Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Atheist Books Part 2

I wish to take one more break from my 9-Page Reply posts. I'm guessing I'll be making three more reply posts, one being focused entirely on my credo, which actually does deserve some criticism. I'm honestly having fun replying, but I wish to continue some of my older posts. I debated on doing my second podcast review, but I'll wait on that for another week so I can decide if I like one of the podcasts I started last week.

At BYU today we had Elder ... hmm, one of the apostles, I've already forgotten, come speak at devotional. I had a smug smile knowing that nearly everyone was there while I was at work. It was nice, and I celebrated by listening to an atheist podcast while the devotional was happening.

I'll continue my atheistic books I've been reading, now into last winters books. On to more books:

Aronson is from Michigan, where I am from for anyone who doesn't know. Boy, that narrows me down for the BYU secret police! Considering my positive Mormonism post though I think I deserve to be let off for all the horribly true things I've said against Mormonism though. But I digress.
This book started off slow. Aronson comes off as some old guy, with some good thoughts, some well-deserved wisdom from life, but no real philosophical training. Anyways, that's how I felt. The first half drudged along, but the second half really inspired me. I need to reread it since I read this one last winter. The black and gold cover is very nice, the second half of the book had some good ethical ideas that made me think. Like I said though, I need to reread some of those later chapters. But I recommend this to anyone who wishes to read a more positive and 'fair' atheism, definitely not a new atheist-type book.

This little book is a gem. If you don't know anything about Ingersoll but think secularism is good ... then at least get this little book. I don't know if he was full of cliche sayings with a twist, or if he coined a lot of these, but he uses so many phrases and sayings that I've heard that I wonder if he legitimately came up with a lot of these. I won't spend the next 30 minutes trying to scrounge up some of them though, you'll just have to check it out.

I can't say I know a lot about him, but I grew to appreciate him after this little book. I really enjoyed how he was so open about his agnosticism, his disdain for religion, and being a moral upright person just to piss off up-tight religious folks.

The first of the four horsemen for me to read. I actually love this book. Sure, Hitchens is an angry bastard, but he brings up so many good things in this book about how religion 'does' poison everything. The title can be misleading, it says God is not great, but the book mainly gives reasons for why religion is not great. This is true. This book did little for me to think that there isn't a god but it did help me to become more of an anti-theist.

Hitchens colorfully goes through the darker side of religion, women circumcision, baby boy circumcision and horrors from that, religious involvement in wars, in particular world war two, how religion affects our worldview and therefore how it poisons everything, and many more things. He brought up things I had heard about or studied in my youth, and then completely new things. He even lent some objective views by offering both sides to some things, such as Catholics involved in the pogrom of the Jews but then Catholics who were heroes and saved Jews.

The book was a very good read, certainly the best book so far this year that I've read, the top out of 34 so far. And in the top 5 for the 3 years of reading, which includes that second half of my mission. Funny story - I was introduced to this book by a class at BYU. It was a Psychology of Religion class where we did not talk about the psychology of religion, but rather the debate between naturalism and supernaturalism and if naturalism should even be trying to study religion. I hated the class after a while. Especially when we took Freud as the example atheist in all his weirdness and depression. We read excerpts from many books, including Hitchen's. Of course the chapter we read was only his introduction, which tells his funny story about his religious schoolboy years, briefly, and that's about it. No meat, none of his arguments, just an introduction. But it was enough for me to be interested in the book.

The title is not reason alone to buy this book, it's a bestseller because, in my opinion, it really is a good book, and dishes out some well-deserved criticism against religion and theology as a whole. This is my big recommendation for this post. Next time I will return to the 'reply.'


  1. You're at BYU? Uhm...be my friend? I'm growing tired of not having any friends and you're probably my best prospect in at least a hundred mile radius (I have no idea how to meet people that don't just drive me crazy!). Haha, not that this is a cry for help or anything... You just sound...sane. =) Anyways, if you're interested in correspondence, email me here: tyrannosauruslion@hotmail.com

    Be my atheist friend? My apologies in advance if this is awkward xD.

