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Jewish Currents Review of Letter to a Christian Nation and other atheist books
Posted: 29 March 2008 09:09 PM   [ Ignore ]  
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http://www.jewishcurrents.org/2008-mar-silver.htm
reviewed by Mitchell Silver author of his own atheist book
The Plausible God.

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Posted: 30 March 2008 12:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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Thanks for the link JC. Great Review of the books. My favorite is Dennett.
Welcome

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Posted: 30 March 2008 07:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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there is still a part of the new atheists’ brief against religion that is troubling: What do they want? If it is to persuade the religious that they are deluded and would be better off without delusion, the mocking tone and disdain that some of these writers show for the needs religion meets and the joys it provides are ill-suited for the task.

While much of the “mocking tone and disdain” is Silver’s exaggeration, he does have a valid point. I have those needs myself and I know damn well that I’m no more immune than anyone else to religion’s seductive power, so I refuse to mock those needs in others.

Are you afraid of annihilation, bereft at the death of a child, anguished by unjustified, massive suffering, terrified by your vulnerability to blind, uncaring chance? Well, say the atheists, buck up — those are the facts, do the best you can, be an adult, stiff upper lip and all that.

Again, while Silver’s specific claim is a straw man, his point is valid. Atheism needs a partner, a naturalistic philosophy that addresses those needs in healthy, non-delusional ways.

While Benedikt’s God-as-Good-Deeds concept is fascinating, if the God is not a personal one then why use the word God at all?

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Posted: 31 March 2008 07:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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Silver’s own views about God are expressed in his book
The Plausible God: Secular Reflections on Liberal Jewish Theology presents a more detailed view of atheism in comparison to current liberal theology.

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Posted: 03 April 2008 08:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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Yeah, Carstonio, you really nailed it, there. Most people, even if they don’t feel they have any current use for religion, don’t really want to see it go away. I’ll tell you why I think that is: Most people feel quite certain there exists potential psychological distress they will be incapable of dealing with on their own. Religion, of course, is always there in that event to tell you exactly what it thinks you think you want to hear.

The counseling and therapeutic professions manage sometimes to attempt this without recourse to deities.

It won’t comfort you completely, nor probably at all, if you admit you are incapable of believing the infinite amount of nonsense there is to know about nothing. If you can’t believe in it during the good times, what on earth is going to make it useful to you during the bad times?

So atheism needs to develop a franchise for coping with that sort of distress? Best of luck. Therapists are standing by waiting for your call. The compendium of great world literary fiction waits in the library. Most people want the spiritual equivalent of a “Happy Meal”.

Meanwhile, as long as anyone still gets exercised about the fact that someone is mocking or derisive toward religion, it should tell you that the atheist critiques of religion offered by these various authors are doing the jobs they were intended to do.

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Posted: 03 April 2008 08:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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Carstonio - 30 March 2008 11:16 PM

Atheism needs a partner, a naturalistic philosophy that addresses those needs in healthy, non-delusional ways.

I suggest psilocybin wink
Seriously, read the article.  http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=neuroscientists-probe-psy

In follow-up interviews conducted two months later 67 percent of the volunteers rated the psilocybin experience as among the most meaningful of their lives, comparing it to the birth of a first child or the death of a parent, and 79 percent reported that it had moderately or greatly increased their overall sense of well-being or life satisfaction. Independent interviews of family members, friends and co-workers confirmed small but significant positive changes in the subject’s behavior and more follow-ups are currently being conducted to determine if the effects persist a year later.

With my own mental health, I found the right drug was worth decades of “therapy”. We don’t seem to see a lot of other animals wandering around exhibiting such signs of existential angst.

