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Bye-Bye Abortion Rights
In the eyes of the Christian right, writes Erica Jong, women are being regarded once again primarily as wombs. She urges women to wake up before they discover that they've lost the right to both abortion and contraception:

The "partial birth" abortion bill (Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003), signed into law in November by President George Bush (and promptly challenged by the courts), is not only misnamed but is so vague concerning gestational age and the health of the mother that it leaves ample room for the Government to interfere with sound medical judgement, at the expense of women's health.

It may seem reasonable to limit abortion to the first trimester of pregnancy, but the truth is that many genetic tests - including those for Down syndrome, Tay-Sachs, Canavan's and other diseases - cannot be completed until the second trimester.

By then abortion is not such a simple matter, and limiting it makes a mockery of the right to choose not to bear a genetically damaged child. In the past decade our ability to test for genetic diseases has soared, and now we are taking away the opportunity to make informed decisions based on this technology - something no woman ever does lightly.

The contempt for women and for medicine that underlies the Christian right's attack on choice is as shocking as it is invisible. The right has been absolutely brilliant in cloaking an indifference to women's health in language that seems to affirm life.

A whole generation has grown up without knowing that in the days before legal abortion, many women died or were sterilised in their desperate efforts to terminate unwanted pregnancies.

And the pro-choice movement has been remiss in failing to remind people that banning abortion can in essence ban a woman's right to life-saving medical care.

A 1997 Nebraska bill identical to the one Bush signed has already been struck down by the Supreme Court. In the words of Justice Stephen G. Breyer: "The result [of this law] is an undue burden upon a woman's right to make an abortion decision. We must consequently find the statute unconstitutional."

The strategy of the right-to-life movement has been to keep passing the same unconstitutional laws until eventually they will be received by a Supreme Court packed with Bush appointees.

Sound farfetched? Well, look where we were, in terms of abortion rights, and look where we are now: it's becoming less and less farfetched every day.

Posted by aalkon at January 26, 2004 10:12 AM

Comments

I came of age in the era just before legal abortion, which was not all that long ago by the way. Birth control was hard to come by and society placed a high value on virginity. Does that sound familiar?

It's scary to see young women and men threatened by values held by a very vocal, activist minority. The right of women to control their health care generally and reproductive rights in particular is as important in my mind as the right to vote.

If you look at medical stats women are consistenly under treated by the medical profession. This isn't just the case with birth control but also with cardiac care, cancer treatment and diagnosis and so on. On the whole doctors are less likely to order tests or medications for female patients as opposed to male patients.

The threat to reproductive rights, and the right to equal medical treatment is at issue along with a host of other rights, too many to list here.

However,these issues are merely symptoms of the way our society is headed unless those of us that want, not only to cling to what freedoms and rights we have, but insist on rights such as gay marriage, get out and vote a big no to the religious right as represented by George and Laura (the righteous) Bush.

Say yes, instead, to a voice in your life decisions.

Posted by: Sheryl at January 26, 2004 10:13 PM

Re Erica Jong: It's funny how women most obsessed with abortion rights now are way too old to worry about getting pregnant anyway. I think abortion should remain legal. But there are more important issues in the world right now than the (extremely slim) possibility that in some parts of this country abortion might become somewhat less easily available than it is now.

Posted by: Cathy Seipp at January 27, 2004 12:08 PM

The way I read Ms. Jong on this topic is that young women are threatened and their reproductive rights are threatened because they have no knowledge of a world without choice.

" The assumption is that no one is watching, that the feminist movement is out of fashion and can be ignored, and that women of childbearing years don't really understand what's at stake.

I think this is true. Young women seem to think their rights are safe from attack. They are unaware that a relentless and heartless campaign is being waged against their right to control their own bodies and lives."

I worry about my young friends, our children, our grandchildren facing the fear of pregnancy without birth control or access to abortion.

Yes, the world is faced with other problems and those deserve attention too. But that doesn't negate the fact that I chose to speak up for a woman's right to maintain control over her body.

Posted by: Sheryl at January 27, 2004 10:12 PM

But does control over her own body really mean aborting for Down's? Ewww.

Posted by: lindsay at January 28, 2004 1:03 PM

so what you are saying is that people with downs syndrome don't have a right to live and are less of a person because of their disibility?! how awful of you to judge that these people should not be able to have the same chance at life as the rest.
i am a 23 year old woman who is very strongly against abortion. i am old enough to get pregnant. and if we are in the minority, then why do we have a president who is pro-life?
i was taught about women dying when trying to perfom abortions on themselves before it was legal, but i have also heard about people dying when they try to buy drugs because that is illegal, so hey, let's make drugs legal as well, and while we're at it, let's just go ahead and make murder legal too, because no matter what you may say, it is a BABY and not a fetus, it has a heart beat, it's own set of DNA, it is just inside the mother. it even has feelings, so come on everyone, let's get crazy! i want to make murder legal, it's my right to kill whoever i want to.
so one more question, when a pregnant woman is killed, do you call it a baby then when you want to convict the person of double murder? talk about hypocritical!

Posted by: Lauren at February 2, 2004 9:04 AM

i have two things i'd like for you all to consider:

1. i believe in a woman's right to control her body. yeah. i do. but control comes before conception ever occurs. that's right, folks, get your genitals under control. if you're not willing to have a baby with the person you're screwing, then you probably shouldn't be screwing them. sex should be between two people who are in love and willing to be together forever. it's not for two people to gorge their fleshly desires. to pervert sex is to pervert love and that's something i'm not willing to do.

2. my belief that a woman should be able to control her own body also extends to a pregnant woman. but what that woman must understand is that it is not only she who is affected by her choices. there is another tenant in her body. whether you believe it is a fetus or a baby is irrelevant. it still has the potential to be born.
saying it's my right to have an abortion is like saying it's my right to burn down my apartment. after all, it is my apartment, right? but if i destroy my own apartment, do i not also destroy the other apartments in my building?

but, i'm sure you'll all have loads to respond. just remember... it's a good thing your mother was pro-life.

