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Grief Without God
Carol A. Fiore's test pilot husband dies in a horrible crash, but first suffers for 36 hours in the burn unit, and she's forced to cut through the god crap all the while. No, there's no evidence there's a god, just gullible humans who pretend god exists, in turn, exacerbating Fiore's pain. Fiore writes:

Before I arrived at the hospital just hours after the accident, Eric had been given the last rites by a Catholic priest. On whose authority? During the entire time I lived at the hospital I heard the following comments over and over: "God has a plan", "God never gives us more than we can handle", "Put your faith in our Lord Jesus Christ." One respiratory therapist even told me that unless I prayed for Eric, he would die. She'd seen it happen before, she repeated. When the family doesn't pray, the patient dies. Almost without exception, every single person who visited, called, or sent cards said the same thing "I'm praying for your husband."

After Eric died I heard the same statements but with a new even more infuriating one thrown in: "He's in a better place." What place? He was dead! I can assure everyone that Eric loved life, his family, his job. There was no better place for him than right here. And what of God's plan? Did these people really believe that their God was watching Eric, out of all the beings in the universe? If so, why didn't he answer the prayers of more than half the city of Wichita? If there is a God and he has a plan, maybe this is what he was thinking:

Gee, I think I'll cause a really great guy to crash on takeoff. He's a test pilot who tries to make the skies safe for everyone, but just for fun I'll cause the jet to stall, plow into the runway, and catch fire. Then, just to torture the wife, I'll make her watch the test pilot suffer horrible injuries and burns for 36 days. Then as the final blow, I'll make sure the small children are present at the moment of death so their lives will be screwed up forever. I will ignore their pleas not to let their Daddy die because hey, I'm God and I can do whatever I want.

A plan? I certainly hope not.

Yet, even now, in 2007, those who seem to prefer nonthink and mumbo jumbo to rational thought persist...vastly outnumbering the rational and thinking. And why is it that so many people seem to be under the impression that lying and nonthink will be a comfort to a woman who uses her head as more than a convenient resting place for her hair? Fiore continues:

So how can we avoid all these painful religious comments spoken to people already enduring an unbelievable amount of torture? How about listening? People are being thoughtless in thinking that everyone is comforted by these kinds of statements. I repeatedly asked people not to pray (though I understand that sometimes people don't know what to say, so responding they'll pray seems like a safe comment). I threw the priest out of Eric's room, and I refused any more rites or prayers to be mumbled over him. People still didn't get it. They thought perhaps Eric would change his mind about not believing in God, that I would too. I'd suddenly come out of the atheist closet. What was the point now? I was going to make sure Eric got the funeral he wanted, and I knew he didn't want people praying over him.

Eric's service was held in a hangar with various memorabilia and awards lovingly displayed under the outstretched wings of his favorite test plane. There were no pews; no religious leader conducted the service. There were no prayers, no reading of scripture. Fellow pilots wore their flight suits, speeches were given honoring Eric's life, and a microphone was passed around. It was a moving tribute to a man who had dedicated his life to aviation.

My mother, a strict Catholic who had once enrolled in a convent, said to me afterwards, "Well, that was a nice, well whatever it was. I guess it wasn't really a service, but I guess it was nice." Many of the hundreds present seemed to be confused about the lack of religious content of the service, but the closet atheists were all too obvious and there seemed to be more than a few. They were the ones who were most obviously overwhelmed. From them I heard comments like "I never knew a service could be so beautiful", or "It's the most moving service I've ever attended", or "I couldn't have imagined a better tribute to Eric." They didn't say "Eric is in a better place."

During the years since Eric's death, I have been told repeatedly to "put yourself in the Lord's hands and he will help you." But I learned that if there was any helping and healing to do, I'm the one who has to do it. Does God really help you get better? Does he make the grief go away? Even the little happy pills known as antidepressants didn't make it go away. The psychiatrists hurt more than they helped, the counselors made no difference, and though the family tried, they really couldn't do anything. Listening to me talk about Eric did help somewhat, but in the end, it was me who had to deal with the grief. Not God.

An important part of my recovery process has been in honoring Eric and in keeping my promise to him that the world would know who he was. I donated the entire sum of money given to me from The Challenger Fund to Eric's favorite museum, the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center. Every year a full scholarship is awarded to a deserving high school student to attend the Future Astronaut Training Program. A magnificent display has been set up to honor Eric.

Additional money has been donated to Eric's alma mater, where another display has been erected in his memory. I set up a program at the burn center where Eric was a patient. The Eric Basket Program is designed to help burn victims and their families. I have given several speeches in honor of burn patients and survivors.

I have tried to heal myself by performing various charity works in my own little town: Meals on Wheels, wildlife rehabilitating, conservation work, donating money and items for homeless people. One of the ways I have found to fight grief is by helping others.

I have spent many years of my life writing a book about Eric, his life, my experience at the hospital, and our incredible love. I continue to edit and polish the work. I am even going back to school to acquire better writing skills, so that I can better accomplish my goals.

I still miss Eric every day and maybe it would be easier to believe that he is safe and happy in a beautiful garden with a kind God and pretty angels. But it would be a lie. I try to be thankful that I had the love and support of such an amazing man as Eric, even if it was for such a short time. Maybe I was actually one of the lucky ones. I had the kind of love that people dream about. It was real and tangible, not a dream about some other world.

I would venture that people like me, who refuse to believe in god, the tooth fairy, or santa without evidence, value the here and now much more than the "believers" do. Since I don't believe in "heaven" -- no evidence of the existence of that place, either -- I do my best to live every day like it's my last. I don't have boring friends, I try not to have a bad lunch, and I do what I can to "leave the planet better than I found it"...and not because it'll bring me credits from the Big Invisible Man the gullible believe is waiting to give them a plasma screen and/or 72 virgins on the back end.

via Machines Like Us

Posted by aalkon at January 30, 2007 1:16 PM

Comments

In my meager life experience, it has been my good fortune to discover that people who are a-theistic are the most moral people of all.
They have no one to answer to but themselves and humanity, and that is plenty. No bullshit equivocting, no prayer-as-deal crap, none of the time-wasting superstition and second-guessing.
The "rules" we all live by: don't kill, don't steal, don't lie— seem to be enough to act in a humane and intelligent way.

Life is life. Live it.

Posted by: Deirdre B. at January 30, 2007 5:46 AM

Deirdre, you never cease to impress.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 30, 2007 6:17 AM

I have found the same thing. The people who are religious tend to have fairly flexible morals which seem to shift depending on who knows what. All I've learned is that they can't be trusted. I like to know where I stand with people and at least the non-religious make sense.

Posted by: Chris at January 30, 2007 8:25 AM

I had similar situations mentioned in the article. Especially, during my mother's funeral. The religious types took it a step further though. During her wake, I was given phone numbers to join their Bible study groups. They would say: "It was what your mother wanted." My response was in a civil, but serious manner. "Pay your respects and leave within 3 minutes or you will be leaving here feet first in a stretcher. Oh by the way it was nice seeing you again."

I rejected the god when I was 11. Unfortunately, I made it public on the ride home from Sunday church services. My mother's response almost caused a major traffic accident. Perhaps I should have waited until she parked the car in the driveway.

My lack of belief in faith, mysticism and revelation has never waivered. Personally, I just do not find it healthy to confuse emotionally charged metaphors as objective reality.

By the way, GodlessGeeks.com posted an article on which states' constitutions make it perfectly legal to discriminate against atheists seeking elective office. My home state of Pennsylvania is on the list:

Pennsylvania's State Constitution, Article 1 Section 4
"No person who acknowledges the being of a God and a future state of rewards and punishments shall, on account of his religious sentiments, be disqualified to hold any office or place of trust or profit under this Commonwealth."

Also, when I lived in Maryland too. I was shocked that Massachusetts was on the list too.


Posted by: Joe at January 30, 2007 8:31 AM

"God never gives us more than we can handle", etc. ... These kind of mindless platitudes, spoken only by mindless dolts, drive me absolutely batshit crazy.

"God" doesn't give me anything. Shit just happens sometimes. And it had BETTER not be more than I can handle, or I'm screwed. So ... I guess I'd better handle it. Funny how that works.

People spout this crap because 1) it's what they've been taught and they don't know any better, or 2) they have some asinine need to think things happen for a reason. The fact that some things happen for no reason whatsoever is perfectly logical to me and doesn't bother me in the least. Some people must think they have to be the center of the universe. Your husband dies, so it must be part of Gawd's Plan. How pretentious. Maybe that's why it annoys me so much.

Posted by: Pirate Jo at January 30, 2007 8:42 AM

I would venture that people like me, who refuse to believe in god, the tooth fairy, or santa without evidence, value the here and now much more than the "believers" do.

I don't agree with this statement! For me, I don't believe I value the here & now more than the "believers", I only think that my brain is simply not capable of believing. I have tried to believe, and really wanted to believe, but I think I am simply biologically incapable of doing so. Like something in my brain keeps me from switching off rational thought and allowing faith in.

But I don't think that makes me smarter or better, or (especially) happier.

I actually envy the believers. And I never get mad with I hear comments like the widow talks about (though granted my husband hasn't died a tortuous death!) Those people are just trying to bring comfort, and they really do believe what they are saying...


Posted by: Susan at January 30, 2007 9:20 AM

Have got to see the movie, now out on DVD, "Jesus Camp"
Good portrayal of things discussed here.

Posted by: Brian at January 30, 2007 9:59 AM

Susan,

The source of the anger from nonbelievers is the assumption that their words are comforting. They could have said that her husband lead a wonderful and fulfilling life and it is a tragedy that it was cut short. People can use comforting words and phrases without the inclusion of a god, messiah and the afterlife. Religion has this uncanny ability to make its presence when people are in a vulnerable position. From comforting words to the possibility of recruiting more to the flock.