[ Edited: 03 April 2008 08:59 PM by eucaryote]
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Posted: 03 April 2008 09:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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Here, in sum, is the new atheists’ anti-God brief: Belief in God, as traditionally conceived, lies somewhere between very probably false and manifestly absurd. In addition to being untrue, it is a pernicious belief that has caused horrific suffering and continues to cause serious harm. Whatever good has been motivated by theistic belief would likely have occurred without it, and no future good is dependent upon it. More sophisticated, liberal conceptions of God may be innocuous in and of themselves, but they are devoid of much content and useless. Moreover, they provide cover and respectability to the noxious beliefs of traditional theism.

Which new atheists are saying that there were never any adaptive or social benefits of religion? Both Dennett and Dawkins have made arguments about the evolutionary purposes of belief. Dawkins, the argument about humans needing to believe things unquestionably in order to be decisive, and Dennet, the argument that perhaps believing in the supernatural(spells, exorcism, cures, prayer power, etc) were the equivalent of having health insurance before medical science.
I’m fairly certain Harris hasn’t said anything about religion never having any use, just that it is now dangerous for modern people to accept things without evidence or reason.

It seems as though this religious reviewer has already straw-manned the position, thusly pulling the teeth out of his critique from the outset.
Good effort though, I guess.

[ Edited: 04 April 2008 11:19 AM by Galapagos]
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Posted: 04 April 2008 09:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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Salt Creek, excellent points. My idea for a naturalistic philosophy wasn’t necessarily intended to address psychological duress or even existential angst. I had in mind a Western version of Zen Buddhism or maybe Confucianism, a naturalistic/atheistic framework for discussing the general human experience. But such a framework may help prevent some of that duress or angst, because people would spend less time and mental energy trying to reconcile their religious beliefs with the reality of the world around them.

Your spiritual Happy Meal is a good description of the Western religious idea that meaning and purpose are assigned to humans by deities and not created by humans themselves. The most common criticism of atheism that I’ve heard is that the lack of deities to assign meaning results in no meaning at all. We do create our own meaning for the events in our lives, but many people simply don’t realize this. Some may be denying this because it would involve shouldering much more responsibility.

Salt Creek - 04 April 2008 12:34 AM

Meanwhile, as long as anyone still gets exercised about the fact that someone is mocking or derisive toward religion, it should tell you that the atheist critiques of religion offered by these various authors are doing the jobs they were intended to do.

While I agree, I’m uncertain about whether that derisiveness is effective in the long term. For some people on the fence about religion, would that derisiveness actually repel them and lead them back to religion? I know it often works the other way, with the hateful fanaticism of fundamentalists pushing many fence-sitters away from religion entirely.

[ Edited: 04 April 2008 09:20 AM by Carstonio]
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Posted: 04 April 2008 10:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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Carstonio - 04 April 2008 01:17 PM

a Western version of Zen Buddhism or maybe Confucianism

Now there’s an oxymoron waiting for a PR firm to pick it up… See the ‘New Age’ forum for more bullshit in that regard. So, you know, let’s pin down the meaning of “meaning”.

Carstonio - 04 April 2008 01:17 PM

a naturalistic/atheistic framework for discussing the general human experience

Well, if you want an exclusively Western version of anything, you’ve pretty much given up the idea of the “general human experience”, haven’t you? You could always read some great Western literary fiction. It’s all there. I don’t know how naturalistic that is.

Carstonio - 04 April 2008 01:17 PM

people would spend less time and mental energy trying to reconcile their religious beliefs with the reality of the world around them

... and do exactly what instead…? My choice would be for them to do away with themselves.

Carstonio - 04 April 2008 01:17 PM

I’m uncertain about whether that derisiveness is effective in the long term.

Who gives a crap about effectiveness? You’re either realistic or you’re not.

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Posted: 04 April 2008 10:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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Carstonio - 04 April 2008 01:17 PM

Salt Creek, excellent points. My idea for a naturalistic philosophy wasn’t necessarily intended to address psychological duress or even existential angst. I had in mind a Western version of Zen Buddhism or maybe Confucianism, a naturalistic/atheistic framework for discussing the general human experience. But such a framework may help prevent some of that duress or angst, because people would spend less time and mental energy trying to reconcile their religious beliefs with the reality of the world around them.