Posted by: tami at February 2, 2004 9:27 AM

"sex should be between two people who are in love and willing to be together forever. it's not for two people to gorge their fleshly desires."

Really? Why not? How come you're so sure. You read it in the bible? Well, who says the bible is right. Come on, how about a little independent thought. You got a brain, and free will, now use it.

Drugs should be legal, and using them a point of personal choice. Nobody has the right to kill another (autonomous living person), so murder is obviously not legal and not right.

My mother is pro-choice. She wanted a child and chose to have me. I don't like abortion, but if I got pregnant, I'd do the 500 yard dash over to France for a shot of RU-486 (because I'm sure it will be made illegal here soon by the irrational fundamentalists running this country).

One more for the intellectual lightweights: Because the majority thinks something doesn't mean they're right. The majority of the people in this country probably believe in god. Why? Because somebody told them to, and they joined the "flock" -- appropriate word spotlighted by Christopher Hitchens --and followed that person, sheeplike, keeping their intellect shut off so they wouldn't have to mess with that tricky "no proof there is a god issue." What's amazingly arrogant is people who insist there is a god. Really? Does he come over to dinner at your place on Tuesday nights and give you all the winning lottery numbers? The notion that there is a god does keep you kowtowing neatly to the religious fanatics, and donating plenty to the collection plate, right? Religion is business. There's no need to believe in god to be ethical and live a moral life. (And no, sex isn't immoral -- you just swallowed what you were told.) Try my religion on for size: Be kind, be ethical, live rationally, respect the planet, and "leave the campground better than you found it." (ie, make a difference in the world). Feel free to send me some bucks on my "collection plate" -- the paypal button above.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 2, 2004 2:08 PM

i believe in God because i have seen and experienced His presence in my life. how else can you explain and man who is determined to kill you and your mother all of a sudden stopping and running out of the house, no, noone was coming, he didn't hear a noise, nothing. my mother and i were calling on the Lord and He came and made robert stop. why do you feel like you have to sleep around, is it because that's what all your friends are doing? does it make you feel better as a person? i don't need to sleep around to feel good about myself. i have enough respect for myself to save the only thing i can save about myself for the one person that i truely love. i have that desire to give my husband the best gift anyone can give, myself. when i find that man, i won't care that i didn't sleep with every other man in the world. so, i believe these things because I CHOOSE to, not because i have to. i have experienced enough things in my life to know for a fact that there is a God, and i hope that you realize it too. how do you know that when you go to sit down, that chair will hold you up? how do you know that when you go outside there will be oxygen? you have faith in the unseen, just as i do in God. you want me to respect your opinion, well respect mine and millions other's opinion in God and stop bashing us for believing in something that you feel is dumb.

Posted by: Lauren at February 3, 2004 8:08 AM

sorry to say, gals. but lauren is right. you can't cry and whine at me about how i should respect everything you have to say and then turn around and bash me to pieces for what i believe. and you call me the biggot?

amy, i'm sorry that i believe that a woman (and a man) are able and, many more than you would like to believe, are willing to wait for the right person. i am getting married in 6 months and i am proud to say that when i make love to my husband on august 28 it will be the first man i have ever been with. i'm pumped about it and i am so HAPPY that he will be the first and only. i'm sorry for those who are reading this can't say the same.

i don't believe that i waited b/c of anything that was shoved down my throat. i waited b/c i wanted to. i wanted sex to be special and sacred. i know that i was right b/c of so many men and women i have spoken to who didn't wait and wish they had. and, no, amy, they didn't all have a religious reason why - sorry. you can't blame God for this one.

don't look down on people who believe in God. He is very real to us. all i need is to look out my window, to breath in the air, to smile and i feel Him. i know He's there and i don't need Him to walk into the room and give me a high five. He's my Friend and my Father. i have a relationship with God that's as real to me as my relationship with my fiance or my best friend is. you can call me crazy or stupid, but i wouldn't trade His good opinion of me for yours any day of the week.

Posted by: tami at February 3, 2004 9:05 AM

You don't "know" anything for a fact, except that you got lucky. You ATTRIBUTE your luck to there being a god. Who knows, maybe the man had a tick, or a doctor's appointment he was late for. Your irrationality frightens me. You got a brain with that body...why are you so determined to let it lie fallow. You only think sex is dirty because somebody told you it was. Then again, I'm with Woody Allen. "Sex is only dirty when it's done right."

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 3, 2004 9:07 AM

au contraire, sex is not dirty, i never said that. i believe that sex is a beautiful thing when it's not perverted. sex is something given to us from God as a wedding present. it is we who pervert it into a dirty thing. do you know Tami? then how can you say that she is lucky? you don't know anything about her life to be able to say that it is perfect. for all you know her life is crap. i know many people who have a hard time in life and still believe in God. where's their luck? and do you "know" for a fact that there is no God? that's the whole point of christianity, you have no visible proof, you just have faith and believe. besides, it's a lot more believable to believe that God made this world and everything in it then to believe that by some chance two atoms hit and made everything. but hey, if you want to say that your ancestors were once monkeys, be my guest. but i am better than that. and anyway, that's a whole other debate for later.
so because we are not thinking like you, we are not thinking for ourselves, um, that makes no sense. the majority of the people in this world think like you. so maybe you should rethink that comment.

Posted by: Lauren at February 3, 2004 9:21 AM

Tami claims to have escaped an armed killer. Certainly a fortuitous turn of events, no? Hence my calling her "lucky." God gave you sex? Pullleeeze. What did he do, drop it down in your lap in a basket with a box of condoms on your wedding night. Was he wearing a fake nose and glasses at the time? 'Cause maybe it was your brother playing a prank on you, and with that unquestioning intellect of yours, you had no idea.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 3, 2004 9:52 AM

see? this is how rumors get started. lauren is the armed killer escapee. tami is the wedding night gal. good grief.

amy, why are you so angry over two people who don't agree with you? i don't know about lauren, but i'm not mad at you. calm down.

as to this whole theory of unquestioning intellect... you say your mother was pro-choice and you are pro-choice. so how does that make you any more intellectual than me? you were raised to believe what you believe too. you can't say you chose your beliefs any more than i can. oh, i believe i did and so do you, but you can't prove it, therefore, you can't accuse me of being any more idiotic than you.