Posted by: Joe at January 30, 2007 10:00 AM

It takes a really big person to take the well meant condolences of others and throw them back in their faces.

Don't hurt your arms patting yourselves on the back about being smarter than all those believers.

The proper response, I think, is thank you. Because a society that doesn't encourage good intent will get less of it.

Posted by: MarkD at January 30, 2007 10:02 AM

I'm sorry for both Ms. Fiore's loss and for the way she was treated by some probably well-meaning but silly people.

But why must you, Ms. Alkon, and so many other proud atheists insist that all believers are gullible idiots wallowing in superstition? All of them? Really? Do you include, say, Thomas Aquinas, Maimonides, John Courtney Murray, Reinhold Niebuhr, or even Hillary Clinton and Jimmy Carter, on your list of idiots?

As someone said above, don't be so quick to pat yourself on the back for being smarter than all those believers. You're not. You may be smarter than some. But that doesn't mean much.

Posted by: Lawrence M. McKenna at January 30, 2007 10:16 AM

No one used the term "idiots" but you, Mr. Lawrence.

Posted by: Deirdre B. at January 30, 2007 10:59 AM

Do you include, say, Thomas Aquinas, Maimonides, John Courtney Murray, Reinhold Niebuhr, or even Hillary Clinton and Jimmy Carter, on your list of idiots?

If they believe, without evidence in, let's say, the tooth fairy (which there's as little evidence for as there is for god), what would you call them? Really. Come up with a term.

Idiot does have a certain ring to it.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 30, 2007 11:11 AM

I think the reason that athiests get angry is because the religious treat them with such condescension, as if they were inferior 'godless heathens' who needed their indulgence. If there were mutual respect, as in respecting people's differences, athiests wouldn't get angry. Who likes to be talked down to? I certainly don't.

Posted by: Chris at January 30, 2007 11:21 AM

I'd leave Aquinas and Maimonides out of this fight. We owe Aquinas more than we can repay for his part in relaxing the churches grip on science.

The self delusion required is far greater in the 21st century than it was in the 11th century. The moral crime against yourself for believing in some sects version of a flying spaghetti monster is abominable after Kepler and Newton and Darwin and the wright brothers and Edison and...

Posted by: Jon at January 30, 2007 12:11 PM

Deirdre B. says "No one used the term "idiots" but you, Mr. Lawrence", but Ms. Alkon has used that word in the past about people with religious beliefs (it's handy that she's got a search function built in to her blog). And in the very post under discussion, she refers to "those who seem to prefer nonthink and mumbo jumbo to rational thought", which comes pretty close to calling the religious idiots.

Another poster calls religious belief "self delusion" and a "moral crime", while asking that we leave Aquinas and Maimonides out of the fight (by the way, when did it turn into a fight?), perhaps because it's pretty hard to defend the proposition that they're idiots. Or maybe because he (somewhat condescendingly) gives them a pass because they lived a long time ago.

Come on. Not every religious person, be they Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, or what-have-you, is an end-times-awaiting, gay-bashing, fundamentalist, thuggish, evolution-denying idiot.

Bigotry is bigotry.

Posted by: Lawrence M. McKenna at January 30, 2007 12:27 PM

I would classify Thomas Aquinas as a dangerous and gullible fool. Within the pages of his Summa Theologiae and Summa contra Gentiles, he easily condoned the outright death of heretics. At least St. Augustine was a little more enlightened and believed in torture first for heretics and then the possibility of repentance before death.
Also, Aquinas believed a marriage was invalid if a person was under a magical spell to force themselves into the union. Not the pure model of enlightenment.

Posted by: Joe at January 30, 2007 12:40 PM

> he easily condoned the outright
> death of heretics

When he was losing his teeth and before he got the wooden numbers we all read about in grade school, Washington inquire about taking some of those nice pearls from the mouths of his slaves. He was a great man nonetheless. Context counts, but in no way was Thomas of Aquinas a "gullible fool."

Posted by: Crid at January 30, 2007 12:55 PM

Is it really bigotry to say that people you think are commiting a logical fallacy are dumb? Bigotry is defined on dictionary.coom as "stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one's own." So I would argue that it's not that athiests don't tolerate religious people (arguably the religous have more rights than non religious people). The issue is that athiest see relgious folk as being not intelligent based on how they arrived at their opinons.

If you say that someone who thinks the holocost never happend is dumb does that make you a bigot? It seems to me that denying something with plenty of evidence is not that far from believing in something with no evidence.

As someone who was raised extremely religously I always have a hard time figuring out what to say to my religious friends when bad stuff happens to them. Everybody else is Praying... and I'm just Sorry and it makes me feel like I'm not helping. (Though I usually tell my mom so she can pray to assuage the remnants of my catholic guilt.)

Difficult experiences are difficult for everyone, with or without belief in God. If everyone involved can respect eachothers beliefs during difficult times it might make it easier on everyone.

I think religous people need to respect that people who do not believe in god do not appreciate being evangelized. But non religious people could also respect that for some religious individuals praying is part of the greiving process. Though it may seem pointless or stupid in a cosmic sense, it may mean something to the person who is praying.

Posted by: Shinobi at January 30, 2007 1:00 PM

I'm not defending everything Aquinas ever wrote. I did offer him as an example of a believer who is not an idiot, and I'll stand by that. Certainly he took some positions that his own church fortunately no longer maintains. But he wasn't stupid.

The theology of Aquinas (or Augustine) is a sideshow here, though. My point was simply that not every person who hold some sort of religious belief is an idiot.

Posted by: Lawrence M. McKenna at January 30, 2007 1:03 PM

Here's an interesting point that I'm not sure I've seen discussed here - that religiosity appears to be heritable:

http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn7147

We all know that Amy's a big ev-psych proponent. Does anybody (hmmm... what regular poster her might be able to make this point ) want to make the evolutionary case for religiosity?

Posted by: justin case at January 30, 2007 1:58 PM

I admire Isaac Newton's discoveries and accomplishments in science and mathematics. He was also quite foolish for searching for the philosopher's stone and a code to the Bible. It also may have lead to his death from mercury poisoning. Same with Alfred Russel Wallace who did a great contribution to the theory of natural selection, but believed in spiritualism and mediums. Quite foolish.

As an atheist, I am very tolerant of religious people. I disagree with the ACLU's method of purging all religious symbols from public places. I want all religious symbols in public places. Christian, Islam, Jewish, Pastafarians (people who worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster), Church of Subgenius (Hail Bob), Discordianism (Hail Eris), Branch Davidians, Church of All Worlds, Church of Ed Wood (Thou shalt love bad films), Satanists, Setians, Church of Scientology (Xenu Loves You), Church of Mooism or MUism (The MOO in YOU has got to get through), Church of Jesus Christ and LDS (America's first sci-fi cult) Heaven Gaters, Raelians, Last Thursdayism, Campus Crusade for Cthulhu, Festivus, Iglesia Maradoniana (worship of a retired Argentine soccer player with 15,000 active members) and many many more.

Posted by: Joe at January 30, 2007 2:20 PM

Campus Crusade for Cthulhu?!! Where do I sign, and when does my t-shirt arrive?

Re the origins of 'religiosity,' I've heard it posited that when primitive humans first came together in group celebrations, they experienced such profound feelings of ecstacy, outside their normal range of emotions, that they imputed them to some higher power. Not sure that we'll ever get anything definitive.
Humans certainly don't need to believe in things that make sense, and they don't need to believe in things that are consistant. They do have a need to organize the world around them somehow.
SOme religious groups have thrived, and some (best examples are the 'cargo cults' in the Pacific islands) have led their followers to ruin and destruction. It can be a positive adaptation to the enviroment, but definately isn't always. Human beings do lots of things that come back to them with negative consequences.

Posted by: Cat brother at January 30, 2007 2:49 PM

There was an evolutionary reason for us having a sweet tooth. It was rare for our ancestors to eat anything sweet. In the present day, the sweet tooth is a detriment with 24 hour convenient stores, fast food restaurants and processed foods temptations everywhere.

This isn't new about a gene that cause certain people to have a predilection towards believing in a god or the supernatural. Geneticists, neurologists, analytical philosophers and evolutionary biologists have been speculating about this particular gene or neurological condition for the last 15 to 20 years.

This gene could be seen as a detriment in our modern day. A god (gods and goddesses) belief and the rituals were important at one time many centuries ago. An explanation for death, burial rites, maintaining healthy or even levels of population numbers and social controls (taboos) among the members of hunter gatherers tribes.

Posted by: Joe at January 30, 2007 2:54 PM

Hey, if you want a rational reason for religion, here it is: there is no better equalizer between genius and idiot than to suppose that a power beyond both of them is in charge of things. This leads to cooperation through commonality. The genius and idiot can both be shown they have a place, and can be useful.

There is a duality in many concepts which is missed by the superficial person. "Honor thy father and thy mother", a variation of "respect your elders" has a corollary: honor cannot be expressed by anyone who is not themselves respected. Think of the opinion of someone you know is a nitwit, and you'll see what I mean.

So kids who treat their parents as if they know what to do support an obligation by those parents to live up to the expectations. The commonality of religion allows the currency of respect to flow between unrelated members of a community. Does this work? Of course it does. There are still neighborhoods in the USA which do not lock their doors, because they don't have to.

-----

There is a principle that people do not understand which leads them to assign other things they do not understand to a deity. That principle is "probability".

