Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Was George Michael right?*

It's almost impossible to look at the direction comments on recent posts have consistently taken, quite on their own, without concluding that faith—formal or otherwise—is uppermost in the minds of a fair segment of readers. I'm going to offer some random musings on the topic that I may or may not come back to, or embellish, in subsequent posts. It's just weighing on my own mind this morning.

I think we can all agree that faith is inversely (though not always) correlated with (1) a high degree of intellect* and (2) a high degree of skepticism. Some might argue that what I've just written is redundant: that skepticism is already a marker for high intellect. I'm not so sure. I know some very skeptical people who are not so much "intellects" as "curmudgeons"—that is, their innate skepticism is more an expression of a confrontational nature than of high intellect. They simply need to go against the grain. Anyway, highly intelligent, skeptical people are wont to equate faith with gullibility, and therefore see the lack of faith as a sign of a more exalted level of being. They may not always admit this, but there are usually telltale signs in their attitude. The poster boy for scientific secularism, Richard Dawkins, is obnoxious—the kind of sneering intellectual boor who'd get the crap kicked out of him daily if he acted that way on a Brooklyn schoolyard. I basically agree with much of what Dawkins says—at least in theory—and I wanted to kick the crap out of him after reading the first few chapters of The God Delusion. He's an insufferable ass.

I also think—based only on my own experience and observations—that one's inclination to "believe" is strongly linked to one's level of emotionalism. The more you're ruled by feelings, the more you're probably predisposed to have faith. The more you're ruled by intellect (and I'm using the word in a slightly different sense than above), the more you're unlikely to have faith. Some of these correlations might seem self-evident, but I thought we'd get them on the record before we move forward. Or backward, depending on your POV.

As I noted in a recent comment of my own, this probably isn't a winnable debate on either side. It's one of those issues where the feelings are simply too strong, too ingrained; they're so much a part of the person (and how he or she sees himself/herself) that they're really inseparable from core-level personality. Generally speaking, to ask sincerely religious people to question their faith—or, on the other hand, to ask "devout" atheists to reconsider their doubt—is tantamount to asking a person to be someone else. Ain't gonna happen. If you even pursue the endeavor beyond a few tentative entreaties, you're going to encounter a high level of defensiveness (if not outright venom) very soon. We've seen that on this blog (despite the efforts of all concerned to be polite/civil, which are much appreciated, I might add).

Based on the general tenor of comments from most of the folks who frequent SHAMblog, I don't think I;m apt to win friends with the following thoughts. I may even lose some of you. Regardless, I'm just going to shoot from the hip and we'll see what happens. Btw, if this isn't as organized or well-edited as it ought to be, it's because I simply don't have time to do a better job today.

We'll start with something that many of you, regardless of which side you're on, may consider a stunner: I'm not sure it matters whether there is or isn't a god/God; it may be one of those concepts that should be believed anyway, even if it's false. (Bear in mind, I say that as someone who—intellectually—would probably insist there is not a god, though I do admit a knee-jerk tendency to believe, no doubt implanted during childhood.) I find that people who define themselves as "humanists" or "secularists" are not—by and large—as "nice," for want of a more descriptively specific term, as the people who make some attempt to honor the Ten Commandments in a faith-based sense. I realize that I'm now going to have to endure rebuttals that cite radical Islam and the Crusades and the rest of it, going back to antiquity. For the purposes of this discussion, let's try to confine ourselves to normal, everyday, present-day America. I'm not talking about suicidal Muslims, and I'm not talking about the sorts of raving Christian fundamentalists who want to see gays buried alive. I'm talking about "the average" people we know from the grocery store or the neighborhood park.

I find that people who have genuine faith are more selfless. Again, let me be clear: I'm not saying they're that way for noble reasons, necessarily; maybe they're selfless because they're afraid not to be. So if they live by the Golden Rule, perhaps it's because they don't want to be pulled out of line and asked to wait by the side when they reach the Pearly Gates. They want a ticket on the Heaven Express. No matter the reason, the end result is that they do the right thing—I think—more often than people who lack faith. People who lack faith tend to be pragmatists. They're far more inclined to make it up as they go along, sometimes based on self-interest. People who lack faith also rationalize a lot because—let's face it—rationality is what they do. It's their “faith.” They trust their heads to allow them to puzzle their way through any given situation. And when you give the human mind free rein to puzzle its way through a situation—without any bedrock Truths that cannot be rethought and must be taken as givens—the end result may look like something that a person's Id had a lot to do with.

Such convictions only solidify in my mind when I reflect on my decade in academia, where, of course, skepticism of religion and faith often borders on outright belligerence. [See under "Dawkins."] Among my professorial peers, agnosticism and atheism often translated, in practice, to a smug personal repudiation of the most basic tenets of civility. I met countless people (seriously: hundreds) in my decade in college who were thoughtful "in the abstract"—the type of NIMBYists who organize marches and protests over Darfur or Iraq, but would fight tooth and nail to keep a women's shelter from despoiling the lovely, arboreal neighborhoods in which they lived. Similarly, my peers rarely expressed any interest in the lives of each other's spouses or children. They had no time for that stuff. Heck, there was still more thinking to do!

Never—not once, in ten years—did any of my faculty peers ask me, "So how're you doin', Steve? Can I help you with something?" While I was at Indiana University, I can recall just two instances wherein people asked me if they could bring me coffee or some snack back from the campus deli. In both cases they were female professors who wanted to have sex.

Which brings me to another telling point: Their right to indiscriminate sex always took precedence over a carelessly conceived embryo's right to life. Which is to say, the right-to-life issue wasn't even on the table in academia. Understand that I'm not taking sides here. Personally and legally, I'd have to say I favor a woman's right to choose, even though the whole thing makes me quite sad. I'm just pointing out that—there weren't any sides in college. There was no debate, because the interests of the unborn carried no moral weight whatsoever. It was all about pragmatics—what worked best in a secular, here-and-now sense.

You may laugh at what I'm about to say, but I also noticed that my peers didn't cry easily. (This, I admit, is a particular foible of mine, but I go with Schwarzkopf here: I don't trust people who don't cry. Can you imagine Richard Dawkins or, say, Chris Hitchens sobbing? To paraphrase an ESPN host's memorable line about today's selfish NBA players, "only if somebody keys their Lexus.") Once, as part of a campus-wide examination of the Holocaust, we were invited to a faculty-only screening of Schindler's List. As the powerful Spielberg film ended and they brought up the lights for the discussion period, I looked around me and was shocked to notice that I was one of just two people wiping away tears. This, in an audience of at least 50 professors. When the discussion began, the first few opinions ventured were as clinical and detached as if the topic were the proper ignition timing on a 1973 Ford Mustang. Don't get me wrong, my colleagues were determined to ensure that our students understood the historical significance of the Holocaust, as well as its continuing relevance—probably more so than I was. But they had no apparent feelings about it! It was a purely rational judgment that had nothing to do with any eternal laws that may have been breached. Rather, it seemed to be more a case of "genocide is unfair, so we should take a stand against genocide. Next!..."

I remember exactly what I thought in that moment: that if you're going to teach kids about empathy, wouldn't it be helpful to actually have some of it…?

To be continued. Or maybe not. We'll see how this one goes.

* Bonus points if you get the heading.
** Say what you will about the likes of William F. Buckley and Newt Gingrich, they were/are highly intelligent people who also were/are highly devout in their religious faith.

76 comments:

RevRon's Rants said...

I'd have to say large, I have to agree with your assessments, Steve. The one area where I would diverge is in the common assumption that faith and religion are necessarily synonymous.

While I hold a deep faith in some things that are - at least at present - unproven and unprovable, I tend to avoid the constraints of religion, which I see as the *machine* that humankind has built to help them define, quantify, and justify their faith. While I find that the tenets of Buddhism most closely describe my own faith, I am also cognizant of the dogma, ritual, and assorted minutiae of the Buddhist religion that seem, to me, inconsistent with the tenets themselves. And don't get me started on the horrible things that some opportunists throughout history have done in the name of their religion - be it Buddhist, Christian, Judaism, or Islam.

Were I fully committed to every tenet of my faith, I would be living in a monastery - and came very close to doing just that, many years ago. When faced with the decision to take final vows or leave the monastery, I left.

My teacher - who remains the wisest and most compassionate being I've ever known - advised me against calling myself a Buddhist. He reasoned that some people would love me for all the wrong reasons, while others would hate me for equally wrong reasons. He told me to look to any religion and find the "silver thread" that it shared with all other religions, for that was where divinity would be found. Those things that separated ideologies from each other were human inventions, and had little to do with that which I sought. In retrospect - especially in light of recent exchanges - I can see the wisdom in his advice.

Virtually everyone has "faith" in something, whether it be the existence of a benevolent force in the universe or the existence of a mathematically provable formula to explain things beyond their understanding. To claim absolute and documentable knowledge of either is folly, beyond our limited capacity.

We can prove that all "A" is "B" and that all "B" is "C," but when we insist that all "C" is, by extension, "A," we have stepped beyond the logical and into the hypothetical. That there is so much effort invested in insisting that hypothetical is "truth" speaks to individual control issues, rather than to the reality of a given ideology or mindset.

Whether we are hard-wired to have faith is an interesting question that just might be answered one day. As to whether one's proclivity to faith is an extension of their level of intelligence - or whether that theory even matters - may never be proven, especially if we don't hold fast to the notion that faith and religion are one and the same.

I've met very religious people who were pompous and uncaring, but rarely have I encountered people who held faith - sans the machine - who fit that description. Same goes for "skeptical" thinkers. Those who have made their skepticism into their religion bear a striking similarity to the religious zealots I've known. And those (like the woman I adore) who are skeptical to the extent that they don't "believe," but are willing to admit that they don't know all the answers, are a joy to be around, and fun to debate.

If only both extremes could tolerate admitting that there might be more than they are capable of proving, explaining, or even understanding, or - heaven forbid - that they might have missed something important - the discussions would prove more fruitful, and who knows... we might actually face a better chance of continuing to exist as a species.