Posted by: tami at February 3, 2004 10:00 AM

um, no sweetie, that was me. and don't add to my story, i never said he was armed. maybe you should stick to the "facts" and what you "know" instead of putting in your two cents from my experience. it was not luck, but i could never explain something like this to you. he had no reason you stop beating me and not rape us. he just did, that's not luck, that's God. the Bible says that when you call on the Lord He will come, well, He did. so don't say that my opinion is wrong and don't you dare say that my experience was wrong. you were not there and don't know anything about it! don't even pretend to know what happened, because you don't!
and no silly girl, God gave sex as a wedding gift long before our time.
maybe you should start questioning what you believe instead of going blindly with the crowd you hang out with. i did question what i believe and found my answer in God. so don't say that i can't think for myself and don't say that i have no intellect because i choose to believe in something that you can't comprehend. don't be so small minded and stop being a hypocrite!

Posted by: lauren at February 3, 2004 10:03 AM

Hi! Here are some thoughts on the discussion so far. Sorry this is so long. I didn't have a lot to do today, and felt like sharing. :) Hopefully this won't add too much fuel to the fire... :/

There is one aspect of the abortion issue that the "pro-life" people tend to overlook - a first or second trimester fetus cannot, by any reasonable definition, be considered human. The brain is not developed enough to support anything resembling a human consciousness. I'm no scientist, but from what I've read this seems to be very well established. "The Facts Of Life: Science and the Abortion Controversy" by Harold Morowitz and James Trefil examines this, and "Abortion Rights and Fetal 'Personhood'" edited by Edd Doerr and James Prescott also touches on it.

There may well be grounds for outlawing third-trimester abortions except to save the life of the mother. But since these procedures are almost always done for that reason anyway, this is not one of the world's most pressing issues.

One can only believe that a first or second trimester fetus has rights if one accepts, as an act of blind, religious faith, that an egg cell receives a soul at the moment it is fertilized. The "pro-life" movement exists for no other purpose than to subvert the separation of church and state and force their religious views on everyone else.

Tami and Lauren - why do you say that Amy is "angry" at you and "bashing" you personally? She disagrees with your contention that a personal God exists, so in a sense she is "bashing" that idea. But it looked to me like she was just expressing her views using her usual direct, no-nonsense style. She was definitely blunt, but she usually is. [No offense intended, Amy. :) ]

Theists often have an attitude that everyone is either one of them or is their enemy. This comes in part from the Christian idea that everything comes either from God or Satan. By this logic, everyone who doesn't believe in God is a minion of Satan, and Christians tend to unconsciously twist their perceptions of atheists to fit this Satanic model. Also, attributing a difference of opinion to anger or hatred is a convenient way of rationalizing away other people's views.

"i believe in God because i have seen and experienced His presence in my life. how else can you explain and man who is determined to kill you and your mother all of a sudden stopping and running out of the house..."-Lauren. I must confess, I find it disturbing when I hear people try to justify their faith with anecdotes like this. I'm sorry, but this simply doesn't make sense.

As an atheist, I accept the findings of science - that we are social animals who have evolved the ability to create rules of behavior to allow us to cooperate with each other. We tend to follow these rules, but obviously not always. This is partially because the needs of the group and the individual are sometimes at odds, so we have evolved selfish tendencies that can conflict with the group's rules. Also, systems that evolve naturally tend to be needlessly complex and prone to all manner of quirks and glitches. Our bodies are good enough to allow us to pass our genes on through the generations, but they have many limitations and are prone to all manner of breakdowns. The same is true of our brains, including the systems regulating moral behavior.

It seems more likely to me that this man's "moral software" was malfunctioning, but it barely managed to prevent him from committing murder, at least on that one occasion. For that matter, he might have simply started thinking (a little late) of the consequences if he killed you and got caught. Or the strong emotion that was motivating him may have passed, as such things do, leaving him without the motivation to continue. I'm sure we've all had occasions where we suddenly changed our minds about something. Why are you so certain that he couldn't have done so? For that matter, how can you be certain of his intentions to begin with? Even if we assume he had committed murder before and threatened to do it to you (I have no idea if this is the case, of course), there is always the chance he didn't really mean to follow through with the threat that time. In order to be sure it was divine intervention, you have to rule out all these possibilities, just for starters.

Your anecdote causes me absolutely no problems as an atheist, and I don't understand why you think it would. Besides, if we suppose that an all-powerful God did intervene to save you on that occasion, it follows that every other murder and act of cruelty that has been committed was done with his approval, since he could just as easily have prevented them, too. Many, many people have been killed while "calling on the Lord". If experiences like yours are evidence for God, then the others are evidence for God's non-existence, and they cancel out.

"how do you know that when you go to sit down, that chair will hold you up? how do you know that when you go outside there will be oxygen? you have faith in the unseen, just as i do in God."-Lauren. I have no "faith" in chairs or oxygen whatsoever. I have direct experience with these things, and can extrapolate from those experiences. This is hardly "faith" of the sort theists have in God. You have simply re-defined the word in order to serve your purposes. This sort of verbal legerdemain only serves to make the faithful feel justified in not considering other points of view. It hardly sounds compelling to the rest of us.

You ask us to "respect" your opinion that a God exists. I certainly respect your right to make up your own mind. But I cannot respect an idea that lacks rational foundation.

"don't look down on people who believe in God... i have a relationship with God that's as real to me as my relationship with my fiance or my best friend is. you can call me crazy or stupid, but i wouldn't trade His good opinion of me for yours any day of the week."-Tami.