You'll see the term, "miracle" - and hear that "God" did something - on a regular basis, merely because the affiant doesn't have any idea how probable the event really is. As far as we have been able to tell, four forces determine how all matter and energy interact: the strong and weak nuclear forces, magnetism and gravity. Thus, the universe is not truly random. The number of combinations and permutations possible between units of matter and/or energy is merely non-denumerably large (you can actually see this on any pocket calculator with stats capability). Yes, too big to count, and actually "larger than 'infinity'", because as you count towards "infinity" in whole numbers, their irrational relationships multiply in forms which have no end (think of Pi).

Locally, all this means is that yes, some non-zero number of people falling from aircraft will survive, and some number will die chewing gum. It's no "miracle".

I suggest that if you have someone who intrudes - it's a bad example to seek argument - you can ask them just how they got from not knowing how something happened to crediting God for it, when they would never claim their mechanic fixed their car without knowing what was wrong.

Posted by: Radwaste at January 30, 2007 3:12 PM

Absent religion, civilization would never have come to exist as we perceive it.

The vast majority of humans are stupid. Stupid and evil are the typical state of humans. Every so often, an intelligent one comes along. At some point, an intelligent one realized that if there was some way to harness the energy of the teeming mass of stupids that some really cool shit could be accomplished.

Because people are stupid, and they'd eat food that was spoiled and die, the smart one said "don't eat that, you'll die", and they beat him up, ate, and died. And none of the other stupids learned.

At some point, an intelligent one came up with "Don't eat that, or you'll suffer eternal torment. God told me". Being smart, they figured out some natural phenomonon and used that to convince the stupids that they had a direct line with God.

And religion was born.

And if it ever goes away, we're done for. Because there's a finite amount of intelligence in all of humanity. And the population is increasing.

Have a nice day.

Posted by: brian at January 30, 2007 7:43 PM

Absent religion, civilization would never have come to exist as we perceive it.

Sorry, but you can't say that. Well, you can, but it's uninformed. (Where do you get this crap?) There are modules in humans -- evolved adaptations for morality, such as reciprocal altruism and cheater detection.

Furthermore, there's observational learning in humans. When somebody dies after eating a poison item, others pass on the warning not to eat it. Those who avoid the warning die, and most likely do not pass on their genes.

If religion goes away, we might just survive. I'm an atheist, and I don't lie, cheat or steal. It's a violation of my personal code -- secular ethics. How many religious people have ethics that match mine? Who don't lie, cheat, or steal? Who give back money at the checkout stand and see to it that they behave according to carefully considered values -- even if it's more convenient or more expedient to do otherwise?

There's no reason to believe in some imaginary being in the sky, and believing in crap doesn't make you ethical. Furthermore if your "ethics" are based in fear of punishment at the end, you're not truly ethical, merely crafty.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 30, 2007 8:25 PM

What happened to Carol Fiore was horrendous. I am religious (call me an idiot if you want, fine), but I would never dream of saying like, "He's in a better place" or "God never gives us more than we can handle" to ANYONE, even to the deeply fundamentalist people of my acquaintance. Claiming to believe in a divine, omniscient God and then presuming to know the plan of that God - what hubris! (Atheists dealing with the obnoxious religious types - remember that statement and use it if necessary.) And that respiratory therapist should be fired (at the very least) RIGHT THIS FUCKING SECOND. Good lord.

I will say that I think, "I'm praying for your husband," is the default "I-don't-know-exactly-what-to-say-but-I-want-you-to -know-I'm-thinking-about-you" statement for a lot of people. This is why my default statement is, "I'm so sorry. Is there anything I can do?" As a society, we do NOT know how to handle suffering and death, whether it be a miscarriage of a desperately wanted pregnancy, the terminal illness of an adult, or the tragic death of a dearly loved huband. People say completely idiotic things because they don't have the self-control to just shut up. Please, any parents reading this - teach your children that it IS okay to say nothing at all, or just to say, "I'm so sorry." There is nothing you can say to make people feel better in these situations, unless it's, "I never told you this, but I can manipulate genes/cure disease/turn back time and save your loved one, and I'm doing so RIGHT NOW - hold on!" Short of that, shut up. Even the deeply religious who believe in God's plan don't want to believe that God's plan called for THEIR loved ones to die an awful death while other people continue to survive and thrive.

Posted by: marion at January 30, 2007 8:32 PM

Excellent, Marion, and I agree with what you wrote. I believe in God (I don't know how "religious" I would say I am). And I agree some of the stuff that was said to Ms. Fiore was truly appalling [I don't think the people saying it meant to hurt her, but clods abound]. I agree that it is best to let the bereaved know that you are sorry for their loss, and that you are available should they need you. When I send condolence notes I let people know that they are in my prayers. I think people shouldn't let it go at that, but should make every effort to contact the person even days/weeks/months after their loved one has died. Too often survivors (for lack of a better word) are forgotten by people they know once the funeral is over.


I literally have lost count of all of the people, of all ages, that I have known who have died. People I have known have died from old age, disease, aneurisms, heart murmurs, murder, suicide, plane crashes, you name it. When one of my nephews died shortly after birth, I learned first-hand how meaningful it is when people -- even ones you barely know -- acknowledge your loss and your grief. Before that I always thought, "Oh, the bereaved doesn't want to hear from me." But when I was on the receiving end, even the tiniest gesture, or the simplest words, made an enormous difference.


>>>This gene could be seen as a detriment in our modern day. A god (gods and goddesses) belief and the rituals were important at one time many centuries ago. An explanation for death, burial rites, maintaining healthy or even levels of population numbers and social controls (taboos) among the members of hunter gatherers tribes.

Joe: Rituals are still important. Please note that Ms. Fiore had a memorial service for her husband, albeit one without religious content... but she still went through a ritual, which is psychologically important to progress through the grieving process. Part of the trouble in the U.S. is that we have a hard time accepting death, and this is no surprise when in many instances the deceased person is made up to look like s/he is "sleeping." Rarely do the family members go through the ritual anymore of watching the casket get lowered, and then tossing dirt onto the top of it. That ritual is important to underscore the finality of the loss. It is much more difficult to accept the finality if one's last view of the deceased is of someone who looks like they're "slumbering peacefully."


As to the whole atheist vs. religious debate: I believe in God because I have felt his presence in my life, and I have seen God in the wonders of creation, trite as that may sound. Trite but true, I guess. Maybe that makes me sound like a nut. Well, factor in that I am an ardent supporter of the separation between church and state, and fanatical to get creationism out of the science classes, where evolution is rightfully taught. Yes, I am a card-carrying member of the ACLU. But I also get a lot of inspiration out of Sojourner's magazine and e-mails. I feel very fortunate (blessed, even) to feel what I have felt and to know what I know. I recognize that atheists feel differently. Everybody just has to make up their own minds regarding their life experiences.

Vive la difference!

Posted by: Donna at January 30, 2007 10:20 PM

If there were no God, there would be no atheists. --G.K. Chesterton

Posted by: Casca at January 30, 2007 10:44 PM

I like the Hare Krishnas a lot, especially all that aimless, freaky chanting and dancing. But their frocks are very flammable. I know that for a fact, because my crazy friend Gina in high school set one of them on fire when she was on acid.

Posted by: Lena Rama, Rama Rama, Lena Lena, Rama Lena at January 30, 2007 11:08 PM

I always find it odd that those who claim to belive prove thru their own actions that they really dont.

Think about it logically, if you really belive there is an afterlife and we are all gods children then how can you possibly justify war?

Afterall if we are all 'on earth temporarilly' why is it evangelical in particular are so damn teritorial? Why all the god bless america? If you truly belived in god and heaven and hell wouldnt you be working to make the entire world a wonderful place to live as opposed to you own counrty? or city? or neihborhood where your church is located?

How can anyone who belives in god possibly justify any type of preemtive war based on lies?

How can anyone who claims to belive in god possibly follow the president when he claims to live by gods word and the goes around breaking nearly every law god is suposed to have handed down?

Most belivers are atheisets in denial, just like most gay bashers are homosexuals in denail.

Posted by: lujlp at January 31, 2007 12:36 AM

Didn't anyone see the movie Contact? As for evidence, the beauty of the heavens and the intricacy of our DNA leads me to conclude of a great designer. Now does this designer hold the rain on my family picnic because I'm a good christian or that I prayed hard enough? I don't think so. It's hard for me to believe in something that makes no sense to me like a virgin mary. Evolution makes sense to me so I believe in it. An old bearded man frowning down on me from heaven doesn't make sense to me so I don't believe in it. That there was a power or being that set into motion the wonderful chain of events that leads me to be thankful for the moon steadying the earth in orbit or the colors I can see with my eyes, yeah I can be thankful and give praise for that. I guess the kind of god I believe in is like a computer program that we can all access if we are good to one another and take care of this beautiful planet and its life. An inner source of peace and light and happiness. I could see how that could be interpreted as a deity.

Posted by: Chicknlady at January 31, 2007 1:29 AM

As for evidence, the beauty of the heavens and the intricacy of our DNA leads me to conclude of a great designer.

That's not evidence. That's a leap to a conclusion.

As to the whole atheist vs. religious debate: I believe in God because I have felt his presence in my life, and I have seen God in the wonders of creation, trite as that may sound. Trite but true, I guess. Maybe that makes me sound like a nut

It makes you sound like a person who, like too many people, doesn't think too hard, and doesn't fully use her capacity to reason.

There's evidence of evolution, in the fossil record and in species researchers have watched adaprt over a short period of time.

If there were no God, there would be no atheists. --G.K. Chesterton

Well, that's just dumb.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 31, 2007 2:05 AM

Amy -

Furthermore, there's observational learning in humans. When somebody dies after eating a poison item, others pass on the warning not to eat it. Those who avoid the warning die, and most likely do not pass on their genes.