So long as we hold fast to our need to be "right," and to make everyone else "wrong" in the process, all we'll have to show for our efforts will be bruises and ever higher walls to protect us from bad guys that only exist in our own fears, even as we leave ourselves vulnerable to those who would really do us harm.

Jeremy Smalling said...

Hey, you did something! Better than nothing! You go boy!

-Jeremy

The Crack Emcee said...

"Among my professorial peers, agnosticism and atheism often translated, in practice, to a smug personal repudiation of the most basic tenets of civility. I met countless people (seriously: hundreds) in my decade in college who were thoughtful "in the abstract"—the type of NIMBYists who organize marches and protests over Darfur or Iraq, but would fight tooth and nail to keep a women's shelter from despoiling the lovely, arboreal neighborhoods in which they lived."

Steve,

Based on that description (alone, mind you) I don't think you're actually discussing true non-believers (atheists) but NewAge liberals - those that only find fault with organized religion, exclusively, and will do anything - including joining churches - to subvert it. Your talk of sex leads me to believe that's who you're griping about as well: can you picture Dawkins having indiscriminate sex?

Can I picture Christopher Hitchens (a conservative) crying? Sure. He's mentioned it several times in his books - including God Is Not Great. And don't forget: I started TMR with the words "I've been crying."

When discussing true atheists (and not those posing as atheists to cover their paganism) I think our anger is justified: we're outnumbered by - not just believers - but fanatics who no amount of reasoning, coddling, being nice, anything, will work to stop them from destroying the social fabric. It was recently mentioned on this blog that God cannot be denied because, rather than the accepted idea that believers have to provide proof for their belief, it's up to atheists to do otherwise. It's that willingness to stand reason on it's head - and be devoid of feelings for others who who live with them - that you seem to have noticed on college campuses. It's the same group that WFB started out criticizing.

I've written nice things about religious folk, despite my atheism, and when I encounter sincere individuals I give them space to expound on their faith (for instance, I recently posted a comment from someone asking me to "pray for President Bush" and a Christian break-down of NewAge beliefs) because sincere faith is a topic that interests me greatly. But, yea, at the slightest hint of cynicism, fanaticism, or insincerity, I become a blowtorch because I can't stand the direct insult that such people would take me for a fool or a push-over - and it is an insult. To my individual intelligence and to humanity.

It's true: I, too, find many atheists boorish, and (some) even misguided, but I'll take them over NewAgers any day. To me, they represent all that you're describing. And just for the record:

I cried during Schindler's List.

Steve Salerno said...

Crack, remember, generalizations are...general. They're not intended to apply to everyone. And I regard the members of this community as substantially more enlightened (and less stereotypical/one-dimensional) than other people I've known.

Jeremy-- I have to say, I don't really "get it." But the remark seemed innocuous (and upbeat) enough. So there it is.

RevRon's Rants said...

"It was recently mentioned on this blog that God cannot be denied because, rather than the accepted idea that believers have to provide proof for their belief, it's up to atheists to do otherwise."

Crack, I think you've missed the point, at least as it relates to my comments. I have never insisted that God cannot be denied, but rather have stated that it is both illogical and arrogant to deny the *possibility* of the existence of a divine source, simply because it has not been proven with mathematical certainty. I cannot conclusively prove the existence of God, any more than a nonbeliever can conclusively disprove that existence. Attempts by either "side" to claim possession of absolute truth, while berating those whose world view and ideas deviate from said perspective are not only absurd, but destructive.

We each hold to a mindset that is, to our unique way of thinking, both logical and pleasing. All I've ever asked is that people who see things differently be allowed that individual choice without being falsely accused and plastered with derogatory (and inaccurate) labels.

renee said...

I'm starting at the end.

If people don't - or can't - cry, they have something more that's troubling them than whether or not there is a Supreme Being in existence. I don't know why the group you viewed the film with reacted rather stocially and turned to their intellect rather than their emotions to frame their responses. I only know it would have made me extremely uncomfortable.

As to the rest of it, and speaking only for myself, I have long wondered: when it become "dumb" to believe in God?
Why does being an agnostic or an atheist mean you're smarter than the rest of the poor sods who continue to have faith in something beyond their intellectual capabilties?

In fact, I think my view is exactly the opposite of yours. If strong leanings toward "intellect" and skepticism result in viewing people of faith as gullible, I would pose to you that some people of faith see intellectuals and skeptics in much the same way. Except in this case, the smart people and skeptics are gullible because they've happily - and with a great sense of superiority if I'm reading this correctly - surrendered all that could be possible but not provable to only that which can be proven and shown to be inherently and empirically true without debate, emotion or anything not quantifiable. Simply put, they refuse to believe in what's possible.

Without proof, without measure.

Seeing and believing in only the defined, the provable, the testable - to me, anyway - is a very austere way to live. People who live that way probably see it much differently.

In my own simplistic way, my own faith-filled way, I look at the world and can't help but wonder: this very same universe could exist and operate in EXACTLY the same way it does every day - no changes whatsoever to the chemical, biological, environmental and any other "-al" you want to insert here - without any of the following in place: gorgeous trees blooming every spring, birds singing every morning, sunsets creating gorgeous skies every night.. I could go on here but you get the picture. People get to experience the feelings evoked from a gorgeous piece of music or a great painting, or celebrate or recognize the joy of athletic prowess of all kinds, or simply be on the receiving end of the smile you get from a baby looking up at you or a companion across the bed from you.

And it ain't because we're all so darn smart and evolved. To me, it's because there is (was) divine intervention in the world and how it works. Someone or something decided there needed to be something delightful yet undefinable and sort of randomly fabulous about spending a couple of decades on this planet.
Otherwise, there is simply no explanation about why the inside of a geode needs to look so pretty.

One woman's humble opinion.

Finally, give me a room full of people wiping their eyes and sharing a real moment of human connection over a room of smart, dry-eyed intellectuals anyday.

ps Faith is the G.M. song that had every woman I know up and dancing ...

Steve Salerno said...

p.p.s. ...as well as a fair contingent of those guys the Christian fundamentalists would like to see buried.

Anonymous said...

I have witnessed what you are talking about concerning your fellow professors trying to sleep with you. It’s like As the Stomach Turns at my college too! I was really surprised by that for some reason. I naively thought professors were a bit less crass.

I am moved by a lot emotionally, but I am not too big of a crier. I have read stories in my classes that made me want to weep, but I knew that would make the author uncomfortable and was inappropriate for the class. As a professor, I have a responsibility to all my students and to keep my composure. I do not think that is a reflection of a lack of emotion or of compassion. Doctors cannot cry when they have to make important decisions either. A lot of them cry privately. I don’t think the crying or lack there of means all that much. It depends on the individual. Maybe the professor (s) saw how important it was too keep his or her emotions in check. Compare it to how a judge must keep order in a court. Remember the crying judge in the Anna Nicole Smith case?

Steve Salerno said...

Also, Renee, to address the substance of your comment, rather than just firing off a "cute" zinger... I guess I didn't phrase myself as clearly as I could have in the post. (That's the danger of trying to handle a complex topic when you're pressed for time, as noted.) I did not mean to imply that if you're really intelligent, that must mean you're an atheist. The best way of putting it would probably be as follows: Though not all highly intelligent skeptics are atheists, I think if you assess the ranks of atheists, they consist overwhelmingly of highly intelligent skeptics. In other words, I would suspect that a random American atheist is far more likely to be a highly educated person who scores well on intelligence tests (and probably an urbane urbanite), and far less likely to be an unsophisticated illiterate who lives in Kalamazoo.

But yes, to concede your point head-on: There are many extremely intelligent people of faith. I list just two of them in the footnote.

Steve Salerno said...

And Anon, those are good points that add another dimension to my (simplistic?) notions about crying. Thanks for weighing in.

Jeremy Smalling said...

Securus Te Projice

Faith is belief in things that cannot be seen, the substance of things hoped for. It is the ‘material’ of the spiritual dimension. It allows us to have today what we will only have fully in the future. It allows us to learn in this life how to live in the next. Yes, I believe it is essential. It is the beginning… the mustard seed. But none of this is new. Jesus said all of it all by himself in less than two years about 2000 years ago. No one has ever made reality so clear. Why do some people find it so hard to trust Him and 'surrender'? Why do people have to fight Him? Of all the poeple they could fight they chose God - go figure. I can only surmise that it is a lack of proper education or overabundance of improper education, but that is another blog topic that I’ll probably shake my head at. So please, keep your so-called ‘faith’ that requires nothing to yourselves. It makes things complicated and is empty talk. Compare it to what He gave us back then and continues to give us today, especially through His Church! Night vs day! Burning man vs. World Youth day [At the same time no less, and what the hell ;)… and 8~)]!

Elizabeth said...

Goodness gracious, so many issues, so little time...

Steve, unless I misread you something terrible here, you say that religious folks are nicer and more moral that atheists. Is that right? Correct me if I'm wrong, and fast, please -- before I go on.:) (And, just to make sure, you are the same Steve Salerno who wrote SHAM and who writes for Skeptic? ;)

Alright, I go on then.

You make many generalizations about believers and non-believers here, Steve, specifically on their sociability and (im)morality (of atheists). I'm thinking that there may be (likely is) truth in your generalizations, since it is possible that religious faith allows one a greater degree of comfort and protection from the anxiety of existence, thus, perhaps, making believers happier. Perhaps; though I'm not sure this is indeed so.

You cite your own experiences to support your conclusions, and even if I/we wanted to, I/we cannot debate personal experiences. They are what they are. Unfortunately, yours with non-believers(?) were not that pleasant (to put it mildly).

You focus on the token atheists who are the most vocal and prominently featured in the media as the examples of atheist sociability -- of lack of it, more accurately. But considering Dawkins or even Hitchens (who is more "human" and vulnerable of the two, IMO) to be the paragons of atheist moral and social behavior is as useful as looking at Dr. Laura or Ann Coulter or, say, Sean Hannity to be the exemplars of the religious or conservative moral and social behavior. You see Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris paraded around all the time, because there are many fewer atheists than believers, and these men are the most outspoken and accomplished of an already relatively small group of folks. But please do consider the possibility that they may not be the most representative exemplars of the moral and social capabilities of the atheist set.