I can accept in the abstract that there may be a small minority of people who have a genuine psychological need to believe in God. And I don't look down on theists. I doubt that Amy does either, even though she is very forthright in criticizing theism. (Not that I know her personally or anything.) Everyone has their shortcomings. Some people smoke. Some have trouble controlling their tempers. Some believe in God. I can't honestly say that any of those are good things. But people are just like that. The fact that a person has flaws doesn't mean that he/she isn't a good person overall. I try to view people as whole persons instead of focusing on the flaws.

At the same time, you need to understand that for some of us, humanist philosophy is a source of deep meaning and guidance. I was a Christian once, and I remember the good feelings I got from that. But now that I have made the full transition to atheism, I can't imagine gaining any sort of comfort from theism again, or wanting to. I feel I have a duty to promote atheism and humanism for those others who may find in them what I have. And that can't be done without criticizing theism.

For me, atheism is about breaking free of myths that limit us and interfere with understanding the world, so that we can fully develop our understanding of ethics and see a deeper beauty in life. It is not about destroying anything at all. I have a few URLs at the bottom of this message if you want to know more about my perspective.

"and do you 'know' for a fact that there is no God?"-Lauren. Of course not. What is the point of asking that question? It is a non sequitur. As an atheist, I don't see sufficient grounds to conclude that a personal deity exists. Until I see such evidence, I will not accept that proposition, any more than I would accept the existence of fairies or dragons. That doesn't mean that I'm sure there is no God. Indecision about God/gods is a perfectly valid form of atheism. I don't need to defend my lack of belief - the burden of proof is on the believer.

"besides, it's a lot more believable to believe that God made this world and everything in it then to believe that by some chance two atoms hit and made everything."-Lauren. You are referring to the cosmological and/or design arguments. The idea that a personal deity made everything is easy to accept for someone who doesn't know the counter arguments. I remember once in Sunday school being asked why I believed in God. I gave an answer similar to yours. Then, years later, I started reading up on the atheism/theism debate. Learning about the counter-arguments, and the theistic attempts to shore up the design and cosmological arguments from criticism, is, by far, the most important reason why I became an atheist.

Naturally, it's a rather deep issue to deal with in a forum post. But, the evidence for evolution is so overwhelming that the vast majority of scientists, even Christians, accept it as fact. The creationist arguments (or "intelligent design" arguments, if you prefer) have no power over those of us who have actually read up on the other side.

And the origins of the Big Bang are simply a mystery, at least to me. It seems to me to be far more reasonable to just say "I don't know how the universe began" than to declare that a personal God did it. Besides, that raises more questions. How did God come into existence? If you answer "I don't know", then this indicates you are just proposing a mystery to explain a mystery, which is little more than dodging the question. If you declare that He had no creator, then why should we assume that the universe couldn't be creatorless itself? This naturally leads into ontological territory, which has serious problems of its own...

"i did question what i believe and found my answer in God."-Lauren. Judging from the quality of the arguments you have offered so far, I find this difficult to accept.

I hope you understand that I mean no offense to you personally. But these arguments are, in my opinion, not well thought out. I think you need to read more about this and give the matter more thought.

All the Best,
Charles

"Humanism as the Next Step" by Lloyd and Mary Morain is, in my opinion, the best entry-level text on humanist philosophy. I have found it inspiring. The entire book has been posted online:
http://www.americanhumanist.org/publications/morain/index.html

"Life is to Be Lived Now: A Vital, Personal Humanism" by Fred Edwords is a powerful essay on how a humanist approach to life can help us find comfort and meaning:
http://www.americanhumanist.org/humanism/vital.html

"The Human Basis of Laws and Ethics" by Fred Edwords is a great essay on godless ethics. (Yes, I'm a bit of a Fred Edwords fan. Too bad his writings are so few.):
http://www.americanhumanist.org/humanism/morality.html

Posted by: GodlessRose at February 3, 2004 9:58 PM

Extremely eloquent response, Charles, and very well-thought-out arguments, that sadly, I think, are sure to be ignored in favor of blind faith.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 3, 2004 11:34 PM

you said that saying that the Lord saved me from my attacker makes you sad and that i am just trying to "justify their faith". well the fact that you once knew the truth and have now left it makes me very sad and i feel is a way to justify wanting to live for yourself and do what you want to do. but know this, i don't have to justify anything, and if you ever want to go back, God is there ready and waiting with open arms.

"Or the strong emotion that was motivating him may have passed, as such things do, leaving him without the motivation to continue. I'm sure we've all had occasions where we suddenly changed our minds about something. Why are you so certain that he couldn't have done so? For that matter, how can you be certain of his intentions to begin with? Even if we assume he had committed murder before and threatened to do it to you (I have no idea if this is the case, of course), there is always the chance he didn't really mean to follow through with the threat that time. In order to be sure it was divine intervention, you have to rule out all these possibilities, just for starters." he was high on cocaine. he didn't know what he was doing and was not thinking about anything, except that he thought it out enough to put up sashes on the bedpost and fake being sick to get my mother in the bathroom with him. he didn't change his mind because later in court he said that he couldn't remember doing anything. and no, i don't have to rule out all possibilities to KNOW for a fact that it was God how saved me from him. and that's not to say that God allows others to die. he has a plan for everyone and it just wasn't mine or my mom's time to die.

i have looked in to other views and have read and studied them. i also know that there is great proof for the Christian side that evolution is ridiculous.

i would never want to know everything that God knows or understand all that He understands, that would make Him less powerful. He doesn't have a creator because He is, always has been, and always will be. the universe is not all-powerful.
i respect your opinion, but since you were once a Christian you can understand why Tami and i feel it is so important to let people know the truth. we know what will happen to those who choose not to believe and don't want that to happen to anyone.

and if i might ask, what was it that turned you away from the Lord if you felt good in it?