History does not argue in favor of this observation. Witness the failure of bad behaviours like smoking, drunk driving, reckless sex, and drug abuse to decline.

Explain the dietary laws of the Jews. Before refrigeration, infection was not uncommon. Eat pork, die. Stupids don't care if they die. But tell them that God won't love them anymore and they fall right in to line.

I am firmly convinced that intelligent humans are the anomaly, and the normal state of person at birth is evil and dumb. Only by threatening stupids with something they cannot hope to understand can you control them.

Posted by: brian at January 31, 2007 5:00 AM

So we are all ignorant sinners. How novel. Are you going to coin a term for that. Better avoid "Original Sin" as that has been taken. But I'm sure you came up with your idea on your own.

How does that work for you, by the way. When someone disagrees with you and you threaten them and call them stupid, do they see the light, or do you have to smack them around a bit too? Do you use a stick or do you just brandish a gun? If a stick, what diameter?

Posted by: Jon at January 31, 2007 6:20 AM

History does not argue in favor of this observation. Witness the failure of bad behaviours like smoking, drunk driving, reckless sex, and drug abuse to decline.

Brian, we have cognitive errors and biases in our thinking. Read the studies of Terrence Burnham and others on our errors in judgment.

Error Management Theory, by David Buss and Martie Haselton explains some of this as well. There's a great deal of work in this area -- some of it by Cosmides and Tooby...and many other researchers. I suggest you read some of it, because your thinking about human behavior is simplistic and flawed.

And behavioral ecologist Marlene Zuk of UCSB gave a talk at this past year's Human Behavior & Evolution Society conference about how we co-evolved with parasites, and it seems Jews get Crohn's due to their prohibitions against pork eating. Religion is all about not upgrading for the times, and clinging to antique prohibitions.

Somebody said it above or in another recent entry. Believing in this stuff at present is a lot sillier than it was in the past. Even Emilie du Chatelet, whose work making Newton's work comprehensible was the foundation of much of modern science, believed in god. How you wake up in 2007 and believe, entirely without evidence, that there's a big Invisible Man in the sky watching you...how can you think this way and have any self-respect? Or does the self-respect come from being as nonthinking about yourself as you are about god?

Original sin is yet another piece of ridiculous bullshit coined by the big business that is religion. Come on, a kid is born, and at three days old, he's already an evil piece of shit? Oh wow...automatic need to join the Church to be cleansed.

Guess what: You don't need a church to be a good person. In fact, I'd venture that the nonthink of the Church (and probably almost all religions) fosters a huge population of nasty nonthinkers who do good mainly so they can get to heaven, not because they actually find it good to be good. They can do shitty things and then "repent" by throwing money and time into their religion. They know this. I don't do shitty things because I am the accumulation of all the things I do, and I don't want to be a shitty person. It feels shitty to be a shitty person, plus I've committed to behaving as if there are other people on the planet -- to interdependence and to "leaving the campground better than (I) found it."

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 31, 2007 8:21 AM

G.K. Chesterton = "dumb"? That's a breathtaking statement. If you've never read it, you might consider Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited. You'll love the sacred and profane memoirs of Sir Charles Ryder. The 13-hour BBC mini-series is a verbatum text, and absolutely worth the time to watch. Charles is a wonderful atheist.

Thanks for making me think about my faith.

xxoo
Casca

Posted by: Casca at January 31, 2007 8:35 AM

I (heart) Marion. And Cthulu.

Posted by: Cat brother at January 31, 2007 8:46 AM

Casca-

Explain what Chesterton's quote means, please. It's too subtle for me. Is it (1) God made everything, including atheists, or (2) atheists arise because they detect God, or (3) something else?


If he meant #1 then it's not particularly original or clever.


As an atheist, I should say he was not quite right, if he meant #2. The reason that there are atheists is not God, but theists. We don't have a special term for people who don't believe in orbiting chocolate teapots on the far side of the Sun, because so few people do believe that.


So, is there a #3 that is perceptive, witty, etc? Or is Amy right?

Posted by: Norman at January 31, 2007 9:03 AM

G.K. Chesterton = "dumb"? That's a breathtaking statement.

I'm not impressed by anyone simply because there's prevailing "wisdom" that I *should* be. See Norman's remark above.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 31, 2007 9:09 AM

Donna,

I wasn't trashing spiritual/religious/secular rituals. I was explaining their origins in a very simple way. I am in favor for rituals in dealing with the day to day affairs of life and death. If someone wants to marry in Star Trek uniforms, so be it. Also, it won't stop me from making fun of them.

If one traveled 150,000 years ago and notices a couple sitting by a fire in a cave. One of the members of that paticular couple dies. What would be the explanation for the survivor? A. A detailed medical examination of the person's cause of death? B. A spirit or Boorooka (I got that from the movie One Million BC) left his body and went to a much better place? Hence, the birth of rituals and rites that give people meaning and purpose under their limited cognitive abilities. Over the centuries they would expand and become more centralized. Folk religions will die out voluntarily and involuntarily from the competition. A similar fate would be in store for the centralized polytheistic ones from the Big 3 monotheistic systems.

(the rest is not addressed specifically to you Donna)

Now it is 2007 A.D. The free pass for god and his groupies has come to an end. Notice the common theme with the messages from the nonbelievers: "Where is the evidence?" Faith doesn't count. I have faith the sun will appear in the morning. Also, I can give you a mathematical proof that the sun will appear in the morning too. Or if you are an eager beaver go read Kepler's Laws of Planetary Motion (Astronomia nova, Harmonice Mundi and Epitome of Copernican Astronomy).

How about a proof for the 30,000 different deities that were at one time worshipped on the pale blue dot? Even the popular ones today? There was a recent article online where modern day Zeus worshippers wanted access to a temple's ruins in Greece. (WWWZD?) What doesn't count for evidence would be groundless illustrations, emotionally charged metaphors and personal testimonies.


Posted by: Joe at January 31, 2007 1:44 PM

Jon:

So we are all ignorant sinners. How novel. Are you going to coin a term for that. Better avoid "Original Sin" as that has been taken. But I'm sure you came up with your idea on your own.

How does that work for you, by the way. When someone disagrees with you and you threaten them and call them stupid, do they see the light, or do you have to smack them around a bit too? Do you use a stick or do you just brandish a gun? If a stick, what diameter?

Of course, intelligence is only measured by one's agreement with me. Fool.

Intelligence is the verifiable presence of ability to learn. When I hear about people in 2007 having unprotected sex and being surprised about getting AIDS, or people in 2007 being surprised that smoking caused their lung cancer, I know that I'm hearing about stupid people.

What you call "ignorant sinners" I call "mundanes" (a little B5 lingo for you geeks). The vast majority of the human race are mundanes. then there's people like me, who are just far enough above "mundane" to know it. Then there's the actual "smart" people (about 7 of them, I'd guess). Then there's Stephen Hawking.

Mundanes will watch someone do something foolish, see the results, and say "that couldn't possibly happen again" as they go and do the same thing, with the same results.

Posted by: brian at January 31, 2007 3:24 PM

NOTE: there's a tag error in my previous post - the first two paragaraphs should have been blockquoted.

Amy:

I suggest you read some of it, because your thinking about human behavior is simplistic and flawed.

In what way? Seriously - from an observational standpoint most humans are pretty dumb. And what is the functional difference between someone who repeatedly suffers from "lapses in judgement" and a marginal thinker?

Posted by: brian at January 31, 2007 3:28 PM

You don't have to be all that intelligent to be rational; you just have to not be mentally lazy. It also helps if you're encouraged to reason. And that's the last thing religions want you to do. Hits them right in their bottom line.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 31, 2007 4:08 PM

Amy - that goes right to my point. I do not believe that the vast majority of people are capable of reason.

Perhaps that's where we differ. You appear to have faith in humanity. I do not. As you might say, there's no rational basis for such belief.

Posted by: brian at January 31, 2007 4:19 PM

>>>"Where is the evidence?" Faith doesn't count.... What doesn't count for evidence would be groundless illustrations, emotionally charged metaphors and personal testimonies.

Joe: If you are asking, can God forensically be proven to exist under the rules of evidence used in court, so that there can be no doubt in anyone's mind... no, I don't suppose that's possible (although, for the record, personal testimony is evidence that is accepted in court, although it is not forensic in nature). Even if it were possible there would still be people who would not or could not believe. And if barring such proof, you are not able to believe in God, well, that is your choice. If the only way you can believe in something is that it is shown to you, and you are given a demonstration, then that is how you're wired, and that's OK. I, for one, believe that there is much more to life, and much more to the universe, than we can see or know. I don't need every single thing spelled out to me and proven with "geometric logic" (to borrow a phrase from Captain Queeg) to be certain of this. My belief in God comes from what I have experienced during my life.

If Ms. Fiore and her late husband are/were atheists, that is of course their right. It is absolutely her right to have a religion-free memorial service, etc. And it does not lessen my sympathy for her loss for me to comment that her almost apoplectic rage at people who said they would pray for her and her husband is sad, and harsh. Her husband died a horrible, drawn-out death. But all sorts of people witness and/or survive horrendous experiences, and still believe in God. Some famous examples are Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Simon Weisenthal, Archbishop Romero, Benjamin Franklin (a deist) and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I know Holocaust survivors who believe in God, and any number of other regular, non-famous people who have been through events just as tragic as that suffered by the Fiores, who still believe in God. I think it is sad if the reason some people become atheists is because they can point to a hideous experience or injustice, and therefore conclude that the existence of ugliness proves the absence of God. Or, in the alternative, reject faith because they think that the only God that can exist in the face of hideousness and cruelty is a hideous, cruel one.