You also need to consider the context of the Hitchens et al. appearances. Usually they are trotted out to "debate" God and religion with some staunch defenders of both, and typically (though not always) by the virtue of statistics skewed against atheists in the general population, these debates take place in front of a largely believing (i.e. religious) audience. So we have preconceived and stereotyped expectations at work right away there, fueled even more by the hosts of the debates, who are not interested in truth or even the integrity of the debate as much as pimping their guests, and pitching them against each other for ratings. Thus the behaviors you see played out on the public forum may not necessarily reflect the true characters of the players there, and certainly should not be considered a standard representation of a whole set of people. (And, this is just my personal opinion, one should never make assumptions about people's character -- specifically, about their emotional lives -- based on whether or not they cry at the movies or in public in general. And one should never believe in something just because others tell him/her that s/he should.)

Then you go on to detail your unhappy personal experiences with your former co-workers, but it is not necessarily clear from your description that they were atheists (though you either say so or imply hinting at their leftist and immoral leanings). I wonder how many of those lefty and insensitive, outwardly at least, types go to church every other Sunday, or cultivate some spiritual belief of one kind or another. It appears to me that you cannot necessarily know the spiritual status (in terms of believing or not) of somebody based on your work experience with them (but then, maybe you can and you did).

As to atheists not crying (and not when their cars are keyed)... Well, in my atheist family this is certainly not true. And I could tell you the story of my atheist father, who is a gentle, sensitive, most self-effacing and giving man I know -- and he's been married for over 50 years to a militant Catholic, my mother, who is equally giving, though self-effacing she is definitely NOT. (My father is not an intellectual or well educated -- he worked as a locksmith most of his life; however, he is intelligent, and of the curious and questioning sort.) But then it just would be another personal anecdote proving exactly nothing; or, wait, perhaps proving that believers and non-believers are all human, warts and all, and neither camp has the monopoly on being nice and moral. Though that's just my thinking.

Anonymous said...

Do you mean George Michael of WHAM? I have never heard of George Michaels. I see you are not an Xer, but a Boomer.

Anonymous said...

Was George Michaels that cross-dressing basketball announcer? You remember, the one who use to cross-dress with his mistress from a couple of years ago.

Elizabeth said...

RevRon, you say, "(I) rather have stated that it is both illogical and arrogant to deny the *possibility* of the existence of a divine source, simply because it has not been proven with mathematical certainty."

Ay ay yay... This is too much for me, Rev. I admit I can no longer follow your reasoning.

You chastise "the atheists" on this blog for being arrogant, yet you are the one who claims that those who believe differently from you are arrogant (all in the above paragraph). No one in this discussion here, at least as far as I remember, called you or any believers arrogant. Their beliefs illogical, yes -- but not arrogant. And yet you throw this charge at the atheists, while at the same time berating THEM for doing so...

Scratching head in disbelief -- and no pun here. This is too much for my simple mind.

I'm sorry to say this, but it appears to me that you keep demanding the courtesy which you yourself deny to others. How does this work?

Steve Salerno said...

RE George Michael(s): Oops. I stand naked and flayed in my ignorance. And you know what? I'm not even going to correct it. It's a testament to the fact that we all...misspeak?

Steve Salerno said...

I'm not going to micromanage my "official response" here in real time. Rather, I think I'll let the opinions settle a while--I have a feeling we'll be hearing more from a few folks (as well as some new voices)--and then I'll say anything that I think I need to say in my defense/explication.

I will say, here, that I am one of those rare ones who's capable of double-think, and I think I've also evolved a better segregation between my cognitive and emotional sides (though of course that's always misleading, since we don't know the degree to which one bleeds over into, or even controls, the other). What this means, for example--to confuse things further--is that I believe in God. Even though I also know I'm wrong.

Now figure that one out!

Anonymous said...

"You cite your own experiences to support your conclusions, and even if I/we wanted to, I/we cannot debate personal experiences. They are what they are. Unfortunately, yours with non-believers(?) were not that pleasant (to put it mildly)."

You contradict yourself, because just yesterday you wanted to debate religion. Look at your posts from yesterday. You are proving Steve's point for him and Rev's too.

Anonymous said...

"I'm sorry to say this, but it appears to me that you keep demanding the courtesy which you yourself deny to others. How does this work?"

Gee, Elizabeth you do the same thing! You should understand Steve perfectly then.

roger o'keefe said...

Elizabeth: I was in the process of writing a comment here when I read the latest one from Anon at 8:10. I hope Steve doesn't censor this as personal, but I'm with Anon in feeling that your arguments don't exhibit a lot of humility or any level of willingness to concede even the smallest point. Please understand that I'm not attacking you as a person. I'm talking about your style of argument and especially the contents of the arguments themselves.

It's good to be sure of yourself. I would only ask, in dealing with such complex and ultimately cosmic topics--how could you be?

Steve Salerno said...

I'll admit I was on the fence about this one (from Roger). But in context, I think it's a fair statement, especially since it closes with (what I think is) an honest question.

Elizabeth said...

"What this means, for example--to confuse things further--is that I believe in God. Even though I also know I'm wrong.

Now figure that one out!"

Dunno, Steve, what's there to figure out? You mean the cognitive dissonance between your intellect and your belief in God (or perhaps between two sets of beliefs)? In my experience at least, this is quite common.

P.S. But one cannot miss the fact that with this admission you place yourself among the folks who, in your own observations, are nicer and more moral (than those who do not believe in God). LOL.

Steve Salerno said...

I should point out that too many of the comments now coming in--two or three out of the last five--were quite personal and were censored b/c I don't think they were "fixable." I may allow people a bit more latitude here because of the nature of the discussion, which is inherently personal and--as foreshadowed in my post--tends to devolve quite quickly into lesser forms of argumentation, some of which goes with the territory. But I urge everyone to focus as much as possible on the message, not the messenger.

RevRon's Rants said...

"you are the one who claims that those who believe differently from you are arrogant (all in the above paragraph)."

Read again, Elizabeth. I have *repeatedly* stated that deriding and berating someone for holding different beliefs - and dismissing the possibility that those beliefs might have some validity - is arrogant.

"No one in this discussion here, at least as far as I remember, called you or any believers arrogant."

Arrogant? No. Evil, manipulative, dishonest, deluded, superstitious, unintelligent... frequently. And that's just in the public responses. *That* is the arrogance I reject. And not just from atheists, though the most acrimonious comments have come from self-proclaimed atheists.

"And yet you throw this charge at the atheists, while at the same time berating THEM for doing so..."

If calling for civility and a willingness to allow other viewpoints without reverting to uninformed blanket derision, name-calling, and assorted slurs constitutes berating, mea culpa.

"Scratching head in disbelief -- and no pun here. This is too much for my simple mind."

False humility notwithstanding, I'm not gonna touch that line! :-)

"I'm sorry to say this, but it appears to me that you keep demanding the courtesy which you yourself deny to others. How does this work?"

Only you can know the answer to that, Eliz. Like I said, read the comments again.

Elizabeth said...

Anon at 8:10: I'm all for debating religion, I have not changed my mind. I'm saying here, however, that it's hard, if at all possible, to debate personal experiences (i.e. Steve's -- with non-believers -- were unpleasant -- so what's there to debate?) His experience stands on its own value, if you will. There is a difference between debating *ideas* and *personal experiences.* The former are up to debate, the latter not (IMO).

Roger, where exactly am I so sure of myself? LOL. This has never been about (me) being sure of myself -- and if you read it this way, then we have a problem. Goodness gracious, the contents of *arguments* and *ideas* are always up for debate, no? Always, regardless of the subject. The personal experiences are less so, if at all.

As to my personal confidence in these matters, rather than engage in explaining myself, I'd ask you to go back and re-read my posts from the past month or two to judge whether this is indeed the case.

RevRon's Rants said...

"cognitive dissonance between your intellect and your belief in God"

This is the type of statement - its implication of condescension clear - that I have been addressing.

Anonymous said...

"But I urge everyone to focus as much as possible on the message, not the messenger."

Sometimes the "messenger" does not understand the "message." Even when the "message" has been given back in so many ways. This "debate" is bordering on repetative and, dare I say it, mean spirited. Frustration can lead to harsher posts, which is why sometimes you have to walk away. Unless your blog has now become a place for people to work through their "religious" issues. Heh, you could be onto a new book idea with that. Just a thought.

Elizabeth said...

Wow. Now we've touched something here, though, honestly, I'm not sure what. Where is the acrimony coming from exactly?

Let's recap. We set out to debate religion in the context of SHAM. I said there are no major differences between the two and provided my arguments. You (Steve and others) maintained that there are significant differences and provided your arguments. We rebutted each other's arguments and parted on that, as far as I can tell, without agreeing (or agreeing to disagree) -- either way is fine, no? So why the personal intensity here?

On the subject of major religions specifically, I said earlier that there is no proof of god's existence or life after death -- two major tenets of great religions. Does anyone object to the truthfulness of this statement (i.e. that there is no objective proof of these two phenomena)?

I also pointed out that some corollary beliefs, such as virgin birth and resurrection in the Catholic faith, can be considered superstitions (according to the official definition of superstition, according to American Heritage Dictionary, as
"1. an irrational belief that an object, action, or circumstance not logically related to a course of events influences its outcome.
2. a belief, practice, or rite irrationally maintained by ignorance of the laws of nature or by faith in magic or chance.")

I would posit, again, that to say that a woman can get pregnant without having sex and that a dead person can come back to life would both fall within that definition of superstition as quoted above, specifically a belief in a course of action that defies the laws of nature -- and both immaculate conception/virgin birth and resurrection fit this category. Please note that in this instance, I used the word superstition in its dictionary meaning, without imposing judgment on it. Pointing our superstitions inherent in some religious beliefs also is not a condemnation of our need or desire to believe in something greater than ourselves, nor does it say anything about God's existence. In fact, a seriously religious person could well argue, I imagine (the way Bishop John Sponge does, for example) that superstitions distance people from God. But he does it much better than I ever would, so I won't even try.

