to religion are fascists. That doesn’t bode well for folks like my parents who support secularism and rightfully fear fundamentalists of every stripe. And this discussion of moderation and tolerance being negative (I have serious doubts about the word “tolerance”, but anyway…) scares me as well. Could we not see Atheists picking up guns one day, to rid the world of religious extremists?

At any rate, what’s next?

I think you are in error in supposing that religion itself is a threat to humanity.  What is a threat is blind dogmatic intolerant belief, religious or otherwise.  The great Islamic theologian Mumhamed al Ghazali, who died in 1111 AD, wrote that there were three types of people, those who needed ordinary religion as a means of stabilizing their lives, those who required lproofs and empirical demonstrations, and the mystics.  He went on to emphasize that what was required was a relationship of respect between these three without attempts by any one group to dictate to the others.  I have relatives who are devout Christians, but they have never tried to push their beliefs on others, just tried to live a Christian life.  As a mathematician, I prefer a path of knowledge.  That is why agnosticism is better than atheism, which is simply another dogmatic belief.  (One can claim that science disproves religious assertions, but it says absolutely nothing about the existance or non-existence of the divine—science informs, it does not compel.)

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Posted: 28 December 2006 05:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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[quote author=“burt”]As a mathematician, I prefer a path of knowledge.  That is why agnosticism is better than atheism, which is simply another dogmatic belief.  (One can claim that science disproves religious assertions, but it says absolutely nothing about the existance or non-existence of the divine—science informs, it does not compel.)

I would disagree with your statement that atheism is simply another dogmatic belief. I used to be an agnostic like you, believing that science could not answer the question of God’s existence. After reading EOF, I started searching online for various arguments for and against the existence of God and soon reached the conclusion that scientific evidence isn’t necessary since the concept of God preached by most major religions is logically impossible. Since my lack of belief in God is now based on reason, it cannot be considered dogmatic in any way.

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Posted: 28 December 2006 05:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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So, burt:
I assume you remain agnostic with respect to the tooth fairy as well?

some ideas, like that of a God, are just dismissable nonsense.

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Posted: 28 December 2006 05:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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There’s a huge range of ideas about ‘god’ and experiences that suggest something sacred within appearances.
We are right to dismiss what is destructive, and stand up against it.  However, freethinking suggests we encourage people to pursue ideas which may seem ‘odd’ to us, but not to them. Isn’t that how science progresses? I see progress in religion, too, away from superstition.

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Posted: 28 December 2006 06:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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I agree Pat, a lot depends on your definition of God. If you’re talking about that god of the ‘Old Timey Religion’, the one who is supposedly omnipotent, omniscient and loving then you have a right to be sceptical. That idea of god is centuries old and hasn’t evolved from the time of Moses. There are better versions of god out there.

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Posted: 28 December 2006 07:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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As to the question of what to do about the problem, the answer is, in a way, both tolerance AND intolerance.

In the political sense, we need to excercise tolerance for people who have different beliefs, even if those beliefs are wrong, so long as they themselves act peacefully and with tolerance. The most fundamental right is to use your mind, as well or as badly as you can or choose. We need to excercise INtolerance for those who act violently or call for violent action. (I think the US government should put a bounty on the head of any foreign person who issues a “fatwa” against Americans, among other things.) We should be actively opposing any government policy that constitutes an establishment of religion, or which is religiously motivated. Government’s focus should be purely secular, and we should work to keep it so.

Socially, we need to excercise some tolerance for other people’s views, at least a certain amount of civility. But this must not mean being meek or quiet about our views. We can’t be always walking on eggshells, afraid of “offending” someone. We should feel free to say things that religious people may find offensive.

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Posted: 28 December 2006 07:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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Note, however, SaulOhio, that ONLY a thorough SECULAR society is able to accomodate a few loonies (or non-standard thinkers, if you like) within itself, without perishing. A specific religious society is unstable in this regard.

It is a secular society we need as our foundation, and any attempt to transform a secular society into a theistic one should be regarded as a declaration of war.

As long as this declaration of war is backed by few numbers, we may treat it as the US did in Peter Sellers’ “The Mouse that Roared”, namely ignore it, however any trend seeming to augment the numbers of irrational adherents should be opposed, in some way or the other.

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Posted: 28 December 2006 08:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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[quote author=“arildno”]Note, however, SaulOhio, that ONLY a thorough SECULAR society is able to accomodate a few loonies (or non-standard thinkers, if you like) within itself, without perishing. A specific religious society is unstable in this regard.

It is a secular society we need as our foundation, and any attempt to transform a secular society into a theistic one should be regarded as a declaration of war.

Absolutely.

As long as this declaration of war is backed by few numbers, we may treat it as the US did in Peter Sellers’ “The Mouse that Roared”, namely ignore it, however any trend seeming to augment the numbers of irrational adherents should be opposed, in some way or the other.