Your spiritual Happy Meal is a good description of the Western religious idea that meaning and purpose are assigned to humans by deities and not created by humans themselves. The most common criticism of atheism that I’ve heard is that the lack of deities to assign meaning results in no meaning at all. We do create our own meaning for the events in our lives, but many people simply don’t realize this. Some may be denying this because it would involve shouldering much more responsibility.

Salt Creek - 04 April 2008 12:34 AM

Meanwhile, as long as anyone still gets exercised about the fact that someone is mocking or derisive toward religion, it should tell you that the atheist critiques of religion offered by these various authors are doing the jobs they were intended to do.

While I agree, I’m uncertain about whether that derisiveness is effective in the long term. For some people on the fence about religion, would that derisiveness actually repel them and lead them back to religion? I know it often works the other way, with the hateful fanaticism of fundamentalists pushing many fence-sitters away from religion entirely.

Don’t underestimate the power of the APPEARENCE of derision and the myth of “atheist fundamentalism.”  Strawman or not, a lot of people are turned off by the idea of rigid, intolerant neoatheism and might turn towards moderate/liberal faith traditions as a reaction.

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Posted: 04 April 2008 10:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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bigredfutbol - 04 April 2008 02:24 PM

Don’t underestimate the power of the APPEARENCE of derision and the myth of “atheist fundamentalism.”  Strawman or not, a lot of people are turned off by the idea of rigid, intolerant neoatheism and might turn towards moderate/liberal faith traditions as a reaction.

This is great. Let’s view the collision between religion and atheism as the equivalent of a HS football game.

Push ‘em back! Push ‘em back! Waaaaaaaaay back!

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Posted: 04 April 2008 11:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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Salt Creek - 04 April 2008 02:36 PM
bigredfutbol - 04 April 2008 02:24 PM

Don’t underestimate the power of the APPEARENCE of derision and the myth of “atheist fundamentalism.”  Strawman or not, a lot of people are turned off by the idea of rigid, intolerant neoatheism and might turn towards moderate/liberal faith traditions as a reaction.

This is great. Let’s view the collision between religion and atheism as the equivalent of a HS football game.

Push ‘em back! Push ‘em back! Waaaaaaaaay back!

That’s not what I’m advocating.  I’m saying that people like Christopher Hedges will try to frame the issue this way; perhaps we would have success with the sort of people who are open to his line of rhetoric if we seemed to be reaching out rather than scolding.

Note:  I said “perhaps.”

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Posted: 04 April 2008 11:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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I gotta agree with Salty, there’s no point in trying to reason with people like Hedges or Hartman or so called moderate liberal religionist to try to convince them of anything. They’ve gone out of their way to cast non believers as demons and worse. It’s an interesting reaction, to go so far as to completely distort the information they are getting. I see it as a defensive response to the dissonance they experience. This dissonance occurs when an otherwise intelligent person who nonetheless is attached to false beliefs which have never been challenged, is confronted with a person who openly advocates the advantages of rational thinking. This otherwise intelligent person is strongly attracted to rational thinking, but unfortunately they have already slid too far down the pyramid of choice, and are far too attached to the choices they have already made. Choices they considered rational, until some wise guy like Sam Harris comes along and points out that the king is naked.

Dissonance theory correctly predicts the almost violent defensive response. More than a straw man, a straw demon if you will. Hedges and Hartman have demonized those they see as the “fundamental” atheists, (the wise guys who are rubbing their nose in reality), and the closet atheists and agnostics. This turns out to be quite the terrible demon. Hedges claims that he is afraid that the “new atheists” will work with christian fundamentalists to invade muslim countries. He also claims that the “new atheists” favor a nuclear 1st strike against muslim countries….He’s nutty as a fruitcake.

