Core Values, Atheism and Religion


John W. Loftus was our guest on Atheists Talk on May 24, 2009, and he said something very interesting about religious people and their level of intelligence.  He said that they are not wrong nor stupid for being religious and even discussed the skeptical nature of the most intelligent of the apologists.  We can wipe from this list of intelligent apologists the creationists, of course, because they choose to ignore or diminish any factual data that contradict their dearly held notions that the Earth and its resident life are a special creation barely 6,000 years old.

Loftus made the case that, in fact, people such as William Lane Craig are probably more intelligent than he is.  I can name some religious thinkers far more intelligent than I am.  The issue with religion is not intelligence. The issue is that of core values, and presupposition.  (These are not Loftus’ direct words, they are my own interpretation.)

After leaving the station, I was listening to the occasionally entertaining “Speaking of Faith,” by Krista Tippett.  Her guest was Vali Nasr, an Iranian-American with Shia Muslim roots.  He was explaining the source of conflict between the Shia of Iran and the Sunni-Shia divide in Iraq.  Yes, it’s a mess and the American war in Iraq has complicated things.  But that isn’t why I bring it up.  I came in at this spot, and when I listened, it helped illuminate what Loftus had been saying on the show:

Mr. Nasr: And therefore, you know, things don’t matter enough here for people to be killing one another but many, many years ago when Boston was dominated by Protestant English establishment and you gradually had an influx of Irish Catholics who came to Boston, you had a very clear sense of a difference, that the Catholic Church belonged to the Irish and belonged to the poor and the Protestant churches represented the Anglo-Saxon establishment in the city. Now, the differences were not so much theological as they reflected the fundamental identity division in Boston.

Ms. Tippett: Socioeconomic and ethnic.

Mr. Nasr: It’s socioeconomic. If we go to Northern Ireland today, you know, IRA fighters may go to church, may not go to church. I don’t think they’re really concerned with liturgy and what the Vatican says.

Ms. Tippett: Right.

Mr. Nasr: Catholicism is not faith; it’s who they are. It defines what side of the tracks they were born.

Ms. Tippett: OK.

Mr. Nasr: You know, who they are, what share of the wealth they get. And you have that in the Muslim world as well. I mean, in Lebanon or Iraq or in Pakistan, the Shia-Sunni difference is not necessarily theological. It is who you are. So the Shia in Pakistan are like the Catholic Irish of Boston.

Ms. Tippett: OK.

Mr. Nasr: Or in Iraq, they were like the Catholic Irish of Boston. They were not the “in” crowd. They were the “out” crowd. And then above this, you obviously have the theological difference and the major difference is the following: that the Shias believed that when the Prophet Mohammed died that his legitimate successors were his son-in-law and cousin Ali who’s buried in the shrine in Najaf and that God had willed that the charisma of the Prophet would run through his bloodline, and his bloodline would be the legitimate leaders of the community. So you could only have true Islamic leadership if the family of the Prophet ruled.

The Sunnis, essentially, who became the majority and whose writ ultimately carried, believed that the most suitable of the companions of the Prophet would be chosen by the early Muslim community, and he would be the leader. And from that disagreement over succession, over the years the two faiths evolved very differently.

Ms. Tippett: Right.

Mr. Nasr: They have a different historical experience, and then the two communities developed a very different ethos of Islam and they practice the faith differently.

I am good at math.  It comes naturally to me when someone shows me how to do it.  I have a natural proficiency when tutored in those concepts, and usually I catch on with just a few practice equations.  I learned from having kids with math problems that I am not a very good math teacher.  I do better teaching subjects at which I struggle, because I can better empathize with their struggle.

Having been a Christian, myself, I can certainly empathize with them when it comes to their difficulties in understanding a life without the “presence of God.”  It is part of them, part of their roots and part of their community.  Catholics brought up in the faith take the basic tenets as self-evident, much as do the Irish of Boston or the Irish Catholics of Northern Ireland.  The Proddies were simply quite wrong, and their lack of understanding of the true nature of the Catholic faith led them to oppress the Catholics financially (and with the aid of the Anglican English, militarily).