I've also said, numerous times on this blog, that I understand the need to believe, that I wish I could believe myself, and that, in general, I'm not certain of anything in life. I'm not sure how this message got lost.

And, to put yet another issue to rest (I hope), RevRon have I ever called you here evil, manipulative, dishonest, deluded, unintelligent?

OK, that's about all, I think, for now, though I'm sure the debate(?) will continue.

Elizabeth said...

"cognitive dissonance between your intellect and your belief in God"

This is the type of statement - its implication of condescension clear - that I have been addressing.

OK, Ron, where is the condescension? This is merely a descriptive repetition of Steve's statement: "I believe in God. Even though I also know I'm wrong."

There is *absolutely no judgment* in my description of Steve's self- confessed conflict between what he believes (God) and what he knows (that it's wrong). This is an example of cognitive dissonance, as clear as they come -- and there is nothing negative or condescending in saying that.

Steve Salerno said...

Folks, no argument on a controversial topic is going to unfold exactly the way we might script it. Consider: The UN is a forum for--allegedly--the most temperate, astute, well-seasoned diplomats on the planet...and yet over the years, some of the charges and counter-charges launched from the floor of the General Assembly during open debate would make Rosie O'Donnell or that acid-tongued chef from Hell's Kitchen blush.

I do have one thing to say that I think is generally valid: We don't see our own intellectual snobbery or condescension. To us, our arguments are perfectly lucid and reasonable. Even if we go back later and reread them--after others have "invited" us to do so--we tend to be blind to our rhetorical bluster (and blunders). But when it comes to spotting the verbal slights and other debating missteps of others, we have Lasik-enhanced 20/10 vision. That's all I'm going to say for now. And that is pointedly not directed at any specific contributor here. It's merely an observation, and it applies to your host as much as to anyone else.

RevRon's Rants said...

"OK, Ron, where is the condescension? This is merely a descriptive repetition of Steve's statement: "I believe in God. Even though I also know I'm wrong."

Perhaps it would clarify matters to offer an analogy (advance warning... no pun intended):

Say a woman mentions that she thinks her butt is fat. No particular emotion in the statement, beyond a mild sense of dissatisfaction at the observation. However, if another person, who has made previous statements indicating a sense of superiority over people who are even mildly obese, looks at the woman and says "Gee, your butt looks fat," the effect changes dramatically. There is a clearly implied - and understood - condescension in the second person's statement, even though he (or she) was "merely offering a descriptive repetition of the first person's statement."

In any exchange, it is inevitable that we consider the source, and the tenor of their previous offerings.

As unusual as it might be, I find that my observations mirror Roger O'Keefe's. :-)

Chad Hogg said...

Wow, that's a lot of comments in 9 hours. That intelligence (or at least education level) is inversely correlated with faith, is I think, a matter of fact rather than opinion. (Being a lazy person, however, I will not actually find a citation for it.) But this is of course only a statistical fact over the entire population. Intelligent, faithful people are not at all uncommon.

I would tend to define faith as a willingness to believe things that have not been proven and skepticism as an unwillingness to believe things that have not been proven. By such definitions, faith and skepticism must be inversely related. Using these definitions, I am not sure that intelligence would have any correlation to either.

If you want to twist faith into an unwillingness to consider that capriciously chosen beliefs might be wrong, then these relationships change, but that would be outside what I find worth discussing.

I would agree with you that religion, regardless of whether or not it contains any truth, has a net positive effect on the world. There are certainly people who will disagree and have compelling arguments, but I think they fail to see many of the things that fall on the good side of the balance.

I also think that my anecdotal evidence supports the statement that people of faith are, on average, "nicer" than those without. Again, it needs to be clear that this is painting with very broad strokes; I know many faithful jerks and faithless gentlemen.

Your experiences in academia are quite foreign to me. It is indeed a place of nearly palpable antipathy toward faith, but I have only rarely encountered the type of uncivility that you describe. I suspect that the differences in our experiences are closely related to the fact that your field of study falls in the humanities while mine is in the sciences. I'm not quite sure what to make of it.

I think all RevRon is trying to say is that absence of proof is not proof of absence. To think otherwise is indeed illogical, though I would not call it arrogant.

To address Elizabeth's most recent points: I haven't read your comments on the earlier post, so I won't address that. I cannot speak for anyone other than myself, but I agree that there is no proof of the existence of (a) God. The virgin birth does not meet the definition of superstition that you provided because it is not based on ignorance of the laws of physics but rather a belief that God is capable of working outside of them. Of course, I'm not sure why it matters whether an arbitrary definition of a word applies or not.

Anonymous said...

"I've also said, numerous times on this blog, that I understand the need to believe, that I wish I could believe myself, and that, in general, I'm not certain of anything in life. I'm not sure how this message got lost."

Since you asked the question, by the way you are writing your posts. Read them outloud to yourself before you send them. Maybe that will give you an idea.

Anonymous said...

"Anon at 8:10: I'm all for debating religion, I have not changed my mind. I'm saying here, however, that it's hard, if at all possible, to debate personal experiences (i.e. Steve's -- with non-believers -- were unpleasant -- so what's there to debate?) His experience stands on its own value, if you will. There is a difference between debating *ideas* and *personal experiences.* The former are up to debate, the latter not (IMO)."

Personal experience is the explaination I gave for believing in God. Steve took the ball and stated the same thing uaing choice of spouses as an (my) example. For a lot of people believing in God/god is personal and not something that can be explained, but felt. That leads logically to be not up for debate. By using this example, you actually proving mine and Steve's very point. Most people do not consider God/god an "idea" up for debate. YOU might, but that is YOUR view. That's it for me.

Steve Salerno said...

Your experiences in academia are quite foreign to me. It is indeed a place of nearly palpable antipathy toward faith, but I have only rarely encountered the type of uncivility that you describe. I suspect that the differences in our experiences are closely related to the fact that your field of study falls in the humanities while mine is in the sciences. I'm not quite sure what to make of it.

Chad, perhaps the best way to say this is that I found academia to be an almost extraordinarily cold environment. BUT--I am willing to concede that that's because I am an extraordinarily emotional/sentimental person. To a fault. It's like the difference between so-called "computer-people" ("tekkies") and so-called "people-people." Now, I'm not truly a people-person either; I'm way too moody and most of my thoughts are just too much at odds with the mainstream for me to be a good fit. But I think you know what I mean about tekkies, or "geeks," as we sometimes call them (and not always as a pejorative, as Best Buy teaches us with its "Geek Squad"). Just as geeks are too much into machines--and don't really "get" people--academics dwell in the realm of thoughts and ideas, and--at least to my experience--aren't nearly as comfortable with feelings. In fact, I'm betting they probably consider feelings antithetical to their very world-view, because you can't truly quantify them or use them as the basis for a logic/fact-based argument.

But I say again, no argument or observation is absolute. This is why, for example, when Elizabeth contends that I'm the living refutation of my own argument, she's assuming 100-percent conformity to the general tendencies I note. She is also assuming a high degree of personal consistency that may not be there in a fair percentage of human beings. It certainly isn't there in me. That much I can say for sure.

The Crack Emcee said...

And out come the big guns:

1. Absence of proof is not proof of absence? You guys have had about 2000+ years for your faith to be justified: ain't it about time to give it (and the rest of us) a break?

2. The virgin birth is a superstition because, when it was originally conceived of as an idea, those illiterate desert dwellers were ignorant of the laws of physics. (As many city folk still seem to be.) The same goes for the fools who said Buddha emerged from a slit in his mother's side. All jabberwocky for the jujub set. I say, Lordy, let's dance the gris-gris hustle!

3. Empathy. I thought long and hard about this today and I don't buy it: how is it empathetic, or kind, to insist on driving reasonable people up a wall with this nonsense - repeating "I don't care" every time it's pointed out there's nothing to it - while knowing we wish you'd shut up, or go back to school, or something? So selfless. So kind. So out of your friggin' mind. Face it: it's all about you. There's no way one can hold such a position and claim to care about others, or progress, or truth. It makes the believer feel good to believe. The rest (or the truth) as they say, can go to Hell. Now that's compassion!

4. Religion has killed more people than all the wars of man, combined, and been the cause of many of those wars too. (It's killing people, now, as I write this. That's not a guess but a fact I can write, without research, and you all know it.) Not only that, but religion inspires sexual acts that can make atheists - a pretty imaginative bunch - go completely blank in a brothel, with Catholic priests and little boys being only the tip of the iceberg. Wanna bet?

5. Having to fool yourself is a really weak premise for anything that's supposedly "real", no? I'd say that "real moment of human connection" that was spoken of isn't real at all. Exhibit A: Obama and his pastor. Exhibit B: Oprah and the same pastor. Exhibit C: all the believers that rejected that same pastor when he stepped forward with his outlandish version of "faith". It makes as much sense as Iggy Pop saying, "When I say 'love', I mean love, L-U-V".

6. There is nothing "illogical and arrogant" about denying something that has not a thread of evidence - but tons of proven bullsh*t - throughout human history. UFOlogists make more sense because, at least, we know we're bound to find some bacteria - somewhere - to claim "life" exists on other planets. But "divinity"? In man - or as the creator of man? Are you kidding me? I've seen too many people pick their noses to buy that crap. If you ask me, it's just losers patting themselves on the back for doing nothing more than existing in the dark without screaming. And, to make matters worse, they won't listen when atheists tell them, to get through life, it's really much more helpful to all when you open their eyes,....

It's late. I'm tired. I'm going to go to sleep now and try to dream of a world where none of this exists. Unfortunately, that's probably the only place this poor black boy can get any relief from these asinine torments of life.

Smell you later,

CMC

RevRon's Rants said...

"I think all RevRon is trying to say is that absence of proof is not proof of absence. To think otherwise is indeed illogical, though I would not call it arrogant."

