Re: Michael Robbins

1

West Point to the south of me,
Memphis to the north.

Where is he? I"m confused.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 2:06 PM
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So you're the one who reads the poetry in the New Yorker!


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 2:13 PM
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It was certainly a pleasant read.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 2:14 PM
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Only during the week that it's been free. Before that, I have no idea why they bothered to publish it.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 2:15 PM
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"First comes love, which I disparage. / I blight with plagues a baby-carriage." is nice.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 2:19 PM
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Is there a way to read the Piketty link without buying a subscription?


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 2:19 PM
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As with any javascript paywall, wget, then read the local file.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 2:25 PM
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God bless the midnight bus depot,. . . .

Reading the first couple of lines starting with "God bless" I realized that I was hearing them in the voice of the Michael (Peter) Smith song, "Gamble's Guitar"


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 2:32 PM
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African-American metal.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 2:32 PM
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1: There's a West Point, MS, so I'm going to go with Tupelo.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 2:35 PM
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To burn out or to fade away? / I'm keeping my options open. / I'm looking for option C. / I'm boning up on Coptic.

Michael Robbins is learning Coptic!


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 2:38 PM
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Is this link also paywalled?


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 2:44 PM
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Micheal Robbin's article on atheists is annoying as fuck:

http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2014/07/atheists_the_origin_of_the_species_by_nick_spencer_reviewed.html


Posted by: Lemmy caution | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 3:26 PM
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Why? I thought it was pretty good.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 3:47 PM
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Huh, the poetry was great (and I rarely like poetry), the essay on atheism was terrible, and now the fundamental attribution error is making me doubt both those opinions.


Posted by: torque | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 4:22 PM
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One of you Dawkins fanboys is going to tell me what's wrong with the essay, right?


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 4:37 PM
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The new atheists are on the side of the angels in arguing against ordinary modern theism, but once you realize that nothing like Genesis was literally true, your atheism should be more sophisticated, if it should be at all.


Posted by: beamish | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 5:15 PM
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What's wrong with it is it's too mean to Dawkins. Duh.


Posted by: torque | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 5:16 PM
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atheists are on the side of the angels

Don't tell them that.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 5:18 PM
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What's really wrong with it is that its angle is "Atheists are wasting their time arguing against the literal truth of the Bible when all the *real* theists know it's just a metaphor[, man]", when in reality the literal-word-of-God people have a lot of political power in this world.


Posted by: torque | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 5:20 PM
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And God knows they have all the power in the next world, so that's really unfair.


Posted by: torque | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 5:21 PM
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The New Atheists are a bunch of loathsome dickfaces. I mean just today both this idiotic shit and this completely separate idiotic shit showed up on my Facebook feed. I mean, hardcore fundamentalists (mostly totally unsophisticated believers) also suck, but making yourself a professional "I am supersmart and superior to the rubes even though I have never actually tried to engage with the study of theology, philosophy, or anything else" is the clear mark of the total asshole, as the links above demonstrate.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 5:29 PM
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"What I have learned today is that there are people on Twitter who think in absolutist terms, to an extent I wouldn't have believed possible," said Richard Dawkins, proving once and for all the non-existence of God when lightning did not immediately strike him.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 5:37 PM
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in reality the literal-word-of-God people have a lot of political power in this world

But I don't think a standard Dawkins move is to tell those people that Aquinas had a more sophisticated view.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 6:01 PM
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Huh, this guy likes Black Metal and hates the New Atheists. He's in the running for Halfordismo minister of culture. Now let's read the poetry.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 6:05 PM
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Poetry is good! We have a poet laureate.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 6:07 PM
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This:

proving once and for all the non-existence of God when lightning did not immediately strike him

is quite funny.

22: The first example of idiotic shit is exceptionally vile and stupid, but I think the second example is even worse. Sure, Israel is not always perfect, but those Muslims, now. They are stupid and credulous, not to mention hopelessly irrational and inherently violent, and they just don't even know how to live in peace. Harris offers cover to those who are pushing a very ugly and dishonest narrative.


Posted by: Just Plain Jane | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 6:37 PM
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I agree. We've long known that Dawkins is a dick about women and an idiot blowhard, but the Harris piece is affirmatively disgusting. "We should favor horrible acts of violence against Muslims, because ultimately we know that Jews are more secular (therefore: better) people who don't favor killing people except when they're doing so."


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 6:53 PM
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"I am supersmart and superior to the rubes even though I have never actually tried to engage with the study of theology, philosophy, or anything else"

That's a fairly accurate caricature of us privileged white guy atheists, and really disappointingly so. The most vocal of us hail from largely similar backgrounds, so clearly there's some large majority of the human experience that we only know of second hand at best. There's only so much you can get from arguing from "pure reason." (And I'm not even going to look at that Harris piece, if 28 is anything less than entirely unfair.)

And I don't understand it from a temperamental perspective, either. The best fun can be had by friendly arguments--especially over alcohol--with Jesuits or equivalent. Everybody comes out wiser.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 7:03 PM
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I don't reply think that the impact of religion has been all that bad. People find a way to be shitty without religion.

Religion is all made up bullshit though.

Not sure why atheists need to read Nietzsche. Anti athiest arguments are never very clear.


Posted by: Lemmy caution | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 7:05 PM
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I do feel for the new atheists because they get so much shit though I have not read any of the books.


Posted by: Lemmy caution | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 7:09 PM
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24: Robbins seems to like the idea of Aquinas, but the actual Aquinas - much like the fundamentalists and deists that Robbins dismisses as irrelevant to religion - was also No True Scotsman.

Even ignoring actual religion and addressing Robbins' version of it: The idea that theistic religion doesn't try to make statements about the natural world is self-refuting. After all, "God exists" is one such statement. The fact that Robbins doesn't want to admit to others in this piece doesn't really say anything at all about actual religion.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 7:10 PM
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Of course, Dawkins and Harris really are assholes. But hey, as even Robbins acknowledges, they aren't true atheists.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 7:14 PM
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I read Dawkins's God Delusion around the same time I read Sagan's Demon-Haunted World, and I felt the latter better presented an argument for atheism. The only interesting idea I recall from the former was the hypothesis that having a weak state religion leads to a less religious society than a de jure secular government allows for.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 7:18 PM
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I always thought that was the whole idea behind Anglicanism once things had cooled down a bit, post-Cromwell and stuff.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 7:26 PM
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Dawkins' tone is as pedantic and annoying as ever (in first link 22), but his view (that certain types of assaults are on average worse than others) seems reasonable.

As for the second link in 22, I'd be interested to read a good rebuttal. I guess it would start with "Sure Israel would be happy to live in peace - they've already got everything they need."


Posted by: torque | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 7:28 PM
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I honestly think that if you need to find a "good rebuttal" to that piece to figure out what's wrong with it you may want to consider the possibility that you are both stupid and evil and probably an islamophobe. I guess that's not a very constructive answer.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 7:40 PM
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38

Well, I think you're a fat, smelly Circumcellion.


Posted by: torque | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 7:50 PM
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Of course, Dawkins is an asshole and many pop scientists misrepresent the history of the interaction of religion and science. But the article linked in 13 is still stupid and obnoxious.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 8:27 PM
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The idea that religion doesn't make claims about the natural world is every bit as revisionist as the science vs. religion fairy tail that he makes fun of, and his tone is every bit as obnoxious and condescending as Dawkins.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 8:30 PM
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The anthology review is quite good.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 8:33 PM
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39, 40: Yeah, these internet discussions always make me want to take a "pox on both your houses" approach.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 8:38 PM
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The whole "nothing" discussion is super annoying too. Both the lack of engagement with the actual science, and the whole "Ah, so you know what has happened for the past 13.8 billion years going all the way to all least 10^-12 seconds after the big bang (ten to the minus 12!), but whoop-de-freaking-do because you don't know what happened before that. So, religion."


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 8:44 PM
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Maybe what ""nothing" signifies for Plato and Aquinas and Heidegger" turns out to just not be that interesting.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 8:47 PM
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I'm with you on the general gist of that, but I don't know where your 10^-12 number comes from. We have reliable empirical evidence for nucleosynthesis which started at about a second (maybe a tenth of a second) after the Big Bang, and fairly good evidence for inflation which happened on time scales a lot shorter than 10^-12 seconds, but the window between inflation and nucleosynthesis is pretty murky, data-wise, and I don't think we can reliably claim to know much about what was going on at 10^-12 seconds (e.g., whether the universe was matter- or radiation-dominated at the time).


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 8:49 PM
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I don't think he intends "so, religion." He's just pointing out that the big bang doesn't address the question of something from nothing, and he's right about that.

And I'm not a historian of religion, but I don't think it's obvious that 32 and 40 are correct about religion's claims about the natural world. I think Robbins is right that the fantastical stories have been understood as allegorical (by at least some proportion of serious thinkers) from the beginning. (Of course, it's also true that fundamentalists have always been with us, but the anti-religion stuff is much less sexy if they admit they're just anti-fundamentalists--assuming they see the difference.)


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 8:51 PM
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He's just pointing out that the big bang doesn't address the question of something from nothing, and he's right about that.

The annoying thing is the suggestion that this "question of something from nothing" that you refer to, whatever it means, is a deeper or more interesting question than the actually empirically accessible questions that resemble it that we can make real progress on, just because it's been around for longer.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 8:54 PM
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45: Sorry, what's a good number? I was trying to work it out from wikipedia too quickly.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 8:55 PM
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Well, about a second (maybe slightly less), if you want to have a pretty much continuous understanding of what was going on back to a given time. But there's also inflation happening at, I don't know, 10^-39 seconds or something like that (this would be better quantified if BICEP2 turns out to really have seen primordial tensor modes), and although we don't have a detailed theory of it or know exactly what was going on at the times between that and 1 second, we at least have some data on it and the general qualitative outline of how it worked seems pretty solid.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 8:58 PM
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46: Fundamentalist seems like an odd word to use to refer to anyone who believes that a god or something like it can have perceptible effects on the natural world. I mean, it doesn't have much to do with the meaning of religious fundamentalism I'm otherwise familiar with.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 8:59 PM
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whatever it means

Come on, now. The question is just whether the universe is eternal (what could that mean?) or whether it came to be (but what could that mean?). This is a pretty natural and yes! pretty deep question, and not just because "it's been around for longer." Whether you think it's more or less interesting than empirically accessible questions just tells you whether you're more scientist or theist, but I bet you already know the answer to that.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 8:59 PM
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But there are all sorts of religious claims about the world which aren't inherently fantastical and weren't interpreted allegorically. Like that people have an immortal soul that interacts with their body. Or that there was a real person named Moses. Or that certain behavior was caused by demon possession.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:00 PM
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51 is right. Or at least how I think of it, which comes to the same thing.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:01 PM
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46: How is 32 not correct?

And which portion of the fantastical stories are understood as allegorical? And are you implying to accept the fantastical stories is fundamentalist? Does any sort of divine revelation/inspiration count as a fantastical story, and if not how is that not a claim on the natural world?


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:01 PM
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The poem was good, excessively and transgressively allusive which is good.

Bewes, Reification>

The presupposition of an other to language is a characteristic of dialectical, as of tragic and religious thought, and it signals a refusal to be determined by linguistic necessity a refusal of the world in the 'reified' form in which it currently appears, which may be contrasted with the post-structuralist celebration of
materiality
...
...a Nike 'swoosh' tattoo on one's ankle, or a child's Barbie doll fetish. Such gestures are more akin to religious devotion than anything else in our sociefy; they are an expression of the tension which is constitutive of modern capitalist subjectivity itself. In a reified and reifying society the sphere of consumption can, indeed must, perform a liberating, 'spiritual' function

This is not to say that the possibility for radical intervention in the world no longer exists, but rather that such intervention is imminent and inevitable - that it cannot but take place. Moreover, in a situation of total reification, effective critique will inevitably appear in a violent form, one which may be abhorrent to all liberal sentiments - indeed, it may well have no obvious relation to the respectable forms of 'anti-capitalist' protest that have prevailed hitherto. New forms of revolutionary critique may - indeed must - emerge frorn a consciousness that is as 'reified' as the reality it is attempting to displace.

The figure of 'total reification' is, despite its apparent idealism, an appropriate one for a world in which a new generation of spectres is proliferating before our eyes. 'Advanced capitalism' is
a totally reified society which mystifìes everything, including all manifestations of otherness, which it produces in forms which appear completely alien to itself.

Reification is both total and illusory - a total illusion. Reification so completely conditions the present reality of human consciousness that the critique of reification is thoroughly implicated in it. Herbert Marcuse expresses this in a concise, enigmatic for-
mulation at the end of One-Dimensíonal Man: 'if the abstract character of the refusal is the result of total reification, then the concrete ground for refusal must still exist, for reification is an illusion.' The grounds for an 'absolute refusal' of the violence of
reification exist irrespective of the violence of that refusal; for the 'absolute refusal' promises to upset the very order according to which truth and illusion, reality and ideology, object and subject, inhabit two distinct arenas. The totality of reifìcation, in other
words, implies its own reversal - which is to say, dereification.

The reversibility of the concept of reification is the key to its rehabilitation, and to the dereification of the world.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:02 PM
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Pwned by 50.

I would very much like to meet bob in the physical plane, at least once, because I am not going to understand him in this one.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:04 PM
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51: Well, the empirically accessible things actually get pretty close to telling us that the universe isn't eternal, and I think that's much more interesting than any half-assed speculation someone had before we had data, no matter how smart or deep-thinking they were.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:07 PM
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56.2: Won't happen. He doesn't want anybody to know he's Bob Saget.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:07 PM
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58: Of course, it's so obvious. This will now be incorporated into my unfogged headcanon.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:09 PM
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57: I don't understand how it's half-assed speculation to note that either something suddenly existed where nothing existed before or something has existed always and to further note that neither of those can really be subject to empirical testing.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:11 PM
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Pulling back re: claims about the world might be an adaptive strategy on the part of the religion at large, but the fact remains that these factual issues (at least today) are pretty damn orthogonal to the reasons people are religious.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:12 PM
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The difference between Levinasian and Kierkegaardian faith is the difference between a dualistic and a dialectical philosophy - between a conception of faith that is opposed to singularity and one that is opposed to the opposition between universality and singularity. Kierkegaard's faith, contrary to received wisdom, is not immiserated in solitude, nor is it a form of unmediated singularity. The 'immediacy' of religious faith is achieved on the basis of that (ethical) mediation which is the universal, not as a negation of that mediation. Faith constitutes the unity of the universal and the particular, not - as it seems to be for Levinas - merely the universal as opposed to the singular. The constitution of the third, religious stage in Kierkegaard's thought is the mediation of the false opposition between universality and singularity berlveen mediation and immediacy. By means of a non-administered, therefore transcendent, third term, Kierkegaard's philosophy, and dialectical thought in general, materially and substantially surpasses the world as it currently presents itself.

Class struggle is thus revealed to be a struggle of the proletariat waged against itself - against 'the devastating and degrading effects of the capitalist system upon its class consciousness' - as much as against any external enemy. The objective theory of class consciousness, Lukács, is the theory of its objective possibility', not of its empirical or psy-
chological reality.
...
I have known atheism was stupid since I read SUD. And couldn't get ten pages into Levinas


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:12 PM
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It's not clear at all to me what either of the statements in 60 means, and it's certainly not clear to me that those are the only two options.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:12 PM
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60: Well, because it's half-assed. It's missing all sorts of other possibilities. If time had a beginning, there was no "before," so saying something came from nothing is kind of a non sequitur. If time is an approximate emergent concept, then maybe this whole notion of "before" doesn't make sense when you talk about the early universe. It's not at all clear that you can enumerate the possibilities by airy speculation rather than painstakingly figuring out how the world works and seeing what you can reliably extrapolate back to and what you can't. At this point we can say that in the very early universe things were very, very different from today, and all the large stuff we see around us didn't exist. That may not mean that the universe isn't eternal, because we can't extrapolate back arbitrarily far, but it means that anything recognizably like the universe we see today has only been around for a finite time. That seems like significant progress to me.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:16 PM
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I like the laser-in-space parts of physics and the giant bombs are great. The Big Bang theory is also very interesting. But really once you have the gist of the Big Bang thing all mapped out, I don't really see how tracing the expansion at 10^-39 seconds vs. 10^-37 seconds counts as a huge leap forward in understanding.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:16 PM
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I'm off to bed, but poking around in the Catholic Encyclopedia tells me that the truth of demonic possession is the official position of the Church, so I have to concede that I can't defend Robbins on the argument that it's all allegorical. (I think the larger point about the new Atheists is right, but it seems he overstates his case--I'm not going to re-read it now to be sure though.)


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:16 PM
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Whether you think it's more or less interesting than empirically accessible questions just tells you whether you're more scientist or theist

I think it doesn't tell you even that much; maybe it tells you whether you let empirical accessibility guide your judgments of interest, which isn't the same.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:16 PM
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61: For the most part, people are religious because their parents are religious. Any other explanation is orthogonal to the reason most people are religious.

But no one's arguing that people are religious *because* of the factual claims, we're just saying that most religious people believe many of the (false) factual claims of their religion.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:17 PM
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I don't understand how saying time is an emergent concept is different from saying suddenly something existed when before there was nothing. Time is something.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:17 PM
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66: Is the head-spinning in there?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:18 PM
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Some people become religious because they got knocked off a horse.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:20 PM
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I don't really see how tracing the expansion at 10^-39 seconds vs. 10^-37 seconds counts as a huge leap forward in understanding.

Yeah, I mean, so after the last hundred years of progress we understand how random quantum fluctuations in the first tiny tiny fraction of a second of the universe eventually turned into galaxies, and then stars and planets, and the broad outlines of how on this particular planet some chemicals managed to arrange themselves into bacteria and completely restructure the atmosphere to make it suitable for life like us to exist after a long sequence of wacky evolutionary detours. No big deal. People should mostly just keep reading Plato and Aquinas and Heidegger.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:22 PM
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66: Oh, yeah, it's definitely not. I mean, read the Nicene Creed. Jesus's resurrection is not considered allegorical. The Vatican's a pretty fancy house to build on allegory.

69: What is "before?" (I suppose I also have to ask what is "emergent". We need better words.) Or maybe we just need to figure out why there were once such low entropy conditions, or something.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:23 PM
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The way that we think about time evolved in a very specific environment, and there's just no reason to assume that it translates in a single sensible way to a wildly different totally foreign environment. There might be situations where talking about before or after or a second just don't make sense any more.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:24 PM
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For the most part, people are religious because their parents are religious.

