Thursday, September 23, 2010

9-Page Reply #4

This week has been rather intense and I am unreasonably busy right now. It is nice to know a good dozen or so people who could be on campus at any point during the week who are also atheistic, I sometimes run into them. It was sad to say goodbye to Heretic, but that’s how it goes when you have a life, I guess. I wouldn’t really know, my life is this blog and hating the church, or so the Mormons tell me. And in that, my life is very poor right now cause I’ve only made one post this whole week.

So plenty of things are happening. I almost swore in front of a bunch of BYU students, which is always fun. I was mentioning that they needed some more blue papers, or blue sheets, and I had written it as ‘BS.’ Telling them this I said, “We need sheets where I wrote BS, which means bullsh-“ which I stopped in time. So I have about 12-15 people all around and not a single one smiles or even smirks, they all just stare. I laughed nervously, a little titter (which is a wonderful word that sometimes causes tittering itself when said), but no one else did. Not one. Talk about awkward, sorry I almost swore, I promise to repent later … maybe.

But now it’s time to continue with some random thoughts from the email I got. I’m getting down to the end points of it, though I need to do a post on the No Use credo, and I’ll eventually make a post on why science disproves a lot of religious jumble, and throws doubt on entire religions. Those require some thought though, and today I have very few thoughts going on in my head. First, though, I want to clarify Demosthenes intent with the 9-page-rebuke, which is what I named it, not him. His intent was not to change my mind, or to argue, it was a simple, albeit long and thought-out email, nothing more. I took from it that I shouldn’t be so hateful sounding, be more reasonable, and to use the email to critique my opinions and views. That’s my whole purpose for doing this, and also to explain things I’ve said. Now on to the email:

I’ve said that I choose atheism over agnosticism (though I call myself an agnostic atheist in regards to religion and god) substantially due to the emotional appeal of having a clearer stance. I am unsure if I can say the same of religious folk. Demosthenes pointed out that this is a rational thing to do, and I think he’s right, people who have brain damage and no longer feel emotions are very handicapped in their choices and actions. It would seem that emotions are very important. So should I give religious people some slack? Yes and no.

The religious person who is similar to me would say, “Yes I believe in a God and I know some gods definitely do not exist, but I am open to the idea that my God may not exist either.” I think a person like that has enough doubts to act morally when commanded not to by their religion, pastor, or holy text. If the person is a religious bigot though, then I have not only the right to call them out, but a responsibility to do so. Religious people with too much faith are dangerous. I think faith and belief have their place, but I do not think that faith is a prime virtue. It is too blind in its view of the horizons, and in its capacity to progress. So to say the 100% theist who knows God hates me and is sending me to hell is rational, seems stupid to me. But, and this is for Demosthenes, the same can be said for the 100% atheist. If they truly know there are no gods I want to know how they know that beyond a shadow of a doubt … whatever that shadow of doubt really is.

I have many times said I am open to the idea of a god, and I am. I think I have become dogmatically set against joining a religion though. When kids come around I may lax my opinion though. I don’t have much use for them, but I have many times pointed out that I recognize they accomplish some true good in the world. And if religion, in general, is holding the world together then it certainly is much needed till we fix that problem. I brought up the example of seeing a vision of the universe, the beginning of time, human history, god and that god telling me that ‘he’ is god. Now, this most likely won’t be happening to me and I can’t say I know how I’d react, but I tend to think I’d believe something like that if it happened to me. Maybe vision is incorrect here? If god appeared and showed me the vision and I knew I was awake and coherent, yes, I think I’d believe. But if ‘he’ (or she or it) told me to go back to the Mormon faith I’d have some questions first.

Demosthenes brought up that Harrison’s book, 50 reasons etc…, probably is a cheap punch. I agree, though I still enjoyed it immensely. However, millions of people hold the beliefs that he is punching at, so I don’t think it’s too cheap. I’m under the impression that anyone can give a reasonable argument for just about anything, given time to research it and lay it out, and with enough intelligence in their heads. Having said that I think it is only fair to get rid of or in the least to attack the horrible reasons people give for believing in gods. Harrison brings up some good ones, some pretty legit reasons, but he also brings up horrible ones, such as “I believe in a god because some other smart people do” or “I believe in god because atheists are such jerks.” Lol, now, I actually have heard these, and sadly if I had been asked if I believed given these statements I would have said at different times, “yes, those make up part of my belief system.” Every religion has smart people, with college educations and doctorates. Some more than others though. This, I think, just goes to prove more strongly my earlier point of being able to reasonably defend any belief you have given time and knowledge to do so (with enough cherry-picking too). The second one, atheists are jerks, is actually why I didn’t become an atheist last summer, over a year ago. I started meeting some online, only knew of a couple within my friends, and thought, “boy, atheists are angry, maybe they are full of Satan’s hatred.” Okay, not that bad, but it made me doubt if atheism was a good thing. Now I know plenty of happy and nice atheists, and plenty of atheists who are angry towards religion, but not much else.