Sorry if i didn't get to all of your points, I am at work and don't really have time to go through all of them. but don't take that to mean that i don't have an argument for all of them. i have just realize that it is pointless to argue with someone about it. i have stated my views, and you have stated yours. beyond that it is just arguing. and i know that what you can talk someone into, someone else can take them out of. so if you have any specific questions you can ask them, but i am not going to argue anymore. but don't worry, i will still give my opinion on things on this blog, i just knew that you were worried;)

i will be praying for you and Amy, even though I'm sure that you don't want it. but just remember as i said before Charles, God is waiting with open arms to take you back. He loves you very much and will never leave you. the same with you Amy, even though you don't believe in Him, He loves you and will never stop loving you, no matter what you do to Him or what you say.

and no Amy, what he said has not been ignored, just because i don't say, "i have seen the light! you are right!" does not mean that i have ignored it, it just means that i don't agree and never will. i have already questioned my faith and don't need to do so again.

Lauren

Posted by: Lauren at February 4, 2004 8:44 AM

About "knowing the truth" -- you don't know anything. You simply decided to shut of your intellect and accept something that you have zero proof of. I don't know that there is or isn't a god, but I'm sure not going to say there is just to make my self feel better (not that that would make me feel better). I think the need to placate oneself with fantasies (and solemnly declare them truth when there's zero evidence to support that) shows an infantile level of intellect and a sad, fear-based life. Suggest you read Krishnamurti's "Freedom From The Known." And turn on your brain. Not using it shows a terrible disrespect for being human -- thus having the ability (sorely unused, in your case) to reason.

Excuse me, how the hell do you "know god has a plan"? Or that there even is a god? Because you THINK god exists? Wouldn't the same logic work for believing there really is a Santa and an Easter bunny? Why aren't you ashamed at your lack of critical thinking?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 4, 2004 9:13 AM

as i have said before, i am done arguing. just because i don't believe the same way you do, doens't not mean that i am not thinking for myself. if i were not to think for myself i would blindly say that you were right, even though you have not given me any good arguments to support your belief. the truth is, is that i am thinking for myself and have for many years now.
and yes, i do have proof that there is a God, but you choose not to see it as proof, and that's your own business. but don't think that i believe in God because i am afraid, God doesn't want us to come to Him out of fear and has no desire to make us live a life of fear. have you ever met someone who wasn't afraid to die, chances are it is because they knew what would happen when they did and therefore had no reason to fear. so again, to repeat myself yet again, i have great ability to think and reason. i am not going to argue anymore, but don't think that this means that you have won. it only means that i an tired of repeating myself to someone who obviously isn't reading my views as carefully as am i reading hers. you can't blow off everyone else's view by saying that they are not thinking for themselves, because in fact, we are.

Posted by: Lauren at February 4, 2004 9:27 AM

There are standards for proof, and "because I say so" is not one of them. Hence, I can blow of your point of view, and with aplomb!

Religion, cherie, is all about the business of fear. Where is there proof that there's a hell? Yet, isn't your life directed, not in being good for the sake of being good, but to stay out of some place you've been told exists.

I'm baffled that you don't see the illogic in your infantile and uncritical thinking.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 4, 2004 9:35 AM

it's not because i said so, it's because God said so, if you have a problem with that, by all means, take it up with Him.

i don't do good out of fear of going to hell. i am saved, no matter what i do, i will not go to hell, so that blows your point right out of the window. i didn't choose to believe in God out of fear, just as you don't. if i didn't want to believe in God then i would not believe i hell either. so, i ask, where's the fear now?

Posted by: Lauren at February 4, 2004 9:39 AM

I would be happy to ask god. Do you have his phone number or other contact info?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 4, 2004 9:46 AM

How do you know you're "saved." And why is that not a crock of hooey? (See Hitchens' book)

http://www.advicegoddess.com/archives/000465.html

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 4, 2004 9:53 AM

yeah, you can talk to Him, just start, no number, nothing. it's quite easy. just start talking to Him.
i know that i am saved because i have faith that Jesus Christ came to earth and died on the cross for mine, and yes, even your, sins. that's it. salvation is a free gift that you take on faith.
(See the Bible)
Romans 3:23, 5:8, 10:9-10, 10:13
http://romans.jesusanswers.com/romansroad.htm
i hope that you actually read all of this with an open mind. i will be praying that you do.

Posted by: Lauren at February 4, 2004 10:02 AM

Honey, you really got sold a bill of goods. You can talk to the tooth fairy and Oscar Wilde by the same method. Are clinically insane or just voluntarily stupid?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 4, 2004 10:09 AM

think what you want, i don't need your approval. just don't say you were never told about God or given a chance to believe.

Posted by: Lauren at February 4, 2004 10:16 AM

Yeah, well, if I were offered heroin, I'd turn it down, too, because I have free will and the ability to think critically; both of which I excercise. Perhaps you should donate your higher brain function to somebody who can put it to use.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 4, 2004 11:21 AM

weeeeee! isn't this fun? and to think, i almost didn't post a comment. look at all i would have missed out on.

amy and charles, i put it to you, that if you are as open-minded as you say to check out this web page: http://www.ex-atheist.com/
...maybe it will answer some of your higher-intellect questions.

oh, and by the way, you are not atheists (One who disbelieves or denies the existence of God or gods). you are agnostics (One who believes that it is impossible to know whether there is a God.
One who is skeptical about the existence of God but does not profess true atheism.) you have both stated that you don't know whether there is a God or not. therefore, you have wrongly defined yourselves.

i have heard all your debates and you have no more proved to me that God does not exist than i have to you that He does. all i know is, i'd rather be wrong in my camp than wrong in yours.

Posted by: tami at February 4, 2004 11:43 AM

Sigh. Tami, luckily Charles (Godless Rose) has already done my posting work for me. Here's a comment from under the Hitchens blog item about YOUR misconception:

"* This brings me to another common myth - that atheism means "the belief there is no God", and that agnosticism is therefore something different from atheism. This is nonsense. Since the 18th century, atheists have understood atheism to mean "the absence of belief in a (personal and supernatural) God or gods".