  2. well, who are you and where are you at?

  3. A nice introduction, to be sure, but if you're looking for a discussion some specifics would help. Here's a starter: Hitchens looks at the worst examples of the behavior of religious people, and then blames the religion for it. The result is closed-mined anti-theism that is not terribly intellectually robust. Again, it's like blaming atheism for Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Kim Jung Il, and so on. He is trying to compare good atheists to bad theists, and stacks the deck accordingly. It doesn't afford for an honest discussion, but that's not his point. He's an apologist, pure and simple, with an agenda that trumps truth.

  4. Have you read the book? I don't disagree, and I'm not looking for discussion so much with posts like these, but I found he usually used examples of people doing bad things that they probably (emphasis there though) would not have done without their particular religion. I don't think the holocaust was because of religion but I know religion played a role, especially with Christians raised to hate them with a medieval mindset of Jews being infant-sacrificing, blood-drinking, Christ killers. In light of that I don't see how Christians could've hated Jews without religion to play a role. (there obviously could have, but for this specific case their actions don't make much sense without religion). I also think that some Christians who helped Jews probably did so because of religion, it possibly helped them to stand out for sound morals. Hitchens even mentions this, but probably mainly to point out how usually their own churches would excommunicate them.

  5. I haven't read the book, only summaries. Here's my real beef, so we can get right to the point. Evangelical atheists tend to use a formula that is a patent fallacy. It goes about like this: People are shits, therefore there is no God. When those people head religious institutions their shittiness does more damage, but the point remains. The existence of flawed religions says nothing about the existence (or even the goodness) of God. It's rather like saying that planes sometimes crash, therefore the Bernoulli Principle is false. Complete non-sequitor.

  6. I completely agree on evangelical atheists, like Hitchens. I love him for the things he says where he does have a point. The thing with Hitchens is this: I read his book and I watch vids of him, and really it strikes me as two different presentations. I really liked the book, and I remember it mainly focusing on things that people do because their religion taught them so. I don't argue that people will be shitheads, but I am under the belief/theory that if people have more doubt in their religion they are less likely to do some of the craziest things that are not normal for us to do, such as mass suicides and flying planes into buildings.

  7. Of course. I'm as opposed to fundamentalism (of any stripe) as you are. Idiot religionists say "God exists and I know exactly what he wants." Idiot atheists say "Some of the things that idiot said are demonstrably false, and therefore there is no God." I have no doubt that specific ideas propounded by specific religious groups contribute to evil in the world. No argument there, but let's do be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. Religious idiocy is not an argument against religion, it's an argument against idiocy. These people would be idiots with or without religion, and if their religion didn't offer the excuse they'd come up with one elsewhere.

  8. Lol, I'll offer you that. I may be posting another '9-page reply' post tonight or tomorrow, so I think I'll offer you victory over this argument, but I do want to know one thing: what/how do you criticize or praise religion. You separate a lot of things from religion, and you have a good stance for your views, but I'm wondering what you Do attribute to religion.

  9. I admit that I have a tendency to attribute bad religious outcomes to individuals whilst praising a religion for the good it brings out in people. This is deliberate and I do it because you have a very Mormon view of what a religion should be and I'm trying to break you of that bad habit. You seem to expect that every religion teaches that God puts words into the mouths of the leadership, and that therefore every bit of stupidity and wild speculation that some pastor comes up with is a proof that the religion is somehow false. Even the notion of a religion being false is a Mormon one. Most religions openly admit that they are doing the best they can based on human intellect and with thousands of years of human experience bound up in a text as their guide. It's very rare, and honestly only happens in crazy fundamentalist groups (like Mormonism) for a leader to claim to speak on God's behalf. The vast majority of people have long since gotten over the magical worldview that defines Mormon thought, and when you try and refute that worldview most people are wondering exactly whom you are arguing with.