Anyway, as I said before, everyone just has to make their own decision. However, in an effort to contribute extra meat to this discussion, here is a website that contains articles written by Albert Einstein on the issue: http://www.sacred-texts.com/aor/einstein/einsci.htm

Posted by: Donna at January 31, 2007 4:33 PM

Perhaps that's where we differ. You appear to have faith in humanity. I do not. As you might say, there's no rational basis for such belief.

People aren't taught to reason. People aren't encouraged to reason (quite the contrary). I've seen Albert Ellis help some pretty dumb people manage to do it.

But all sorts of people witness and/or survive horrendous experiences, and still believe in God. Some famous examples are Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Simon Weisenthal, Archbishop Romero, Benjamin Franklin (a deist) and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I know Holocaust survivors who believe in God, and any number of other regular, non-famous people who have been through events just as tragic as that suffered by the Fiores, who still believe in God.

Ah, the famous people do it defense. Living according to the monkey-see-monkey-do principle.

Donna, nowhere does it say the Fiore's stopped believing in god because of his accident. It seems they didn't believe in god to begin with because they're rational people.

If Robert DeNiro believes the world is run by a giant green chicken, do you follow suit?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 31, 2007 6:22 PM

Sorry Donna, but the warm fuzzy feeling you get inside from a god belief just doesn't hold water. Why should I take religious people seriously? Should I take people who believe NASA faked the moon landing seriously?

What is with the whole Einstein issue? I can find quotes from Einstein completely contradicting the writings on the site you mentioned. Like this one:

"I am a deeply religious nonbeliever. This is a somewhat new kind of religion. I have never imputed to Nature a purpose or a goal, or anything that could be understood as anthropomorphic. What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism. The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems even naive."

Here is another one:

"It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal."

There is nothing sacred mentioned in these quotes. Also, it is prime example of where religious types are so desperate to find some kind legitimacy in the realm of science. I will give another example of the late Nobel Prize winner Ilya Prigogine. His research was unfortunately embraced by new agers, theists, deists, polytheists and pantheists. They have misinterpreted, misquoted, mischaracterized and called it their own. It will take a very long time for his research to be taken seriously without the believers' baggage causing problems.

The final note is so what if famous people believe. Who cares. There are many famous writers, who were religious, that I admire a great deal. I don't care about their spirituality, but only the quality of their books.

Posted by: Joe at January 31, 2007 8:31 PM

"The opposite of faith is not doubt: It is certainty. It is madness. You can tell you have created God in your own image when it turns out that he or she hates all the same people you do. The first holy truth in God 101 is that men and women of true faith have always had to accept the mystery of God's identity and love and ways." -Christian Anne Lamott

"Faith lives in honest doubt." -Alfred Lord Tennyson

"We have not lost faith, but we have transferred it from God to the medical profession." -GBS

Posted by: Casca at January 31, 2007 10:59 PM

The opposite of faith is not doubt: It is certainty.

Oh, bullshit. Faith is certainty. It's just silly. The woman spouts words like they mean something. It's all just mumbo jumbo.

men and women of true faith

Translation: Men and women who are gullible enough to believe what they're told without any evidence that it's true. That's nothing to brag about. She just thinks it is.

Quoting dumb remarks of famous people isn't getting you anywhere. If you have some evidence there's a god, or that faith is anything but lipsticked up gullibility, present it.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 31, 2007 11:41 PM

Adorable catch by Joe on the Einstein quotes. Loved it.

It kinda makes up for your earlier shining confidence about the inevitable death of religious belief. Reason trumping all, and all that.

The last gasp of religion is like the Rapture in that it's always promised with great conviction - but keeps missing its deadline.

Pessimistic religious worry warts like Matthew Arnold (died 1888) would have been stunned that it's still a matter of prediction in 2007 AD!

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at February 1, 2007 5:22 AM

Jody,

I never stated the eventual destruction of relgion. Just its relevance. I will never pull a Voltaire. That the Catholic Church will cease to exist in 20 years. Will religion still exist 500 years from now? Probably. Also, our understanding of the mysteries of the universe will have expanded through science and not faith. What I would like to see is religion's influence diminish from the USA and around the world. My methodology is to expose it. Reveal the tricks and the mental slight of hand that goes on in those buildings. The free pass from critical inquiry is over.

Is there a difference between the modern Catholic Church and its 13th Century version? You know Mel Gibson's favorite version. Yes, definitely. I'm not afraid of priests. Unless I was 10 and in their office.

I give equal scrutiny to the wishy washing warm fuzzy feeling spirituality and its idiot cousin, the extreme literal version. Why? Because spiritually steeped faith is based on the absent of rational inquiry. This is a system ripe for abuse, because the whole show cannot be proven or disproven.

William James had a famous discussion with an old woman on what is holding up the Earth. She said the Earth is being held by a giant turtle. Gamera??? James retorted what was holding the giant turtle? She responded by saying another giant turtle. William James knew if he kept asking the question the old lady's answer will be another turtle and so on. No matter what I post here in Amy's blog it will never deter Donna's faith. Also, it is not my job to convert her. The nonbeleivers job is to ask critical questions. Personal comfort found in faith does not equate to evidence of a god. Nor does spiritually themed music, famous believers or memorizing witty quotes.

My personal hostility is not directed towards believers. But to scientists, writers and pundits who want to build a 'bridge' between science and religion. There cannot be a bridge between these 2 polar opposites. The only bridge science should have is to art. It was started during the Renaissance period and came to an end by the negative aspects of the Enlightenment. (Hegel, Rousseau and Marx) The Romantic ideal (mainly Rousseau) of hostility towards the acheivemens of science. But that is another topic of discussion.

Posted by: Joe at February 1, 2007 9:26 AM

How can you know anything about faith in God, when you haven't experienced it?

Faith is not certainty, it is trust.

Posted by: Casca at February 1, 2007 9:26 AM

Here's my interesting theory about the usefulness of religion. If you're a rich person, and you want to take all the resources in an area for your own financial gain, you can do so by telling the poor folks, 'You'll get your reward in heaven'.

So deny people the use of natural resources, and on top of that, deny them the pleasure of sex. What does anyone have left? Give them a fairy tale about how nice it's going to be when they die. It's the only thing that will keep them from rising up and sacking your opulent palaces, a la The French Revolution. It's a good thing for the rich that people are so stupid and gullible.

Posted by: Chris at February 1, 2007 9:30 AM

Sorry, for the spelling mistakes.

Posted by: Joe at February 1, 2007 9:52 AM

Chris is absolutely right.

As for "experiencing faith" -- all you have to do is shut off your brain and believe what you're told. I do my best to avoid that sort of behavior, as I find it stupid and embarrassing.

You can call faith "trust" if you want. I don't trust without reason. I call that being a chump.

Why do you believe in god, but not in Zeus? Not in a big green chicken controlling everything? Are you simply impressed by the priests' black costumes and the architecture of the church? Why not believe in Scientology, that we're all made of crushed up space aliens? So, the big book of Scientology was written a little more recently. It's no less full of complete shit.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 1, 2007 10:11 AM

Joe,
Yeah, I misread your certainties there about religion inevitably kicking the bucket.
When I read you back, I see that wasn't a completely beserk assumption - but it wasn't supported, either. Sorry!

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at February 1, 2007 10:26 AM

No problemo, Jody.

Exactly, Chris.

My explanaition for the widespread of Christianity was its universal message. It started to spread in a period during the world where 75% of the population (Roman Empire) was enslaved. The ruling elites were roughly 7 to 8%. The rest of the population were just a trifle better than the slaves. Inheriting a kingdom of heaven not based on your social position you were born into, but based on your inner spiritual quality would be a very attractive offer in the 1st Century AD. Its the sales pitch that attracts the bodies.

I've read articles on Chruches attracting teenagers by buying them X-boxes. The spread of Christian rock music, punk music, rap, theme parks, summer bible camps and the whole Jesus is cool fads. It is the same sales pitch with a different glossy package.

Amy,

There are modern day Zeus worshippers who are petitioning the Greek government to have access to certain ruined temples for their rites.

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/national/1103AP_Greece_Ancient_Gods.html

Posted by: Joe at February 1, 2007 11:33 AM

How can you know anything about faith in God, when you haven't experienced it?

This stqteHow can you know anything about faith in God, when you haven't experienced it?

This statement makes exactly the same amount of sense as:

How can you know anything about Heroin, when you haven't shot up?

…or alternately:

How can you know anything about alien abductions, when you haven't been anally probed?

See, it’s not about “Religious people are stupid”, it’s about “Even smart people can be suckers.”

Christianity, just like every other religious CULT, is a SCAM, nothing more.

The actions of the Jesus Junkies, as described in the original post, are standard operating procedure for any cult member. Whether the cult member realized it or not, they were purveyors of a common trick that cults use to recruit: the moment of weakness caused by a tragic personal loss is as an opportunity to lure the mark into getting addicted to the cult.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not one to stand between a sucker and what’s coming to him. But I will NOT stand for said sucker claiming he gets to judge me because his imaginary friend jesus says so. When it comes to extra entitlements, belief in “god” gets you exactly jack shit. You might as well be running around yelling “I helped a Nigerian Prince by giving him my bank account number, so I’m MUCH better than YOU!”

“Millions of people around the world believe in god, and you’re telling me all those people are wrong?”

YES. THEY ARE. EVERY LAST ONE OF THEM.

Wasn’t long ago that everyone though the world was flat and the Earth was the center of the solar system. No amount of “faith” changed the fact that they were SUCKERS.
It would be nice if humankind could outgrow this medieval childishness called religion before it renders itself extinct, but I’m not hopeful.

Posted by: RedPretzel at February 1, 2007 12:40 PM

Very well put, Red Pretzel. Much appreciated.