This is an important distinction. Another way of stating it is that everyone who is not sure that a (personal, supernatural) God or gods exist is an atheist. Atheism is therefore a broad category of viewpoints - every view except theism or polytheism, basically - and it includes agnosticism. And the Brights movement, for that matter.

This broad conception of atheism is unfamiliar to many people, but it is universally accepted by literate atheists. Has been for hundreds of years, in fact. This is one of my pet peeves, so I just had to bring it up. :)"

Oh, and I don't know that god doesn't exist, any more than you know that he does (although you insist you do, with zero evidence!...and why not believe in the Easter Bunny by the same logic?) Luckily, I'm perfectly comfortable with saying I don't know, and not feeling any fear or compunction about that. It's simply the facts as far as can be seen.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 4, 2004 1:06 PM

sorry, amy. i was under the impression that you had serious questions. but i guess you really were just spewing your beliefs. my bad.

don't bother to look into the things you gripe about.

if i had a say in what was dangerous, i'd say it was your hypocritical thinking, not my belief in God.

Posted by: tami at February 4, 2004 2:03 PM

My beliefs are not something somebody stuffed down my throat in church. In fact, I was lead to believe there was a god, then I investigated and realized there was no proof of one. I don't need to do homework on this, because, trust me, the homework has already been done. You can call me a lot of things -- even call me a bitch -- but if there's one thing I'm not, it's a hypocrite. Read Hitchens piece. If you can step out of the "flock" for a moment, that is.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 4, 2004 3:44 PM

you are in fact a hypocrite because you don't have respect for mine and tami's belief, yet you want us to respect yours. you say that you have already done "the homework", well so have i and yet you get mad at me. and, you ask us to step out of the "flock", well maybe you should... this is all i have to say on this matter. this has gone on way too long. so say what you want about me and tami, but know that you are a hypocrite. and again, i will be praying for you.
Lauren

Posted by: lauren at February 4, 2004 5:36 PM

I don't have respect for your beliefs because they are based on superstition. You are no more intellectually advanced than people living in the middle ages. I have what you would call a searching and skeptical mind. I take nothing for granted and live a life of hourly self (and other)-examination. Instead of wasting your time praying for me, please do something substantive to make the world a better place, like exercising your unused reason to improve environmental conditions.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 4, 2004 7:32 PM

Sorry Amy...atheism has ALWAYS meant the "denial of God's existence." Your MODERN interpretation has been around since only 1979 (see more here http://home.infostations.com/quietsun/athart3.htm)

Also, I question your statement that you lead a live of "hourly self-examination"...if this is true you need to examine your "beliefs" about those that believe in God. And that is what those are...simply your "BELIEFS." They are not facts..for example you say "the effect of religious belief, is positively harmful." Really? And what about the effects of atheism?

From reading what you have written above, the effects of atheism in your case is: close-mindedness, rudeness, pride-fullness, arrogance, intellectual laziness, and many other negative qualities. These are all things you should be proud of!

Posted by: Donn Day at February 6, 2004 5:30 AM

Donn, perhaps I'm not examining exactly EVERY hour (sometimes I'm at the movies or something), but believe me, when I do something -- get angry at the person driving in front of me -- I examine whether it's rational (it's not), etc. And belief in god harms us in so many ways. Did you miss 9-11? Do you not get inconvenienced at the airport all the time? Do you know how many people faith-based care is killing? How many are denied AIDs vaccines because the Bush White House is pushing a religious agenda? How about how I got persecuted as a child -- eggs thrown at my house, etc. for not believing in Jesus. What's wrong with a modern definition of atheism? We should all be reading it out of Chaucer? Basically, I'm not irrational and have a naturalistic orientation to life -- looking for evidence rather than believing in god or the tooth fairy because somebody told me they exists. Am I an arrogant bitch? Sure I am. Luckily, I don't have a problem with that. Close-minded? No -- thinking. Unlike the god squad. I just can't believe people have intellect and don't use it.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 6, 2004 8:19 AM

"i have enough respect for myself to save the only thing i can save about myself for the one person that i truely love. i have that desire to give my husband the best gift anyone can give, myself."

So, Lauren. It sounds like you define "myself" as one big vagina with legs, wrapped up in a bow like "the best gift." I urge you to look at yourself as something more than that. Where's your sense of spirituality?

Posted by: The Lena Monologues at February 6, 2004 10:46 AM

Amy-
I'm not going to get into a long running debate wtih you...been there done that. You say you're not close-minded, but thinking. However, you make many statements in response to me that are your opinions (which is fine), but you state them as if they were facts, and they are not. You lay the blame against religion for many of the world's evils, yet I can make a stronger case about evil caused from those that are/were atheists. (In this regard, though, I agree with philosopher Peter van Inwagen that these type of cases are not very sound arguments.) The point is though, my case would be stronger than yours. For example...Mr. Murray writes, Christianity fostered intellectual independence and drive. In his account it was Thomas Aquinas who "grafted a humanistic strain onto Christianity," by arguing that "human intelligence is a gift from God, and that to apply human intelligence to understanding the world is not an affront to God but is pleasing to him." And where post-Aquinas Christianity thrived--in Europe between 1400 and the Enlightenment--so, too, according to Mr. Murray, did human excellence." This is a review of the book "Human Accomplishments" written by a....Christian? No, by an agnostic libertarian. These types of examples can be given ad infinitum. My main gripe with you Amy is not that you have a naturalistic worldview, many people do. It's that you are so dismissive of those of a theistic persuasion.

Posted by: Donn at February 6, 2004 10:49 AM

Hi! I haven't had nearly as much free time since Tuesday, but I thought I should post again. This message is a response to Lauren. Sorry this is so long (again).