Ok ok, I'm really going to bed, but this isn't really a point for or against the "truth" of religion, because whereas non-believers tend to see it as proving that religious belief is just social conditioning, believers see it as evidence that you need to keep the possibility of faith alive for people.

(Just as a note, as much as I try to keep an open mind, I fall squarely into camp "no one really believes this shit, do they?" whenever I step into a church, but so many of the anti-religion arguments are so bad that I often end up on team Yay God when this discussion comes up.)


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:25 PM
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71: He was religious before. Just a different religion.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:25 PM
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Sorry, these discussions just touch a nerve with me sometimes. I mean, we actually know a bunch of things now that the vast majority of people who ever lived on this planet had no way of knowing, and it's all super-fascinating and in broad outlines answers a bunch of questions of the "how did we get here?" ilk, and when it seems like people are brushing that aside I get exasperated.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:26 PM
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75: It wasn't meant as a point against the truth of religion, it was meant as point against 61.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:26 PM
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72: Call me when you get an error bar around the formation of bacteria.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:26 PM
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In some sense, I'm atheist because my parents were.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:28 PM
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76: 71 was allegorical.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:29 PM
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The question is just whether the universe is eternal (what could that mean?) or whether it came to be (but what could that mean?). This is a pretty natural and yes! pretty deep question, and not just because "it's been around for longer." Whether you think it's more or less interesting than empirically accessible questions just tells you whether you're more scientist or theist, but I bet you already know the answer to that.
Theists don't have any good answers or explanations of what these questions mean either.
For the most part, people are religious because their parents are religious. Any other explanation is orthogonal to the reason most people are religious.
There can be more than one category of explanation.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:30 PM
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Ok ok, I'm really going to bed, but this isn't really a point for or against the "truth" of religion, because whereas non-believers tend to see it as proving that religious belief is just social conditioning, believers see it as evidence that you need to keep the possibility of faith alive for people.

"Most people are religious because their parents are religious" is a remarkably stupid consideration for someone to bring up as a way of knocking religion and boosting something else; I mean, you think that your own beliefs are free of social factors? Did you receive a direct revelation of the efficacy of science (something itself purged of the social)?


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:30 PM
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79: The error bars aren't that bad. It's between 3.5 and 4 billion years ago that bacteria first appeared on Earth.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:32 PM
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Theists don't have any good answers or explanations of what these questions mean either.

Right. The point is that there are some questions where empiricism isn't possible.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:33 PM
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84: N = 1.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:34 PM
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but this isn't really a point for or against the "truth" of religion

What's with the scare quotes? Most of the religious believers I've known will sincerely claim to believe in the factual truth of the existence of God, of Jesus, of souls, of heaven, hell, Satan, Adam, Eve, the garden of Eden, Noah's ark, and all the rest, and I think what they mean by truth is the same thing I mean by truth. One thing that annoys me about internet atheism-versus-religion debates is the pro-religion side always seems to claim that religion doesn't make this kind of truth claim, only "truth" claims for some scare-quoted notion of truth, which seems almost even less respectful of ordinary religious believers than the screechy Dawkins atheist camp.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:35 PM
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Sorry, these discussions just touch a nerve with me sometimes. I mean, we actually know a bunch of things now that the vast majority of people who ever lived on this planet had no way of knowing, and it's all super-fascinating and in broad outlines answers a bunch of questions of the "how did we get here?" ilk, and when it seems like people are brushing that aside I get exasperated.

Reason seeks the unconditioned, dude. Sorry.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:35 PM
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61 was specifically discussing the reasons why people are religious. I was just trying to point out that the reason was not what 61 was suggesting and at any rate was irrelevant to the question. I was not trying to make the argument in 83.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:36 PM
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So anyway who's got to respect the yokels with their weirdo literal existence of angels religion?* Why is that the gold standard of religion? Aren't we taught to go for the opposing position's strongest formulation?

* Not Mark Johnston!


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:37 PM
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88: Fuck you, Kant.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:37 PM
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Isn't there an argument along the lines that you're never going to be able to reason yourself into or out of belief in God? I'm probably mangling the claim, but whatever it was made sense to me, as someone who grew up not religious and not anti-religious, so I figured I would agree with it, unless something I considered to be revelation changed my mind.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:39 PM
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Apparently I'm thinking of pre-deism Anthony Flew.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:41 PM
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85: I suppose if religion was just about not having good answers for things that we can't have good empirical answers about, it wouldn't bother me so much. It's the highly specific answers to questions I wouldn't think to ask otherwise, but are apparently very important. ("is there an entity out there that has created and to some degree controls everything, and does he look like me?").

90: Well, the literal existence of angels bit does hold a lot of sway in the world. Or at least a lot of people say that it does. It's rather annoying when you attack that one, you're presented with a more milquetoast version that doesn't say much of anything--a more skilled debater than I can switch between these formulations at will. But alright; could you give us a gold standard of religion, so we may point our lances at that windmill? Honestly, it's unfair to expect the atheists to come up with it; we're pretty explicitly not about that, it's in the name you know.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:42 PM
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I actually don't think that 68 offers a very good or certainly remotely interesting explanation of why most people are religious regardless of the purpose for which it's offered. It's at best a partial causal explanation, but that strikes me as unilluminating. You could probably account for my fondness for reading by noting that I grew up with a lot of books but that's certainly not the reason I would offer for why I like reading and the generalization "people who grow up around lots of books tend to read and enjoy reading as adults, case closed" is already significantly less illuminating than the (even also general!) claim "people who grow up around lots of books learn to think of books in such-and-such a fashion, to take pleasure in reading, etc. and thus as adults read and enjoy reading for the reason that they have learned to take pleasure in it" or whatever.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:43 PM
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I guess I should've just repeated 82.last.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:45 PM
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And I probably should have just stuck with 68.last.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 9:46 PM
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87: You can argue (and you are arguing) that making a truth claim without empirical backing is wrong, but most religious believers make a distinction between factual truth (which would include things known by faith and revelation) and empirically verifiable truth. It's a very explicit part of Christianity.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 10:04 PM
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The other annoying thing is the insistence that atheism needs to be about denying the milquetoast no-claims "gold standard" version of religion. What I mean when I say I'm an atheist is that I think the factual claims made by all the truth-claiming religions I've run across are wrong, and they're wrong in similar enough ways that I'm very confident that other truth-claiming religions that I haven't thought much about will also be wrong. Atheism isn't about the "gold standard" version of religion.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 10:06 PM
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Ok, that does it, everyone out of the pool end.last.


Posted by: God | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 10:06 PM
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Posted by: God | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 10:08 PM
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Fine. Let's all get our poisonous snakes.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 10:14 PM
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I've long since come to the conclusion that (having seen these debates here before) Essear, Upetgi, and LB all have extremely cramped versions of what religious thinking is, in the first two cases because of an (understandable) combination of a fundamentalist upbringing and a current commitment to scientific thinking, and in the latter case through a literal inability to think nonscientifically or nonmaterialistically. Which is fine, it's not wrong or evil or anything, but I do think shows a deep failure of understanding how many, probably most, religious people actually think. I for one, "believe" in the literal existence of God, Jesus, the soul, and in the Nicene Creed (just to mention a few things that have been mentioned up thread). But I don't think any of these things are particularly susceptible to empirical "proof" or are making claims about the "natural" world as it is accessible to science -- to claim otherwise would be silly. Rather, they are, precisely, matters of religion -- you aren't going to be able to prove to me the impossibility of the ressurection by pointing to facts about the human body, or that three in one divinity can't exist because we don't have a Godmeter that can register the existence of same. They are real but not natural, and accessible primarily through religious practice and faith, and indeed this mode of access to their truth is what makes them specifically religious. Asking "why believe in such things at all as to which you don't have material proof" is a completely fair question, though answerable; saying "you shouldn't believe in such things because we haven't constructed a scientific experiment that demonstrates the existence of God and it's almost certain that we won't" is just point-missing, pure and simple, because the belief doesnt depend on that kind of proof -- it is just a different kind of belief. Moreover, the question of "belief" itself is kind of missing the point; the core of religion is practice and faith in revealed and experiential truth, not commitment to a set of demonstrable propositions in the same way I'd "believe" a mathematical proof or an established law of physics.

Of course, there are also more specific kinds of "factual" claims in the bible that coexist with the no material religious claims. And as to more specific factual claims in the bible, of course with the majority of nonfundamentalist Christians (the large majority of Christians! And the dominant strain in the intellectual life of the Church since Paul, and certainly since Origen) I believe that there are both contradictory accounts of facts that are more empirically verifiable and subject to empirical reasoning, and can be contested or established on those grounds (eg, it is overwhelmingly empirically certain that there was a Jesus with certain core sayings, but not everything reported in each of the Gospels) as well as parts (such as references to demons, which were just part of the "empirical" understanding of how the world worked then, or the narrative of the flood) that are historically contingent and can just be treated as such. Figuring out which kind of claim is which and how to interpret those issues and how they tie into the broader system of nonmaterialistic religious belief (are they allegories of something else important? should they be understood for their moral messaging?) is a completely legitimate of complex enterprise. It is a fairly small, and distinctly modern minority, though particularly prominent in the US, of Christians that rejects any attempt to look at such issues based on a belief in an inerrant bible and makes that kind of paradoxical belief in an inerrant scripture (which in turn can only be understood as making specific, material factual claims that are supposedly correct) the core of the religion.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 10:32 PM
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You don't even have a snake, do you?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 10:34 PM
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103 is reasonable and well put.

To some extent I disagree with the description of the history of the church, but on further contemplation I think it's really more a difference of emphasis and interpretation. That is, through most of the last 2K years most Christians believed most of the false empirical claims currently believed by fundamentalists, but also during most of the last 2K years many of those beliefs were not yet empirically falsified. So to some extent both groups can make a reasonable claim on continuity, but of course the past was a different place and can't be judged on the basis of current debates.

Do I understand right that you believe in a "soul" that never interacts with our behavior? That is, our behavior follows the laws of physics with no input from the soul, but that the soul still exists in a meaningful way? If so, fair enough, but I find that kind of a surprising belief.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 10:48 PM
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I think 105.2, if I'm understanding it correctly, is right and is important. Of course Christianity long predates the scientific revolution and there just wasn't an ability to test, or even an interest in testing, whether or not, eg, the flood story or the creation myth was verifiably accurate -- thus claims could be accepted without either accepting (or rejecting) them as scientifically demonstrable "facts" subject to establishment by proof. Still, the longstanding emphasis from the time of the very early Church was to strongly downplay the significance of empirical nature-story claims about immediate religious results in the bible and the world (pray for rain, get rain) in favor of specifically nonmaterial claims about human justification through God and behavior as urged by Jesus.

To 105.3, I'm not sure exactly what I think (not a theologian) but I wouldn't put it that way. I do think we have souls that exist that are real, and that are related to our religious experience and created by God (and that are part of the reason for the genuinely radical belief in equality and redemptiom of everyone that is IMO at Christianity's core). But I don't think a "soul" is a kind of thing that we would expect to specifically influence "behavior" in particular ways; it's just part of who we are as human beings, not a particular identifiable organ that creates certain kinds of predictable effects. I do think that we can be better or worse people and more in line with what God intended, but I don't think that's exactly saying that there's a specific item called the "soul" that impacts "behavior" in ways that we can reliably or predictably know (except to the extent that we can recognize, at least sometimes, when we're doing what we should or shouldn't be doing). Not sure whether that answers the question or not.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 11:23 PM
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And, to be clear, just generally, I think "why believe in that stuff at all, it sounds crazy" is a completely fair and understandable objection, though I think an answerable one (for me, the answer is that it's just a different kind of belief, one based on faith, revelation, reasoning, and emotion, but that doesn't make it less true; I know that many theologians aren't in love with that kind of answer but there you go, it's my experience and practice). The only thing that I think misses the point is "how could you possibly believe specific truth claims about the world when they lack available scientific evidence that would support a belief in them, you must not understand science."


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 11:36 PM
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I don't know if I have a soul, Robert. What do you think?


Posted by: ELIZA | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 11:51 PM
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108: Are you capable of love.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 11:55 PM
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?


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 11:56 PM
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Anyway clearly religion is about believing in nothing but performing empty rituals for no particular reason. Or maybe that's just me.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 07-29-14 11:59 PM
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Empirically I have established from extensive personal experience that the most prominent NAs are indeed vain, pompous windbags on the subject of religion and nasty with it. The Dawkins cult is unpleasant and deeply stupid. Sam Harris is a charlatan whose arguments for torture would make Dick Cheney blush. Memes are bullshit. etc.

And I am deeply sympathetic to Halford's account of religion - this is partly because in nearly 30 years of writing on the subject, I have met very few fundamentalists; partly because a literal belief in the Bible is strictly speaking impossible - see Origen.

However, the important and novel point is that anyone in London who want a religious experience can have one, tonight, at the O2 Brooklyn Bowl where Phil Lesh and the Terrapin Family Band are playing. If I can still do stuff that lively when I am 70, life will be marvellous. Ume and I went to see him last night, and reeled out at midnight for the last tube exhilarated drained and overwhelmed, though it is not her kind of music at all. The experience is not purely aesthetic, or at least distinguishable from the aesthetic. It's just transcendent.

Also, for a really interesting, if really wrong-headed take on religion, try Roger Scruton, especially his Gifford Lectures "The Face of God". HIs history of the Church of England, by contrast, is the most amazing farrago of romantic nonsense with little pockets of astonishing profundity.


Posted by: Nworb Werdna | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 1:22 AM
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I'm a life-long convinced atheist, without a religious bone in my body, and I'm not particularly convinced by accounts of religion of the type that Halford gives above.

However, the various NAs drive me nuts. As I've banged on about tediously in the past, they are, almost to a man, spectacularly ignorant and ill-informed, even about the subjects they claim to be their special areas of expertise.

So, when they are dong their 'science is like this; religion is like that' schtick, they are usually wrong about, or ignorant of: what science is like in terms of the history of scientific method, the actual practice of science,* what historical scientists believed themselves to be doing, how 'truth' has been understood** by some scientists, and so on. And I don't just mean actual blowhard self-professed morons like Harris, I mean Dawkins and all the rest, too.

* vis a vis sociological/observational studies of science in practice, not vis a vis the valorising myths that scientists tell themselves.
** specifically in ways not a million miles away from the ways in which some sophisticated theists have understood truth, for example.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 2:31 AM
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Asking "why believe in such things at all as to which you don't have material proof" is a completely fair question, though answerable; saying "you shouldn't believe in such things because we haven't constructed a scientific experiment that demonstrates the existence of God and it's almost certain that we won't" is just point-missing, pure and simple, because the belief doesnt depend on that kind of proof -- it is just a different kind of belief.

I've most often heard this kind of thing coupled with its sister sentiment, "if you'd had the kind of intense spiritual experience that I've had, you'd believe, too." Which is so infuriatingly arrogant that it makes me scream.

OTOH, Halford and I inhabit such opposite worlds on this sentiment that we both get to be defensive and perpetually irritated.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 3:35 AM
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Sentiment sentiment sentiment.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 3:36 AM
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112 --- I walked by a Roger Scruton book in the library today (something conservatism something something), looked at it, noted that it was by Scruton, and then went and got out something else instead.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 3:36 AM
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Also I meant to quote the bit about "revealed and experiential truth".


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 3:38 AM
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Harris' writing is meant to be superficially reassuring of the racist position it takes- yeah, Israel doesn't nuke Gaza even though they could, point for the Jews!- and the fact that it falls apart on the slightest examination doesn't prevent it from letting people inclined to agree with him feel better about themselves. Presumably he knows there's a nuclear capable Islamic state, yet doesn't find it necessary to note that maybe they're driven by moral or geopolitical considerations too and haven't blown up Israel for reasons other than his belief that those bloodthirsty Muslims are just too dumb to figure out how to do it even though they all agree they would.


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 3:59 AM
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I'm a life-long convinced athiest [...] However, the various NAs drive me nuts

Yup. Not least because if you agree with them that religion as she is nearly always spoke is a damaging thing, they're about the worst possible advocates for that cause.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:04 AM
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One of the best things about being on vacation is not finding insomnia stressful. I'll just take a nap if I feel tired, which will feel luxurious.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:06 AM
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Asking "why believe in such things at all as to which you don't have material proof" is a completely fair question

Not really. I believe in all sorts of things to which I don't have material proof. Against the preponderance of the evidence, for example, I believe that most of the comments on this site are written neither by a balding 47-year-old man in a basement, nor by LB typing extremely fast, but by people who exist in the real world. I have never met any of you however, that belief is an article of faith. If I believe in heebie-geebie, why not god? Which is more unlikely?


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:09 AM
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47 reminds me of the way people talk about the "hard problem" (those are scare quotes, although it's also actually a quote) of consciousness. The most interesting question is whatever I can construct my claims to argue that you lack purchase on. As you learn more things, I will redefine my terms.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:11 AM
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Meetups are the New Atheists of the blog.


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:12 AM
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121: But I have met you, Chris, down at the crossroads that one time, and I know you have a soul. Had.


Posted by: OPINIONATED SATAN | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:13 AM
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Ok, having read the atheism article, it is definitely obnoxious. Specifically:

Spencer quotes John Gray, a not-New atheist: "Humanism is not an alternative to religious belief, but rather a degenerate and unwitting version of it." How refreshing would be a popular atheism that did not shy from this insight and its consequences.

and...[hitting post so I can copy/paste without losing comment]


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:15 AM
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...this one:

If someone is really interested in whether or not God exists, I'd say the best way is to have a little humility and experiment, with an open mind and heart, with the paths that Christians have claimed take you directly to him, in the ways that have worked. If someone isn't willing to do such a thing, and insists that a discussion about painting be one about mathematics, then the conversation isn't going to go anywhere.

"You haven't truly tried to be Christian! You are experientially deprived, you poor thing." This is the sister sentiment I mentioned above, and fuck that many times over.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:19 AM
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121: to be fair, I'm unusually believable.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:21 AM
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its sister sentiment, "if you'd had the kind of intense spiritual experience that I've had, you'd believe, too."

You can strap a magnet to someone's head, turn it on, and give them an intense spiritual experience indistinguishable from the sort of thing that accompanies a lot of conversion narratives.