Thanks for nailing it so concisely, Chadd. Just to be clear, I never felt that thinking otherwise constituted arrogance. The repeated and clear implication that holding to one mindset was intellectually and ethically superior to others is, however, about as arrogant as one can get.

RevRon's Rants said...

"She is also assuming a high degree of personal consistency that may not be there in a fair percentage of human beings."

This statement, which appears on the surface to be self-deprecating, is probably as much an understatement of a basic truth as we're likely to see on this blog. Human intellect, emotion, and spirituality come about as close to providing a fulfillment of the chaos theory as we're ever likely to encounter. Whatever "consistency" any of us might exhibit is most likely contrived, since every one of us is in a constant state of flux/conflict.

The things we most aggressively defend are the same things that represent our greatest sources of doubt, and we defend because we feel we must. Those areas where we feel most certain are self-evident, and need no defense. The only exceptions to this I've ever observed had been exhibited by the "beneficiaries" of bilateral frontal lobotomies.

If these discussions represented nothing but a comparison of participants' logic and understanding, they would remain within the sphere of explanation. Once diverted into the realm of defending, however, they quickly abandon the premise of logic, in favor of insistence upon preferences. The dividing line between the two realms is very fine, and we can see how easily it can be crossed. Perhaps, as has been suggested, we need top go back and re-read the comments - our own, as well as those offered by others. Aloud, if necessary. Perhaps by doing so, we might at least begin to see how we've crossed the line.

Anonymous said...

Steve, it may be that persons who are willing to shut down their personal lives and emotions are the ones who self select into academia and reach top rank.

A friend of mine was married, her husband was in Hawaii, and she was doing a Ph.D in nursing at a medical center in California.

My friend actually had emotions. The chair person of her Ph.D committee kept giving her conflicting instructions on what to do, which kept hindering my friend's work.

Finally, my pal told me she marched in to see her dissertation committee chair person and read her the riot act:

"I need clear instructions on what you actually want. I am at the point where I have to choose between my marriage and this dissertation. And if it comes down to it, I am not going to sacrifice my marriage and home life for this dissertation.'

My pal had priorities and was ready to put her home life first. Fortunately for her, the chairperson was a woman and had fundamental humanity. The two of them worked out what to do, and my friend got her Ph.D and is still married.

Here is what I think may happen in academia. (I was in graduate school for 4 years and left without a degree--I hated it. When we complained about the workload, one of the professors, told us, 'You are in the Army now.' The jerk failed to recognize that people KNOW BEFOREHAND that going into the army means facing death. But we just signed for graduate school, not the army. And, the guy forgot we were paying for the privlige of being going to that dump of a program. But...because he had the power to hold us up in our work, we dared not tell him this to his face. Graduate school is authoritarian and god help you if an asshole with power issues is in a tenured position-and your department is small enough that you have to deal with this asshole and perhaps get him (or her--women can be abusive too) on your dissertation committee or oral exam committee.

We had a female tenured faculty member who had a habit of telling male graduate students their research design was excellent, then after the hapless student did months of work, would suddenly tell him the research design was flawed. That meant months of work was down the crapper. But..this gal was tenured. (I am a woman, but will tell you it was a sorry day when I discovered how women could abuse power as fluently as men can.)

Here is how I suspect academia turns dysfunctional and generates the emotional coldness that Steve has described:

1) Many may have family discord at home and take refuge in books and intellect as a means of escaping the ambient emotional pain and by getting validation and mentoring from adults outside of one's home. If you pull A's in high school and then in college, you may get a faculty member to take you under his or her wing and protect you.

2) You get A's at a good university by working your ass off and this leaves little time for hanging out with and making friends, having some agenda free fun.

3) In graduate school you live at the library, lab and computer center. Private life suffers. You tend to date people who resemble you.

4) Women still have a burden of proof in academia--we dare not show emotion for fear of being accused of irrationality.

Put this all together and you get a group of intelligent, highly productive people who are cold, emotionally. If they have children, they're so busy they have to hire nannies for the children, and this perpetuates the coldness down through the generations. Even with a compatible nanny (and many nannies dont stay long), a child is bound to wonder, 'If Mom and Dad say they love me, why do they keep sending me off to hired care providers?"

Then the kid takes refuge in either books or dope or videogames to dull the pain of that question.

RevRon's Rants said...

1. Absence of proof is not proof of absence? You guys have had about 2000+ years for your faith to be justified: ain't it about time to give it (and the rest of us) a break?

And "you guys" have spent 2,000 years trying unsuccessfully to conclusively prove "the other guys" wrong. How much longer will it take before you realize that different people have different outlooks, and that making everyone else's wrong is a futile - and toxic - lifestyle?

2. The virgin birth is a superstition because, when it was originally conceived of as an idea, those illiterate desert dwellers were ignorant of the laws of physics. (As many city folk still seem to be.) The same goes for the fools who said Buddha emerged from a slit in his mother's side. All jabberwocky for the jujub set. I say, Lordy, let's dance the gris-gris hustle!

I suspect that many of the "miracles" described throughout history might have been literary inventions, allegories used to reinforce and enrich the dogma and ritual of various religions - and governments. As I've *repeatedly* said, such inventions are only applicable to the machine of religion, not the essence of spirituality. Perhaps a minor distinction, but only if one's goal is victory, rather than understanding.

3. Empathy. I thought long and hard about this today and I don't buy it: how is it empathetic, or kind, to insist on driving reasonable people up a wall with this nonsense - repeating "I don't care" every time it's pointed out there's nothing to it - while knowing we wish you'd shut up, or go back to school, or something? So selfless. So kind. So out of your friggin' mind. Face it: it's all about you. There's no way one can hold such a position and claim to care about others, or progress, or truth. It makes the believer feel good to believe. The rest (or the truth) as they say, can go to Hell. Now that's compassion!

Nobody is insisting upon anything beyond civility, allowing that others have as much right to hold and express their ideas as do you. Furthermore, "reasonable people" rarely get driven up walls by ideas with which they don't happen to agree, and recognize the difference between "truth" and "belief" - even when attempting to insist that they have no beliefs.

4. Religion has killed more people than all the wars of man, combined, and been the cause of many of those wars too. (It's killing people, now, as I write this. That's not a guess but a fact I can write, without research, and you all know it.) Not only that, but religion inspires sexual acts that can make atheists - a pretty imaginative bunch - go completely blank in a brothel, with Catholic priests and little boys being only the tip of the iceberg. Wanna bet?

Religion hasn't killed more than all wars, but has been the justification for those wars, and for too much killing. From what I see in your writings, you've declared your own war on religion. That's how it begins: declaring one's own perspective to be the one truth. Then, having to aggressively defend the unique "rightness" of one's view of truth above all others. Then attempting to vilify the "nonbelievers." Once effectively vilified, it becomes acceptable to attack and destroy them - or at least, make an attempt to do so. And one can blame their aggression, sexual dysfunction, or perversion on anything they choose, rather than accept personal responsibility for their actions.

5. Having to fool yourself is a really weak premise for anything that's supposedly "real", no?

The greatest act of self-delusion is that of convincing one's self that they possess exclusive rights to truth, and that any other perspective is indicative of substandard intelligence or moral deficiency.

6. There is nothing "illogical and arrogant" about denying something that has not a thread of evidence - but tons of proven bullsh*t - throughout human history.

The same mindset is what got Galileo excommunicated from the church. In then end, his bullsh*t was proven to be truth. But that is beside the point, which is, I believe, understanding the need - by both extremes - to proselytize and browbeat others into acquiescence to their chosen way of describing the universe.

If you ask me, it's just losers patting themselves on the back for doing nothing more than existing in the dark without screaming. And, to make matters worse, they won't listen when atheists tell them, to get through life, it's really much more helpful to all when you open their eyes,....

And you claim not to be evangelizing, raising the ignorant masses (losers) from the shadow of their foolishness? Of course, there's no arrogance in such an attitude... only "rightness."

It's late. I'm tired. I'm going to go to sleep now and try to dream of a world where none of this exists. Unfortunately, that's probably the only place this poor black boy can get any relief from these asinine torments of life.

On this, at least, I think you are correct. The world will spin its own way, irrespective of your preferences. The vast majority of humans will continue to think differently than you do. Perhaps, in your sleep, you will be gifted with dreams of a world that is - to your way of thinking - perfect , where everybody agrees with you and doesn't intrude upon your serenity with the inconvenient and disturbing differences in opinion that drive you up the wall.

Sleep well.

Chad Hogg said...

the crack emcee:

Forget about faith and apply this rule anywhere else. I have no proof that there exist people who have read all of these comments but not responded. In fact, I do not even have any evidence. But this surely does not prove that none exist. In this case, I would not expect there to be any evidence. In the case of the existence of a god, you seem to be arguing that if a god existed, the probability of some evidence of its existence appearing in 2000 years is quite high and that none has been found. Based on those (reasonable) arguments, it would be quite reasonable say that it is extremely unlikely that a god exists. The logical error comes when you conflate "extremely unlikely" with "provably impossible". Saying you can prove that a god does not exist is just as bad as saying you can prove that one does.

The virgin birth is not a superstition by the definition Elizabeth provided because, regardless of how ignorant of the laws of physics people were 2000 years ago, the belief is not based on that ignorance. But like I said, I'm not sure it matters whether it fits this definition or not. There are certainly some reasonable definitions of superstition that would include the virgin birth.

I am not trying to convince you and Elizabeth that a god exists or that belief in the virgin birth is not superstitious. I am trying to get you to abandon arguments that are logically inconsistent for ones that are stronger.

You seem to have been deeply hurt by people of faith in the past. Although I cannot claim solidarity with them, I would like to apologize for their actions.

regarding academia:

Ha! I am, in fact, one of those "computer people". It is entirely probable that I am so "cold" that I am unable to recognize this aspect in myself or the people I encounter. I would not say that I am uncomfortable with feelings, but I do seem to have them to a lesser degree than many people. For example, some people seem to be extremely emotionally invested in this discussion while I am really not interested in changing any one else's opinion. I do cry, but it has been several years and is almost always an expression of joy rather than sorrow.