Loftus mentioned that the atheists brought up without any sort of religion have a hard time emphasizing with the intellectual struggle of doubt that the religious face.  It is easy to see that religion is false if one is not brought up with it as one’s cultural miasma.  Leaving religion when I no longer believed was a struggle, because I thought that if everyone I trusted and loved was enjoying a relationship while I was not, then there had to be something wrong with me.  I kept trying to find my faith and read the Bible and helpful works, but ended up deciding that the struggle was over and became an atheist.

Because it was tough for me, I can empathize with those who are still struggling with the doubt.  The faith that they have is one of their core values. It is not an easy matter of learning that religion is wrong on natural explanations and from there concluding that religion is wrong (or inadequate at best) in dealing with other matters.  Religion has “worked” for them and made the world whole in relation to their cultural experience.  The Irish in Northern Europe, the Shia in Iran, the Sunni in Iraq, the Wahabi in Saudi Arabia, the Hindu in India, the Buddhist in China, the Shinto in Japan and the Native Americans didn’t grow up skeptically responding to the lessons their parents and their societies taught them.  They are skeptical of all other religions, because they don’t make sense.  Their own does, and it is self-evident.

For the atheists who don’t go through this the process is confusing and, like the problems that I have in explaining math to my kids, the non-Godness of the Universe is too obvious.  So, for them religion is just kind of, stupid.  It’s not stupid, it’s just wrong.  🙂

Debates between atheists and religious scholars are entertainment, but ultimately few minds are changed.  People can only come to the atheist conclusion on their own and, until then, will rely on intellectual justifications to support their faith.  I am well aware that the same can be said by a believer about my atheism, and that it is foolish.  But then there is a story of a person risking his family relationships.  Here’s an example from

At age 18, despite my homeschooling, I managed to get into a university to pursue a higher education and a better life, a pursuit I was able to continue through attaining a Masters degree. After finishing graduate school, I joined the military and went on to fly jets from the flight decks of one of the most spectacular displays of scientific and technological innovation, U.S. Navy aircraft carriers. My parents were very proud of my accomplishments and even made reference to me as their “self-made man.” This reference has a special kind of irony for me.

I actually went more than a decade calling myself an agnostic. One reason for that was the process by which I came to my non-belief in faith-based assertions of truth. More than that was a need to prevent division between my family and me. Agnosticism provided philosophical blinders to allow my family to view me as a “backsliding Christian” instead of a “traitor.” Eventually, I accepted that I am an atheist (under Dawkins’ scale, I am a 6 out of 7) and thus began my fall from grace. All of the taboos of thinking, formally part of my programming, have slowly eroded to a basic understanding of what we know versus what we don’t know – and this has helped shape my cultural and personal values. Now I have become, in the eyes of a few, one of the aforementioned “savage wolves.”

As Marshall woke up, he was aware that people around him were unwilling to accept his new-found realization. It’s a hard thing to give up, those core values, even when they are based on mistaken beliefs that there is an eternal “giver” of values.

(Originally posted at Tangled Up in Blue Guy on May 24, 2009)

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28 Responses to “Core Values, Atheism and Religion”

  1. January 19th, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    Eldred says:

    I appreciate the thoughtful tone of your post, absent in many of the atheist writings I’ve come across where contempt, rather than rationality, reign. To build on your story about the personal impact on relationships of changing from Christian to atheist:

    A friend was brought up in a freethinking and politically liberal home. As he went through his teen years, he developed a conviction that it was too simplistic to assume that what we can see and understand is necessarily all there is. He eventually became a Christian in graduate school. The response of his family was incredulity, mockery and questions about whether his acceptance of faith included a swing to right-wing thinking and intolerance. Things are polite now between him and his family, but the undertone of tolerant contempt is still there in their regard for him.

    Apparently it goes both ways.

  2. January 19th, 2010 at 5:37 pm

    Peter Mc says:

    There are also issues of habit and comfort. I made the same journey you did, in my case from Catholicism to atheism. At a stroke I lost my tribe. I was born, brought up, educated and socialized in that tribe. It’s a big and difficult thing to throw away and no matter how intelligent or how doubt-ridden many believers are, many chose to ignore their misgivings and stay in the tribe even though…

    “the non-Godness of the Universe is too obvious.”