I'm reminded of a cab driver I caught cheating me. His response: "But, I am a Christian!"

Yeah? Well that means exactly jack shit to me.

Thank you. It's amazing to me when people believe in stuff just because lots of other people believe in stuff. And sans embarrassment, to boot!

Come on, do you "believers" seriously believe that there's a big Invisible Man in the sky who cares whether you short the cashier or not? Or, is it as Daniel Dennett put it at the last evolution society conference: Most people don't really believe in god, they believe in the belief in god.

Which is it? Do you truly believe in The Invisible Man?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 1, 2007 1:03 PM

'How can you know anything about faith in God, when you haven't experienced it?

Faith is not certainty, it is trust.'

Who are you trusting? All the information you get about religion comes from other people. Why would you accept something anybody tells you without thinking about it? Do you accept it because they tell you not to think about it, and just 'have faith'? Why don't you do the same thing with a used car salesman? Or a Nigerian prince? Is it because they wear the right clothes, or have a lot of money behind them?

It sounds like you've got to learn to be a better judge of character, or you're going to get scammed by just about everybody your whole life!

Posted by: Chris at February 1, 2007 1:04 PM

Exactly. Religion is just scamming with a lot of scenery and infrastructure.

If there were a god, do you really think god would be so petty as to have you sitting around in church telling him, "You're the coolest, you're the greatest, god!" or living your life? I mean, what kind of petty-ass bullshit is this worship business?

If I were god, and I'd love to be, except I think it would seriously cut into my writing hours, I'd want you to be rational, "leave the campground better than you found it," and have a hell of a lot of really fantastic sex.

Hmmm...there's a lot of evidence I exist, and no evidence god exists. Feel free to worship me as a more rational choice.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 1, 2007 1:22 PM

Where to start....
Amy: I got that the Fiores were atheists before the accident. However, my comment was directed to her paragraph regarding God getting his jollies by making her husband have a plane crash, and then tormenting the family by making them witness his weeks of agony, and death. I understand that this was ostensibly directed at people who made moronic remarks about this tragedy "being part of God's plan." However, I think she is also saying that because she and her family endured a hideous tragedy, that is [further] proof that there is no God/that atheism is the truth. My remark was directed at what I believe to be her underlying meaning, and my only point was that plenty of people are still people of faith, who have endured as bad, or worse, experiences as she has.

">Ah, the famous people do it defense. Living according to the monkey-see-monkey-do principle....If Robert DeNiro believes the world is run by a giant green chicken, do you follow suit?

This is not what I said, and I never said that my belief in God is based on my imitating famous people, because it isn't. I was naming a few famous people to illustrate the other point I was making (see above).


">Translation: Men and women who are gullible enough to believe what they're told without any evidence that it's true. >>As for "experiencing faith" -- all you have to do is shut off your brain and believe what you're told.

So you think that anyone who believes in God is just "believing what they're told?" You don't allow for the possibility that some of us come into that belief another way, without having it force-fed to us? Painting with a pretty broad brush there.


Joe: In terms of my so-called "warm fuzzy feeling" (your words, not mine -- I would not describe it that way) vs. whether or not you take religious people seriously: I have repeatedly stated that each person has to decide for him- or herself. You, and others, have made it crystal clear that absent scientific proof, you cannot/will not believe in God. I do understand your position. I really, really, do. It is your prerogative to believe as you do, just as it is my prerogative to believe as I do, and I have never been one to advocate that all humans must believe uniformly. However, it seems to me that calling billions of people, who believe differently from you, "stupid," "gullible," "fools/foolish," etc. (I am quoting various postings here, not just yours) is not an argument, it is an ad hominem attack and an intimidation tactic. If Ms. Fiore found it obnoxious for people to dare to mention their religious beliefs in her atheistic presence, why is it any less objectionable for her, or you, or Amy, etc., to trash and insult people who believe in God? By doing so, it appears that you are doing the flip side of what the respiratory therapist was doing, namely condemning someone with a different belief system, instead of accepting that everyone is entitled to their beliefs.

RE: the Albert Einstein quotes: I was throwing some food for thought into the ring. The quotes you came up with are interesting too. I was not suggesting that Albert Einstein was the be-all-and-end-all of religious thought, nor by implication that we should start up an Albert Einstein cult.


">So deny people the use of natural resources, and on top of that, deny them the pleasure of sex. What does anyone have left? Give them a fairy tale about how nice it's going to be when they die. It's the only thing that will keep them from rising up and sacking your opulent palaces, a la The French Revolution. Chris: Believe it or not I agree with what you say here, and I will be the first one to state that religion has been misused and abused horrifyingly and egregiously over the millenia, and we see it every day in the newspapers. There is a reason why Marx said that "religion is the opiate of the masses," and you have spelled it out exactly. But.... religion and faith are really not the same thing. There are plenty of "religious" people who show by their actions that they are faithless, or don't really believe in God. And believing that God exists does not automatically lump someone in with religious hypocrites. I think it is important to recognize these distinctions when having a discussion like this.

You and Joe and Amy have made excellent points regarding how dangerous it is to have unquestioning belief in something. I absolutely agree. However, I am speaking from the persective of someone who does not believe things unquestioningly. And although it may be hard to find them, there are many, many believers in God who have a lot of questions and wrestle with issues of faith (they are especially hard to find if you reject association with them the minute you find out they are "religious.").

Posted by: Donna at February 1, 2007 1:59 PM

My definition of faith: The belief in something that you know, deep down, isn't really true.

Posted by: Pirate Jo at February 1, 2007 2:05 PM

Heh heh...I always love Pirate Jo. Right on and ever-succinct.

And Donna, I believe she was pointing out how ridiculous belief in god is.

This is not what I said, and I never said that my belief in God is based on my imitating famous people, because it isn't.

Well, what is it based on? Because it certainly isn't based on evidence god exists.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 1, 2007 2:23 PM

I think Donna has a point buried in there (though not about Mrs Fiore who has, I feel, every right - and then some - to her reaction and philosophy.)

Some atheists sound as if they believe in a daft modern form of what was known as "recapitulation" - i.e. that god believers are in some arrested stage of intellectual development that has been surpassed by the superior non-believer.

Hence judgements like stupid/childish/naive etc.

I know SOME resoundingly dumb Christians, and I know some pretty thick atheists. I can't say either has the edge in the shit-for-brains stakes.(I know more smart atheists, but then again, I simply know far more atheists).

I admit I'm clueless about whatever it is that ignites and fans some very bright people's faith.

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at February 1, 2007 2:37 PM

Donna,

Not all opinions and beliefs are equally valid. Some arguements are thought out, informed and tested through the rigors of logic. Others are based on consensus, feelings and comfort. Does a child's belief in a monster under his/her bed equally valid? We cannot see the creature in question. But the child is assured of his/her belief that there is a monster under the bed. How about:

1. Members of the Flat Earth Society
2. People who believe NASA faked the Moon Landing.
3. AIDs was invented in a laboratory.
4. People who believe in the Hollow Earth Theory.
5. Holocaust Deniers.

The list goes on and on. Are all of these examples equally valid? Should they be treated with same respect as other more informed opinions?Do you have a system of degrees on which delusion is harmful, useful or a necessity? Should we allow psychics to testify at trials? A lot of people believe in the existence of psychic phenomenon. Where does a person draw the fine line? Can it be tested?

The great universal joke is that a god does exist. God as an artificial creation. Invented, tested and revised by mankind over the centuries. He,She,It has had many names, facelifts and relatives. The big joke is when people actually believe the artificial god is real and is directly involved in their lives. Are billions of believers stupid? Quite so. My preference is that they are grossly misinformed. I can be diplomatic. It comes from years of dating women with the vague expression 'spiritual, but not religious category'.

What Amy, others and myself are guilty of being offensive. There is a huge difference between something is offensive and actually harmful. You do not have to read any of my postings or visit Amy's site. If someone is saying something you do not like... you can walk away. Plug your ears and start yelling really loud to drown out the offensive person. Remember the old expression? "No offense?" "None taken." or "This is offensive."

Now if I decided to punch a person in the face for no apparent reason. That would be considered harmful. Passing laws outlawing a certain delusion would be considered harmful. Could a law banning stem cell research be considered harmful? The sole basis for this ban is that a bunch of cells may possess ghosts/souls/thetans/boorookas.

Posted by: Joe at February 1, 2007 3:42 PM

Could a law banning stem cell research be considered harmful? The sole basis for this ban is that a bunch of cells may possess ghosts/souls/thetans/boorookas.

And there lies the major problem. Belief in astrology is simply silly, since astrology believers don't try to make laws based on astrology, or threaten to kill non-believers (like me).

Far too many people who believe in the silliness of the pretend god sold to them want to legislate based on it and even kill non-believers.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 1, 2007 4:41 PM

Jody: thank you for your comments, even though I don't think I "buried" my point, or just as important, my support of Ms. Fiore's (and other atheists') right to their beliefs. I think both were stated pretty clearly, the latter repeatedly in this thread.

"Well, what is it based on? Because it certainly isn't based on evidence god exists." Amy, the purpose of your question is not to learn. It is not to engender a worthwhile or thought-provoking discussion. It is to bait. It is to elicit an answer upon which you can heap even more scorn and insults. You have made up your mind that on this question yours is the only valid point of view and that anyone who believes differently is "stupid" and "gullible." If you are so sure of yourself, why do you adopt this strident insulting tone? The believers have not, at least in this thread, addressed you or any of the other atheists with the same disrespect that you have addressed them.