    The next trick is to separate Religion from God. You ask what I attribute to religion, and I think somewhere in your mind you are assuming that I equate religion with God. I don't. Religion is humanity's attempt to have a relationship with God, and is therefore human and not divine. Insofar as a God reciprocates there may or may not be aspects of a religion that are more or less divinely inspired, but we have no way of separating what's what so we just have to do the best we know how. Reality is what it is, and there is either a benevolent God or there is not. Religion can be right to a greater or lesser degree about the specifics, but if everyone were a fundamentalist evangelical or everyone were an atheist it would make no difference to the existence or attributes of God, if indeed such a being exists. So the goodness or badness of religion is, in my book, irrelevant to the debate between atheism and theism. It is, however, the central question in the debate between secularism and religiosity, and let's not forget that those are two separate and largely unconnected debates.

  10. So, to answer your question, which was about religion and not about theism: Religion has the potential to teach all sorts of wacky shit, but most of us wouldn't pay it any attention if it tried. Everyone is a cafeteria something, and accepts what they agree with while quietly ignoring everything else. What religion does well is to inspire devotion and self-sacrifice, mostly to make people into better human beings. This kind of devotion can be horribly misused of course, with the result that good religion is a more powerful moral force than good secularism, but bad religion is a more powerful immoral force than bad secularism. What has happened over the last several thousand years is that religion by and large has become more moral and more universalist, with the happy result that the world is a better and more tolerant place than in any time in recorded history.

    I'm simply dubious that a purely materialist worldview that does in the notion of an afterlife or divine retribution is good for humanity. I'm less concerned if it's true, although I'm happy to argue that as well. When most of us are struck with the opportunity to act immorally, we have a voice in the back of our minds telling us that an omnipotent god will kick our ass after we die if we don't behave ourselves. I think that the net result of that voice is good. Additionally, the belief in an afterlife allows us to form more meaningful commitments here and now. I am free to commit fully to my wife because I believe we don't end at death. I can sleep in spite of my impotence in the face of atrocious human evil because I believe in divine justice. Religion gives a framework in which to build meaningful lives. As you said in an earlier post, if life ends at death, what's the point? Where's the motivation? If some nutjob uses religious belief to justify atrocity, condemn the specific religious belief that permitted the behavior. Everyone will agree with you, especially the religious as there's no worse advertising for religion than religious evil. But attacking the very idea of God's existence because some fringe group does despicable things in God's name is shooting humanity in the foot.

  11. Yes, and I hope I make it clear that in sophisticated debate I do not think that bad religion disproves the existence of a god, but I still hold to the idea that specific 'gods' (or forms of gods if you will) that do not agree with the way the world is would therefore be proven null and void. If someone believes in a god that appears to anyone who wishes to believe in it, causes hurricanes to kill the wicked, and other specific things, I think we can prove that doesn't exist. But that's the only way you can disprove a god through religion, NOT through the actions of the followers.

    Just because there are crazy Christians who kill abortion surgeons does not therefore mean Jesus Christ is not God. It does not follow.

    Going backwards, I agree and disagree with your view of me. I am unsure if it's even a majority, but I find a lot of religions will say they are the best, (maybe not 'true' though) or at least that other religions are wrong. Moderate Mormons with doubts will often recognize that members of other faiths can be happy good people. But Catholics in general to doctrine follow that they are right, Westboro Baptists or whatever think everyone is going to hell, Muslims in Nashville told me that you have to believe in Muhammud (sic)as a prophet or else I'm going to hell. I find a lot of religions are like that, but also that many faiths, and not just the people but the actual faith, teach that everyone can find God on their own. I think this is a good thing, I think this is a move in the right direction, and is more complimentary to a higher level of world peace.

    Separating atheism and secularism is easier than I think some people believe, but I think a lot of people have issues separating religion in the same way of separating a god-belief such as atheism and a 'life-style' such as secularism.

  12. I think in the end, Joey, we disagree very little, and even then mostly in the terminology we'd use to describe the same phenomena. Which is why it's good to clarify. Thanks again.