    To many people I have talked to who still kneel and pray, many of the problems inherent in Catholicism are obvious. Start pressing them (especially after a couple of glasses) and there are very few who will mount a truly robust defence of their faith. Most will speak the creed but yeah, maybe God didn’t create all things visible and invisible (my own atheist springboard), maybe contraception is OK, maybe celibate priests are messed up, maybe the Bible is not entirely accurate, maybe not all Popes have been really been God’s direct representative on earth, maybe communion is not the body of Christ…but they won’t give it up and will go back, Sunday after Sunday. They’re not thick, they see the holes, but it’s easier to put up with the holes than take the next step and leave the tribe.

    After all, we are no tribe. Atheism does not involve going and not praying in a non-church.

    “Debates between atheists and religious scholars are entertainment, but ultimately few minds are changed. People can only come to the atheist conclusion on their own…”

    You never know what seeds you are sowing in debating and talking. People can only come to that conclusion on their own, but they may need encouragement in getting there: they may need tacit support that their doubts are valid, that they are not alone in coming to those conclusions. Leaving the tribe is lonely as well as liberating.

    And as for Mr Nasr, the Anglo-Saxons have been gone for 1000 years and have no establishment even here (where I am writing) in their historical heartland, far less Boston. And having lived and worked in Northern Ireland and having known some of what some of the Catholic hierarchy would call ‘the boyos’, I defy him to say to ex-IRA men’s faces that they did not know their faith.

  3. January 19th, 2010 at 6:29 pm

    Mike Haubrich, FCD says:

    Eldred, there are valid lessons to be learned about stereotypes and family acceptance. That being said, I think your friend gave in too easily and gave into the “god of the gaps.”

  4. January 19th, 2010 at 7:35 pm

    Mike Haubrich says:

    Hey, I had started out as a Catholic, too! An entirely different sort of Catholicism, I think, until the Irish Cowboy Priest with the sad eyes showed up. I knew a great many Catholics who openly defied the teachings of doctrine, and thought that they had a chance, under Paul VI to make some changes. Ordaining females, marrying priests off, that sort of thing. My mother was among them. Of course, she was from a Lutheran tradition, but I knew many “radicals” who thought that abortion and birth control were individual choices and bristled at the Irish Cowboy Priest when he got all sad-eyed and weepy about all the murdered babies.

    Good point about seeds a-sowing, Peter.

  5. January 19th, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    Pierce R. Butler says:

    So the Shia in Pakistan are like the Catholic Irish of Boston.

    Except for being nowhere as much fun on Friday night, nor as surly on Saturday morning.

    Eldred @ # 1: … he developed a conviction that it was too simplistic to assume that what we can see and understand is necessarily all there is. He eventually became a Christian in graduate school.

    Grad schools don’t teach what a “non sequitur” is any more? No wonder the country’s collapsing.

  6. January 19th, 2010 at 8:18 pm

    Mike Haubrich says:

    I do wonder what the friend was studying in grad school.

  7. January 19th, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    Paul S. says:

    “A friend was brought up in a freethinking and politically liberal home. As he went through his teen years, he developed a conviction that it was too simplistic to assume that what we can see and understand is necessarily all there is. He eventually became a Christian in graduate school. The response of his family was incredulity, mockery and questions about whether his acceptance of faith included a swing to right-wing thinking and intolerance. Things are polite now between him and his family, but the undertone of tolerant contempt is still there in their regard for him.

    Apparently it goes both ways.”

    I used to work with someone who basically went through the same thing, except that when I knew him he basically was no longer on speaking terms with his family. The dynamics really are similar going both ways, I think.

    I grew up with family and friends who were religious but generally tolerant, and the only people I knew who mocked other people for their religion were a few atheist acquaintances. I admit that this gave me a jaundiced view of atheists as highly intolerant of others that has never totally gone away. I had virtually no exposure to fundamentalist Christians – I was not even aware that there were people who believed that the Genesis account of the creation was literally true until I was in high school, and I did not know anyone personally who believed this until I was in college.