Regarding the anecdote, it still sounds more like a rationalization than a reason for belief. You might choose to perceive this as evidence for God, but it still doesn't seem like convincing evidence to me. But I'll drop the subject if you don't want to discuss it further.

"i also know that there is great proof for the Christian side that evolution is ridiculous." This is far too big a subject to examine in detail in this forum. A good book critiquing creationism is "Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism" by Philip Kitcher. And a good site on the creation/evolution controversy is:
http://suhep.phy.syr.edu/courses/modules/ORIGINS/origins.html

Behe and his "irreducible complexity" are all the rage with creationists now, but scientists have already dealt fatal blows to his arguments. A good page countering some of Behe's "intelligent design" arguments is:
http://www.talkdesign.org/faqs/icdmyst/ICDmyst.html

I wrote an essay years ago on how I became an atheist. It could use a rewrite (I have a bad tendency to use unnecessarily strong words - it could use a bit of mellowing), but I've appended a (long) excerpt at the bottom of this post. In it, I mention the role that studying the Bible played in putting Christianity behind me for good. I have a few essays on the Bible posted on my (perpetually unfinished and generally blah) website. They deal with, respectively, the Second Coming, factual contradictions in the Gospels, and Old Testament morality:
http://www.geocities.com/godlessrose/eschrist.html
http://www.geocities.com/godlessrose/escon.html
http://www.geocities.com/godlessrose/esold.html

Also, here is an excellent essay that had a strong impact on my thinking. The author's ethical views seem a little cynical to me, but he makes a powerful case that the term "Biblical morality" is a contradiction in terms:
http://www.lrainc.com/swtaboo/taboos/ltn01.html

All the Best,
Charles


I grew up a Christian. I wasn't pressured into going to church, and I didn't go all that often, but I did show up occasionally. And I prayed and read bits of the Bible. I lived in the Bible Belt (still do) and went to a Southern Baptist church. I wasn't a literal creationist, but I did buy into the day-age version. I wasn't really all that serious about my religion, but I did consider myself a God-fearing Christian and I liked that. As far as I can recall, I never really had any doubts about my faith. It just came naturally.

That changed in my mid teens. I was a bright student, an avid reader, and a fan of science and science fiction. My favorite author was Isaac Asimov. It came to pass one day that I discovered from one of his essays that he was an atheist. I was amazed. The man was brilliant, and had a good-humored charm that shone through his writing. How could such a person be an atheist? I decided to go to the public library and check out some books on the subject. I wanted to know more about atheist thought, to try to make sense out of this. There wasn't a lot at the library on the subject, but there was enough. As I read and pondered the philosophical issues, it slowly, with a mixture of fear and excitement, dawned on me that theism had some serious problems. All the attempts of theists to present a reasoned justification for their faith were failures. Theism had no rational foundation.

For me, the single most persuasive thing was learning about the principle of parsimony (also known as Occam's Razor) and how it applies to the first cause cosmological argument for God. ["Entities of explanation must not be multiplied without necessity" - in other words, keep your assumptions to a minimum.] I think it is hard to overestimate the importance of the principle of parsimony. Without that to limit our options, reason becomes nothing but a pointless word game. Given enough imagination, a person can come up with a perfectly "logical" series of excuses and rationalizations to back up virtually any belief. The concepts of truth and falsehood have no meaning, at least for any practical purpose, without Occam's razor.

Proponents of the first cause argument state that everything we see has a cause, but the chain of cause and effect cannot regress infinitely. Therefore there must have been a first cause at some point or nothing could exist at all. That first cause is (a personal) God. There are many problems with this scheme, but a common-sense approach to debunking it is suggested by the question, "Who made God?" If we accept that nothing can exist without being created, or that everything must have a prior cause, then who or what is God's creator or cause? But if God does not need a creator, then why does anything else? The idea that the universe came into existence without a cause is incomprehensible, at least for me, and the idea that there is an infinite regression of causes makes no more sense. But the first cause argument actually does nothing at all to make sense out of this. We are still left with the concept of uncaused existence, except now God has been introduced into the picture.

This is where the principle of parsimony figures in. We are presented with two propositions: either the universe exists without the intervention of any higher intelligence (God) or a higher intelligence was involved. Either way, we are forced to face that the ultimate question of how anything can exist has no answer we can comprehend. (I think causality presupposes existence, so it is not a valid question at all. That is another matter, however.) We just have to accept that what exists exists and get on with life. Since it explains nothing to suppose the involvement of a God, it is more parsimonious to assume that no God was involved.

I recall as a child once being asked in Sunday school why I believed there was a God. I do not remember my exact words, but I replied that it explained how the universe came to be. I now understand that to be a very poor justification for belief.

Of course, a well-read theist would have counter-arguments to make. One might say that since God is the ultimate and infinite, He is self-existing and His existence does not require a cause like the universe does. But the theist has a lot of questions to answer to back such a statement up. What does it mean, exactly, to say that God is the ultimate, and how can anyone truly comprehend the idea of a being with unlimited attributes anyway? What is the line of reasoning that leads from "God is the ultimate" to "He is self-existing?" It is not my intention to write an in-depth critique, so I'll just conclude by saying that I find such arguments to be just so much hand-waving. They are not even comprehensible, much less convincing. And of course there are other basic problems with the first cause argument that I didn't discuss.

At some point in my life I had picked up a love of truth. I wanted to understand things, and I believed that honesty and rationality mattered. So God was no more for me. I began calling myself an agnostic; I hadn't read enough yet to understand the precise definition of the term, and I accepted the popular misconception that agnosticism is some sort of middle ground between theism and dogmatic, absolutist atheism. I recall experiencing considerable fear at first that I would go to Hell, but giving up on the idea of life after death didn't bother me like it does some people. Although I had never read anything by Epicurus, I suppose I intuitively grasped the idea that "When we are, death is not; when death is, we are not." In other words, death appears to be merely nonexistence, and nonexistence can never be experienced at all. How we live is what matters; death is irrelevant. Isaac Asimov had this to say about it: "Although the time of death is approaching me, I am not afraid of dying and going to Hell or (what would be considerably worse) going to the popularized version of Heaven. I expect death to be nothingness and, for removing me from all possible fears of death, I am thankful to atheism."