The stories of anonymous and her friend sound awful, and I feel somewhat guilty for my own good fortune. Frankly, my advisor is fantastic, much closer to a friend than any manager I've had in private industry. Again, perhaps that is because he and I are so alike in our coldness, but I do not think so. My biggest problem with faculty members is that some of them who received tenure many years ago have reached the point of genuine incompetence and should be avoided at all costs.

I work hard and get paid little, but I see this as a great opportunity. Who else gets the freedom to study (within reason) whatever problem they find interesting without being independently wealthy? Perhaps I am just extraordinarily lucky.

Anonymous said...

I can relate to what you are saying Steve. I fall on the other side. I am woman who has been bashed for being “too logical" and "lacking in sensitivity," which I think is a cruel thing to say, but that's just me. Most of the problems I have had in my careers have been with women, whether it was in corporations or academia. The men were great to me, but I was ostracized for being “insensitive” by female managers and professors when I pointed out inconsistencies in thought and action. I never understood why I was insensitive for women, when the men thanked me for helping them in their thinking. I still get a female student every year who wants to argue about the sexism of ancient Greece. Unfortunately, she is going to miss out on some amazing thinkers with that mindset. I do not believe the ancient Greeks would ever be as close-minded as some of my students, but I love them so it’s hard for me to be objective. I have to be very cautious due to my personal experiences with women and work extra hard at listening to them, because of these experiences.

Now my academic career was an accident. I never set of to teach anyone. I just loved to learn and am an autodidact. I would take the graduate list of books from major universities and read them for my own enjoyment. When I went back to school, I just kept going. I faced a lot of problems though. I found most professors were not open to new ideas and felt threatened by anyone who “challenged” them. I saw a lot of academic sabotage as an undergraduate. I was very careful about where I went to grad school too. I find most people do not do their homework when applying to grad schools, which is rather ironic considering it is academia. I know of former fellow student who complained to me about all the reading she has to do for her English Ph.D. and my question was, “why are you getting a PhD in English if you don’t like to read?” She said I was "insensitive to her plight.”

I do not think Masters and Ph.D s in the humanities mean all that much now. I know that colleges and universities are passing them out like candy, since they are money makers. Maybe twenty years ago it meant something, but not these days. A lot of people are paying for the paper without jobs when they are done. I know of someone who is over $250,000 in debt without an academic job, but he has a Ph.D!

So Steve I don’t know what to say about your experiences in academia. I can say it reminds me of my husband who is also a professor. We have doorman and one day the doorman did not say good morning to him. My husband came to me with how “insensitive” the doorman was and if he was having such a bad day he should find another line of work. I asked, “we have a doorman?”

Anonymous said...

"The stories of anonymous and her friend sound awful, and I feel somewhat guilty for my own good fortune. Frankly, my advisor is fantastic, much closer to a friend than any manager I've had in private industry. Again, perhaps that is because he and I are so alike in our coldness, but I do not think so. My biggest problem with faculty members is that some of them who received tenure many years ago have reached the point of genuine incompetence and should be avoided at all costs."

I am in the humanities Chad and I agree with a lot of your sentiments. I too had a great advisor(s) and went out of my way to find them.

Steve Salerno said...

Thanks, Anons. Anon 1:46, I loved your ending; vaguely O'Henry-esque.

The Crack Emcee said...

"You guys" have spent 2,000 years trying unsuccessfully to conclusively prove "the other guys" wrong.

Have not, though that's another nice belief. Atheists have always been forced to lay low, considering all that religious compassion, and their desire for open inquiry.

I suspect that many of the "miracles" described throughout history might have been literary inventions, allegories used to reinforce and enrich the dogma and ritual of various religions - and governments. As I've *repeatedly* said, such inventions are only applicable to the machine of religion, not the essence of spirituality. Perhaps a minor distinction, but only if one's goal is victory, rather than understanding.

Repeatedly giving oneself an "out" is always a remarkable thing to behold. And, yes, I'll take victory. I'm not a Buddhist looking to suffer.

Nobody is insisting upon anything beyond civility, allowing that others have as much right to hold and express their ideas as do you.

I know: that's the problem.The idea of conceding a point - not just being civil about it - seems to be the difficult part. "Express" all you want, but when you're wrong, concede. That's being civil. Not to mention mature.

From what I see in your writings, you've declared your own war on religion. That's how it begins: declaring one's own perspective to be the one truth.

Pot. Kettle. Black. As Bob Dylan said, "How does it feeel?"

The greatest act of self-delusion is that of convincing one's self that they possess exclusive rights to truth, and that any other perspective is indicative of substandard intelligence or moral deficiency.

When someone says, "I hold a deep faith in things that are unprovable," it becomes hard to take the rest of this seriously.

The same mindset is what got Galileo excommunicated from the church.

"Faith" produced that outcome.

You claim not to be evangelizing.

I have nothing to evangelize for. Atheism isn't a belief system. Merely an acceptance of what is now. Things may change. But, in this regard, I don't think it so.

The world will spin its own way, irrespective of your preferences. The vast majority of humans will continue to think differently than you do. Perhaps, in your sleep, you will be gifted with dreams of a world that is - to your way of thinking - perfect , where everybody agrees with you and doesn't intrude upon your serenity with the inconvenient and disturbing differences in opinion that drive you up the wall.

Wrong again. My preferences are finally having their day in the sun. Books by atheists are bestsellers. Some have become spokesmen. Einstein's letters are out. Though I'll gladly concede that belief is "disturbing" in the modern era, this isn't "differences in opinion" but right and wrong. Telling lies, defending the indefensible, giving oneself (too obvious) outs, and refusing to be rational in a democracy, are "wrongs" to the society we share. Wanna "real connection" with others? Then it's best to "get real". And I'll be the first to say:

I'm waiting.

And a question about Buddhism:

Is it a "teaching" to never let someone else have the last word? It's never struck me as humble, or whatever,....

Steve Salerno said...

OK. Now everybody's gotten a few good sarcastic swipes in. In the meantime, there have been some excellent points raised that deserve to be addressed thoughtfully and head-on--if we're going to pursue this--rather than via rhetorical artifice that grows increasingly acrid and personal. One such point would concern the nature of evidence and/or the differing levels of it that we require in living our lives as a whole, in contrast to our private quests to have our faith validated in some way. Why do we make that distinction? Clearly we make allowances for gaps in religious knowledge that we would not tolerate in other areas of life. Why? And what justifies us in doing that? Is the answer--simply--Faith?

I'm honestly curious to hear, and though we've talked around the edges of it, I don't think we've come close to "nailing" it.

RevRon's Rants said...

"this isn't "differences in opinion" but right and wrong."

This brief line describes the crux of the matter, as well as the futility in continuing the discussion with you, crack. I don't have a NEED to make anyone else wrong in order to feel right, to call anyone derogatory names in order to bolster my opinion, or to browbeat anyone, just to prove how "humble" I am. When you can honestly make these same statements, perhaps we can talk again. I won't hold my breath.

I will gladly leave the last word to you, even with the knowledge that you'll likely claim (once again) that by doing so, I've walked away, my worldview shattered. :-)

Anonymous said...

I don’t know if this answers your question, but the dialogue reminded me of a man I met a long time ago. He was an only child raised by atheists and he became religious upon his adulthood. I was quite intrigued by this and asked him why sought religion. He said he felt “starved” as a child growing-up. He said God/god gave him something intangible. It went beyond just faith, but a sense of wholeness that he could not express. He loved his parents and they were good to him, but they were purely rational about the world. His parents raised him that God/god was a myth. There was no Easter Bunny. Santa was to sell toys. There was no Tooth Fairy and explained how his teeth fell out to get a second set of teeth. Religion was for man, etc. They were quite sad when he became Catholic, even though he was happy. They thought he fell for the delusion that people need. He told me there had been no sense of wonder about his childhood and no imagination. The world his parents painted for him lacked color and life. That was the best way he could describe it. That leads me to think we need faith to fuel our dreams and imaginations or maybe some of us do. Maybe faith and believing in the beyond gives our worlds my color and hope.

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve -
When I was growing up,I had been made to attend church every Sunday, and got absolutely nothing from it save the ability to discuss events described in the Bible. What with having to duck whenever my father felt angry, I was anything but a happy, religious kid.

Then, when I was 11 years old, my half-sister and I went to New York to visit my grandparents & visit the World's Fair. I was really impressed with all the technological wonders on display. Then, in one exhibit, I rode a long escalator up toward a room that was bathed in blue light, not knowing what was at the top. When I reached the top of the escalator, I stood about 20 feet from Michaelangelo's Pieta, and it literally took my breath away. I had never in my life seen anything so profoundly beautiful. I sensed at that moment that there had to be *something more* to reality than I had ever imagined; something that could inspire a human to create a work that was more than a carving, and infinitely more than the rock from which it was hewn.

I didn't say to myself that this was a God-inspired work, and frankly, had no real concept of what a "God" was. Still don't. But I have known since that day that there was, indeed, something "more."

Over the course of several decades, and despite any number of journeys down paths where I could find no sign of that "more," I began to understand better, not what "god" was, but that there existed a benevolent *something* that had set in motion the creation of so many wondrous things.

I guess it does come down to faith. Some have it; others don't. It was that faith that carried me through periods of incredible ugliness; not always apparent to me, but waiting somewhere behind the ugliness. I am convinced that whatever that force was, it kept me - either through direct intervention or by subtly reminding me of its presence - from being utterly destroyed.

I don't expect anyone else to share my experience, much less, my perspective. They are welcome to believe whatever they choose, even if their belief is a proclamation of belief in nothing. I don't care how much anyone tries to diminish that awareness of something more, beyond wondering at their need to do so. In the final analysis, that seed of faith is stronger than any argument that denies its existence.

The funny thing is, the longer I live, the more I come to realize that my faith is not in opposition to my logical mind, but challenges the logical mind to try and observe and understand the absolute symmetry between what I've learned and what I have yet to learn. Much of that education has had the effect of drawing me away from religion, yet it always seems to take me back to a moment when an angry child was first awed by something greater than himself; simultaneously uplifting and humbling.