    As for the broader issue in the original post, I think that the main reasons that people today become or remain religious have are a combination of personal, emotional reasons, and the desire to find or remain part of a community. Desire to explain inexplicable natural phenomena may have been the most important reason for religion in earlier periods of human history, but I think that it is less important now. Science is stunningly good at explaining natural phenomena, but for the vast majority of people it does not address their emotional issues or give much direction for how they should interact with other people or live their personal lives. It also doesn’t usually offer the kind of sense of belonging in a community that is very important to many people. I think that for many people, the issues that religion addresses are more important than whether something accurately explains the physical universe or not. The major problems occur when some forms of religion demand that members of the community of believers must reject scientific evidence as part of the whole package.

  8. January 19th, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    Seth Catlin says:

    I too have just made the uncomfortable transition away from a life of faith and belief. I my case, the religion was The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormon church.

    As with others, this happened gradually, like a flower taking its own time to bloom in the spring. I am 70 years old, having been a Mormon for 45 years. This demonstrates how the process can, and I think must, take time. Of course there are people who “jump ship,” but usually their belief was fragile, and they are reacting strongly to a perceived injustice. And I suppose such people are not becoming true atheists, just as they were usually not devoted adherents of a god-based faith; instead, they are distancing themselves from a source of discomfort.

    One of the central themes of Mormonism is that one (actually a married couple) who follows the “strait and narrow path” will, after death, be entitled to work toward becoming a god and goddess, after which they can create their own universes and have their own eternal families. The big problem for me is that the path is too narrow and leaves no space for individuality. Mormons often speak of how wonderful it is that they (and, in fact, all people) have “free agency.” But I could never reconcile that claim with the requirement of absolute obediance to a rather severe code of conduct. In fact, even thinking outside of the path is strongly discouraged and roundly condemned — sometimes severely punished.

    My friends from that church are baffled by my decision, and they avoid me now — after all, what could we talk about? But I do not pity them or bear them or that church any enmity. Instead, I have made a journey that they have not made. The journey is long and slow and intensely personal, much like life itself.

    Now I am free. Sometimes I feel like a rudderless ship, so adjusting will take some more time. If anyone has some words of wisdom about how I can continue my journey, I am listening.

  9. January 19th, 2010 at 10:45 pm

    Joshua Zelinsky says:

    This is a very important point. I have a lot of trouble explaining to many atheists who grew up as atheists the underlying feelings that promote religious beliefs. In general humans have incredible difficulty moving away from belief systems they grew up with of any form and have tremendous trouble imagining a world without their core beliefs.

    That said, one can’t deny that atheism is correlated with intelligence levels. See for example or . (oddly the correlation seems not as strong if one looks at a correlation between acceptance of evolution and intelligence. See )

  10. January 19th, 2010 at 11:09 pm

    Mike Haubrich says:

    Seth, I do know a very good place to go. Carol, unfortunately lives in Switzerland right now, but she has a blog at “Letters from A Broad.” She is an ex-mormon atheist, too.

  11. January 19th, 2010 at 11:41 pm

    Mike Haubrich says:

    I know someone who is reluctant to call himself an atheist because he thinks that religion is like a “loveless marriage” that he can’t get out of.

  12. January 20th, 2010 at 2:42 am

    MadScientist says:

    And here we have that old adage about a lie told oft’ enough. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem natural for most people to question what they’re told, and if the lie is told to people young enough they may never know a different world. In the christian cults a sado-masochistic god appears and say “I’m going to die so you can be saved.” Saved in what way? Hey, isn’t there a better way to do things, O Omnipotent One? (Or 3 if you believe in the trinity.) The story is utterly infantile, and yet so many believe it and so many would kill for it. Yes this particular streak of malarky would insist that it is true and that other stories of gods and demons are not true. If a person does not understand how to test claims, they are condemned to superstition.

  13. January 20th, 2010 at 9:13 am

    sean says:

    emphasizing -> empathizing 🙂

    while I agree with your point, I think this is one of those cases where language is to blame. The word ‘stupid’ has multiple meanings, one of which is “doesn’t make sense”. When dealing with supernatural ideas there seems to be a strong desire to accept/decide what makes sense to us and to fold that in with our understandings of the natural world. Atheists and agnostics stand on firmer ground with their view that it doesn’t make sense to make sense of things we can’t know. but you are right that it’s not helpful to look down on those who don’t yet realize that.