Mansel’s book on making meaning was decent, but Demosthenes says atheism is ultimately meaningless if we have no afterlife and we all die when the earth is burned by our dying sun (as it expands, or as our gravitational pull changes, etc ….) In that sense atheism is more bleak than eternity. But I have a hard time believing that my life is meaningless because I’ll become nothing at some point, or because all human life will become nothing eventually. What I’m doing right now seems meaningful, gives purpose, supplies pleasure. It’s only a blog, but it’s a nice little thing to do. Being in a loving relationship is that only tenfold, hundredfold if the relationship really takes off and becomes much more. Being told that, in my view, what I do now means nothing doesn’t make much sense. I feel like I mean something and that what I do means something, that it has an effect on the universe, even if it’s small. The existence of an afterlife does nothing to affect those effects.

And with that, I’m done for now.


  1. It is interesting to me that you (seem to) think that most religions regularly call upon their adherents to act immorally. You still seem to equate pretty much every religious institution with radical Islam or the Westboro Baptist Church. If you were to ask every single person you see in a given day if God hates atheists I doubt you would get even one that would say he does. Certainly the percentage would be insignificant, so please get over this notion that religion teaches people to behave badly. There may be specific abberrations we can point to in the past, or in other cultures today, but that's not the world we live in in contemporary America. It may be the case that too much faith can be dangerous, but "too much" just doesn't happen in the culture we live in. American Judeo-Christian religions do not produce terrorists, they produce decent ethical people, and the more serious the adherent the more ethical they are likely to be.

    I suspect that the reason you would be opposed to joining a religion is that you feel that participation somehow implies that you agree with everything the religious tradition has ever taught. This is understandable coming from a Mormon background, but frankly it's moronic. Religions evolve, positions change, and pretty much every religion today includes people that agree with almost everything and people that agree with almost nothing. Reasons for participation are many and varied, and most people would assume you have your disagreements. I still maintain that if you had the vision you describe that you'd attribute it to a stroke and try to find an explanation in modern neuropsychiatry.

    Regarding Harris, certainly most people have not thought through their reasons for religious participation in a philosophically rigorous manner. In fact, most people's reasons for participation aren't philosophical at all, they're relational and emotional. That's why attacking religion based upon the philosophical reasoning of participants is disingenuous. It results in cheap jabs that do nothing to further the discussion. Fun, perhaps, but ultimately useless.

    As to meaning, nobody is saying that you shouldn't find meaning in your life. I'm simply pointing out that life itself is meaningless if everything ends at death. Eventually the universe will either freeze or burn (physicists argue as to which), and humanity will cease to exist. If there is nothing after that, then there is no ultimate meaning. It's one of those existential crises philosophers are always going on about. Not that your life can't be meaningful in the micro, but that without an afterlife life itself is meaningless. Accept it and move on.

  2. I accept your notion of meaning. I believe in micro meaning, but macro? Maybe if we survive long enough we will find a way to survive, maybe find ways to go to other universes, etc .... Harrison's book is good, but half the things are cheap shots, no argument there.
    I can't help but cut down ridiculous religions, I really can't. But I do recognize the good religion helps to bring about in the world. Mormonism is rather moderate, rather loving, but it is so taxing on time and energy that I can call it evil without feeling bad (being that, to me, time and energy are very important things in a person's life). But, I still support Mormons in some things, and I have little qualms with Mormons being politicians, business owners, etc ... because for the most part they are truly good people.
    Going off statistics I do not think America is the best country in terms of crime rates, and secular nations generally are better than us, but there are so many variables involved I would never attribute this to religion ... purely. ;)

  3. Lies, damned lies, and statistics, as the saying goes. Suffice it to say that the World Health Organization's ranking of healthcare systems puts us and Cuba essentially tied. Obviously there's an agenda there as anybody that believes that is an idiot. Crime statistics are similar in many instances. I also think it goes without saying that the vast majority of criminals are not active church-goers. I appreciate the moderating concessions, however, and I'll happily grant that Mormonism requires more time and energy than is reasonable. One of the many reasons I left.