103 is well written, but even the Nicene Creed makes a lot of factual claims about the world that are in principle accessible to empirical thought. God created heaven and earth. Christ existed, was crucified, died, and rose again from the dead.

And, as 94 points out, however devoid of claims about the natural world your personal religion is, the religion of most religious people in the world is full of claims about the natural world. A huge number of them believe in magic, ffs.


(Also, nerd point on 118: Pakistan couldn't nuke Israel if it wanted to; Ghauri missiles don't have the range.)


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:24 AM
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Against the preponderance of the evidence, for example, I believe that most of the comments on this site are written neither by a balding 47-year-old man in a basement, nor by LB typing extremely fast, but by people who exist in the real world.

Chris, why is this belief "against the preponderance of the evidence"? The evidence is the comments, right? Which purport to be written by lots of different people, and certainly sound like it? What evidence is there that all the comments are written by the same person?


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:28 AM
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What I don't get about theists is a kinder, gentler version of 128.1 - does the theist really think they've had access to more powerfully emotional spiritual experiences than I've had? And why does that experience suspend skepticism, when we routinely dismiss people's powerful experiences if we find the premise ludicrous?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:29 AM
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I mean, I've never met Stephen King or Umberto Eco, but I think the preponderance of the evidence is that both exist and aren't the same person.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:29 AM
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119: I don't, seriously, know how you do the arithmetic on that. For two reasons. Granted that there is a hell of a lot of bad religion, and I can think of quite a lot of badness that is specifically enabled or enhanced by religious belief and practice. How this compares with bad atheism (Stalin, Mao, etc) is one problem, not easily solved by the Hitchens redefinition - North Korea is religious, MLK was not.

The second problem, more difficult, is the idea of pockets of religious belief and behaviour which are good for those inside and bad for those outside. Again, this is a subset of a more general problem. But closed provincial communities, of the sort which so many of us rootless cosmopolitans have fled, can be really nourishing for insiders. How do you weight that against the harm done to outsiders? Or, on a larger scale, the tranquillity of the English shires, the general tourist board niceness and tolerance of England, was both genuine and, I suspect, intimately tied up with being a ruthlessly successful imperial power abroad.

In both cases, I don't see the neutral standpoint from which we determine whether "religion" taken as a whole is a good or bad thing.


Posted by: Nworb Werdna | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:29 AM
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130: also, the point that there are lots of incompatible religious narratives out there. A deeply spiritual experience might well lead you to believe very strongly in Jesus, or Vishnu, or Jupiter, or Xipe Totec.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:32 AM
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What's the reaction of a Halford-type Christian, say, to someone who says "No, look, based on faith and reasoning and deeply spiritual experiences, I believe very strongly that Christ did not rise from the dead, that the Nicene Creed is mostly nonsense, and that Mohammed is the true prophet of God"? Are they wrong? Is there a sense in which they can be wrong?


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:36 AM
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Pakistan couldn't nuke Israel if it wanted to; Ghauri missiles don't have the range.
In Harris' world, they don't need long range missiles, all Muslisms are of similar purpose so they can just march the warheads through friendly territory right up to Israel's border.


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:38 AM
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oh god, I should be working but the chance to have these arguments with serious and civilised people ...

128: the magnet experiences do not produce the same thing as religious experiences do because (1) by no means all religious experiences are pseudo-acid mystical blissouts and (2) the content gets changed as it is processed. What makes an experience, even a mystical blissout, specifically religious is the way that it is interpreted and its implications or what seem to be the implications, lived out.

Religion is a lot of things, and one of these is an autobiographical narrative. It's also of course philosophy, ethics, social organisation; I think it's above all concerned with the central puzzle of identity or consciousness: how are we what we clearly are: creatures who are both first and third person?


Posted by: Nworb Werdna | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:38 AM
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130: yes - so getting zapped with a cranial magnet in a lab is going to fit your experience into an entirely different belief structure. Hence, the experience in itself is not religious. It becomes so only a social and autobiographical context.

134: Those I know would say that God is infinitely outside our comprehension and it is hardly surprising that he would reveal himself in different ways and so be apprehended. They'd go on to say that the two parties should learn from each other and both use language in fairly similar ways. One classic text in this direciton is John Bowker's "Problems of suffering in the religions of the world". Of course this doesn't solve the problem but it makes it tractable and possible to be worked round. But I would say that Bowker has much more in common with a liberal Rabbi than with Ian Paisley.

The toher, radical solution was produced by the Dominican Herbert McCabe, who taught MacIntyre about Aquinas: he used to say that the verse where Jesus says "no man comes to the father but through the son" clearly shows that eg virtuous Muslims know and follow Jesus, since they ahve obviously found the Father.


Posted by: Nworb Werdna | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:45 AM
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132: yeah, I mean, I don't think its an arithmetical construction that I use. I think of religion as a social construction, one that allows people to adopt the coping methods of insightful people one or many steps removed from themselves. So far as that goes, it's totally fine and, as you say, often personally good for those on the inside. And obviously the social construction of knowledge is an inevitable part of the way we function as humans. But the social construction of knowledge through religion is inherently exclusionary in a way that other "ways of knowing" (gee, I hate that phrase, but I'm not sure I can adequately (for ttaM) justify why) are not, or at least are ideally not. That kind of limiting of experiential access to fundamental knowledge about the way things should be to members of an in-group seems to me fundamentally harmful in a world where everybody is theoretically in contact with everybody else.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:53 AM
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137.2 and .3 are nice, but fundamentally my suspicion is that they're going to lose some important things that religion does for at least the vast majority of religious people.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:54 AM
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103 Which is fine, it's not wrong or evil or anything, but I do think shows a deep failure of understanding how many, probably most, religious people actually think.

It's the "probably most" part that I find surprising, because it runs so counter to my experience. As we've discussed before, I think. (This is a little tricky to figure out since the majority of the religious people I know sort into either Baptists or Catholics, and while I can confidently say what the former believe the latter usually either don't talk much about their beliefs or talk a lot about them but they all relate to fetuses.)


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:57 AM
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137. I hesitate to disagree with Herbert, who was by way of being a friend of mine at one time, and evidently had seventeen brains, but while that logic seems to work in the case of Islam, which after all venerates the prophet Isa pretty highly, it puts polytheists or people who worship a mother goddess in the shit good style.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:59 AM
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Essear, Upetgi, and LB all have extremely cramped versions of what religious thinking is, in the first two cases because of an (understandable) combination of a fundamentalist upbringing and a current commitment to scientific thinking, and in the latter case through a literal inability to think nonscientifically or nonmaterialistically.

Bless your heart.

A lot of what's driving how I talk in these conversations is precisely essear's 87. The strong position Ogged and Halford stake out, that religion makes no verifiable truth claims about the natural world, and anyone who thinks it does is either a moron and a yokel or someone trying to slander religious believers as a moron and a yokel, drives me nuts because it seems so powerfully contemptuous of the vast majority of actual religious believers throughout history. I think someone who believes in that version of religion is wrong, because I haven't seen any evidence that convinces me of supernatural influence on the natural world, but I don't think there's anything inherently contemptible about it.

Once you get to the "strong" version of religion -- the one that by definition excludes any possibility of evidence in its favor, other than direct, non-transferable experience of the divine, it is absolutely true that I can't prove it false, and don't have any interest in proving it false. I'm glad people who believe in that sort of religion have something that makes them happy, to the extent that it does.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 5:00 AM
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How nice: I am so virtuous that I must know Jesus.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 5:02 AM
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141: Oh, they could still "know Jesus" in some way that doesn't involve any recognizable connection to the Christian version of the historical facts about him, couldn't they?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 5:03 AM
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The parenthetical in 140 should probably be amended to say "don't talk much to me," in the hope of not offending anyone. It's just that the beliefs of Catholic people I know never come up in my conversations with them except in the (rare) cases where they're trying to tell me why my politics are evil. I'm sure if I asked the others they'd tell me interesting things.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 5:06 AM
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As far as 137 & 9 go, don't in actual practice lots and lots of religious people across the world believe in pretty universalist "many paths to god" stuff? Like, "no salvation outside the church" isn't a very popular position. It's like the bit about unbaptised babies, no one makes a huge fuss of it.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 5:06 AM
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146: maybe? Kinda doesn't do shit for atheists, though.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 5:07 AM
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147 cont'd: which, you know maybe then you get into "judged by their works" and as far as I know once you have "many paths to god, including an absence of actual belief in god, and judged not by faith" you have UU, which is a religious tradition that in fact doesn't really bug me.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 5:10 AM
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Like, "no salvation outside the church" isn't a very popular position.

It's an order-one fraction of US Christianity, at least.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 5:13 AM
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144. But they don't "know the Father", so how could they come to him by the son? Unless you want to argue that an entire pantheon, or the Great Goddess are avatars of the father (I believe there's a current in Hinduism which does argue something like that, but Hinduism can be a very philosophical religion, I was more thinking of things like Egyptian, Greek, Norse traditional religions.)


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 5:16 AM
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150 - as a a general rule, for any belief A, there's a current in Hinduism which will argue A and one which will argue not-A. I think there's a charter or something.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 5:21 AM
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If I believe in heebie-geebie, why not god? Which is more unlikely?

It's really happening, isn't it?


Posted by: knecht ruprecht | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 5:34 AM
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128

I've had a lot of arguments with believers, and most of them seem to swallow a lot of the magic stuff. A lot of them swallow all of it hook, line and sinker.

Still, from the hardest hard-shell Bible Belt snake handler to the mildest vaguely theist Unitarian, they are looking for a justification for their lives and a moral compass that's approved by their community. I've met a fair number who believe that without a divinely ordained morality we would all go nuts and descend into Mad Max World or maybe "The Road." (Which I find incredibly irritating, since we are doing that anyway, in a world where most people claim to be religious.)

Another way of putting this is that the divine moral narrative and the hope of ultimate justification provides them with a grounding and a reassurance that allows them function. The magic part is kind of a bonus. A religion without the magic part is certainly imaginable (Buddhism started that way), but it has no fizz; it's just philosophy. People like fizz.

Sometimes the magic becomes inconvenient or embarrassing and gets dropped by sophisticated believers. (Or as earlier posts have said, "Oh, yeah ... well, that was a metaphor.")

The parts that are "in principle accessible to empirical thought" can be fuzzed without it ceasing to be a religion: "God created heaven and earth" but not the way the Bible describes it. "Christ existed, etc." but it's his message, not the details of the resurrection.

Eventually it's all inherently unverifiable claims, but the moral narrative and justification for their lives remains. That and the community. It's all you need.


Posted by: DaveLMA | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 5:38 AM
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146 lots and lots of religious people across the world believe in pretty universalist "many paths to god" stuff

I would guess it's a small minority, actually. Maybe I'm just a pessimist.


Posted by: DaveLMA | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 5:47 AM
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Memes are bullshit. etc.

Not the one with the cat and the cheezeburger.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 6:16 AM
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The strong position Ogged and Halford stake out, that religion makes no verifiable truth claims about the natural world, and anyone who thinks it does is either a moron and a yokel or someone trying to slander religious believers as a moron and a yokel, drives me nuts because it seems so powerfully contemptuous of the vast majority of actual religious believers throughout history.

Yes, this. And the shuffle also mentioned above, where you get someone saying "But I define God as the condition of possibility, therefore he not only exists, but he necessarily exists... and therefore it is also necessarily true that he was incarnated in 1st century Palestine and resurrected after death".

136 and 137: what I'm trying to say with the magnet thing is that people should not be so easily convinced of the truth of beliefs they arrive at through "intense spiritual experience", because such "intense spiritual experience" is more likely to be the result of something going wrong with your brain in the right environment.

don't in actual practice lots and lots of religious people across the world believe in pretty universalist "many paths to god" stuff?

I'm with DaveLMA on this one, actually. The intense efforts that all major religions make to either convert others to their beliefs, stop others converting their flocks away from their beliefs, or preserve their beliefs unchanged in detail indicates that actually most religious people don't believe in "you're OK, I'm OK" sort of things. (And this is exactly what you'd expect from an evolutionary point of view, because religions that go out there and proselytise, or murder adherents who stop adhering, or both, are the ones that will tend to survive and spread, while the ones that don't really mind what you believe are easy targets for conversion by the ones that do mind, very much.)


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 6:24 AM
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Thanks for 10, dalriata! I thought he was probably referring to the famous West Point, which is of course north of Memphis, and so there was something metaphorical going on that I wasn't getting.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 6:28 AM
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156.1: What you're calling the Halford/Ogged (or Hogged) position isn't really the claim I think most religious believers make. Or the point I think Halford is making. The idea that God was incarnated in 1st century Palestine and rose after death is explicitly claimed as something that is both literally true and unknowable without faith. That is, it's a truth claim that isn't verifiable.

156.last: I think you're right about this.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 6:38 AM
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158.1: What is truly unknowable are the subsequent claims that "Jesus died for your sins" (i.e., his death "paid" for your sins) and "If you have faith in him and repent of your sins you will go to heaven."

Whether one believes in all or none of the magic, that's the part of Christianity that you absolutely have to approach through faith.


Posted by: DaveLMA | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 6:54 AM
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All of this has happened before...
http://www.unfogged.com/archives/week_2011_05_01.html#011272


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 6:59 AM
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156 last: Except that when you interrogate the beliefs of actual ordinary churchgoers (and this has been done) it turns out they are wildly at variance with official doctrine, and will change most of the time under pressure.

Obvious American examples - the acceptance of divorce among Protestants in the last 50 years. The fact that surveys of churches which define themselves as "bible believing" find that the congregations don't know even the ten commandments.

Exclusivity when it is taken seriously has not in fact produced churches which grow terribly well except where it is mapped onto either authoritarian social structures (the growth of Reformed/Calvinist churches in East Asia) or strongly defined national/ethnic identities (Russia).


Posted by: Nworb Werdna | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 7:05 AM
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113.3 is a nice addition, ttaM. I'm definitely team atheist/science, but I think it's easy to fall into the "science is self-correcting and will eventually find factual truth" line of thought, which is at best a dramatic oversimplification.

140: IME, Catholicism is a really different beast than flavors of Protestant faith. There are born-again Catholics or Opus Dei types who are the fringe crazies, and then there are lots and lots of "cafeteria Catholics" or "cradle Catholics" who believe few (if any) of the Church's teachings, including founding principles, but are culturally bound to a Catholic identity. (They're usually fans of Jesuits and the kindler gentler bits of the Church, but not much else.) I think the lack of devotion to the key teachings of Catholicism makes them uncomfortable discussing what they believe.


Posted by: ydnew | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 7:09 AM
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My reservations about the New Atheists are the same as my reservations about the recent "skeptics" movement in general: any that's that popular with libertarians has got to be sketchy somehow or other.

Then again, Richard Dawkins never tried to interfere with anyone's health insurance. So perspective.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 7:09 AM
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106.1 is a fair rephrasing of what I was trying to say.

I think 106.last overemphasizes the importance of predictability. If there was new physics happening in the human brain, it's pretty likely that we'd be able to figure that out without it having to be predictable. But at any rate, it sounds like you're willing to believe in a soul which literally never affects a single action anyone ever makes, in which case I don't really care about arguing with that belief.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 7:18 AM
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161 appears to think it's a counterargument to 156, but doesn't actually seem to be. The fact that most religious people don't believe 100% of official doctrine may well be true, but it doesn't imply that most religious people think that what you believe in doesn't matter.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 7:19 AM
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160: Oh, right. That was fun.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 7:21 AM
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Ugh. Comments like Ajay's (not Heebie's and the subthread about universalism, I think that's coming from a very different place that is understandable, nonuniversalism really is a big issue but also a different subject, which I'm happy to discuss separately) really do a lot to persuade me that organized atheism as understood by its adherents really is a massive failure of empathy and knowledge. The claim seems to be that *real* religion is primarily about scientifically verifiable claims about the material world, and that they have a more privileged (because scientific) means of accessing the world, and therefore smart people can reject religion as obviously wrong, except maybe for a little residue of philosophical theology that you can leave to the philosophers to mop up once the scientists have disproven the core (empirical) bases upon which most people actually believe.

I think that it's just plain wrong to say that the religion (both stated belief or theology of religious professionals, and belief in practice by adherents) of the vast majority of believers in all three Abrahamaic faiths, not to mention Hinduism and Buddhism), are primarily, or even in most cases substantially, about *believing* empirically falsifiable claims about the material world -- that's not the case for either Christian or Jewish or Muslim theology and hasn't been for milennia, and it's also not how most believers live their lives; that's not a distinction between a "yokel" religion and something else, it is how the core of religious believers in fact practice. Most people are perfectly capable of ascertaining the difference between materially accessible, and scientifically knowable, knowledge and the domain of religion. (A claim about scientifically available or empirically falsifiable reality is not, by the way, the same thing as a claim about existence or conceivable impact in the "real" world; I really do think that there was a real thing as a resurrection and divine Jesus, etc.). Approaching religion in this way is just a failure of understanding, and isngoing to make most adherents think that you've completely missed the point.

Now, I totally agree that describing religion (empathetically and accurately) in this way does not in and of itself provide a reason to believe (in fact it's not even an argument for believing) that a particular religion is or isn't true, or a call to accept a particular religion, at all. It's just a call to stop building straw religion in the easiest possible way for a scientifically-minded person to knock down while congratulating yourself for being smart and scientifically-minded enough to knock down straw religion.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 7:23 AM
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162.2: it's kind of the AOL of religion. The people who made a conscious choice as adults to accept it are a) very few in number and b) often nuts, but it survives on this vast user base of people who installed it because it was really widespread and well-marketed back in the day when there weren't so many alternatives, and it gives a sense of comfort and familiarity even if you don't know quite how it works, as long as you keep paying the subscription.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 7:23 AM
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164.2 is a remarkably obtuse reading of 106.last.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 7:24 AM
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Very thoughtful posts by Halford here. Surprising!

UPETGI shows signs of having an intense desire to argue which has only grown more intense as nobody chooses to argue on the other side. Why put so much thought into alternating between
A) Well if they believe that, they're flatly wrong, that is not true
B) Well if they don't believe that but sort of pretend to believe it, they're even worse


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 7:29 AM
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Not sure which comment 167 is replying to, but it runs headlong into, for example, the Nicene Creed, the first line of which is a claim about the material world, viz. that it was made by God the Father Almighty. It also runs headlong into the entire Creationist movement (which shares the belief of a strong minority if not actually a majority of American Christians) and its equivalents elsewhere, and the whole tradition of natural theology.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 7:31 AM
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And 1 Corinthians 15, which is entirely devoted to the argument that a) the resurrection is an empirically provable fact, and b) its truth is central to Christianity.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 7:34 AM
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runs headlong into the entire Creationist movement (which shares the belief of a strong minority if not actually a majority of American Christians)

The strength of creationism in the US seems to suggest that even if it's true that most Christians aren't deeply concerned with specific claims about the material world, this is only true for extremely weak definitions of "most".