  14. January 21st, 2010 at 6:22 am

    a daughter's mother says:

    I saw the holes too. All religions have them, just like nearly all religions share two other things: they tell people how to behave towards each other, and how to behave towards their religious leaders. What they say is remarkably the same: don’t steal, don’t kill, worship this way, etc. The first part gives religions value, since there are too many humans that won’t behave without some kind of invisible parent watching over them with the power of imposing long-lasting consequences. The second part just gives power to the first part.

    I just can’t decide that I know enough to deny that there is any kind of a God. To me, that is another kind of arrogance, another kind of theism. I can live with the questions, At my age, there’ll be answers soon enough. As a result, I comfortably call myself religiously agnostic. It makes everybody around me bristle less – not the point, just a side effect. You think your way, I’ll think mine. Someday we’ll all find out. I can still live -my best, richest, most ethical life – with that.

  15. January 21st, 2010 at 7:24 am

    Mike Haubrich says:

    As far as behavior goes, ADM, the “don’t kill,” “don’t steal” also give them license to do just that; to “others.” I was reading this post at the National Catholic Register, by a Matt Archbold, and he passes along all responsibility for morality and good works to God’s Rules that people instinctually follow whether they believe in Him or not. He accuses atheists, and agnostics such as yourself of being blind to the morality that God gave us, even if we deny His existence and says it proves that we are puppets whether we are aware of the strings or not.

    What I have seen is that when the religious screw up and kill, steal, lie and violate morality, their religion provides a layer of Teflon between their soul and responsibility for their actions. They can go back and tell people that they will be okay as far as going to Heaven, because they have been “perfected” by their religion’s element of forgiveness. I find it galling that in Catholic doctrine, Confession’s Act of Contrition is to pray a rote prayer a certain number of times to be good enough to have Communion; rarely did the priest tell me to go back and make amends to a person I had wronged. The forgiveness I needed was from the Mr. Deity.

    Religion is also pretty good at providing justification in doing all the bad things that people shouldn’t do to each other, and the emphasis is on the word “other.” A crime against a non-believer, or an infidel, or someone of another religious belief isn’t necessarily a crime against God. In many cases it is a necessary act.

    For example, the Commandment “Thou Shalt Not Kill” is not cut and dried, according to apologists. The commandment can be interpreted to mean “Thou Shalt not Commit Murder.” So, wars and capital punishment are okay because they are state-sanctioned, and if the state that does that sanctioning is God’s state, so much the better.

    I consider Capital Punishment to be murder, even if the person being killed is the most heinous criminal ever to walk the planet. The Christians, especially are duplicitous in determining who should live and who should die through the arms of the state and oddly enough trust human judgment in this decision. They are the ones who talk of forgiveness towards the lowliest and yet when they get the chance will cry and scream for revenge and death. And we are aware of the number of innocent people who were wrongly convicted and either executed or had their executions stayed before it’s too late.

    But, killing in service to God is in some religions an act of glory so wonderful that the person who commits it is given a free pass into heaven no matter the state of forgiveness they may or may not be in.

    I would bet, ADM, that most atheists would tell you that they are also agnostic about the existence of a supernatural entity that others call “God” or name as gods; but find that the gods as taught either with certainly or apohatically is so unlikely as to exist that the certainty of non-existence is within a degree of confidence. I am skeptical about my atheism, which makes me an agnostic but call myself an atheist because I have been shown no reason to accept the reality of the existence of God, and choose not to live my life as though there is one.

  16. January 21st, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    a daughter's mother says:

    There is probably not a religion that hasn’t been misused as an excuse to do whatever the person wants to get away with. And there are certainly many versions that actively sanction behaviors which are counter to its core teachings. Those frameworks are set up by people, not any God, just like the theological texts are written by people with various agendas and intentions. Most of them suck in a lot of ways. I haven’t found one I’m willing to believe in since college days. And yes, Mike, even AA seems to have the amends part down better than the Catholic Church. But it’s aimed towards people and not some version of God.