If I remember correctly, in The Mouse That Roared (I prefer the book), a tiny nation called Grand Fenwick managed, by coincidental timing with an air raid drill, to capture some kind of giga-ton nuclear explosive device. Not exactly harmless. I don’t think its the metaphor you are going for.

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Posted: 28 December 2006 08:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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Well, it was said tongue-in-cheek.
Those who had seen the movie would know that even for such few numbers great damage could (however improbably) be done, whereas for others, that facet would be lost.

Of course, any single fire-and-brimstone preacher armed with a nuclear device would be able to wreak some havoc, but as long as their number is fairly small, such a scenario is fairly improbable..

We shouldn’t initiate a paranoid demon-hunt, that’s all.

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Posted: 28 December 2006 09:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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agnosticism was originated by Thomas Huxley in 1869.  He said “agnosticism is not a creed but a method, the essence of which lies the vigorous application of a single principle.  Positively the principle may be expressed as, in matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it can carry you without other considerations.”

Burt, it is this reason that I think calling your self agnostic is a cop out.  ‘Do you believe in god’ is a yes or no question.  Yes = theism, no=atheist.  Agnostic is just how you got there.

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Posted: 28 December 2006 10:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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[quote author=“milanst”]agnosticism was originated by Thomas Huxley in 1869.  He said “agnosticism is not a creed but a method, the essence of which lies the vigorous application of a single principle.  Positively the principle may be expressed as, in matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it can carry you without other considerations.”

Burt, it is this reason that I think calling your self agnostic is a cop out.  ‘Do you believe in god’ is a yes or no question.  Yes = theism, no=atheist.  Agnostic is just how you got there.

I’ve never heard that definition of agnosticism before. Ayn Rand denounced agnosticism as a form of nihilism, but I think she would have approved of THAT concept as Huxley described it. Anything that doesn’t come to us through reason is arbitrary, and not worth considering. In other words, to Ayn Rand, if you don’t have a rational cause to believe something, don’t go there.

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Posted: 28 December 2006 11:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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[quote author=“emvem”]
My question is this, and I ask it humbly:
It’s evident that religion, (especially those which hold these ancient books such as the Koran and the Bible to be truthful), is dangerous to humanity. Now, if we also hold Mr. Harris’ views on pacifism and the use of violence and torture to prevent further violence, where does that leave children (and adults) who practice their faith in “peace”? Or do we believe that such people are the rightful targets of harassment, in order to save the world?


Hey Emvem,

There is a difference between harassment and conversational intolerance, which is what Sam advocates.
Furthermore children do not “practice their faith”, they parrot their primary educators.

There is a real danger though that some atheists could resort to violence against Muslims.
Just because you don’t believe in fairy tales doesn’t exempt you from murderous tendencies.
I have seen some very disturbing posts on this forum that were blatantly hostile towards Muslims and basically advocated their murder.


Sadly, one of my family members is an atheist and also a racist and a bigot.
This person lived through WW2 and saw what the Nazis did to the Jews and other unfortunate people.
This same person, when passing a group of young Muslim girls, said to me: “They are just like cockroaches.”

I have read enough history to know what happens right after one group of people starts to refer to another group in animal terms.

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Posted: 28 December 2006 11:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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One possible ‘next step’ would be to challenge ALL religious references in public space. The dollar in my wallet, for example, says ‘In God We Trust’ - should the government be allowed to make that statement? What about the tradition of taking an oath on the Bible? Shouldn’t that be challenged? The value of this challenge would mostly be in the debate it would ignite. Important thing in that sort of debate is to be able to distinguish between a person and a person’s beliefs, respecting the one but not the other.

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Posted: 28 December 2006 01:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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[quote author=“camanintx”][quote author=“burt”]As a mathematician, I prefer a path of knowledge.  That is why agnosticism is better than atheism, which is simply another dogmatic belief.  (One can claim that science disproves religious assertions, but it says absolutely nothing about the existance or non-existence of the divine—science informs, it does not compel.)

I would disagree with your statement that atheism is simply another dogmatic belief. I used to be an agnostic like you, believing that science could not answer the question of God’s existence. After reading EOF, I started searching online for various arguments for and against the existence of God and soon reached the conclusion that scientific evidence isn’t necessary since the concept of God preached by most major religions is logically impossible. Since my lack of belief in God is now based on reason, it cannot be considered dogmatic in any way.

Don’t put that much faith in logic, it is a very limited instrument.

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Posted: 28 December 2006 01:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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[quote author=“arildno”]So, burt:
I assume you remain agnostic with respect to the tooth fairy as well?

some ideas, like that of a God, are just dismissable nonsense.

This is merely an opinion.  You are welcome to it.  The problem is with the word God itself—because you use the word, it means that you have something in your mind that you think it indicates, which you dismiss.  Maybe it is just that your ideas that are wrong.

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