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 7:35 AM
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173: yes. Thought experiment: a clergyman stands up in front of a typical US Christian congregation and says "The Muslims are just as close to God as we are. So are the Hindus, for that matter. It doesn't really matter to God whether you believe in Jesus Christ as your personal saviour. Certainly the idea that God works miracles on earth is wrong; in fact, there's no physical evidence for God's existence at all."

What percentage of the congregation nods and says "yes, sounds right"? 95%? 90%? Or something a bit lower?


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 7:41 AM
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Again, 167.2 is a very different characterization of believers than the strain I'm most familiar with, which I think constitutes a pretty large fraction of US Christian belief.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 7:41 AM
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174: "typical US Christian congregation"

First, you have to prove that such a thing exists.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 7:44 AM
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172: And you have grounds to falsify Paul's testimony?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 7:44 AM
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174: The idea that there is no physical evidence of God's existence that would be perceivable by someone without faith is completely commonplace in U.S. Christian congregations.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 7:46 AM
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177: you misunderstand my point; Paul's saying "the resurrection actually happened; see all these credible eyewitness testimonies; and it's really central to our religion that it did".


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 7:46 AM
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The Nicene Creed absolutely makes statements about the actual world as it exists. But, as I said above, they're not meaningfully statements that are accessible to science or to disproof by science -- you're not going to convince me (or most other religious adherents) that the resurrection didn't happen because of facts about the human body or that the Trinitarian interpretation of God is wrong because the Holy Spirit hasn't been registered to exist on any scientific instrument.

Creationism, sure, but that's a minority theology in the US and the number of people as to whom creationism is central part of their religious practice, as opposed to peripheral, is pretty small. I'm happy to have scientists go around disproving creationism, but that doesn't really entail a strong argument for atheism generally.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 7:48 AM
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The absurd is a hard ground to defend against the Internet's humorless hordes.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 7:49 AM
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Creationism, sure, but that's a minority theology in the US

I suppose 46% is a minority.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 7:52 AM
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that doesn't really entail a strong argument for atheism generally

We need strong arguments for athiesm, now? That's some pascal's wager-ass shit. I was thinking solid arguments against religion were perfectly sufficient.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 7:53 AM
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The subthread about whether or not most Christians believe in things which contradict science is a bit of a red herring. Most Americans believe in ghosts and wishful thinking and that time that something uncanny happened exactly as the phone rang. Many, many Americans believe in a loose spirituality which includes a basically-Christian God, but isn't exclusive, and believe in supernatural experiences when something eerie happens, whether or not it's religious, and don't think terribly critically about any of these things because they aren't terribly curious on the topic.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 7:55 AM
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We seem to be getting hung up on the definitions of "most", "typical" & etc. That's going to depend a great deal on where you live and what sort of people you commonly meet, yes? Southern California, southern Kentucky, and southern Manhattan are all going to be pretty different in that regard.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 7:56 AM
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On universalism, which is really a different but also important subject that people were brining up, I was going to post a long comment but really it's all said better by Rowan Williams here. Though no one will click on the link.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 7:57 AM
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179: I still don't understand your point. Yes, Paul says that.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 7:57 AM
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Except for all being southern.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 7:57 AM
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183 -- well, OK, but knocking down creationism also isn't a very strong argument against "religion." I also agree with 184.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 7:59 AM
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184: I think US creationists are politically active enough to put them in a different category than the (probably) large numbers of people who can be described as "vaguely open to the idea of supernatural stuff in a not very well thought out way".


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 7:59 AM
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I'm confused about what you're saying about the resurrection. As I understand, the resurrection is making claims which are empirically verifiable in principal. E.g. if we were lucky enough to have a camera in the tomb, we could watch it happen. It's a strong truth claim in a sense that I understand. Or are you understanding the resurrection in some totally different sense?


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 8:04 AM
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No, that's how I understand it. But, I don't see how you'd make that an empirically verifiable thing at this point in practice.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 8:06 AM
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189: it's not the world's best argument against religion, but it isn't bad. So, for instance: you believe that some dude thousands of years ago came back to life, and that belief is not amenable to factual reinterpretation or rationalist critique, because it isn't that kind of knowing: sure, fine. But that also means -- I assume -- that you wouldn't be terribly interested in kicking down funds to go make sure that, in the real world, that didn't actually happen. That's a stupid project, right? It's not relevant to what you know and how you know it.

Now, imagine that instead you believed that the Earth and its species was created (reasonably recently, but that's not the most important thing) by god for the use of his most treasured creation. Are you really going to be enormously excited about people spending a zillion dollars to go out and subject this belief to empirical methods which are completely unrelated to the reasons you believe this? What a pointless exercise that would be. Why would you, a senator on the appropriations committee, support such a fool errand? Plurality?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 8:11 AM
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For the record, I started to read the link in 186 and agreed that he describes several of my objections (athough not exactly 130) and then glazed over when he waded into his resolution.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 8:11 AM
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Fine, but that's a very very different claim than saying that religion and science talk about completely separate spheres. The resurrection, as you understand it, is making a claim of the same type as scientific claims and not the same type as the other kinds of claims that Halford was discussing above.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 8:12 AM
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Right. Because of all the ways science has to know that somebody died or didn't die 2,000 years ago besides looking at written eye-witnesses testimony.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 8:15 AM
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That is, you're saying that the resurrection now is like a belief in the flood 1500 years ago: it's a factual claim that could be proved or disproved but in your opinion hasn't been disproved yet. That is, it's exactly the kind of claim that Halford says that Christianity has downplayed the importance of for 1700 years.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 8:16 AM
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Bleh, so much has been said, so some relatively scattershot responses: I appreciate Halford's 103. And fair enough--I have not had that experience. Or perhaps I've had, and not been convinced by it; likewise, other people being firmly convinced by their experience of god's love or whatnot--which is tied into different metaphysical claims--lead me to believe that this is not a trustworthy device for discerning truth. (More cynically, with some skill it can be a useful device for profit and power.) You can get into some sort of "god reveals him/her/themselves in different ways to different folks", but again, the sum of religious peoples make really different claims that contradict either other. Also, if there is such a single being revealing themselves in all these different ways without unifying theme, it's a bit of a dick move and not consistent with the god-is-a-font-of-unending-love perspective. (Yes, part of my atheism is aesthetics. I reserve the right to claim that some supposed realities, either physical or metaphysical, are, if planned, asinine, not mysterious.)

As for the New Atheists, fair enough. The only one I've taken seriously consistently is PZ Myers. His writing convinced me that "atheist" is a better descriptor of myself than "very pessimistic agnostic." And to his credit, he's definitely more concerned with social justice than most of them (see also the feminist bits of the atheist & skeptic communities). Not to say he can't be a pompous ass, but he usually is so intentionally instead of habitually. Dawkins and the rest, whatever, it'd be nice if they stopped being embarrassing.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 8:19 AM
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No, it really isn't. It's supposed to be something unbelievable that you are called/decide to believe in.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 8:19 AM
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199 to 197.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 8:19 AM
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196: yeah, okay, but some number of decades ago Opinionated Historical Moby Hick was saying "right, because of all the ways science has to know the age of the earth" or "right, because of all the ways science has to know that human beings are monkeys". Are you comfortable with a universe of personal belief that is continually proscribed by what is susceptible to empirical investigation? Actually, I'll go further than that: are you eagerly enthusiastic to see your deeply held beliefs tested and falsified by empirical investigation, should it become possible to do so? "my faith only covers things that are not empirically verifiable" is carving off an ever-contracting territory, and it doesn't seem like, historically, that latter fact has sat comfortably with religion.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 8:21 AM
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"Unbelievable" was the wrong work in 199. "Beyond human understanding" is what I was going for.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 8:23 AM
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New Atheists are in the same camp as PETA - it's not really fair to use the obnoxiousness of the group as evidence one way or another on the merits of the issue.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 8:27 AM
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Moby-

I think you're accidentally conflating two types of fact claims that seem different to me and to UPETIGI -- claims that are in principle unverifiable, and claims that are by happenstance unverifiable.

That is, God exists and is spiritually important but does not affect the tangible world, is unverifiable in principle, and someone talking about scientific evidence is missing the point in the way that annoys Halford so much.

Christ died and was resurrected in the body is unverifiable by happenstance, because historical facts from 2000 years ago aren't directly accessible to us. It has the same status as the assassination of Julius Caesar -- we're relying on testimony from witnesses, and we evaluate that like any other historical claim. But there's nothing missing-the-point about talking about whether there's good evidence that the Apostle Thomas touched the wounds of the resurrected Christ; it either happened as a matter of historical fact in the real world, or it didn't. (I'm not saying that a conclusion that 'it didn't' is fatal to religion, just that if it's a fact claim that is part of a specific person's religion, it's one that can be discussed as a matter of historical evidence.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 8:29 AM
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Great, heebie, now I'm going to spend all day trying to figure out what the New Athiest equivalent of Sea Kittens is.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 8:29 AM
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203 is, I think, the most useful possible perspective.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 8:30 AM
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the resurrection is making claims which are empirically verifiable in principal.

I'm not saying anything that hasn't already been said in this thread, but for most religious people, you're just putting the emphasis in the wrong direction and missing the point. The heart of "belief in the resurrection" is belief in a story about the fallen nature of the world, human sin, and how we came to be redeemed from all that. "Confirmation" or disbelief in the resurrection is not going to come with better empirical history, but with seeing how much that story can or can't make sense of and transform people's experience of the world, their relations with other people, and what they feel to true about "why anything exists at all"*, which, as also pointed out before, is just not something that is an empirically tractable question, and yet it's a question with which people have sought and will seek satisfying ways to grapple as long they're self-conscious.


Posted by: Criminally Bulgur | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 8:30 AM
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201: I'm not eager for nearly anything, but I admit that I would completely ignore anything empirical related to resurrection. I doubt that Opinionated Historical Moby Hick would have worried overly much about the age of the earth or monkeys. That's mostly a Protestant thing, leaving aside Galileo.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 8:30 AM
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Dawkins completely lost me with his response to Skepchick on harassment. It was so over the top stupid I simply lost all respect for the man. And Sam Harris is an Islamophobe of a particularly stupid stripe. There are plenty of ways to criticize Islam without caricaturing all muslims as hateful lunatics. PZ Meyers is a pretty reasonable guy as far as I can tell.

I end up in the secular humanist camp, I guess. To me the important issues around atheism are not attacking religion so much as constructing a moral compass and figuring out how to really live by it. That there is no god seems to me about as much of a slam dunk as Occam's razor allows. Sorting out how to actually live by the golden rule (and it's penumbras and emanations) is hard. Being good is difficult and worth much more effort than attacking other people's beliefs, misguided though they may be.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 8:30 AM
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It's not the Flying Spaghetti Monster?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 8:31 AM
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204 crossed with 199.

I don't really get 199. I mean, the apostles were supposed to be historically existing people. And they saw a guy they knew die, convincingly, prepared his dead body for burial, and then saw the same guy walking around alive. If you're one of the people who saw it, that's not unbelievable, it's direct sense impression. Really surprising, but believable.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 8:32 AM
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It has the same status as the assassination of Julius Caesar

How many deep thinkers believe that Julius Caesar was probably not assassinated. If your answer is none, as it should be, what is the difference?

209.1 seems about right.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 8:37 AM
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Cosign 209. (The fact that PZ Myers is reasonable yet personal friends with Dawkins is a bit weird, and he occasionally has to do a little dance around that, such as just recently after the stupid thing Dawkins said about rape. Also, a non-believer's response to Skepchick in general is a good quick proxy for their character.)

Secular humanist is a phrase I should use to describe myself more.

Not to say that there isn't lots of good ethics and what not in religious thought, but there's a lot of crap, too. Figuring out the good bits--and removing them from the basis assumptions that we don't believe in--is a worthwhile program.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 8:38 AM
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202 to 211.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 8:39 AM
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212: Quality of the historical evidence, evaluated in light of the prior probability of that kind of thing happening.

I don't actually know what we've got in terms of contemporaneous accounts of the assassination of Caesar, but my offhand sense is that we've got more and better for that than we have in the Gospels for the crucifixion and resurrection.

But in either case, if the events happened, there were witnesses, and from the point of view of the witnesses there was nothing unknowable about the events: they were a matter of direct perception. In one case more surprising than the other, but not, as far as I can tell, beyond human understanding.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 8:50 AM
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The Williams article Halford linked is an interesting read. I'm not through it yet but I wanted to make note of this part:
And the questions that it puts to us are questions not only about the position of Christianity in relation to other religions, but a question about whether we believe there is something that is true in, and for, all human beings. Or do human beings have different needs and different destinies? Ought we to be saying that what is good for this group is not good for that group? Ought we to be saying that to be a child of God is fine for some people but not for others?
Granting that the spiritual relationship he described in the preceding paragraphs is important, hasn't he omitted here the possibility that there may be non-Christian equivalents? That is, there may be a universal need but many ways of satisfying it.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 8:52 AM
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On creationism, a lot of atheist energy goes into it because it's a subset (symptom?) of belief in Biblical Inerrancy, so falsifying it knocks one base of BI over. That's also why a lot of Fundamentalist Protestants fight back so hard on it. BI is what would incline the hypothetical Senator mentioned earlier to oppose (e.g.) physics research.

209.2: I like this, although some Christians I've talked to insist that you can't have morality without God.


Posted by: DaveLMA | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 8:53 AM
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217 is backwards. Creationism is the driving force behind all the disputes.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 8:55 AM
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I kind of thought that all the political energy around creationism in the US was about the school system; that if there wasn't pressure to teach it in the public schools, no one outside of the creationist believers would have any terribly strenuous interest in it.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 8:56 AM
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217.last: I think it would be unfair to hold that opinion to religious folks in general, because it's pretty foul.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 8:58 AM
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||

I got back late last night from the on-campus interview down south. I killed it. From start to finish. I was so nervous about the presentation but I really hit it out of the park. The director told me that mine was the only unanimous application of the committee and that I was also everyone's #1 selection to begin with. They have two other candidates to interview and they'll let me know next week but I'm clearly their top pick.

They also gave me a great tour and really made me feel very welcome. Now to write the thank you notes. And thanks are due as well to all here who gave me help and encouragement on and off blog. This is a special place. And you're all very special snowflakes. You reprobates.

It's been a very long and hard slog for me for a very long time after having had to leave academia to deal with health and family issues and this will come as a huge relief.

Fingers crossed.

I can't wait to breathe out.

|>


Posted by: Barry Freed | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 8:58 AM
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I had a long response on the resurrection but 207 says most of what I'd have to say. The resurrection is the claim that the life of the person Jesus, which was the incarnation of God, reappeared in some form after he was crucified before ascension, and was seen by a number of people, probably in some manner related to the (slightly divergent) accounts of same in the bible. That's a claim about something real that happened in the world (as are a lot of these claims!) but it's just not one that's going to lend itself to scientific verification ("you claim that 'on the third day he rose again' -- but we know that bodies don't rise again and it's highly improbable that he did rise again, plus our forensic examination of the tomb reveals that a body did not rise") or that even at the time particularly depended on it, and in any event the empirical details of the resurrection are completely orthogonal to the belief in the resurrection in providing new life and in overcoming death. It's that latter point that is absolutely central to the religion, but we just don't know much about the precise details of *how* the resurrection occurred or even precisely what it was, details which remain knowable only to God, and frankly those details aren't particularly important -- the resurrection is real and visible and knowable (as are a lot of these claims) but it is a spiritual matter, not a material one.

Part its appeal lies precisely in its material impossibility -- the triumph over death (death, by the way is something that everyone is and has always been very much aware of as part of "empirical"'reality). But as a consciously impossible belief made possible, there is no way to prove or disprove the resurrection, and that is built into the story of the resurrection itself. Indeed, that is much of what Paul is saying in that chapter of Corinthians -- that the triumph of life over death as shown by the resurrection and made available to humans thereby is, precisely, a spiritual matter and not one tied to a literal bodily resurrection.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:00 AM
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re: 215.2

There aren't any contemporaneous accounts of Jesus and the earliest written accounts -- whether thats Josephus, or Tacitus, or the gospel writers -- are all decades after his death. The earliest New Testament manuscripts are all 2nd century.*


* they are about to digitise more of the stuff in St. Catherine's [source of the Codex Sinaiticus] so maybe someone will find something older, although I think it's probably fairly well catalogued now.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:00 AM
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220: What? It is super widespread. It's the basis for why atheists are the most reviled group ever.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:01 AM
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220: is it actually uncommon? The more open-minded version is religious people who don't understand how you can have morality without religion, but don't dismiss the concept out of hand; the less-crappy version of it is that nonreligious people are actually living according to the moral compass of some religion or other, but just aren't reflective/philosophical enough to realize it. If you include those two softenings it seems implausible to me that it's not fairly pervasive.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:04 AM
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221: nice one Barry. Here's hoping for confirmation of their (clearly correct) decision next week.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:07 AM
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225: The less-crappy version is in the essay that kicked off this discussion.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:08 AM
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It is less crappy but, it should be noted, still pretty crappy.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:09 AM
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The question of the "historical" gospels was pretty important in religious history, wasn't it? I mean outside of scholarly discussion, having an impact on popular and public belief.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:12 AM
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221: Great news.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:12 AM
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The article sucks a lot.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:14 AM
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Most religions make empirical claims. Most of those empirical claims are false. This is probably necessarily true since many of the empirical claims across religions are contradictory. Many religious believers think that their religion is supplying empirical truths, and they are wrong about that. To atheists, this seems like an important "gotcha" against religion, but it's really not. It doesn't impact the spiritual truth of religious claims. Religious beliefs are not about accessing empirical truth, they are about accessing meaning. There was a time when religion and science were bound up together, and the same narratives were meant to supply both empirical truth and spiritual meaning. But that's no longer the case. We could invent new religions to supply meaning, instead of hanging on to our old religions that have historical baggage. But human culture tends to be more conservative than that. I'm a Christian, and I believe in the spiritual truth of Christianity (including its claims to universality), but I also recognize that religion is primarily cultural and if I'd been been elsewhere in the world there's a very good chance I'd believe in some entirely different spiritual truths, which might also claim universality (or maybe not). The beliefs of that alternate me wouldn't be any more or less correct.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:16 AM
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I'm a Christian, and I believe in the spiritual truth of Christianity (including its claims to universality), but I also recognize that religion is primarily cultural and if I'd been been elsewhere in the world there's a very good chance I'd believe in some entirely different spiritual truths, which might also claim universality (or maybe not). The beliefs of that alternate me wouldn't be any more or less correct.