    I’m not saying that Atheism has it wrong. They may be right, and there is no God. But what I hear too often is some version of “if there were a God he/she/it would behave like…..” (fill in the blank.) This is just another version of creating God in one’s own image. When the atheist doesn’t find that particular God, and then uses that to prove there is no God after all, I just find that as faulty as any statement that there is a God because of whatever article of faith the believer puts forward. I believe that any God that might exist would be so incomprehensible to us mere humans that we are simply not capable of discerning his/her/it’s existence. Thus, agnosticism.

  17. January 21st, 2010 at 7:00 pm

    Mike Haubrich says:

    I understand what you are saying, but my larger point is that atheists are not essentially different from agnostics in that we allow that we may be wrong for exactly the reasons that you state. However, when we argue the point on theodicy it is not to attribute qualities to God but to poke logical holes in the apologetics of religion.

    In other words, not to say “If there were a God, it would be like (such and such,)” but to say “If your God were real then it wouldn’t do (such and such.)”

  18. January 22nd, 2010 at 8:03 pm

    a daughter's mother says:

    Either way you say it, it still defines God in human terms.

    “If your God were real, then it wouldn’t allow such suffering.” That’s what I hear most. It presupposes that God must think enough about us to care about our suffering. Why? Couldn’t there be an indifferent God? a God on a different time scale? A God with different priorities? Or with none?

  19. January 22nd, 2010 at 8:26 pm

    Mike Haubrich says:

    There could, but then what use would it be? Isn’t the point of religion itself to “touch” or connect God? Religions describe specific traits for God, and like Karen Armstrong you are describing an unknowable God, who either doesn’t care or doesn’t interact. I find this sort of God sort of pointless.

    The Gods described by religion have very specific human traits, don’t they, except they have exaggerated powers to control and direct events. This is the sort of God that the atheists dismiss, because it is demonstrated logically not have any interaction with humanity or nature. It makes sense to be agnostic about the sorts of gods you indicate, because there is no way of knowing or caring or interaction. So an indifferent God exists, I am indifferent towards that. So a God on a different timescale exists, how does that affect us? If we have a sort of God with different priorities than we have, again it doesn’t matter, and I see no point in worrying or wondering about it other than to avoid using the word atheist in the same way that I do.

    Here is a brief, yet clear discussion on atheism/agnosticism. Bringing theodicy into the picture for atheists is not so much assigning values to God and finding them lacking, but to respond to religious claims on the attributes of God and finding the human claims nonsense.

    Agnostic Atheism & Agnostic Theism

    Once it is understood that atheism is merely the absence of belief in any gods, it becomes evident that agnosticism is not, as many assume, a “third way” between atheism and theism. The presence of a belief in a god and the absence of a belief in a god exhaust all of the possibilities. Agnosticism is not about belief in god but about knowledge — it was coined originally to describe the position of a person who could not claim to know for sure if any gods exist or not.

    Thus, it is clear that agnosticism is compatible with both theism and atheism. A person can believe in a god (theism) without claiming to know for sure if that god exists; the result is agnostic theism. On the other hand, a person can disbelieve in gods (atheism) without claiming to know for sure that no gods can or do exist; the result is agnostic atheism.

    It is also worth noting that there is a vicious double standard involved when theists claim that agnosticism is “better” than atheism because it is less dogmatic. If atheists are closed-minded because they are not agnostic, then so are theists. On the other hand, if theism can be open-minded then so can atheism.

    In the end, the fact of the matter is a person isn’t faced with the necessity of only being either an atheist or an agnostic. Quite the contrary, not only can a person be both, but it is in fact common for people to be both agnostics and atheists. An agnostic atheist won’t claim to know for sure that nothing warranting the label “god” exists or that such cannot exist, but they also don’t actively believe that such an entity does indeed exist.

    I don’t think that one is either an atheist or an agnostic, I think one chooses a label and uses different labels to describe the exact same position.

  20. January 23rd, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    khan says:

    —Loftus mentioned that the atheists brought up without any sort of religion have a hard time empathizing with the intellectual struggle of doubt that the religious face. —

    I was brought up with a bit of religion (Episcopalian). Not sure I ever believed any of it.