As the saying goes, your mileage may vary.

Steve Salerno said...

And now, acting in surrogate for Eliz, I will say to Anon 5:24: "Same with self-help."

Steve Salerno said...

Rev, you and I are simpatico here. And let me say as a disclaimer before I even start that I am not placing what follows in evidence for the existence of God; I am simply explaining why I have often been drawn to Ron's idea (and many others', of course) of "something more."

Trees.

Specifically, flowering trees. Especially when they're populated by dozens of birds of different species and colors, and surrounded at the bottom by a lovely green moss from which sprout, in random locations, multi-hued wild flowers. And all of it silhouetted against a perfect, cloud-dabbled sky.

OK, I apologize to anyone who's just about losing it by now. It was not my intent to have this comment serve as a reliable test for your gag reflex. I also know that there are perfectly reasonable botanical and Darwinistic explanations for everything I've just described. But there are times when I just don't buy it (emotionally). I sit there on a bench watching all that, as beautiful small children toddle by, chasing after squirrels...and I wanna say Come on. This is all just a cosmic accident?

Understand--again--that doesn't justify my belief in any sense that's supposed to be accepted as "proof." It just tells you why I feel as I feel, at times.

Steve Salerno said...

And alert readers will note that I have now, indeed, changed the heading from "Michaels" to "Michael." Frankly, I just got tired of fielding the wise-ass emails off-blog.

I think that leaving the misspelling right up there at the top for a day bespeaks appropriate contrition for the severity of the crime.

Anonymous said...

And now, acting in surrogate for Eliz, I will say to Anon 5:24: "Same with self-help."

You've confused me, because I do see the imagination connection with self-help. If anything, self-help lacks imagination. They want to make everyone the same. You just posted this in your blog previously. Remember the one with Priscella Presley?

Since this thread began, I did some of my own research into atheists. I found most of them actually have connections to religion and sonething went wrong. Look at Karl Marx. His father was a devout Jew, but wanted his family to convert to Anglican to fit in. Karl hated God/god ever since. I meet few atheists who wake-up one day being atheists. Usually, it is a reaction to something. Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

As a postscript to my post about Karl Marx, there is much debate about artists being atheists. Question being can you create art without believing in something beyond this world.

RevRon's Rants said...

"Come on. This is all just a cosmic accident?"

Even more awe-inspiring to me, Steve, is the fact that it would have required the perfect integration of billions of concurrent and successive "cosmic accidents," all intertwined with the whole. The math alone boggles the mind.

The Crack Emcee said...

Steve,

I understand your point about an emotional need but the question then arises: would you feel that need if your auto mechanic wanted to fix your car with holy water or - hilariously - meditation? And how would you do emotionally once everybody started talking up the holy meditating mechanic - even if their cars no longer ran?

As I've said, I see no difference in people's behavior just because they have a belief system. As a matter of fact, I've seen just the opposite: they're less willing to be self-critical, reflective, etc., because now they've found the way. Even worse, like smokers who've quit, they won't shut up about it. And to all but other believing apologists, their cognitive dissonance is glaring. They make the world appear mad.

How anyone expects people to live peaceably in such a situation - a situation believers insist on creating - is beyond my imagination. Wait - no it's not. They don't care if anyone can live peaceably. They think, by evangelizing, they'll drag so many people in they can "change the world" but, as I think events in China prove, the world ain't changing and doesn't need anyone's help. We are the weak links here and the sooner people accepted that the sooner they'll choose to get along. But that's probably the one fact believers can't handle: they're going to die.

I don't fear death. I look forward to it to escape - not life - but those believers I've had the misfortune to live with. People who will admit they've got nothing but will argue, 'till they're blue in the face, there's something to it - a "spritual connection" - that allows them to break every rule of decency. Especially the most satisfying to me: a real exchange of ideas - not their stupid fantasies.

They don't get that, in the reality outside their minds, they produce the exact opposite effect their belief promised. It's not fun, or "enlightening", but silly and frustrating. They make fools like the Trench Coat Mafia relevant. They make death attractive. "Good" becomes "bad", and so on. Everything they don't like becomes the only escape from the "faith" they have such a horrible time living without. Garbage in, garbage out:

That's the historical tragedy of belief.

Steve Salerno said...

Crack, you make some very good points. And I actually think I anticipated several of them with my remarks/question just above:

One such point would concern the nature of evidence and/or the differing levels of it that we require in living our lives as a whole, in contrast to our private quests to have our faith validated in some way. Why do we make that distinction? Clearly we make allowances for gaps in religious knowledge that we would not tolerate in other areas of life. Why? And what justifies us in doing that? Is the answer--simply--Faith?

I guess the larger question for me--and you hint at this in your own cynical comment--is this: Do we humans, in order to get through the day, have a basic need to believe certain things (or at least intuit certain things) that (1) not only can't be proved by any means that meets the usual standards of inquiry, but (2) we already know have a high likelihood of being false? If so...why do we have that need, and should we give in to it?

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve, I wouldn't presume to guess where that need you speak of comes from - or even whether it exists as the source of faith. And to be honest, I don't think the answer really matters, anyway. The faith is there, I feel enriched by it, and I've yet to find sufficient evidence of its fallacy to inspire me to abandon it. I question it all the time, but in the end, it emerges not only unscathed, but strengthened.

I don't really need to disassemble everything, just to convince myself that it exists, and I'm not so full of myself as to think I have the answers for anyone else. If nothing else, being at ease in the world in which I live - despite the presence of some ugly realities - rather than screaming at all the "enemies" some folks feel surrounded by - makes me grateful that I see things as I do.

Anonymous said...

I say we need faith for a lot of things. We need faith to get married. We need faith to stay married. We need faith to have and raise children. We need faith to get jobs and be productive in society. We need faith to complete tasks. We have to believe in something beyond ourselves. Now I am not saying that has to have anything to do with religion, but faith is pretty much glue. If I looked at the world without faith, I pretty much would not be able to live with much sanity. I sure wouldn’t be very productive.

I think humans are big brained and cannot grasp the concept that this is all there is. Death makes biological sense, but not emotional sense. We still love people who are dead. The dead don’t care, but we do. Yes, we should give in to our need for faith. What is the alternative? Would we just go off and kill ourselves? If it is simply biological, why even try anything? Why form bonds with others? Why even try?

The Crack Emcee said...

From the evidence I've seen, if there is such a need, it's only to allow very small minds to feel superior.

It reminds of another topic I've batted around lately: violence. Men have to live with the idea there's someone bigger, stronger, etc., throughout their lives but women act like that reality is some unfair advantage directed at them only. So they get domestic violence clinics, support groups, whatever. If two men get in a fight, they're lucky if both of them don't go to jail - no questions asked. This re-thinking of the issue allows women to get away with emotional mayhem, all the while pointing the finger at the man, or men in general.

Religion works like that too: there's no hope for the outsider to belief. We're completely in the right but the weight of the group still holds sway and it's resulting madness is allowed to work it's particular black magic (read: back-stabbing) on all who recognize it for what it is.

It's a bizarre thing to get my head around.

Steve Salerno said...

Crack, your observation about the possible genesis of the "need" doesn't wash for me. It seems like an awfully rash and judgmental/dismissive way of considering a very complex problem. In my case, for example, I know that my instinctive faith makes my mind feel smaller--hardly smug and superior; in certain company, it sometimes embarrasses me that I carry this vestige of childhood with me. But maybe it's not just a vestige of childhood. Maybe it's more than that. Just maybe? That's by no means to say that I speak for or represent all of Mankind. I just think it's a point worth considering.

OTOH, Rev: I hear what you're saying about feeling enriched by faith, and not feeling the need to "disassemble everything" before accepting it into your life. But then--if I may once again presume to channel Elizabeth--I would ask you how that rationale differs from the same arguments that the New Wage types advance?

Am I talking out of both sides of my mouth here? Of course! This is a very complicated, and yes, confusing dilemma in which there do not seem to be any easy answers for those of us who like to think we value logic and empiricism.

RevRon's Rants said...

"I would ask you how that rationale differs from the same arguments that the New Wage types advance?"

I guess the biggest difference is that my faith doesn't take any pressure off me, where much of the New Age mindset would. I don't have to blindly accept anything that goes against my logical mind, but neither does everything rely upon my understanding in order to exist (which is a good thing, since there are still one or two things I don't understand! :-) ).

The only thing for which I am ultimately responsible is to strive to live well. The "Eight-Fold Path" is nothing more than an admonition to do one's best to live well. Kind of like the Ten Commandments, minus the miracles and threats.

Finally, I am convinced that if all this is the product of some divine creator, that source would have to be at least as benevolent as I am. That means no eternal torment for screwing up, and no "path" to some ultimate reward that is available only to clever people. No mystical dances, and no secret handshakes required to gain entrance into a mystical kingdom. Just the opportunity to live, and to occasionally be filled with the awe and innocence of a child is quite enough of a gift. And the sense that there is something even more awe-inspiring and pure, beyond what I can see or touch, makes even the ugly times worthwhile.

Hope that answers your question.

The Crack Emcee said...

Steve,

I'm sorry - you're right - I was speaking more of the attitudes I face than the actual experience.

Einstein said faith was indeed childish - and a sign of weakness - which, for some reason, reminds me of a kid with a towel around his neck playing Superman.

As much as I know my own individual power, I also subscribe to the idea that I'm just "one grain of sand" that doesn't matter much in the larger scheme of things. All of my foster parents were religious so there's not too much about it's lessons I don't understand but, I guess, I grew up early. I feel the same way about sexual attraction when I'm around my friends: the way women instinctively turn guys heads is embarrassing to me. I wonder where their self-control is. I know they've had sex before, so what's the point of the chasing, chasing, chasing? Another fight, another abortion, another opportunity to find out somebody doesn't like you as much as you thought - only to move on to the next one? It just seems silly.