It wasn't until several years later that I began reading about religion and philosophy again. I came across a copy of Skeptic magazine at a bookstore, and was instantly captivated. Here were people who shared my love of truth and reason; reading the magazine was like coming home. That led to a renewed interest in atheist philosophy, and it also led me to seriously study the Bible for the first time. That was a wonderful revelation. To see the miriad factual contradictions, to read all the despicable acts that the "all-loving" Yahweh commanded the Isrealites to commit, to see how Jesus promised repeatedly that some of the original twelve disciples would live to see his second coming, to read how Jesus ordered his followers to abandon their families, and then to see how weak the rationalizations of the Christian apologists are, was incredible. It was truly liberating. Christianity was dead and buried for me. Never again would I hear that nagging whisper in the back of my mind, asking if I had made the right choice.

Posted by: GodlessRose at February 6, 2004 11:50 AM

This is a reply to points by Tami, Donn Day, and Amy. I'm writing this in a hurry, by the way...

"This broad conception of atheism is unfamiliar to many people, but it is universally accepted by literate atheists. Has been for hundreds of years, in fact."-Me

Wow - Amy Alkon just quoted me! :)

In hindsight, though, I should have said "generally" instead of "universally". I have a tendency to use overly strong terms. I'm aware that a few self-proclaimed atheists have used the word in the narrow sense. But the mainstream definition within the atheist community is the broad one.

It may well be the case that the exact phrase "absence of belief" was coined in the 20th century, but writers have been using atheism in that sense a bit longer. The origins of the broad conception seem to date back to the late 18th century. And frankly, applying the ancient Greek conception of atheism to modern atheism is just nonsense. The meanings of words change over time, and using etymologies from before the Renaissance to justify a point is a bit of a stretch. Also, atheists sometimes use "disbelief" as a synonym for "nonbelief". The definition of disbelief used on the web page you (Donn Day) cited isn't the only valid one.

It's true that there are a number of encyclopedias and dictionaries that consider only the narrow conception of atheism. But the people who should know are the atheists. Mainstream atheist writings are the only ones that count in this regard.

Here are a few web pages with more info on the definition and history of the words atheism and agnosticism. The first is a good essay by Madalyn Murray-O'Hair, and the other two are introductory sites on atheism. I haven't looked up all of the sources they quote from, but I've looked up enough that I feel confidant that the conclusions of these writers are accurate:
http://www.atheists.org/Atheism/seethetree.html
http://atheism.about.com/library/FAQs/ath/blathd_index.htm
http://www.infidels.org/news/atheism/intro.html

And here is a page on the Atheist Alliance site with a fairly mainstream atheist definition of God/god:
http://www.atheistalliance.org/library/AB-Defining_God.html

By the way, I browsed through ex-atheist.com a bit. Some of it was just the same old material I'd come to expect. At points, though, I found myself wondering if this was just one of those atheist parodies of a Christian site. Some of the sample "skeptic" arguments are kind of funny.

All the Best,
Charles

Posted by: GodlessRose at February 6, 2004 11:53 AM

Hi! I've had some more free time to look this thread over, and I thought I'd add one more post before moving on.

After I posted the excerpt from the old essay on how I became an atheist, I remembered that I had already re-written it. (D'oh!) So I displayed an embarrassingly bad piece of my writing for no reason at all.

If you can't get enough information about me [I find me fascinating, myself ;) ], and want proof that my writing doesn't all entirely suck, see the new and improved version. It's on a forum for atheists in my hometown. If you see a big ad on the screen, just click on "continue to message":
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/murrayatheists/message/48

I have a few more thoughts on the arguments presented at http://home.infostations.com/quietsun/athart3.htm . By bringing up Charles Bradlaugh's conception of atheism ["The atheist does not say, 'There is no God,' but he says, 'I know not what you mean by God; the word God is to me a sound conveying no clear or distinct affirmation.' (A Plea for Atheism-1864)"], the author undermines his own argument.

It is true that this is not exactly the same as the current broad conception of atheism, but it is clearly one of the viewpoints _encompassed_ by the broad definition. It is a school of thought which is _consistent_ with the idea of atheism as absence of belief. But it is in no way compatible with the idea of atheism as "denying God". So, at the very least, this demonstrates that the narrow, Christian definition of atheism was being rejected by prominent atheists as early as 1864.

And by the way, the site calls Bradlaugh an agnostic. I was under the impression that he was a self-proclaimed atheist, and never jumped on the agnostic bandwagon. When Bradlaugh wrote of "the atheist" in "A Plea for Atheism", he was referring to his own views.

Of course, I'm no expert on this subject, or any other for that matter. I may well have some misconceptions. But it is my impression that the broad conception of atheism was _implied_ in the 18th century writings of Paul Henri Holbach. And by the way, Holbach wrote of the incomprehensibility of religious terms. So Bradlaugh's school of thought can be traced back to Holbach.

So I think the broad definition of atheism is preferable to the narrow, Christian definition because a) it seems to have been implied in early writings, and b) the Christian definition is too narrow to encompass all the major forms of atheism anyway.

I do seem to have overstated things in my initial comment on the definition of atheism, however. ("This broad conception of atheism is unfamiliar to many people, but it is universally accepted by literate atheists. Has been for hundreds of years, in fact.") Here is a how I should have worded it:

This broad conception of atheism is unfamiliar to many people, but it is generally accepted by literate atheists. And it appears to have been implied, if not explicitly stated, in prominent atheist writings as early as the late 18th century.

Say... Weren't we originally talking about abortion? ;)

All the Best,
Charles

Posted by: GodlessRose at February 7, 2004 1:59 PM