    I thank you for the explanation of the struggle of leaving it all behind.

  21. January 23rd, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    Mike Haubrich says:

    After I originally wrote this I heard someone else compare his agnosticism and reluctance to call himself an atheist to hanging on to a loveless marriage. I think he is onto something.

  22. January 25th, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    Glendon Mellow says:

    What Mr. Nasr was saying in the interview is true, and it’s important we recognize the reason it’s true. Leaving religion is difficult due to the miasma of culture it permeates: yes! Religions have been multi-tasking control, justice, civil authority, relationships and which parts of the human body may appear in public for ages. In many cultures it’s not a matter of leaving just the religion behind – it’s losing all the cultural trappings that religion has shaped that could collapse the sense of self.

    In a wealthy secular capitalist democracy, leaving religion means there will still be groceries to buy, clothes to wear, partners to woo. In cultures strongly shaped by religious beliefs, the beliefs proscribe food preparation, clothing, marriage.

    It is hard for me to imagine. Yes. I wasn’t raised with any religion (nor with any identifiers of atheism.) I should be sympathetic in some cases. And I will still speak up in favour of difficult rationality.

  23. January 27th, 2010 at 1:18 am

    Andrew Marshall says:

    The problem here in the comments is a common misunderstanding, whereby someone mistakes an “atheist” (one who even blogs about atheism) for someone who cares about the metaphysical issue of whether there is a god, but the “atheist” is essentially just an anti-theist, who is not interested in considering a god(s) which have not been conceived of by Christians, Muslims, etc.

    I’ve had this same discussion recently with someone who runs an atheist mailing server, and he countered the possibility of an inconsequential god with the same “…why should I care?…no, I’ll go on asserting there isn’t a god(s)” I (mistakenly) took for granted that running a mailing list dedicated to a metaphysical issue, one would have interest in that issue.

    Can’t this type of atheist just call themselves an anti-theist and save me the trouble of trying to have a philosophical conversation with them? I’ve found this breed of atheist is commonly an ex-theist, so I guess they’re making progress, in baby steps, and they’ve come “a long way” but I still maintain they are wrong. Asserting “there is no god(s)” is not the same as asserting “there is not a god I need to be concerned about,” even if they mean the same thing to you.

  24. January 27th, 2010 at 9:36 am

    DuWayne says:

    I think it is really hard for some people who were never particularly religious – most especially if they were never really exposed to/immersed with extremely religious people, to understand it. A lot of them seem to think there are just a couple of positions that religious people take – either liberal/doubtful or conservative/fundamentalist. They fail to understand that one can take extremely liberal religious stances, while being a fundamentalist in regards to the level of faith they actually have. That this is not just one spectrum, but ultimately several.

    It is easy for them to dismiss, for example, Christians who accept evolution and accept homosexuality as atheist/agnostics who just haven’t made the leap, rather than people who sometimes have a faith that is just as profound as that of the most ardent conservative fundamentalist. They also tend to assume that because these Christians accept homosexuality and/or evolution, that they believe anything goes, rather than accepting that this person’s dogma is simply different.

    At the same time, there are way too many theists who believe that religion is somehow essential to core values – including those selfsame liberal Christians. I think this is especially ironic for me, because while I am extremely liberal when it comes to civil liberties, I have become considerably more conservative about my own behavior – in an inverse relation my faith. The less my faith influenced me, the more conservative my behavior/respect for certain behaviors has became. To be sure, I think this is just a natural side effect of growing older and maturation – but it is definitely saying something about core values and religion.

  25. January 27th, 2010 at 10:25 am

    DuWayne says:

    Can’t this type of atheist just call themselves an anti-theist and save me the trouble of trying to have a philosophical conversation with them? I’ve found this breed of atheist is commonly an ex-theist, so I guess they’re making progress, in baby steps, and they’ve come “a long way” but I still maintain they are wrong. Asserting “there is no god(s)” is not the same as asserting “there is not a god I need to be concerned about,” even if they mean the same thing to you.