It's no wonder the country sometimes seems like it's going to hell in a hand basket, considering the outlook of most people today. Words like "character", "integrity", etc., just don't carry much weight when fantasies (religious, sexual, or whatever) are the primary interests. Living with any kind of seriousness of purpose just strikes most as outdated or a waste of time. Get what you can now. "Love the one you're with." Just do it. It all strikes me to be as about as empty as human beings can get. Fill it up those holes with whatever you want:

Like a drug addict, you're just going to have to keep doing it.

Yekaterina said...

Anonymous 11:06 said, "For a lot of people believing in God/god is personal and not something that can be explained, but felt."

This was true is my case until I came to the realization that what I had felt, all of the religious experiences I had had, had in fact been defined (by me) as God experiences because I grew up in a society that believes in God. The wonderful experiences can't be denied, they happened and were real, it's the (God) cause/explanation of those experiences that I doubt/deny/disagree with now.

I have no faith, and I'll admit that for a long while after losing it most people (myself included) considered me a lot less nice as I tried to come to terms with living a meaningless existence. (And yes, I thought believers were stupid, how could I not? I felt "I" had been stupid for buying into the God fairytale myth!) On the flip side, and going back to the last post about what makes you “you”, I feel that I am more “me” now…even though I know it’s not true. Go figure.

P.S. Yes Steve, I can imagine Christopher Hitchens bawling his eyes out. And believe it or not it’s in part thanks to Hitchens that I no longer believe “believers” are stupid, nor feel that my existence is terrifyingly meaningless.

Steve Salerno said...

Yekat wrote: The wonderful experiences can't be denied, they happened and were real, it's the (God) cause/explanation of those experiences that I doubt/deny/disagree with now.

I understand completely; this goes back to my "who sent the fire" post from some weeks ago. Growing up I was taught to credit God with anything good that happened...but never blame Him for allowing the bad things to happen (and in fact to beg him/thank him "for the strength" to weather life's crises). My wife basically still lives by that ancient Catholic creed.

Let me say again that if I appear to go back and forth, it's only because...I go back and forth on this. I also find devil's advocacy to be clarifying.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting Steve, but all I have learned is about the bloggers and not about God/god. Which proves how personal people feel about faith/God/god. As I have been told in the past, I have low expectations so maybe that's why I never had a problem with faith/God/god.

As far as the SHAMland is concerned, I actually have become closed to people who read the Secret and Troll. I feel bad about that, because I really want to be an open individual. I hate to be dismissive, but it's hard now. As soon as a new person brings up Troll, I cringe. I don't want to be that person who dismisses ideas out of instinct and yet, I see myself doing that. I think that happens a lot with the God/god/faith arguement.

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve - I could never buy the image of a supposedly "compassionate" God who wielded blessings in one hand and tickets to damnation in the other, or whose concept of justice included sending an infant to eternal torture because its parents neglected to have somebody sprinkle water on its head in time, or to send an adult to the fiery pits for spitting out an expletive after getting cut off in traffic.

I think the Native Americans came closer, describing creation as being the moment when Great Spirit (and not "The" Great Spirit - big difference) scattered itself across the void, to dwell in everything equally.

To anthropomorphize the image, it would be that of a benevolent gardener, preparing the soil, scattering seeds, then sitting back and joyously observing the progression from seed to seedling to plant to flower. The weeds are a part of the garden too, and not something that concerns the gardener too much, since he trusts that the flowers will grow, anyway.

I do feel thankful for the dissemination of Spirit (or the planting, if you will), but feel the only "praise" that is necessary is to appreciate what has occurred, and to strive to be a flower more often than a weed. Smiling at a thing of beauty is, to me, the ultimate prayer of thanks, and if we are to seek or offer forgiveness, it is inevitably an inside job.

Even if my faith turned out to be nothing but an illusion, I think it is supremely worthwhile. Because of it, I'm more pleased with my life, and find I like myself more when I act kindly to others as a result. And even if there were no God, and nothing beyond the short time we have in this life, I would rather live that life tasting - and sometimes, sharing - a childlike sense of joy... even if by so doing, I give other people reason to call me stupid or superstitious. I think that's what Lao Tzu was getting at when he said that the sage is a fool. I'm no sage, but I'm doing my best to rise to the fool part. :-)

Steve Salerno said...

Rev, it's funny that you mention Native Americans. After an early adulthood in which I made a grand display of rejecting my Catholic heritage (often in a very obnoxious style that was quite insensitive to others' feelings), it was really a trip to Scottsdale that rekindled my spiritual side. We took a short hike into the Superstition Mountains, and I began reading about Hopi lore (the Hopi influence being ubiquitous in the Valley of the Sun, of course). I was deeply affected by the sight of the so-called "praying monk" at the western edge of Camelback Mountain: To use an inherently nebulous but nevertheless apt phrase, I just "felt something" there, and it was quite strong and visceral.

Again, I feel the need to emphasize that my "feeling something" is not put forward as justification for the existence (or even the meaning) of that something. It just...is, I guess.

RevRon's Rants said...

Your conflicting thoughts remind me of a delightful agnostic lady I know (who shall, for chivalry's sake not be named!). Even in the throes of passion, she finds herself screaming, "Oh, God!" yet sometimes claims she is tempted to qualify the statement with "if there is one." :-)

Anonymous said...

Interesting post Steve. I've been reading here for a while, just finished SHAM, and am finally posing a comment...

I've been having similar thoughts recently, but I've come to a slightly different way of looking at it. This is quite simplistic, but I find that the key is a person's level of introspection. I've known deeply reflective theists and atheists that are kind, charitable, and genuinely nice people. I've also known plenty of theists and atheists that don't really stop to reflect much on their place in the world, ethics, our responsibilities to each other and the world, etc. Those folks tend to be more hypocritical and inconsiderate. Again, it's simplistic and there are plenty of exceptions. But, it is a trend that I seem to see around me.

I'm not sure I agree with the statement "to ask "devout" atheists to reconsider their doubt—is tantamount to asking a person to be someone else. Ain't gonna happen." Most of us atheists were believers at one point since that's the dominant position in the culture. As my doubt grew, I tried really hard to reconsider and regain my faith - it just didn't happen. I try to be pretty patient with people who question my doubt and tell them I have reconsidered. I only get annoyed when they won't let it go or refuse to acknowledge that I've actually thought about it. I think a fair number of other atheists are in the same boat.

Lastly, faith make me think of the empowerment movement - just believe it's true! Belief and/or positive thinking can't alter reality. So, I just don't trust faith as a way of knowing, especially about anything in the natural world. I certainly worry about doctors, politicians, etc. who indicate they will make any decision about reality based on faith. Give me evidence (with its limits and flaws) every time!

RevRon's Rants said...

To the last anon - Like you, I haven't seen much difference between atheists and people of faith when the willingness to reflect upon one's attitude is roughly equal.

"I certainly worry about doctors, politicians, etc. who indicate they will make any decision about reality based on faith."

If that faith is merely a way of looking at life that is guiding them to make the most logical and compassionate choices, I have no problem with it. However, if those choices are being made based upon religious dogma, I would certainly be concerned - quite likely to the point of selecting a different physician or working against a politician's re-election. But that is based upon the fact that I see a dramatic difference - and frequently no connection whatsoever - between faith and religion, as my previous comments have noted.

Anonymous said...

As I've said, I see no difference in people's behavior just because they have a belief system. As a matter of fact, I've seen just the opposite: they're less willing to be self-critical, reflective, etc., because now they've found the way. Even worse, like smokers who've quit, they won't shut up about it. And to all but other believing apologists, their cognitive dissonance is glaring. They make the world appear mad.

*********

A good example of this is people who believe that there is some invisible force called "love."

Even when their mate is clearly flawed, they treat them differently than other people (different, special), and what's worse, they expect these others to treat their fantasy as though it exists too, and to acknowledge that they are "in love" or "have love" when the bare fact is that "love" is nothing more than heightened levels of Oxytocin and it wears off in approx 9 months. That is how homo sapiens evolved.

The truth is that we are nothing more than animals with chemical and biological functions, no supernatural force called "love" is required to explain why animals mate, that is their instinct nothing more.

This knowledge is too difficult to bear for your average Joe so instead they appeal to some mystical energy, but if "love" does exist, then where is it?

It can't be measured, can't be seen, can't be weighed or verified in any way so clearly its nothing but a fantasy for weaklings.

Anonymous said...

The need to have the last word does not have anything to do with Buddhist teachings (per Crack's comment on some bloggers' behavior). It is a combination of a limited self-reflection and the fact that some people just love to hear themselves talk.

RevRon's Rants said...

Anon 7:21 - Man, you must've had some really *lousy* dates! :-)

9 months, eh? I've been with the same woman for 15 years now, and she still takes my breath away when I look at her or brush my fingertips across her skin... even when getting playful is nowhere in my mind.

I also have a couple of grown kids whom I absolutely adore, and a number of friends I would take a bullet for, no hesitation involved. If that's fantasy, I hope reality never raises its ugly head in my world. And if that makes me a weakling, I hope I never become strong.

WC said...

I actually have come to value the constraints of organized religion. It basically exhorts adherents to keep looking at the same concepts and stories because much of value can be found there. It asks adherents to discipline themselves in prescribed ways to achieve goals - usually related to being a person who creates benefit for others.

It actually has more in common with atheism for this reason. Atheism also restricts you, asks you to adhere to certain methods of thinking and knowing.

I am not sure what 'spirtuality' is. It is unorganized and resists definition - sort of like 'God'.

Voltaire said...

In responding to this I'll show my colors first: I'm an atheist and a rather militant one. I

became one a few years before the current surge of interest in atheism and am glad to see it

distrubing the faithful.

I think we can all agree that faith is inversely (though not always) correlated

with (1) a high degree of intellect* and (2) a high degree of skepticism.


Actually there is some scientific research that has investigated this hypothesis and has

found out that indeed there is reason to believe there's an

href="http://kspark.kaist.ac.kr/jesus/intelligence%20&%20religion.htm" >inverse relationship

between faith and intelligence.