Maybe I don't understand universality.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:18 AM
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We could invent new religions to supply meaning, instead of hanging on to our old religions that have historical baggage.

LessWrong is on the job.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:18 AM
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Perhaps not uncommon, but it would be unfair to claim that all religious people follow them, just as we're establishing that it's not fair to claim that all religious people believe various claims about physical reality. And unlike those, it's somewhat hateful, so I'd rather be restrictive about it.

Those two softenings change the character of it. "I don't get it but I guess it happens or could happen" is different from "this is impossible, you can't know right from wrong; I don't even understand how you aren't cannabilizing babies as we speak." For your second softening, I'm not sure where the quantifier is for "some religion for another"--could this hypothetical religious person be saying "Oh, I'm a Christian, but that atheist is actually unknowingly following the principles of Manichaeism so I guess they could in fact be moral"? That's probably not what you meant, but it's interesting to consider people who believe that morality can only be formulated in the context of some (but not necessarily a particular) religion.

Or did you just mean "An atheist can be a good person by imbibing the moral precepts of my religion via cultural osmosis"? That's still dickish, but less so.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:20 AM
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235 to 224 & 225.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:20 AM
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Or did you just mean "An atheist can be a good person by imbibing the moral precepts of my religion via cultural osmosis"? That's still dickish, but less so.

That.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:21 AM
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237 cont'd: or actually more like "an athiest who is a good person is actually fundamentally basing their moral compass on the ideas of religious thinkers, and there's no principled way to develop a coherent morality without religion at the base".


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:22 AM
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Should note that 198.1, to my mind, seems like a totally reasonable response. I mean I don't agree with it, obviously, but it makes a lot of sense.

To the current subthread, the idea that you won't have morality at all without belief God (or a particular God) is indeed believed by a lot of religious people, but it's very unorthodox Christianity. Much of the New Testamement is concerned with the notion that you can follow the law (Mosaic law, but understood as morality generally) without faith, and that you can conversely have faith without being bound to the law, though they interact in different ways. Other religions have generally similar beliefs. The orthodox belief is that (a) following moral law without belief may ultimately be kind of hollow because it doesn't fulfill the underlying purpose that God holds for you in the world and that (b) acting in accordance with religious faith will, mostly, end up in practice meaning obeying principles of moral law. But both of those beliefs necessarily entail a prior belief that humans are perfectly capable of acting morally without religious belief and that obedience to a moral law is distinct from religion.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:27 AM
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To atheists, this seems like an important "gotcha" against religion, but it's really not. It doesn't impact the spiritual truth of religious claims.

Not exactly. It seems like an important 'gotcha' against religion as something there is good reason to treat as directly important to me, rather than as important only insofar as it affects how other people act.

That is, I'm not going to tell anyone else they're wrong to find spiritual meaning in whatever they find spiritual meaning in. But without some kind of empirically based arguments or evidence, I don't see any reason to become personally involved in religious practice, and empirically based arguments and evidence for religious belief are either bad, or in the case of sophisticated believers, completely absent because they aren't the point.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:27 AM
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there's no principled way to develop a coherent morality without religion at the base

I believe the argument* is more that there's no principled way to insist on the universality of any particular morality without religion at the base. Sure, you can develop a coherent system.

*Speaking somewhat from ignorance --I don't closely follow these arguments.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:28 AM
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I have ten minutes before a super-important interview.
Randomly

222: I was listening to St Paul's account at a service the other day and the thing that struck me was that he was himself totally confused and bewildered by what had happened. He was quite clear that they had not had dealings with an animated corpse. I am suspicious of the idea that he believed a video camera could capture it. I know that xians vary a lot about that question, by temperament as much as anything.

182: but there are astonishingly high figures for creationism in the UK, too -- three or four times higher than could be accounted by fervent church and mosque-goers. It seems to be a mixture of ignorance, innumeracy, an inarticulate convinction that there is something special about homo sapiens (which I had better not call humanism) along with a distrust of smartarse scientists. I suspect it has become a shibboleth.

165: the word "religious" is completely redundant in that sentence. People generally judge others by their beliefs.
The one thing that Dawkins et al have proved is that there is no relationship of causation between atheism and intelligence, tolerance, broad-mindedness, scholarship and scientific knowledge, even though we can all think of strong correlations from personal experience.


Posted by: Nworb Werdna | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:28 AM
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238: The former part of that statement doesn't bother me at all; many philosophers are, and almost all at one time were, religious. No reason to throw that out.

The latter part is so disappointing, though. Knowledge through revelation isn't, from my perspective, any different from argument by authority. That's a really dark view of humanity. Any other source of knowledge isn't inherently religious and hence fair game, though.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:29 AM
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240: What about empirical arguments for the benefits of religious practice? I like this question because it goes into the woods - you get a lot of arguments among Buddhists, eg, about whether mindfulness can be taught as a technology without any anchoring in either the morals or the metaphysics of the original.


Posted by: Nworb Werdna | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:30 AM
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240: You mean no reason to get involved in other people's religions? Atheism as an intellectual defense against prosthelytizing?


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:32 AM
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you get a lot of arguments among Buddhists, eg, about whether mindfulness can be taught as a technology without any anchoring in either the morals or the metaphysics of the original

You don't get much argument about that among scientists who study the benefits of mindfulness and meditation empirically, as far as I know.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:33 AM
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And I also endorse 198.1. I mean, I'm not going to tell anyone that they're wrong for finding spiritual meaning wherever they do, but I find it esthetically displeasing that in most actual religions, even if I distinguish between core, spiritual beliefs and unimportant empirical fact claims, that the spiritual beliefs are intimately intertwined with contradictory and implausible fact claims for which there is no or bad evidence.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:33 AM
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And, Chris Y - Herbert's argument was not dependent on these people having an idea of Jesus, nor even, I think, of God. It was that if you showed and acted on a certain understanding of the world, one which put a kind of unsentimental love, or pitiless compassion, at its centre, you had got to the place that Jesus was pointing at, and hence, in the grand metaphysical scheme, you had got there through him.

(One reason I am not a Christian is that I find it so easy and effortless to reason like one. So I am sure there is bullshit involved)


Posted by: Nworb Werdna | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:34 AM
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245: No reason to either be religious myself, or to treat other people's religion with more serious attentiveness than is required by politeness.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:34 AM
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221: That's great to hear!


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:35 AM
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One reason I am not a Christian is that I find it so easy and effortless to reason like one.

On the veldt successful rationalization from arbitrary first principles led to higher in-group social status and thus reproductive success.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:36 AM
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I'm not going to tell anyone that they're wrong for finding spiritual meaning wherever they do,

But are they wrong or misguided for looking for it at all? Or are they just (in your view) looking in the wrong place, in looking to religion, when they should instead be looking to _________?


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:38 AM
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239: Comity. The implications of that orthodox Christian belief are interesting.

Somewhat off topic, but I often see bumper stickers in my neighborhood exhorting Gentiles to follow Noahide Law. I think it's nifty that there's a separate set of easier rules for non-believers, even though I don't have any intention to follow some of them. (I guess really only the blasphemy one; amusingly, being an atheist means I'm probably good with the idolatry rule.)


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:39 AM
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246: But suppose mindfulness, stripped of all furniture, and especially of all the morality it is meant to come with, turned out not to have the social benefits it is being sold to policy makers as having?

Suppose it produced really well adjusted sociopaths who were completely unstressed and calm about their own behaviour?


Posted by: Nworb Werdna | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:40 AM
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But without some kind of empirically based arguments or evidence, I don't see any reason to become personally involved in religious practice

Yeah, as a Jew this conversation's kind of weird. I'm supposed to give up my entire cultural heritage because... why exactly? (Not that anyone here is trying to convert the unbelievers. Or at least if they are they're doing a really crappy job of it.)


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:41 AM
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I find it so easy and effortless to reason [in that way]. So I am sure there is bullshit involved

Good heuristic.

Also, congrats to Barry!


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:41 AM
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252: Not wrong if it makes them happy, or in some other way they find it works for them.

239, 253: Here, I'm seriously asking about variations of orthodox Christian belief, rather than arguing anything from an atheist perspective: I thought it was orthodox in at least some Christian denominations to believe that consistently moral behavior in the absence of direct assistance from Christ was impossible. Isn't that what Original Sin refers to? We're incapable of refraining from sin without God's grace?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:46 AM
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254: why would I suppose that? I don't actually know what social benefits it is being sold to policy-makers with but insofar as the mental health benefits seem to include things like better impulse control I would imagine it would be at most totally orthogonal to (the ill-defined concept, but let's go with it) sociopathy.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:47 AM
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I don't get how the orthodox belief described in 239 differs from the one described in 238; if the origin of moral law is Mosaic then it is fundamentally a religious conception of morality, right?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:48 AM
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257: (fucker I am meant to be seeing has fucked off somewhere) It's not binary. Original sin means we all fuck up, even when we don't want to. It does not mean that we can't want to be good, and sometimes or even often succeed - just not consistently; also that there is something radically wrong with the world such that sometimes actions have terrible consequences which they don't deserve. I think this is an accurate description of the world, though obviously it couldn't be a consequence of the fall, nor have entered the world after humanity appeared.

Grace is quite unrelated to merit or even belief. No reason why it should only touch christians


Posted by: Nworb Werdna | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:57 AM
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257.2 is certainly what was preached at that funeral. Not only are we all sinners, but we're all fucked but for Jesus.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:59 AM
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Isn't that what Original Sin refers to? We're incapable of refraining from sin without God's grace?

Nuh uh.

Sadly, I have to go offline. Poor Halford. At least he's saved.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:59 AM
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258: in this country, the supposed benefits are that it is cheaper than drugs and more effective in many cases than CBT. "Sociopathy" may have been loose. I am tired. Let's say I don't see the benefit of fitting out ruthless bastards with better impulse control.


Posted by: Nworb Werdna | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:00 AM
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I was thinking of total depravity, in the Calvinist sense.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:00 AM
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259 -- the New Testament is talking mostly about Mosaic law, because that was the issue of the day, but the principle is universal in that moral behavior is distinct from religious faith or belief.

I lost a longer response to 257, but, basically, original sin is (a) universal, including for Christian believers, (b) soluble only by God's grace, not by human action and certainly not by belief in a set of propositional truths, (c) does not mean complete and total inability to act morally or in accordance with precepts of moral law (whatever those are). It just means that humans are inherently fallible and unjustified without grace, but that leaves plenty of room for nonbelievers to act (fallibly, like all humans) morally and in accordance with moral law.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:01 AM
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265 before seeing 260.


Posted by: RH | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:02 AM
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261: fucked but for Jesus or Butt fucked for Jesus?

Heebie, that is clearly the chorus of a country song.


Posted by: Nworb Werdna | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:04 AM
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263: well, it depends on the origins of the ruthless bastardry, right? If, per Kevin "Lead Done Done It" Drum a lot of antisocial behavior is the product of damaged or inadequate executive control mechanisms (as opposed to, say, a total inability to empathize with other humans) then it's a pretty darned safe assumption that improving impulse control will reduce antisocial behavior. Sociopathy (or, really psychopathy, which is closer to being a real thing) has its own etiology that doesn't per se have much to do with lashing out violently or the like.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:05 AM
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Butt fucked for Jesus?

AKA being a technical virgin.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:06 AM
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I thought it was orthodox in at least some Christian denominations to believe that consistently moral behavior in the absence of direct assistance from Christ was impossible. Isn't that what Original Sin refers to? We're incapable of refraining from sin without God's grace?

It's more that we're incapable of being saved from sin without God's grace. If one takes "consistent moral behavior" to scan as "good works", the degree to which one was possible without the other and which is more important has been a matter of great contention.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:07 AM
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Also, what 265 said.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:08 AM
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If one takes "consistent moral behavior" to scan as "good works", the degree to which one was possible without the other and which is more important has been a matter of great contention.

And I realize there's probably comity on this point, but I get really annoyed at the I'm-saved-by-belief people consistently acting like total selfish fuckheads morally speaking but looking down on others for not being saved. (Because I'm a hypocrite, laydeez, I know.)


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:12 AM
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I was speaking more of the divide at the Reformation, but that also.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:16 AM
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I'm so confused... At first I thought you were saying that religions don't make truth claims of the same type as other truth claims, and that Christianity has never thought it was particularly important whether the historical and scientific claims (garden of Eden, Exodus, etc.) were actually true. But now you seem to be saying that this is only true of every claim except the resurrection.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:17 AM
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Yay Barry!


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:18 AM
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Congrats Barry!


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:19 AM
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I.e. do I understand right that you don't think God has interacted with the physical world in measurable ways in hundreds of years, and that the vast majority of claims of the way that God physically affected the world are wrong, except this one time 2000 years ago?


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:20 AM
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Go Barry!


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:20 AM
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Oh yes, very excited for Barry! You can host Unfogged Meetup Somewhere South at some point, right?


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:20 AM
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274: We obviously don't understand each other, but the idea that the Resurrection is a claim that is fundamentally more central to Christianity than parts of Genesis shouldn't be that hard to fathom.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:21 AM
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This Slate article has made me roll my eyes already but I haven't read the whole thing or the comment thread so maybe I'll just shut my face. I suppose w/r/t Dawkins et al I remain glad that atheism got some visibility lo these ten years and shruggish about the fact that the people who get visibility for things are often unbearable.


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:27 AM
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Hooray for Barry!


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:28 AM
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All comments from comment 283 until comment 300 on this thread must pertain to Barry's successes. This is Official Blog Policy.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:28 AM
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Ok, from comment 285 to comment 302.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:29 AM
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Sure, you're certainly allowed to think that the Resurrection is totally different from everything else in all of history, and indeed that's an important part of Christianity. It's just seem very different to me from what Halford was saying in the top of the thread. That is, the claim isn't that "gold standard" Christianity doesn't make empirical truth claims, but rather that exactly one of the empirical truth claims it makes is fundamental.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:29 AM
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I really think you're missing the point, UPETGI, based on a weird misapprehension about what it means to "interact with the material world." Ie there are plenty of claims that are "true" but that aren't "interactions with the material world" in the sense that you seem to mean -- indeed, as I said, that's precisely Paul's point in the part of Corinthians referred to above, that the resurrection of Jesus' body (and our bodies) is both (a) true and something that was ascertainable to the disciples (b) not something we should understand in materialist terms (c) in spiritual terms, not in terms of its description of the material world, fundamental to the religion. But I'm not super interested in going through this with you and you don't seem super interested in doing anything other than trying to set up some empirical claim you can knock down, and I'm getting tired and repetitive about why I think that's misguided.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:29 AM
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277: Stupid thought I just had: there's a lot of popular fantasy right now about magic/dragons/etc. returning to the world, like Game of Thrones and the Dragon Age video game series. Left Behind et al is basically the equivalent of that with God.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:30 AM
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Also a misapprehension about "empirical truth claims" but I'll leave that one to the philosophers.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:31 AM
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I actually thought I've been pretty reasonable in this thread in terms of trying to understand what you're saying.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:31 AM
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Dalriata, upetgi, Halford: you are all banned.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:31 AM
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I'm actually sort of curious about UPETGI's general views on epistemology and philosophy of science. And how they relate to Barry's interview.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:32 AM
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290:?


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:33 AM
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290: 256 should grandfather me in. But I'll show myself out the door. Congratulations, Barry!


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:35 AM
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What you don't seem to understand, Ben, is that Barry's success is part of the Nicene Creed: "From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead and say, 'Barry, you really nailed that.'"


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:36 AM
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Bewes:

Even in the early aesthetic work The Theory of the Novel, written in 1914-15, Lukács referred to his own age, using a phrase of Fichte's, as 'the epoch of absolute sinfulness' - a metaphor which directly anticipates the reification thesis of History and Class Conscíousness.

And when Iswán Eorsi asked Lukács what he meant by this use of the word sin, in his early writings, Lukács replied simply,'Violence'.

It is in this light that we should understand Frantz Fanon ordinances on the use of violence in the colonial situation. In a world of complete sinfulness, of total reification,

violence is an already determined quality of all action and all conceptualization.

The task of revolutionary thought, for Fanon and Lukács, is to see the operation of this violence as such - to see the way of the world as sinfulness, as violence - and to implement the solution which cannot but pass by way of violence, since only violence can dislodge the petrified consciousness of an oppressed people.

The idea that one may change a regime or a society peacefully is no less violent, in fact, than the use of revolutionary violence. Ideologically speaking it is more so, since it betokens a delusion as to the proximity and ready availability of a world without violence, without reification.
...
Thus [Flannery] O'connor identifies two literary effects of that reified perception of nature. The first, sentimentality is the result of the idealized collapse of nature and innocence, in which the latter is overemphasized, to such a degree that it becomes its opposite, cut off from grace entirely. 'We lost our innocence in the Fall', contests O'Connor,

...and our return to it is through the Redemption which was brought about by Christ's death and by our slow participation in it. Sentimentality is a skipping of this process in its concrete reality and an early arrival at a mock state of innocence, which strongly suggests its opposite.

'Dogma', writes Flannery O'Connor pertinently 'is the guardian of mystery.'


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:37 AM
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290:?

I'm exempt.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:38 AM
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Thanks all (and sorry to have stepped on so lively a thread)

279 Absolutely. And anyone travelling through would be most welcome.

The only part I thought I messed up was at dinner on Monday when the director was talking about how a grade school teacher of hers referred to the Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression, and I'm sitting there repeating to myself silently over and over again "Don't mention the war, don't mention the war" a la Basil Fawlty. But if you know me well then you'd know that I just can't help myself and so I opened my big fat mouth and said that I'd always thought of it as The War of Treason in Defense of Slavery (prefacing it with something like, well, I'll probably lose this job right now but...). Fortunately the home-grown types are all Carter type Democrats and very progressive or transplants from elsewhere.