Joe: "You do not have to read any of my postings or visit Amy's site. If someone is saying something you do not like... you can walk away."
No kidding, Joe. Really. I guess you have decided that since I believe in God that I should be addressed as a retarded child? The only problem with picking up your toys and flouncing home in the face of disagreement, at least for me, is I would never be able to talk to anyone, because I never agree with anyone on everything. And that's the way I like it. ;-) Amy's blog is for the most part interesting and entertaining. I agree with much of what she says and am glad she says it. And your posts contain interesting points, a number of which I agree with, as I have stated elsewhere. Believe it or not I am actually able to read/hear and consider points of view different from my own.

"Plug your ears and start yelling really loud to drown out the offensive person." Excuse me, my dear, but that seems to be the tactic of the atheists on this thread, not the believers.

Now what's all this about stem cells? First, I am pro-choice. Second, I support stem cell research. Third, I absolutely believe that living things are imbued with souls. Don't you? Do you truly believe you have no soul? Then what are you, exactly? What is inside you? What is it that makes you unique? If you answer nothing else, I would truly appreciate an answer to this question.

Also, why in the world would you attempt to equate a belief in God with being a Holocaust denier? Or, in the "I-have-to-speak-down-to-this-clearly-retarded-person" mode of argument, to a child believing there is a monster under the bed? That is just bizarre.

Finally, where in my postings have I suggested that I am an enemy of science? I'm puzzled as to why you think that, although I can think of two possibilities: first, you hear someone say they believe in God and you automatically suffer a knee-jerk reaction and decide they are stupid across the board; or, second, you're one of those people who believe in all science, no poetry. I don't think that way, because to me that is a sad, impoverished way of thinking. But, if thinking that way is what gets you going in the morning, then by all means, have at it.

Posted by: Donna at February 1, 2007 5:13 PM

Amy, the purpose of your question is not to learn. It is not to engender a worthwhile or thought-provoking discussion. It is to bait. It is to elicit an answer upon which you can heap even more scorn and insults.

Um, no, the purpose of my question is to find out why you believe in god. In all those words up there you offer zero evidence. Why? Because you have no evidence there is a god, and you have no rational reason for believing in god...which means you stupidly believe in god.

Yes, I'm insulting; ie, I speak the truth pretty plainly instead blathering on about how we all need to respect each other's beliefs...which is bullshit, unless your beliefs are worthy of respect.

As Cathy Seipp says, when people accuse her of making value judgments: "I have values, so I'm making the judgment."

Soo...you still haven't answered my question: Where's the evidence there's a god? And if there's no evidence, why do you believe in god? And wouldn't you categorize believing something exists without evidence it actually does...as stupid?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 1, 2007 5:54 PM

Donna, Donna, Donna:

Where does it say that I label you an enemy of science? If I believed you were an enemy of science. Guess what? I would have written it down: "Donna, you are an enemy of science." (please do not take this literally) I was giving you options on the differences of something harmful and offensive. Why would I do it? Mainly your critiques were questioning atheists' manners and methods of debate. Some of the options I offered where condescending. I admit that. I'm not in the habit of footnoting my posts to cover all the various interpretations of what were the meanings of my statements. I find it tedious.

I did not label you a Holocaust denier or a believer in monsters under your bed. I was making a comparison of the various unfounded beliefs that are developed without evidence, scientific reasoning and inquiry. You alone made the assumption.

Is your soul some invisible entity? Or some symbolic quality that describes your essence? Or both? A natural or supernatural soul?

I will give you a few sentences that explain the development of our bodies. We are composed of a hundred trillion little parts or cells of thousands different sorts. The bulk of these cells are the daughter cells from the egg cell and sperm cell whose union made you. Also, we cannot forget the trillions of bacteria cells that reside in your body too. All of these cells are completely autonomous and they do not know you personally or cares. The differences between you and I is based on how these teams of cells are composed over a lifetime of experience and growth. That is exactly who you are. The difference between you and a Russian is the organization of the functioning parts along with pesonality and knowledge. That is you in a nutshell.

Poetry in its purest form, like music, is mathematics. Yes, I do work in R/D. (Molecular Biology/Bio-chemistry) I'm known to recite William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by memory. Neruda's poetry in its original Spanish and many others. I had professors who wanted their students to become good scientists without the habit of writing boring lab reports. Then one should study poetry and literature. By the way, I've known English majors who couldn't understand Shakespeare.

My methodology in debating you is right out of the Cambridge system. Attack the argument. One can ridicule the beliefs. Put it through a mental grinder, but never personally attack the opponent. If you misinterpreted, then I will apologize for my arrogance, vanity, and the other seven deadly virtues.

Posted by: Joe at February 1, 2007 7:20 PM

There is a lot that I could say, that I haven't simply because Donna is right when she says that there isn't any curiosity here, intellectualy or otherwise, but simply the search to unload a cheapshot. Atheists are uniformly involved in self-deification. You're not seekers after anything but that which legitimizes the thoughts in your head. If you want to know God, you have to seek him, and you seek him by admitting the possibility of his existence, and asking him for proof, not me or Donna. I DARE you to honestly ask Him to prove Himself to you.

Posted by: Casca at February 1, 2007 9:23 PM

Hey, Joe. I'm a scientist who loves good poetry too. I basically learned Spanish by reading Neruda over and over and over.

Posted by: Lena at February 1, 2007 9:34 PM

Well, Amy, two points for you! You heaped on even more scorn and insults BEFORE you got an answer! Wow. It's a pity you don't reference this amazing and inspirational talent in your "All About Amy" portion of your blog. Of course, the way you treat people who disagree with you, sort of, well, belies your self-administered pat on the back: "I don't do shitty things because I am the accumulation of all the things I do, and I don't want to be a shitty person. It feels shitty to be a shitty person, plus I've committed to behaving as if there are other people on the planet" Just out of curiosity, exactly what constitutes a "shitty thing" for you? And where (if anywhere) on your spectrum of "shitty things" would you place your ad hominem attacks on people who don't just meekly cheer you on in your contention that literally billions of your fellow human beings are "stupid" and "gullible?"

In terms of the "proof" you demand, I would ask you to scroll back and see what I said to Joe several posts ago, but since you elected not to do that, allow me:

Joe asked, "Where is the evidence? Faith doesn't count.... What doesn't count for evidence would be groundless illustrations, emotionally charged metaphors and personal testimonies."

I responded, "Joe: If you are asking, can God forensically be proven to exist under the rules of evidence used in court, so that there can be no doubt in anyone's mind... no, I don't suppose that's possible (although, for the record, personal testimony is evidence that is accepted in court, although it is not forensic in nature)."

Amy, I do not have a little lab experiment to perform for you to prove God's existence. You asked where my belief in God's existence comes from. As stated before, it comes from myriad experiences and observations during my life. It's a cumulative thing, and personal. I have it, you don't, and that's the way it is.

You ask, "And wouldn't you categorize believing something exists without evidence it actually does...as stupid?"

My answer: not necessarily, no. It depends on the topic under discussion. What evidence do we have, for example, that intelligent life exists somewhere else in the universe? At the moment, none. Yet I believe, quite firmly, and without a scintilla of evidence, that intelligent life does exist somewhere else in the universe, we just have not discovered it yet. Perhaps you think that is also stupid. Well, where does that leave you? Believing that the only intelligent life exists here on Earth (and even that, apparently, is limited to people who agree with you). Which dates you back a few centuries, I would say.

So let's move on to another important point of discussion: your statement, "I speak the truth pretty plainly instead blathering on about how we all need to respect each other's beliefs...which is bullshit, unless your beliefs are worthy of respect." I think you need to read my posts a little more carefully. What I have said, and meant, was not that you have to respect the beliefs themselves, but rather the other person's right to hold those beliefs. Clearly I find any number of people's beliefs to be contrary to mine, and in many instances ridiculous, ill-conceived, hurtful, or just plain wrong. But even so, everyone is entitled to his or her own beliefs. Now, I do engage people in discussion, so we can see how things stack up. Sometimes I can win people over to my way of thinking, sometimes people have won me over to their way of thinking, and sometimes (more often than not, I would venture) it's just a draw. But slinging around insults like "stupid" or "idiot" shuts down discussion. Ever wonder why it is virtually impossible to engage in civilized debate in this country anymore? Well... hurtful remarks and name-calling are certainly part of the reason.

Now Joe: and sorry to make you wait so long: I know you did not label me a Holocaust denier or accuse me of fearing monsters under my bed. But you did equate those things, at least by implication, with believing in God. (I will tell you there are sometimes monsters in my house, but after consulting a very competent entomologist I was able to call them by their proper names).

But let me parse your examples just a bit... Holocaust deniers are not denying the Holocaust because they have not engaged in reasoning. There is something else altogether at work there -- an agenda based on hate. And their reasoning, such as it is, has nothing to do with the historical facts, but with eradicating Jews.

Now, in terms of monsters under a kid's bed: do I really believe, as an adult, that if a kid tells me there's a monster under his bed, and I look, I will find one? No. At least I better not find one, 'cause otherwise I might get my face eaten off. I think the "monsters under the bed" thing is part of children's psychological development. BUT... I do believe that children can perceive things that adults learn to "unperceive," if that makes sense. Also, if a kid told me he was afraid of a monster under his bed, I certainly would not call him "stupid."

AIDS being developed in a laboratory... to be honest, I don't know. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't. I don't know enough about it. AIDS did seem to spring on the scene awfully suddenly, though, and initially at least the victims of it were on white supremacists' shit list. Why would that be? I can see where the conspiracy theorists could find something to sink their teeth into. I think this is your field and if you want to go ahead and expound on the origin of AIDS, I would be most interested, and for this I will not take it amiss if you put it on a first-grader's level. :-)

But sadly, mi científico estimado, your explanation of the soul, and even of poetry, makes me think that you are all science and no poetry, at least in its soul-filled, non-mathematical essence. I will not take you to task for giving me a first-grade level explanation of biology (although, as stated above, that is OK for an explanation of the origin of AIDS), but I note that somehow my stated belief in God has triggered something in you that is causing you to talk to me like you think I'm 5 years old, and/or retarded. You might want to do a little self-introspection to figure out why this is.