    In short Andrew, no. You are by no means required to have any sort of philosophical conversation with any of us, but nor are you allowed to decide for us how we identify ourselves. Especially because there are very specific reasons that I am, as you put it, anti-theistic. The thing is – those reasons, my very anti-theistic mentality has absolutely nothing to do with my being an atheist and everything to do with the extremely abusive relationship that I had with Christianity and what I think is a very dangerous tendency our society has for allowing people to use religion as a justification for not following the laws that everyone else has to follow.

    And for the sake of clarity, I do not accept either of your atheist premises. I most certainly do not believe there “is” (sic) no gods, nor do I believe there are gods I need not concern myself with. Pure and simply, I have not seen any reasonable evidence for the existence of gods. I do not believe there are or are not any gods – by identifying as an atheist, I am merely asserting that I think the existence of gods are unlikely, because I have not been presented with evidence that there are. Presented with such evidence, I would accept that there are in fact gods or a god.

    And please feel free to take your condescending “baby steps” bullshit and shove it up your ass. As an ex-theist (not as an atheist) I am more than a little bit fucking angry, but I am angry for very good reasons. This does not mean that I go around bashing every theist I run into – to the contrary, I have many friends who are theists – just as I have a lot of friends with whom I have some rather fundamental disagreements. What it does mean is that I am unwilling to take any shit about who and what I am. It also means that I am absolutely disinclined to hold back my opinions about various aspects of theism. And while I am all about respecting individuals, I flat refuse to respect religion for religion’s sake – not even a little.

    It is also too bad for you, that you find discussions of philosophy distasteful with people who have no interest in talking about hypothetical gods. Some of us are quite engaging when it comes to philosophy. I am personally quite keen on discussions of morality and ethics, as well as epistemology. But I suppose I quite understand that there are many narrow minded people who can’t seem to manage with people they have fundamental disagreements with. A great many of them decided that I was no longer – in any way, shape or form, an acceptable human being, when I came out as an atheist. Some were narrow enough that they would no longer allow my child to play with theirs.

  26. January 27th, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    Andrew Marshall says:

    You’re interested in pointing out my grammar, DuWayne, but you missed the error.
    If you search for the word parenthetical on this page
    you might learn a thing(s).

    Your usage of sic seems kind of stupid too. Read up,

    Yeah, otherwise, I don’t get it. “It is also too bad for you, that you find discussions of philosophy distasteful with people who have no interest in talking about hypothetical gods.” Isn’t that what the issue is? Atheism: a take on the question of whether god(s) exists OR a position of general opposition to predominant religions. I don’t think they are the same thing. Are they?

  27. January 27th, 2010 at 5:46 pm

    DuWayne says:

    Isn’t that what the issue is?

    Not really. The vast majority of people I know who are atheists have no interest in discussing the existence of gods. They tend to be more interested in forming connections with other atheists, because theists tend to consider “atheist” a dirty word and it is nice to be able to engage people who don’t.

    A position of general opposition to predominant or any religion has nothing to do with being an atheist. It is a position that many atheists hold, but it is also a position that a lot of spiritualists and even many theists also take. It just tends to come up in a lot of forums frequented by atheists, because a lot of atheists are either sick of the special place the theism holds in our society or because they once had some sort of abusive relationship with theism – often enough it is both.

  28. January 28th, 2010 at 7:56 am

    Mike Haubrich says:

    For atheists and others such as DuWayne mentions, religion does not get a free pass to wipe away all the damage that it causes in search of some philosophical meeting of the minds over the issue of the existence of some Deistic god. Not only are people, and especially children, being damaged now by the sorts of moral absolutist ways of thinking that fundamentalists engage in, but the defenders of religion would also have us forget the horrible crimes and murders of doubters, pogroms against Jews, slaughters in the Bible by the heroes Joshua and David and countless other genocides by a capricious Abrahamic God.

    But more importantly, the only thing that can be said to unite atheists is that we reject the notion that there must be a prime supernatural actor to whom we must make obeisance and succor in our lives while we acknowledge the tiny probability that such exists, at least most of us do. We simply don’t need “It.” The sparring over the use of the word ‘atheist’ or ‘agnostic’ is a niggling over small details, I think.

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