Posted by: Barry Freed | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:39 AM
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Thanks all (and sorry to have stepped on so lively a thread)

Au contraire.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:40 AM
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In honor of Barry's interview triumph, there's a new Janelle Monae video! Possibly also a proof god exists. Supposedly also starring her mom, but I'm linking before watching on the tiny chance I won't be pwned.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:43 AM
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299: she isn't wearing a tux?!


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:46 AM
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Good luck Barry! We're all counting on you.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:48 AM
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300: She hasn't in any of the videos from this album, has she? Not exclusively, anyway.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:51 AM
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I don't know. I don't really follow her as closely as some do.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:53 AM
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Not even Janelle Monae can make that Samsung watch look good. (It's no "Tightrope" is my reaction.)


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:53 AM
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As snark says, the advertising frame is awful. The party looks good. Hair blogs are going to lose their shit about seeing her with loose hair. That's really all I have to say about it.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:54 AM
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So this from the Sam Harris link:

"Even on their worst day, the Israelis act with greater care and compassion and self-criticism than Muslim combatants have anywhere, ever"

is inarguably stupid/racist, and I might have missed more quotes like that, and I can see why that would cause people to dismiss the essay.

But does anyone disagree with the point that there's an important moral difference between a government whose charter is explicitly genocidal and a government which would rather kill 0 civilians than any number greater than 0 (although their preference on this point should be way stronger)?

Basically I feel like civilian casualties caused by the use of human shields should sooner be counted as Hamas-caused than Israel-caused on the death toll scoreboards one sees.


Posted by: torque | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:59 AM
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Basically I feel like civilian casualties caused by the use of human shields should sooner be counted as Hamas-caused than Israel-caused on the death toll scoreboards one sees.

Yes, I think I shall not engage.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:01 AM
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LB, I typed and deleted a few responses. I guess all I'll say is that, in this thread, you don't sound much like an athiest, just an garden-variety nonbeliever.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:01 AM
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Oh good. An even more contentious topic.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:01 AM
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I have no idea what distinction 308 is trying to draw.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:03 AM
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Me neither. Atheists have to be aggravating?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:04 AM
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The obvious compromise: Deaths in Gaza are Israel's fault because it wasn't part of God's promise to Abraham, but they can do whatever they want in the West Bank because of that promise.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:05 AM
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297: Glad to hear that I'm not the only person who, when they think "don't mention the war," always mentions the war. Thankfully I don't have the flexibility to silly walk.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:06 AM
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To most people, "atheist" means a proselytizing nonbeliever. Someone who thinks it's important for other people to drop their religious practices.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:08 AM
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Or religious beliefs, probably, rather than practices.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:09 AM
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I'm right with 310 and 311 in being puzzled, but I'm not particularly affiliated with atheism as a movement, to the extent that it is one, so I don't mind the characterization as such.

But I am really interested in the distinction.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:09 AM
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314: Sure, but aren't most people stupid about that? Plenty of local Christians think that I specifically am a Satanist because I'm an atheist, when in fact I don't believe in him either. That doesn't mean they know anything meaningful about atheism or I have any obligation to use their definitions.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:09 AM
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Yes, but that's as rude as assuming that Christian means you're going to be prosyletizing. I consider myself an atheist and I feel pretty firm about the label, because there is absolutely no ambivalence anywhere in me, and it's important for me to assert that since a lot of time people assume that you're ambivalent on some deep level.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:10 AM
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Oh, crossed with 314. I have literally never heard of anyone limiting 'atheist' to 'unbeliever who proselytizes'.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:11 AM
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And by "assert" I mean I never say these things allowed except in extremely safe company.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:11 AM
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Plenty of local Christians think that I specifically am a Satanist because I'm an atheist

You mean people at the church you take your kids to? You are a tolerant woman.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:13 AM
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"Nonbeliever" is offensively fideonormative.


Posted by: Bave | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:14 AM
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318.last: Douglas Adams referred to himself as a "militant atheist" precisely for that reason. (Which is a silly thing to call yourself, as "militant" means something and can lead to its own misunderstandings.) Interesting that, at least for urple, the connotation of the word has changed so much that proselytization is assumed.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:14 AM
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317: I guess, but then why not just call yourself "irreligious"? If it's not important to you, why try and co-opt the term. "Atheist", with all it's negative connotations?

(I mean, label yourself how you want, but there's a reason "athiest" is such an unpopular term. And it's not because most of the country particularity cares whether you're religious or irreligious.)


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:14 AM
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317: ...I think you're co-opting the term, or at least using it in a non-standard way. It doesn't mean what you think it to mean to most of the people who use it to self-describe, nor do I believe it means that in a dictionary sense. "New Atheist" is probably closer.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:16 AM
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I'm still waiting for the militant agnostics.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:16 AM
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This is trolling, right? I mean, Urple, so trolling.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:17 AM
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325 to 324, not to 317, I'm guessing.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:18 AM
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326: We don't know, and we'll make sure you won't, either.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:18 AM
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327: yeah I suppose it must be. My "webster's dictionary says" comment shelved for now.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:18 AM
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Team Militantly Agnostic About Everything


Posted by: torque | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:19 AM
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328: Err, yeah. Sigh, that's my most common Unfogged user mistake. Numbers confuse me.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:19 AM
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Atheist mostly has negative connotations because people actually feel negatively about my beliefs. I don't want to whitewash my beliefs to downplay them and make them palatable to others.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:19 AM
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As I said in the other thread, I'm kind of in favor of the Satanists due to their unrivaled commitment to trolling.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:19 AM
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I have literally never heard of anyone limiting 'atheist' to 'unbeliever who proselytizes'.

I think some people confuse "openly state that one is an atheist without apology" with "proselytize".

You say "I'm an atheist" and people automatically assume an unspoken "and therefore you're an idiot for believing [whatever the person's particular religious beliefs happen to be].


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:20 AM
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334: That's how I feel about them. They're atheists with a sense of the theatrical.

Sadly, their merchandise is unexpectedly lame.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:21 AM
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I mean, label yourself how you want, but there's a reason "athiest" is such an unpopular term. And it's not because most of the country particularity cares whether you're religious or irreligious.

Now that I've identified it as trolling, here I go being trolled. What on earth do you mean to suggest is the "reason" atheist is an unpopular term? In context, you seem to be claiming that religious people are frequently enough harassed by proselytizing atheists to have a reasonable grudge against them. That's straightforwardly, ridiculously, false.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:22 AM
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Yes, but that's as rude as assuming that Christian means you're going to be prosyletizing.

That's not a rude assumption seeing as Jesus did put out that "make disciples of all nations" thing.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:23 AM
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337: It's like you've never heard of the War On Christmas.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:24 AM
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317: ...I think you're co-opting the term, or at least using it in a non-standard way. It doesn't mean what you think it to mean to most of the people who use it to self-describe, nor do I believe it means that in a dictionary sense. "New Atheist" is probably closer.

Was this to 324? I'm talking about how most people use the term "atheist", not most people who self-describe that way. (NB: I'm not sure where you're getting the views of "most" people who self-describe as "atheist". Anecdotal data is probably worthless here, but this would apply to most people I've known who would self-describe as "atheist" (present company excluded), so.)


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:27 AM
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I've never seen "atheist" used the way you are saying. It's always "militant atheist" people have used for that.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:29 AM
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A militant atheist is just someone who is unusually vocal about it.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:30 AM
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I do agree with 335 that I have the impression that being willing to identify yourself as an atheist, without more, is enough to come across as offensively militant in some social circles.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:31 AM
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"don't mention the war," always mentions the war.

And thus also with "atheism," which in the profession of dis-belief affirms the existence of a "something" that is disbelieved, if only a meaningful concept. A null or void could neither be believed or disbelieved, and as a solitary subject you can permit yourself to fill the void as you like, perhaps with some content very easy to disbelieve or disapprove. Nobodaddy appears to be still popular.

Walter Kaufmann, no Bible-thumper, said atheism was simply rebellion (see paragraph last below). Nietzsche said God was dead, not non-existent or never-existent.

"I am misplaced, a splice a suture that doesn't belong" says Kierkegaard's comma, "thou art a bad artist."


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:31 AM
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Well, there's a difference between "I don't believe in the existence of God but hey whatever works for you" and in "all religion is affirmatively harmful and we should encourage it (through either persuasion or more or less coercive methods) not to exist." There have been plenty of governments and people that have tried the latter approach through more or less coercive means, though clearly the contemporary US is not one of them.

But, yeah, urple's definition of atheist is not accurate.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:32 AM
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I know how the dictionary defines "atheist" (nb, not as straightforwardly as you are implying, but that's beside the point); I'm taking about how most people use the term.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:32 AM
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I know how the dictionary defines "atheist" (nb, not as straightforwardly as you are implying, but that's beside the point); I'm taking about how most people use the term.

Not in my Pauline Kael.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:33 AM
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Hold on, you really think only ~2% of the world's population doesn't believe in god?


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:36 AM
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I'm reminded of the outraged reactions to Shelly's public proclaiming of atheism. I think it's probably true that, at least during much of the 19th century, one of the main reasons to declare yourself an atheist was to scandalize the squares, but that's a pretty old fashioned notion at this point.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:36 AM
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most people

Is it possible that your "most people" consists in part of believers who generally think ill of non-believers/atheists, and so who associate offensive behavior with atheists, possibly without much justification?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:37 AM
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344: That was a weird transition! You could at least have worked in another Basil Fawlty reference.

But yes, I believe in the existence of believers, and I accept that as much as an idea can be a thing, religion is a thing. I mean, yeah, obviously! If society wasn't religious by default, we'd use a different word.

It is unusual to see the words "comma" and "splice" in a sentence that doesn't concern grammar.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:38 AM
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I think it's pretty unusual to find people who say all religion is affirmatively harmful. I certainly think that a lot of religions are harmful, but a lot are totally fine. For example, when on the job market I decided that I'd be totally happy working for the Jesuits.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:38 AM
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Even in Texas, I don't have Urple's definition of atheism. I mean, "closet atheist" is a thing, not an oxymoron.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:38 AM
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I mean, in Texas I don't think that most Christians use Urple's meaning.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:39 AM
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A "closet atheist" is just someone who hides or doesn't openly discuss their atheistic beliefs. Not an oxymoron.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:41 AM
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I think I confused people by using the active verb "prosthelytizes". I would include anyone who supports the prosthelytizing--not just those actively engaged in it themselves.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:43 AM
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I do agree with 335 that I have the impression that being willing to identify yourself as an atheist, without more, is enough to come across as offensively militant in some social circles.

Because they are using a different working definition of "atheist" than you seem to be using.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:52 AM
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355: But a closet atheist would necessarily cheer others' proselytizing? I suppose on some level I sometimes do, just because I get sick of the water I swim in.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:52 AM
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I think I confused people by using the active verb "prosthelytizes"

Surely. Does it mean proselytizing with a prosthetic, maybe?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:53 AM
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"Supports the proselytizing"? This depends on what you're calling proselytizing. I mean, I may be an atheist by your definition (as well as by the dictionary definition), in that I certainly support (in the abstracted sense that doesn't involve doing anything useful) people who oppose efforts to require the teaching of creationism in schools, I support people who object to decisions like Hobby Lobby, and so on.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:54 AM
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The moment seems to have passed, but congrats to Barry. I hope they offer you generous salary with amazing benefits and vacation. Also, I was just at a museum that referred to the Confederate states and soldiers almost exclusively as rebels and I was so damn happy to see that kind of uncompromising presentation. Maybe I should keep moving north.


Posted by: ydnew | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:54 AM
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Heebie's a water-closet atheist.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:54 AM
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I poopsyletize.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:56 AM
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Now that I've identified it as trolling, here I go being trolled. What on earth do you mean to suggest is the "reason" atheist is an unpopular term? In context, you seem to be claiming that religious people are frequently enough harassed by proselytizing atheists to have a reasonable grudge against them. That's straightforwardly, ridiculously, false.

Ignoring the allegation of trolling, which gets tiresome quickly, I don't think this is false, much less ridiculous. The question isn't how frequently they are harassed by proselytizing atheists (which is probably not frequently--there aren't many atheists!), it's what percentage of the self-identified atheists they have encountered have harassed them.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:56 AM
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I mean, I would if I weren't such a lady.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:56 AM
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362: There are no atheists in water-closets.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:57 AM
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361.last: careful. At a certain point people will start referring to those rebels who rejected the lawful authority of the King and Parliament.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:57 AM
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I mean, I may be an atheist by your definition (as well as by the dictionary definition), in that I certainly support (in the abstracted sense that doesn't involve doing anything useful) people who oppose efforts to require the teaching of creationism in schools, I support people who object to decisions like Hobby Lobby, and so on.

Oh, come on. Opposing creationism and Hobby Lobby does not make someone an atheist.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:58 AM
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Agggh to 360. Neither of those things has any necessary relationship, at all, to atheism.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:58 AM
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it's what percentage of the self-identified atheists they have encountered have harassed them.

Almost none? I've never heard of an atheist attacking believers off the internets. I'm sure it happens, say at dinner parties, but it's hardly a thing like right-wingers picketing Pride parades.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:58 AM
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364: To reprise my comment at 335, I think quite a few people will tend to experience someone else self-identifying as an atheist as harassment.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:59 AM
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The question isn't how frequently they are harassed by proselytizing atheists (which is probably not frequently--there aren't many atheists!), it's what percentage of the self-identified atheists they have encountered have harassed them.

I'm just going to sit here and look at this for a while.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:00 PM
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370: I would refer you to the works of Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, eft.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:00 PM
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Explaining at possibly tedious length that you have got the wrong end of my wooden leg


Posted by: Nworb Werdna | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:01 PM
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369: Well, I don't really think so either, but I'm trying to figure out what constitutes the atheist proselytizing in Urple's thought process, that a closet atheist would support.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:01 PM
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373: Are they doing anything offline? That's who I was thinking of when I excluded the internet.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:01 PM
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357 to 371.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:02 PM
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Also, I didn't endorse 371 the first time around, but I think that's absolutely a phenomenon.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:02 PM
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So, urple, tell us about the times you were harassed by atheists.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:02 PM
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373: There's a reason they're called New Atheists - they showed up as a visible media presence pretty recently. What did you think of as an atheist before then?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:02 PM
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372: Bayes was a minister, so they say.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:04 PM
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380: Stalin.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:04 PM
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367: But they'd be polite about it, right?

I'm thinking of the phenomenon in 371 as the same discomfort that's really among omnivores when they realize someone is a vegetarian.


Posted by: ydnew | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:04 PM
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really common among


Posted by: ydnew | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:05 PM
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382 is hilarious, but should ideally have been paired with the whine about being accused of trolling.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:05 PM
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Urpie, everyone in my quite-peaceful extended family calls themselves atheists. This is insane to be told that pre-New-Atheists, the only atheist was Stalin.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:06 PM
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382 is the best comment ever, really.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:06 PM
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Sorry, I misread 380, I thought the question was "who", not "what". The what didn't change when the new atheists came along.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:10 PM
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I think you just didn't know any pleasant atheists.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:12 PM
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So, you just thought they were vanishingly rare; non-believers weren't all that uncommon, but boy, you could go years and years without ever seeing hide nor hair of an atheist? I continue to be convinced that this is an idiosyncratic use of the word atheist.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:12 PM
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321: I do! The head pastor claims there are other atheists/questioners/nonbelievers in the congregation, but as far as I know I'm the only out one. And the woman (wife of a different pastor) who specifically told me to not even look at her kids so I don't spread my satanic influences ended up loosening her stance a bit when her oldest bombed the ACT and needed my help. She was probably just trying to save my soul by reaching out and asking for my help, but I never got that ACT prep book back....

(And I haven't actually taken the girls to church since Easter. It's just so much work with three. I should see if this weekend is one where there's children's church, in which case I only have wiggly Selah for most of the service. But they all try to sit on my lap at once and it just doesn't work well. Plus fuck going to church, but I know I need to do better.)


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:13 PM
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390: would you care to respond to 348?


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:14 PM
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What did you think of as an atheist before then?

The most salient examples that people have in mind when they are existentially scared off by 'atheism' as a term are the people who led the Marxist-Leninist revolutions of the 20th century.


Posted by: Criminally Bulgur | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:14 PM
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Not particularly, without knowing where the 2% number comes from, and in particular the details of how the data was collected.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:15 PM
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I'll just go ahead and re-humble-brag that my extended-atheist-family is all communists. Especially the lovely grandmother of the travel memoir.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:16 PM
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386: Heebie, are you related to Stalin?


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:16 PM
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About 20% of the population is irreligious, and about 2% is atheist. What is the difference?


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:17 PM
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Trotsky seems more likely.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:18 PM
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the same discomfort that's really among omnivores when they realize someone is a vegetarian.

I think this is a pretty good (banned!) analogy. It's less common now (because vegetarianism is so common), but in the past I've known several people who harbored a vague conviction that vegetarians were all obnoxious lecturing holier-than-thou scolds, but who couldn't recount any actual instance of a vegetarian being obnoxious to them personally.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:18 PM
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We're rushin' but not stallin'. What a terrible joke.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:18 PM
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Without knowing what statistics you're talking about, and how the organization gathering the data is using the terms, I have no idea.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:18 PM
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399: Now people on think that of vegans and the gluten-free people.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:18 PM
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394: Wikipedia. Happy to use other stats if you have them. Those numbers seem consistent with any I've ever seen.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:19 PM
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I've only ever been harassed by atheists online, but as Ive said here before I fairly routinely self-censor in real life about being a practicing Christian, because I don't want to deal with the intensely negative set of assumptions (basically, socially conservative, stupid, delusional) that term brings in my immediate social milieu. It's not a big deal but it's not like it doesn't exist as an issue. It's not really from militant atheists, though, just secularists who are scared off by the shittyness of the religious right. I'm not really sure why I'm bringing this up, it's not really related to whatever urple is saying.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:19 PM
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402: Who among us hasn't been harassed by gluten-free thugs at some point or another?


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:20 PM
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Hey, we've got a job applicant with Crossfit on his resume. I plan to harass him about the details of the paleo diet at the interview, and make him do pullups from the doorframe.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:23 PM
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371 is correct, and 383.last is a good (though banned) analogy.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:24 PM
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Sometimes I also self-censor IRL about Crossfit.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:24 PM
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Me too.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:25 PM
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(I do not, actually, plan to give the guy a hard time about it.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:26 PM
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As they requested me to do.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:26 PM
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Honestly, I'm still Crossfit-curious myself, I just can't make the logistics work plausibly.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:27 PM
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28: "We should favor horrible acts of violence against Muslims, because ultimately we know that Jews are more secular (therefore: better) people who don't favor killing people except when they're doing so."