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Posted: 04 April 2008 11:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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eucaryote - 04 April 2008 03:24 PM

I gotta agree with Salty, there’s no point in trying to reason with people like Hedges or Hartman or so called moderate liberal religionist to try to convince them of anything. They’ve gone out of their way to cast non believers as demons and worse. It’s an interesting reaction, to go so far as to completely distort the information they are getting. I see it as a defensive response to the dissonance they experience. This dissonance occurs when an otherwise intelligent person who nonetheless is attached to false beliefs which have never been challenged, is confronted with a person who openly advocates the advantages of rational thinking. This otherwise intelligent person is strongly attracted to rational thinking, but unfortunately they have already slid too far down the pyramid of choice, and are far too attached to the choices they have already made. Choices they considered rational, until some wise guy like Sam Harris comes along and points out that the king is naked.

Dissonance theory correctly predicts the almost violent defensive response. More than a straw man, a straw demon if you will. Hedges and Hartman have demonized those they see as the “fundamental” atheists, (the wise guys who are rubbing their nose in reality), and the closet atheists and agnostics. This turns out to be quite the terrible demon. Hedges claims that he is afraid that the “new atheists” will work with christian fundamentalists to invade muslim countries. He also claims that the “new atheists” favor a nuclear 1st strike against muslim countries….He’s nutty as a fruitcake.

I realize I’m not taking the time to compose better posts, so it’s nobody’s fault but mine that I seem to be advocating taking a “soft” approach with people like Hedges and so forth. 

I’m thinking more the undecideds, or the “passive” believers who haven’t really thought their “faith” or the possibility of non-belief all the way through.

Of course, that may be wishful thinking…most of us who found salvation from religious superstition did so BECAUSE we were asking the hard questions, and found the answers ‘faith’ provided to be lacking.

So those passive quasi-believers who might be willing to listen to a soft-sell from secularists and atheists?  They just might not exist at all.

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Posted: 04 April 2008 12:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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bigredfutbol - 04 April 2008 03:02 PM
Salt Creek - 04 April 2008 02:36 PM

This is great. Let’s view the collision between religion and atheism as the equivalent of a HS football game.

That’s not what I’m advocating.  I’m saying that people like Christopher Hedges will try to frame the issue this way; perhaps we would have success with the sort of people who are open to his line of rhetoric if we seemed to be reaching out rather than scolding.

Note:  I said “perhaps.”

That was the point I was trying to make. This isn’t about accumulating more wins in the atheist column. This is about convincing good people not to do evil things because of their religious beliefs.

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Posted: 04 April 2008 12:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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Salt Creek - 04 April 2008 02:22 PM

Now there’s an oxymoron waiting for a PR firm to pick it up… See the ‘New Age’ forum for more bullshit in that regard. So, you know, let’s pin down the meaning of “meaning”.

I referenced those two Eastern philosophies because they seem like attempts to address the human experience without supernaturalism. By “the human experience” I include intangible concepts as love and happiness, more tangible concepts such as ethics and morality, and such realities as suffering and human impermanence and human powerlessness over the universe. When one throws supernaturalism into any of these discussions, it changes the subject to simply pleasing gods.

Salt Creek - 04 April 2008 02:22 PM

Well, if you want an exclusively Western version of anything, you’ve pretty much given up the idea of the “general human experience”, haven’t you? You could always read some great Western literary fiction. It’s all there. I don’t know how naturalistic that is.

I don’t want an exclusively Western version of anything - bad enough that we gave the world monotheism. My point was that Eastern philosophical ideas may seem otherworldly to people who haven’t grown up in those cultures, and this may prejudice them from contemplating the human experience in naturalistic terms. You’re absolutely right that literary fiction has much to say about the human experience.

Salt Creek - 04 April 2008 02:22 PM
Carstonio - 04 April 2008 01:17 PM

people would spend less time and mental energy trying to reconcile their religious beliefs with the reality of the world around them

... and do exactly what instead…?

Embrace reality instead of denying it.

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