Citation needed. What Harris actually wrote: "I don't think Israel should exist as a Jewish state. I think it is obscene, irrational and unjustifiable to have a state organized around a religion." "And there's probably little question over the course of fighting multiple wars that the Israelis have done things that amount to war crimes." Harris merely believes that the Israeli war crimes are less bad than Hamas's crimes (suicide bombings in buses, restaurants, etc.).


Posted by: Mr. F | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:27 PM
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My Favorite

"In every instant a self exists and is in the process of becoming. The self does not actually "exist," but is only that which it is to become. In so far as the self does not become itself, it is not its own self, and to not be one's own self is despair."

It is a very loving and funny book, once one realizes (in a necessary suspension of disbelief) that...

...sin = despair = Irony

(willing to not be one's own self)

I once told a priest I was an atheist, and he said "No, you are not." That'll piss the atheists off.

"If this relation which relates itself to its own self is constituted by another, the relation doubtless is the third term, but this relation (the third term) is in turn a relation relating itself to that which constituted the whole relation.

Such a derived, constituted, relation is the human self, a relation which relates itself to its own self, and in relating itself to its own self relates itself to another."

End K.

"I don't believe in the God that hates gays" or " I, or part of me, am not a commodity under Capital" is relating yourself to yourself as constituted by a third term, finite and contingent, and is always true and not true, dialectical and ironical.

Only when the constituting third term, the synthesis, is infinite and infinitely distant and inaccessible, can you become a self. Be it God or socialist revolution.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:27 PM
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About 20% of the population is irreligious, and about 2% is atheist. What is the difference?

Perhaps "irreligious" means "does not identify with any particular religious denomination but believes in some sort of god," while atheists do not?


Posted by: pasdquoi | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:28 PM
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About 20% of the population is irreligious, and about 2% is atheist. What is the difference?

For "is" read "identifies as to pollster" or "to census-taker," right? I would think that at least some of it is has to do with a felt difference between affirmatively disbelieving (or whatever) as a decisively held position vs. passively not particularly believing in stuff.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:29 PM
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415: no, 36% of people are irreligious under your broader definition, but 40-50% of those people believe in some sort of god or higher power. I was subtracting those quasi-believers out of my number to get 20%.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:31 PM
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In case it's misinterpreted, 339 was meant to be an explanation, rather than an endorsement, of the negative associations some people (especially older people) have with the term. 'Atheist' got caught up in the baggage of the Cold War as a term of abuse, see also 'godless Communism', etc.


Posted by: Criminally Bulgur | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:32 PM
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s/b 393


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:32 PM
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My brother was a Reagan rightwinger back in the day, and married a woman whose parents were literally communists. Her mother said, "At least he's an atheist."


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:35 PM
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Nurture and Admonition

A pattern I've noticed among atheists I've known IRL is that many were raised that way. Two I'm thinking of, while not proselytizing, are very militant in their own way. There seems to be an element of filial piety about it.


Posted by: idp | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:40 PM
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420: The really challenging mixed marriages are the ones where one spouse is an anarcho-communist while the other is a Trotskyist.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:41 PM
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I've lived pretty much all of my life in outwardly pretty secular environments and have found if you express that you're not really religious people respond differently than if you say atheist, which some seem to take as an invitation to argue. And these are environments where people are also likely be hesitant to identify as active believers. Maybe people aren't comfortable with certainty when not everyone is certain in the same way.

I don't identify as atheist. I suppose I could be agnostic but when I started to look into the definitions I concluded it wasn't important to me to pick a term.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:42 PM
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If you say you don't believe in God, I ask "Why do you bother to disbelieve? Why is it interesting or important or self identifying to say so?"

I you say, "Well because I live in such and such a society, and want this society to recognize me etc." I can again ask why do you care? Because you want the society to affirm you in your difference?

But this particular difference, as opposed to any derived political consequences of the difference, should be trivial, especially to you. Why do you care?

As Kaufmann said, and said it about himself, it is simple rebellion and acting out.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:43 PM
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I suppose I could be agnostic but when I started to look into the definitions I concluded it wasn't important to me to pick a term.

If you were really certain agnostic was the right term, you probably aren't agnostic.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 12:45 PM
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Bob, you're high. It isn't remotely interesting or self-identifying to me that I don;t believe in god. I go months at a time without even thinking about it. But I don't "believe" in god any more than I "believe" in any other ancient poetic myth. It makes life much easier if you don't, because it's another layer of ideology you don't have to work through.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 1:13 PM
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I maybe owe urple an apology.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 1:36 PM
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Lb, the atheist/none distinction comes from, among other places, Pew research. There is a tiny minority of Americans who self identify as atheist and a much larger group who are "not religious"

There may be no theological difference but there is, obviously, a social one.


Posted by: Nworb Werdna | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 2:19 PM
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428: Putting this together with Halford's 404, I think the conclusion is that expressing an affirmative belief on religious matters (that is, "I believe that what the X church says about God and the nature of the world/afterlife is true" as opposed to something more wishy washy like "I was brought up X") is in many instances socially awkward regardless of the belief being expressed.

"I'm not religious" or "I was raised Catholic" are both fine. "There is no god" or "The doctrines of the Catholic Church are all true" both might make people uncomfortable, in at least some circumstances.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 2:29 PM
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Are you aware of anything that would make Urple's distinction -- atheists are only those who actively seek to stamp out religion (that is, proselytizers and those who support them)? People are certainly hostile to atheists, so I'm not surprised that plenty of atheists are uncomfortable with the word and won't claim it as an identity, but Urple's specific definition seemed highly individual.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 2:30 PM
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399: my mom told me recently that she doesn't know any vegetarians. Then she thought for a while and remembered one. I guess they're still vanishingly rare in the heartland. (In disbelief, I said something like "a lot of people I know from India are vegetarians-- you don't know any of those?" She reminded me that of course she doesn't know anyone from India.)


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 2:34 PM
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429: Mmmmaybe? I see a lot of casual God talk on FB, which is my main contact with the world outside the bubble, and the people doing it don't seem to find it socially awkward. I don't think I see any atheism chatter.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 2:34 PM
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Herbert [McCabe]'s argument was... that if you showed and acted on a certain understanding of the world, one which put a kind of unsentimental love, or pitiless compassion, at its centre, you had got to the place that Jesus was pointing at, and hence, in the grand metaphysical scheme, you had got there through him.

I guess the thread has moved on but maybe someone will be willing to indulge my curiosity. Why pitiless compassion, and unsentimental love? I would have thought pity is an appropriate reaction once one realizes how morally frail we are (that we're all fallen sinners, etc.), and I'm not even sure what unsentimental love means---what is love without any feeling? (Unless the point is just that the feeling involved shouldn't be shallow or fleeting, or something like that---perhaps McCabe hears these words differently than I do.)


Posted by: remy | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 2:39 PM
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Combining points a bit, there was a priest from India who was in my parents parish for some months. He had a great deal of trouble getting the locals to understand the concept of not eating beef.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 2:41 PM
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Or at least the concept of not eating beef while being very obviously not Hindu.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 2:45 PM
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Was he a vegetarian, or a non-vegetarian who was just not into beef because he grew up surrounded by non-beef-eating Hindus?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 2:46 PM
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People are certainly hostile to atheists

You acknowledge this! Okay, I'll ask my question a different way: if most people don't mean anything different by "atheist" than simply "doesn't believe in any god or other supernatural higher power", why do you think so many people are hostile towards self-proclaimed atheists, in a way that they're not towards the generally irreligious?


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 2:48 PM
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The latter. We had him for dinner and my mom asked him what he might like. He suggested fish.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 2:49 PM
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why do you think so many people are hostile towards self-proclaimed atheists, in a way that they're not towards the generally irreligious?

Because 1) they think we lack any basis for a moral compass, 2) they think we're secretly thinking "you're so stupid for believing that tripe", 3) they think...I have no idea. I bet there are five more quick reasons completely separate from proselytizing.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 2:51 PM
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I think they are hostile toward the generally irreligious who admit it in public, e.g. by identifying themselves as atheists. This is mostly secondhand for me, I'm in my nice safe bubble. But listen to Heebie, who's out in the real world: you think she's feeling pressure to avoid the word 'atheist', or to avoid saying she doesn't believe in God? I am morally certain it's the latter, rather than anything dependent on which precise word she uses to describe her state of belief.

Same with Thorn -- you think the people calling her a Satanist are reacting to the word 'atheist', or to the fact that she admits that she does not believe in God?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 2:53 PM
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Whereas "irreligious" tends to mean "Sure, there's a Christian-shaped God but the rest is fuzzy to me, and I'm spiritual but not judgmental."


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 2:53 PM
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And thus I do not want to claim the label irreligious.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 2:54 PM
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To put it another way, if "generally irreligious" is a figleaf used to obscure whether or not the person in question believes in God, then that's why it gets less hostility than atheist. Where it's clear that it means disbelief in any God, I don't think it gets any less hostility at all.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 2:54 PM
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443 is exactly right.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 2:55 PM
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Why pitiless compassion, and unsentimental love?

The pity question I can handle. Because pity puts the pitier above the pitied--think of people saying "I don't want your pity." I'd only be guessing at unsentimental love, but you can do that as well as I.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 3:02 PM
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This begs for empirical investigation.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 3:02 PM
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446 to 443. Heebie: tell 15 people you're "atheist", and tell 15 people you "don't believe in god", and tell 15 people you're "not religious". Record their reactions.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 3:04 PM
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(Make sure they're random samples of people.)


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 3:06 PM
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Howzabout you ask 45 "normal people" to define "atheist" without prompting them, and see how many come up with "someone who wants to stamp out religion" rather than "someone who doesn't believe in God."


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 3:06 PM
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Can the 45 people be Jews? I'd feel less self-conscious.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 3:07 PM
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445: So, God doesn't want to make people feel inferior by pitying them? Religion is complicated.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 3:07 PM
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Random Jews?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 3:07 PM
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Actually, heebie's not a good experimenter, since she's already got a view on this, and I don't think she can do a double-blind experiment. We'll need another plan.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 3:08 PM
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An ekranoplan!


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 3:09 PM
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Phew.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 3:10 PM
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A man and panama and napalm.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 3:10 PM
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Ask the janitor.


Posted by: Bave | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 3:13 PM
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445: You can pity yourself too, but you're not putting yourself above yourself. Pity can, it seems to me, not involve contempt or derision. But maybe this is just my not hearing the connotation McCabe is counting on.


Posted by: remy | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 3:28 PM
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To come to Urple's semi-defense, while I don't think his particular argument works, I don't exactly agree with 443 and 444, either. That is, there are two kinds of "disbelief in God" -- one is the generally agnostic "don't know/don't care/don't think it's likely, how would I know, I'm definitely not religious" which is pretty much totally the mainstream of secular culture; the other is "no, really, I have a very firm conviction that there is not a God and that your religion makes no sense and I believe that you are wrong and deluded to think there is, even if I may be polite and not say that out loud."

Atheism is much more strongly associated with the latter viewpoint than the former, and it's not super surprising at all that many religious people might be somewhat uncomfortable around people who literally think that they are wrong, silly, or delusional for being religious, at least when the subject comes up.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 3:29 PM
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459 --- Eh I think the fear of atheist proselytising is a projection from very virulent and intolerant forms of Xtianity. Most atheists, even ones who really believe religion is wrong, are pretty lazy about trying to convince others. Also I think there's an excluded middle where you are firmly convinced in the non-existence of God but don't really care too much what anyone else thinks.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 3:43 PM
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I mean, to be clear, I'm personally totally fine with atheists who think I'm wrong, silly, delusional, or without any basis for my belief, it's exactly what I expect and atheists who think that way are certainly around me all the time and my people. The only thing that reliably pisses me off is when people pretend that illiberal fundamentalist religion is the only existing religion (or -- even worse -- "that's the REAL religion I can understand!") and then just ignore the existence of thousands of years of mainstream religious thought and practice in order to knock down a strawman.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 3:44 PM
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460 -- don't really disagree, the "excluded middle where you are firmly convinced in the non-existence of God but don't really care too much what anyone else thinks" is a huge chunk of the educated population, certainly most people that I meet and like. I do think the term "atheist" sometimes can have a stronger, more aggressive valence than that.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 3:47 PM
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it's not super surprising at all that many religious people might be somewhat uncomfortable around people who literally think that they are wrong

This is sort of a general pet peeve, and one that I don't associate with atheism/religion generally. But I find claims of offense or hurt feelings related to disagreement maddening where the offended person doesn't have the empathy to understand that the offense and hurt feelings are (barring exceptional circumstances) perfectly symmetrical. Religious people are uncomfortable around atheists, because atheists think they're wrong about religion? Unless that discomfort is accompanied by a full recognition that it's a little uncomfortable for the atheist as well, knowing that religious people believe that you're somewhere from fundamentally mistaken about the nature of reality to doomed to burn eternally, I don't have a lot of sympathy.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 3:48 PM
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Not attributing that offense to you, individually, Halford. But the premise that "Of course, the existence of openly admitted atheists is going to be offensive to lots of religious people" kind of burns me.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 3:50 PM
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Not sure that most believers don't recognize the symmetrical issue in 463. It's certainly not a great feeling knowing that you're probably making a nonbeliever uncomfortable. I mean obviously there's a strain of total dickhead religious people who actively seek out ways to make nonbelievers uncomfortable, but, you know, they're dicks. Even quite religious people will often be apologetic about eg saying grace at a dinner party with people they know to be nonbelievers.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 3:53 PM
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That kind of mutual awkwardness is fine (I mean, to be deprecated, but nothing that makes me angry about it). But it's not the kind of thing that would drive the hostility toward atheists that does exist.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 3:55 PM
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"Even quite religious people will often be apologetic about eg saying grace at a dinner party with people they know to be nonbelievers."

Wow! I lead a very sheltered life. Have never had any experience of this, never heard of it happening to anyone I know, actually struggle to populate this scene with believable characters ...


Posted by: dairy queen | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 3:59 PM
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Howzabout you ask 45 "normal people" to define "atheist" without prompting them, and see how many come up with "someone who wants to stamp out religion" rather than "someone who doesn't believe in God."

Bad way to frame the question. Of course they'll answer the latter, but they'll think it implies the former.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 3:59 PM
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465.last is quite manifestly not my experience.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 3:59 PM
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I was making small talk with a trainee last year, so I asked if he had any hobbies. Through a laborious series of questions (me) and one-word answers (him), I discovered that he played drums with his band at their church. "Oh, that's nice," I said. "You're atheist, right?" he replied.
"Yes, but what makes you ask?"
"Scientists usually are."
So I broke out that stat that 80% of scientists (no idea how this is defined) say they believe in god. Then I mentioned a few prominent religious scientists. No idea why I needed to explain that I'm still an outlier. To make him feel better about being the comfortable majority?


Posted by: ydnew | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:01 PM
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Because you suspect that he has negative feelings about atheists, and don't want to him to disapprove of scientists too?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:02 PM
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472

Unless that discomfort is accompanied by a full recognition that it's a little uncomfortable for the atheist as well, knowing that religious people believe that you're somewhere from fundamentally mistaken about the nature of reality to doomed to burn eternally, I don't have a lot of sympathy.

I'm not saying you don't experience discomfort, but I don't see this as symmetric at all. They just think you're spiritually wrong. You think they're factually wrong.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:03 PM
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Damn, Urple, you're on fire in this thread.

Much like many Christians believe I will be at some point in the next few decades.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:04 PM
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465.last: I've finally trained myself to wait until the boyfriend's family says grace at holiday dinners to start eating. I was the asshole with a fork full of food in my mouth while the rest were bowing heads for many, many years. Oops.

471 is probably right. Or I'm just obnoxious about facts.


Posted by: ydnew | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:08 PM
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473.2, ouch! much approval.


Posted by: dairy queen | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:13 PM
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Even quite religious people will often be apologetic about eg saying grace at a dinner party with people they know to be nonbelievers.

I don't think you made this up, but I do think you haven't seen it happen more than once.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:15 PM
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Never had anyone be apologetic about saying grace around me.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:26 PM
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Do y'all wonder if the"Atheist/irreligious as social practice" distinction might have anything in common with say those people who profess an attachment to Communism, or the virulent hatred of Communists for the last one hundred years? Not just the "takes orders from the Comintern" stuff but the passion for burning it all down and taking their stuff?

I don't necessarily give the "irreligious" a pass, put in quotes in order to remember Paul's quandary about just giving a polite pious nod at the village shrine when you enter town. Just to show you're sociable. It's
important.

Curious about the atheists and irreligious round here, when in Japan, and going to one one of the many festivals along with the apple-bobbing, toy-gun shooting, fireworks and cotton candy, when you get around to the shrine and clapping hands shutting eyes and tossing a penny after washing hands, are y'all "No no my conscience won't allow me to do such pagan acts, my purified scientific soul would be bruised and spackled."

Or is even the dreaded kimono of patriarchy, the one with the obi belt of chastity, too offensive for pretend and play?

I joke, but I am also an oppressed Communist while so unserious about religion as to do just about anything to be sociable.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:29 PM
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Or ydnew doesn't want to make him feel isolated and uncomfortable.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:33 PM
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What do you want me to say? I mean, not "apologetic" in the sense of not doing it, but acknowledging the issue, sure. Most recent example I can think of was from a rabbi at a professional dinner, before that at a wedding this year, etc. in any event even if you don't like the specific example of grace-saying, I think the broader point about recognizing the discomfort potential stands, it's part of being polite and not actually proselytizing around people in a pretty pluralist society.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:35 PM
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I give her more credit than she does herself. I've also never heard anyone be apologetic or awkward about saying pre-meal prayers.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:36 PM
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IOW, if atheistic you are willing to wash your hands and toss a penny, or cover your head entering a synagogue or St Peters...

...why not lie and say you believe in God? Will Darwin's shade strike you dead with lightning? What is the moral force demanding your public confession?


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:37 PM
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My more general experience is that people said grace but probably had no idea I was not a believer (or at least didn't care if I was or not) because they didn't ask and I was sure as shit not going to say.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:38 PM
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But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:39 PM
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Proselytizing from Christians in, basically, social situations, on the other hand, that I have certainly experienced, and boy is that awkward.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:40 PM
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My parents sent me to a private, ostensibly secular elementary school where we said grace before lunch. The teacher would call on someone, and I was terrified she'd call on me, but since she never did, she must have had some sense of who to choose. This is vividly from third grade, so maybe it was teacher-specific.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:40 PM
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When someone accustomed to saying a prayer before a meal is dining in the presence of nonbelievers, in my expertise it's pretty customary for them to say something like, "Do you mind if I say grace over the meal?" (Or "say a blessing", whatever.)

I'm not sure I've ever seen the request denied, so I don't know how that would play out. But it's very common to make the request.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:43 PM
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What I see most often is a few people (in a public setting) quietly bowing their heads and praying to themselves, which seems quite dignified and reasonable and, uh, gracious.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:45 PM
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Like, at a faculty-staff luncheon or a large group setting - people that I know as acquaintances, not strangers.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:46 PM
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"Do you mind if I say grace over the meal?"

Well, I guess I need to get out more.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:48 PM
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What I see most often is a few people (in a public setting) quietly bowing their heads and praying to themselves, which seems quite dignified and reasonable and, uh, gracious.

If you're one-on-one, many people make the same request before even doing this. Presumably because they don't want you to interrupt them, and because they think it may seem rude if they just close their eyes and drop silent without warning.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:52 PM
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In Japan it is customary to put one's hands together and say ... いただきます) ("I humbly receive") before eating a meal.

"itadakimasu" (sounds like EE-tuh-dah-kee-MOSS)

No, it doesn't sound like that, and speed, how fast you say it, is important. And ain't no watashi or boku in that word.

Note in wildly syncretic Japan it is not said from whom it is received.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 4:54 PM
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Man, I hope Michael Robbins didn't try to read this thread.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 5:16 PM
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484: Yeah, my family always said grace at home but never in public, and invoked that as the reason.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 5:18 PM
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492.last: That could be syncretism or possibly for legal liability reasons.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 5:27 PM
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my mom told me recently that she doesn't know any vegetarians. Then she thought for a while and remembered one. I guess they're still vanishingly rare in the heartland. (In disbelief, I sa

Does she live in. The same town that I live in? Because if so this does seem very hard to believe. Unless she just doesn't get out much. There's a pretty healthy vegetarian population here.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 5:48 PM
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Well, it's a healthy lifestyle.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 6:07 PM
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itadakimasu = to humbly accept

infinitive form, politeness ending, no boku wa around here, usually translated "Thanks for the meal" but not arigato and you don't have to believe them.

It is also the expression used when given a free sample at a store rather than arigato gozaimasu.

I wouldn't swear, but I also think this is the ritualistic response to being given a promotion or assignment in an institutional setting, iow, "accept" is better then "receive" because some degree of obligation and responsibility is incurred in accepting


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 6:15 PM
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Some of my students were shocked when I mentioned that I knew atheists, and that they were pretty typical people with kids and houses and things. For a certain subset of people atheists must be doing exactly all the things they believe they'd be doing without threat of eternal hellfire.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 6:50 PM
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499: Drinking wine, eating leftover Annie's cheddar bunny cracker-things, watching a documentary on public defenders. WOOHOO DEBAUCHERY!


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 6:53 PM
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499: this is a corollary of the "only people of religion X can be moral" belief. And I suppose if those people really would change their behavior in some horrid way (although most probably wouldn't) without god, I support the strong application of religion to them.

500: I'm drinking cider! I ate a cheesesteak! I played a historical strategy video game! And that's just tonight. Look upon my works, ye pure of heart, and despair.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 7:07 PM
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OT, sort of Blogger fired from language school over 'homophonia'

But when the social-media specialist for a private Provo-based English language learning center wrote a blog explaining homophones, he was let go for creating the perception that the school promoted a gay agenda.
"Now our school is going to be associated with homosexuality," Woodger complained, according to Torkildson, who posted the exchange on his Facebook page.

Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 7:14 PM
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500, 501: Yes, exactly! I shall drink a beer while my toddler who refuses to toddle sleeps! HOW BESTIAL.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 7:15 PM
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Try butt chugging your wine, cider, or beer. Get drunk more quickly.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 7:19 PM
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Your church is weird, Moby.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 7:19 PM
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Common Misconceptions About Atheists #5: Most atheists actually aren't that interested in buttchugging. (But we can if we choose, because, y'know, we've rejected all that is good and are forever isolated from god's grace.)


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 7:38 PM
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You're really off in Pauline Kael-land if you think there are four more common misconceptions about atheists that that.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 8:23 PM
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s/b "than that"


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 8:24 PM
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Some of my students were shocked when I mentioned that I knew atheists

I'm totally available as a volunteer for a day of "Ask An Atheist".


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 8:36 PM
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I want to go to that meet-up, in Cala's class.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:02 PM
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Semi-on-topic bleg: this sort of phrasing comes up not-infrequently. Colleague's FB status is "Prayers needed for my mother, who was admitted to the hospital." I know the mother is probably close to Hospice care, and I would like to respond without drawing attention to avoiding the word "prayer".

Obviously people substitute "she's in my thoughts" but this woman is quite religious and it would land with an obvious thud.

I went with "I'm so sorry to hear this" but perhaps there is something better. It's the specific request that makes it tricky - some people in the thread just comment "Done" as if they'd made a donation.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:22 PM
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I recommend using one of the following words: vibes, feels.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:29 PM
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Fee-fees. Antenna zaps.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:34 PM
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Vibes is probably not bad. I'd feel too informal with her in particular, but it's blurry enough for a lot of cases.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 9:35 PM
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This is where satanism beats out atheism. You could pray to baby satan and post done.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:18 PM
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Why not just say what you really feel? "Your prayers are useless quackery spoken into the void; if your Mom survives it will be due to science, if she dies she will be gone forever despite what your homophobic storybook says." I mean people should be honest.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 10:39 PM
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511: "For a speedy recovery!" Implying that you are praying for a speedy recovery when in fact you are raising a shot of Jägermeister for a speedy recovery.


Posted by: k-sky | Link to this comment | 07-30-14 11:22 PM
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Hey, we've got a job applicant with Crossfit on his resume. I plan to harass him about the details of the paleo diet at the interview, and make him do pullups from the doorframe.

Is it the guy with the obscenely decorated camper van? Tell him we're sorry he didn't get the job with us.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 1:46 AM
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Vibes is probably not bad.

I would put things the other way in the hierarchy of obviously-not-religious: "She's in my thoughts" is pretty neutral, while "Sending good vibes" sounds more glaringly not-praying.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 3:08 AM
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Try "I'll light a candle"


Posted by: Nworb Werdna | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 3:22 AM
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I almost always say, "in my thoughts" or "good thoughts," and I've noticed that some of my Christian friends specifically also use that phrasing when asking for prayers from what they know is a mixed audience.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 3:52 AM
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"Next time I cut the heart out of a captured enemy, I will definitely mention your mother's name to Xipe Totec the Flayer, Lord of War and Death."


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 3:55 AM
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"I hope they aren't giving your mother pain medication, by the way. I'm against it. Suffering is good for the soul, you know."


Posted by: Mother Teresa of Calcutta | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 3:56 AM
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My California friends are always sending "good energy". Power-conditioned, filtered for spikes, three-phase.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 3:59 AM
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I tend to use "hopes".


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 4:09 AM
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"You are at the center of all my goals."


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 4:12 AM
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511: "Like."

Seriously, I reserve something like "Peace to both of you" (or peace and comfort) for situations like that. I use "in my thoughts" often, too. I have one dear friend who was asking for prayers for his father, who was in a serious accident, and people posted kind wishes, "done," and their actual prayers. ("Lord, guide the surgeon's hand . . . ")


Posted by: ydnew | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 4:25 AM
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"I'll pray for you because science has shown that belief in prayer can have a beneficial placebo-like effect that does provide measurable physical benefits, although only in cases where people believe in the prayer and aren't aware of the non-religious nature of the effect... oh shit, sorry about that."


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 4:29 AM
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science has shown that belief in prayer can have a beneficial placebo-like effect that does provide measurable physical benefits

Not according to Francis Galton's analysis: the British royal family receive significantly more prayers for their long life than the median population, but do not live significantly longer.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 4:39 AM
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Maybe they just don't believe in it.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 4:44 AM
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You don't know what the control result would have been, maybe they'd all have been dying at 30 if not for the prayers.


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 4:54 AM
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re: 530

I don't think it applies to lizard-kind.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 4:58 AM
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It's possible that the British royal family also receive significantly more prayers wishing for their early demise, and they net out.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 5:06 AM
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533. Possibly now, unlikely in Galton's day.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 5:08 AM
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You may be over estimating the popularity of the Empire.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 5:24 AM
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"You are at the center of all my goals."

"goals" should be "plots"


Posted by: Annelid Gustator | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 5:25 AM
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My god, I would be powerless to refrain from trolling Facebook all day.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 5:55 AM
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Coming (phrasing!) shortly after butt chugging, I read comment 510 initially as wishing to attend the meet up in Cala's ass.


Posted by: Rance | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 6:04 AM
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"I will say a prayer for your mother the next time I kneel down to pray."


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 6:13 AM
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Or you could photoshop one of those pictures of the Dos Equis guy with the text: "I don't often pray, but when I do, it's about your mother."


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 6:16 AM
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Dammit, that was me.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 6:16 AM
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the social-media specialist for a private Provo-based English language learning center

I just can't read "Provo" and not think it means "Provisional IRA". Can't master auxiliary verbs? Punishment beating!


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 6:20 AM
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539 sounds vaguely indecent.
"I will be thinking of your mother next time I loudly exclaim the name of the Lord."


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 6:21 AM
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It's the specific request that makes it tricky - some people in the thread just comment "Done" as if they'd made a donation.

<troll> But we already established that religious believers wouldn't think that prayers matter, because that's an empirically verifiable claim and religion doesn't have any of those. </troll>


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 6:28 AM
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Loving 544.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 6:34 AM
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The prayer research I like shows slightly worse outcomes for modern Americans when they know they are being prayed for, compared to a control group which were also prayed for, but didn't know about it. Why the nocebo effect? Because, even when they pretend to piety, modern Americans don't really believe in prayer so much as they do in medicine, so when they hear people are praying for them, they reckon they must be fucked.

Can't run it down, but it was Templeton funded and I wrote about it in another life


Posted by: Nworb Werdna | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 6:36 AM
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543: It's only polite to do so, unless you're fucking someone else's mother at the time


Posted by: Emily Posted this | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 6:38 AM
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So the best response will actually be "I will be praying for your mother to die".


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 6:38 AM
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note to 546: the people in this study were al in hospital already, facing surgery.


Posted by: Nworb Werdna | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 6:39 AM
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546: Alternate theory -- prayers from citizens of Babylon are not pleasing to the Lord.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 6:49 AM
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You guys are the best commenters anywhere in the world. I laughed a lot.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 7:29 AM
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I've noticed that some of my Christian friends specifically also use that phrasing when asking for prayers from what they know is a mixed audience.

I have friends that do this, which may be part of what makes it more pointed when someone does not ask for both.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 7:31 AM
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I always say something like "Please keep us updated about her. I'm hoping for a good outcome!" and then I hope they feel validated about being able to ask for prayers even though I'm not going to pray.

(I caught Mara praying the other day that god would explain to her how since god couldn't have really created EVERYTHING what the rest of it came from. We haven't followed up on that conversation, but I'm looking forward to it!)


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 7:33 AM
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Hawaii did have some questions after that funeral service, about "Do we really meet God after we die?" The pastor had described a very literal, avuncular meeting where you're restored to your youth, etc. Somewhere there's a Life In Hell strip about childhood questions, about "Would an amputee be reunited with their leg?" "What if you have several spouses?" etc, which is all I could think about during that part of the service.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 7:48 AM
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As a young journalist in Tennessee, I was asked to do a story on a study that was published in some low-rent pseudo-journal about how prayers help sick people even when they don't know they're being prayed for. I forget the structure of the study - I think people were enlisted to pray for strangers.

The result was amusing - though it never got published. The scientists I spoke to bent over backwards to be open-minded, allowing as to how this could be a legitimate result if the study were conducted as described. The clerics were much less tolerant - even if it were a legit study (which, they told me, it was probably not), it wouldn't mean anything.


Posted by: Al Gore | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 7:52 AM
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"What if you have several spouses?"

Jesus tackled that one head on. Matthew 22. For even posing the question: "you are mistaken, not understanding the scriptures, or the pier of god." You should have mentioned that to the pastor at the funeral.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 7:58 AM
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In a Unitarian indoctrination session, the chief indoctrinator told us that new Unitarians often say they do not believe in God. After spending some time among the Unitarians - and without really changing their views - he said they would start talking about the Universe or the Great Spirit, or whatever.

And eventually, once they got really comfortable with Unitarianism, they'd start talking about "God" - again, without having changed their views on theism.

I think "praying" probably works the same way, and you commit no offense against your integrity by telling people you are praying for them.

That said, I don't do it. I'm a "thoughts" person. I never became a very advanced Unitarian,


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 8:07 AM
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555: there was a bent South Korean study on those lines. The one I was describing was part of an effort either to replicate or to discredit it.


Posted by: Nworb Werdna | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 8:08 AM
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I always liked the Civil War-era prayer, attributed to Jacob Astley at Edgehill: "O Lord, thou knowest how busy I must be this day. If I forget thee, do not thou forget me. March on, boys."


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 8:09 AM
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533: What, only prayers/curses from England count?


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 8:10 AM
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In a Unitarian indoctrination session, the chief indoctrinator

Suddenly, I find Unitarians scarier than I ever did before. "Chief indoctrinator"?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 8:10 AM
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"Would an amputee be reunited with their leg?"

Or their beard?


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 8:11 AM
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how since god couldn't have really created EVERYTHING what the rest of it came from. We haven't followed up on that conversation, but I'm looking forward to it!)

Even though it doesn't really address the metaphysical aspects of the question, I kind of like the current physics answer to the "Why is there something instead of nothing?" conundrum: "Because nothing is unstable."


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 8:14 AM
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560: well, most of the ones from the Empire would be to false gods, though, and so would have no effect.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 8:20 AM
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561: That was intended entirely ironically. It was an educational/orientation session with several Unitarians, and I think one of them probably talked more than the others, and it was at his house.

The Unitarians, in my experience, are hilariously non-hierarchical and non-authoritarian and really very nice - plus, super-smart. It doesn't reflect well on me that I didn't stick with it.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 8:41 AM
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Have you considered hiring some dedicated monastics to direct their prayers in the mother's directions? "I will not be able to pray myself, but rest assured that your mother will be we well-interceded for by the good people at St. Francis Nunnery LLC." There might even be an app for that.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 8:42 AM
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Nworb:

Or, on a larger scale, the tranquillity of the English shires, the general tourist board niceness and tolerance of England, was both genuine and, I suspect, intimately tied up with being a ruthlessly successful imperial power abroad.

OT, but would you mind elaborating on this? It sounds like an interesting thesis, but I'm not familiar enough with British history to flesh it out myself.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 8:43 AM
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566: You could automate the process and have a digital prayer wheel with a web interface that lets you do hundreds of prayers all at once, Tibetan Buddhist style. It always seemed to me like cheating, but if the Dalai Lama goes for it there must be something to it. Oh, and of course there would be a smartphone app.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 8:45 AM
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567: I was wondering about this, too. I have some not very good hypotheses: being at the center of empire guarantees you're usually far from war and any property destruction. Being able to extract profits from elsewhere means increased wealth and nice things like pretty country homes and estates. Beyond that, I'm not sure, and there are places of Britain that are tourist board nice partially because of local horribleness (the amazing solitude of parts of the Highlands is partially due to the Clearances, no?).


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 8:48 AM
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559: I am going to remember that for the next time I'm at the pub in Edgehill. (Gorgeous spot.)


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 9:00 AM
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564: If so, would Irish prayers count?


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 10:35 AM
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When did the UK start subsidizing its farmers/countryside? National wealth coming from imperialism would have contributed to that.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 10:36 AM
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I'm (mostly) on Team Halford. (Episcopalians for the Win!) I'm not going to make a particularly theological point--grounded either in Scripture or Tradition--although possibly it might fit into the category of "right reason".

I'm not even sure that I believe in God, half the time or what I think of the Nicene Creed. I do know that I'd be fairly upset if they took it out of the service.

A lot of this is tied up with memories from childhood. Very few churches still use the Protestant Episcopal Church of the US's 1979 Book of Common Prayer, but lines like "It is meet and right so to do" still evoke fond memories of mystical moments.

And yet, the Resurrection is a meaningful and powerful concept to me. I remember one Easter going to an early morning Vigil at a monastery. The monk gave a sermon about a man who had struggled with alcohol and drug addiction and found a way--despite a lot of setbacks and with a lot of help and support--to get clean and build a life. The monk was clearly a gentle soul, and the message was not the least bit triumphalist. But his point was that the Resurrection had meaning here and now on this Earth.

There's an important distinction to be made about the difference between resuscitation and resurrection. In the Biblical account, Lazarus was resuscitated by Jesus. That is, he came back essentially the same. Jesus's Resurrection is described as bodily, because he wasn't supposed to be a ghost. In Scripture, his body, however, was transformed. This was about new life and one which didn't deny the reality of the very real suffering of crucifixion.

This relates to the story about the man with the addiction in two ways.

(1.) The man found a way to transform his life and renew it despite his pain and suffering.

(2.) His body had worth and dignity, and so the material conditions of his life here and now mattered, not just "in the next life."

And we were all gathered together in the flesh because those stories continued to have meaning for us. Later we broke bread together and ate the body as a body.

That's not an argument for religion in any meaningful sense. But it was very real to me, and the experience was real to the disciples and members of the early church.



Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 10:40 AM
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Prayers schmayers. What about curses?


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 11:40 AM
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proselytizing with a prosthetic

There is totally a Flannery O'Connor story about this, sort of.


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 11:41 AM
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There are many very funny things in this thread.


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 11:53 AM
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574, for curses, the place you want is North Knifecrimea


BG: I'm a bit knackered: can I try again tomorrow? Essentially the argument is that England, especially the countryside, which was where the rich people lived for preference, was where you came home from the wars. For about the whole of the period between the two Elizabeths, England was a very militaristic society with a happy knack of fighting its wars abroad. So the countryside was where you came to for R&R, and to enjoy the fruits of plundering India or wherever.


Posted by: Nworb Werdna | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 1:11 PM
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