You ask, "Is your soul some invisible entity? Or some symbolic quality that describes your essence? Or both? A natural or supernatural soul?" Well, I don't know how invisible it is... I am a firm believer that the eyes are windows to the soul.... I certainly think the soul is real, and not symbolic ... natural or supernatural? I'm not sure how I would distinguish those two in this context. Maybe you can define those terms.

Finally, no apology needed for your so-called arrogance or vanity or other "virtues," such as they are. I am enjoying our debate.

Posted by: Donna at February 1, 2007 10:54 PM

You print this vast block of rambling text...I guess to make up for the fact that there's zero evidence for what you believe in, which was my point. There's really no way around that. Either you have evidence or you don't, and you don't.

Is it possible there's a god? Sure, just like it's possible there's a giant purple vagina hovering over my house.

As stated before, it comes from myriad experiences and observations during my life. It's a cumulative thing, and personal. I have it, you don't, and that's the way it is.

If I tell you I just have this very strong feeling, and I've made myriad observations of this giant hovering vagina...is that evidence? No. It would indicate either extreme gullibility or mental illness on my part.

Which is it with you?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 1, 2007 11:10 PM

"Either you have evidence or you don't, and you don't." Gosh, Amy, how many ways, and how many times, do you want me to say it?

"it's possible there's a giant purple vagina hovering over my house." To quote the inestimable Moon Unit Zappa, "Grody to the max."

"If I tell you I just have this very strong feeling, and I've made myriad observations of this giant hovering vagina...is that evidence?" Actually, yes. Statements based on personal observation are what is known as "direct evidence" in courts around the country. Check with Judge Judy if you don't believe me.

"It would indicate either extreme gullibility or mental illness on my part." Well, not if there really is one....

"Which is it with you?" Neither. I don't have a vagina hovering over my house, thank God. Although I do live near Washington, D.C., where there are plenty of pricks. But they don't usually hover.

Posted by: Donna at February 1, 2007 11:26 PM

Statements based on personal observation are what is known as "direct evidence" in courts around the country.

So, you've observed god? Did god join you at the bar last Thursday night?

Come on: There's zero evidence for what you believe in. You have none, and you're dancing around that hoping large blocks of type will conceal that. They're not. They just make you boring.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 1, 2007 11:37 PM

"Poetry in its purest form, like music, is mathematics."

I'd love to know quite what Joe means by this. That poems are ultimately right or they are wrong? Surely not? Obviously I've missed his crucial point.

As for the rest, I've known a few very smart people - cultured, civilised, fun and highly functional -who happened to believe in God, generally pretty quietly . Therefore - though a cradle atheist myself - I would be stupid to judge them stupid.

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at February 2, 2007 4:03 AM

Jody Tresidder says:


". . . I've known a few very smart people - cultured, civilised, fun and highly functional -who happened to believe in God, generally pretty quietly . Therefore - though a cradle atheist myself - I would be stupid to judge them stupid."

Finally. A breath of fresh air. A reasonable voice among the atheists. That's all anyone here who objected to Ms. Alkon's somewhat obnoxious insistence that she is far more intelligent than anyone who holds any kind of religious belief whatsoever was looking for. Or at least it's all that I was hoping for. You'll notice, by the way, that I said nothing about my own religious beliefs, or lack thereof, in any of my posts.

Some of us have noticed that there are plenty of people at least as intelligent as we are, and often more so, that believe things we don't, and then don't pat ourselves on the back for immediately assuming that anyone with different beliefs is a moron.

Posted by: Lawrence M. McKenna at February 2, 2007 6:03 AM

As for the rest, I've known a few very smart people - cultured, civilised, fun and highly functional -who happened to believe in God, generally pretty quietly . Therefore - though a cradle atheist myself - I would be stupid to judge them stupid.

Again, I'll quote Cathy Seipp for example:

As Cathy Seipp says, when people accuse her of making value judgments: "I have values, so I'm making the judgment."

There's too much nonthink going around, and saying that it isn't stupid to believe in something without evidence is equally stupid. Perhaps these people are smart in some ways, but they have a pocket of stupid, and it's one that causes them to waste their life praying to an imaginary being, and legislate morality and worse on the rest of us...based on imaginary bullshit. And you wonder why I'm so incensed about religion?

I think you're equally stupid if you believe in astrology, but nobody's trying to ban stem cell research because the moon's in Aquarius, so I don't waste my time railing against the woowoo crowd.

That's all anyone here who objected to Ms. Alkon's somewhat obnoxious insistence that she is far more intelligent than anyone who holds any kind of religious belief whatsoever was looking for.

Nice try at an out, Lawrence. No, I don't pussyfoot around. But, you're the one who put it that way. I'm simply saying that if you believe in a Big Invisible Man In The Sky you're stupid to do so, same as you'd be stupid, to borrow from Sam Harris, to believe, without evidence, that your frozen yogurt can fly...just because a man in a black suit told you so. Now, if you wouldn't believe, without evidence, that your frozen yogurt can fly...why would you believe in god?

It's primitive and it's evidence of nonthink.

Forget how rude and arrogant you find me. I'm sure I'm both.

Respond to the above.

What you don't like is being challenged on the obvious. Most people are too "nice," which is, perhaps, part of the reason the stupidthink of godbelief is so pervasive. And why, in turn, to continue what I wrote just above, we have people legislating to prevent gays and lesbians from having equal rights (we atheists, in general, don't give a shit about how you have sex or with whom, as long as they're consenting)...and against a host of other issues...and hating and even killing in the name of this unfounded primitive belief that there's a big man in the sky who gives a shit about you or your life.

So, Lawrence and Donna and all the rest, forget what a rude jerk I am for a moment: Where's the evidence for what you believe? And if you believe without evidence, what are you?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 2, 2007 7:27 AM

Donna,

Like I've said before not all arguments, opinions, viewpoints, beliefs are equally valid. Nor should they be treated so. If my tone and answers are condescending, well you do ask very general questions. Hence, I will simplified my answers, because I do not want to get too technical and spend an entire day or so on the fundamentals of biology. Or the existence of the soul.

Also, the label that I am too scientific/analytical. Guilty as charged. These are qualities needed when I go through 4,786 (not a fixed number) various lab trials that fail. One starts over. Observes any possible mistakes. Rectify and hope. Repeat and so on. I am not going to get on my knees and pray for the next lab trial to succeed. Sing a hymn. Or have a god to reimburse the company’s millions of dollars for failed experiments. Even though it will make me feel better inside. Only temporarily. My research will go down in quality. Also, it will have a direct effect on millions of patients who are trying to recover from long term chemo and radiation therapy. My specialized field is immunology.

If a patient is recovering from long term cancer treatments. Their immune system is shot to pieces. What would the patient want? A bunch of nameless and faceless guys and gals whose minds are too scientific/analytical and come up with a drug therapy that may actually save the patient's life? Or the nearest prayer circle of the patient's family and friends? Probably your answer would be both. This is not an attack or implying you as being anti-science. I’m placing the various issues in perspective. Especially, for the other readers of Amy's blog. I recommend anyone to read Daniel Dennett's letter after his recent heart surgery.

http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/dennett06/dennett06_index.html

Personally, I am more hostile towards people who will try to build a bridge between science and religion. A similar bridge is the pseudo-science Intelligent Design movement. I want other readers to put this in perspective too. Think about all the thousands of scientists and researchers who have to leave the laboratories to appear in front of various school boards across the nation. Testifying on why I.D. doesn't need to be in biology textbooks. Why do they have to do this? Could it be a vast majority of Americans believe in the Genesis version of creation? Or any other Grand Designer myth? Would this embolden members of the theocratic-right to get organized superstitions into the mainstream? This goes for all the other faiths around the world. Now matter how benign and harmless they seem to appear.

Yes, a vast majority of people are morons. Would you prefer a nicer term? Intellectually-challenged? Actually, I prefer the term coined by the late Robert Anton Wilson, that people are domesticated-primates. The term encompasses everything from irrationality to rationality in our behavior. Some primates are more domesticated than others. Primates who are angry at other primates throw their fecal matter. We being a little more sophisticated than our cousins. We launch missiles.

There are degrees of irrational behavior. Some are harmless quirks of the personality. Others are labeled as faith, spirituality and religion. Some are treated with ‘better living through chemistry’ products. Others are treated with the highest level of respect by world leaders. My critiques of your faith doesn’t mean you are less of a person. Everyone has a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of their own fool’s paradise. Catholics, Muslims, Christians, Neo-pagans, pasty skinned Trekkies, LOTR losers, Dan Brownites and many others. As long as the fool’s paradise does not creep into my life. But if you (any believer) are going say that you believe in a god. Then you back up your claims with the usual tactics. Expect hostility from atheists. Our criteria is very different from the believers‘. But they are not the same or equal.

One final note. I’m sure we are on the same side on many issues. What is different is our method in dealing with the big question.

Posted by: Joe at February 2, 2007 7:51 AM

Like I've said before not all arguments, opinions, viewpoints, beliefs are equally valid.

Joe's exactly right. The conceit that they should be treated as so is your mistake -- and a self-serving one at that. It's much easier to call me rude for challenging your beliefs than to challenge them yourself -- which is what I'm trying to get you to do. If you approach god belief as a thinking person -- using reason -- it's impossible to believe in god, as there's no evidence for god.

The unwillingness to be rational can be fatal, as it often is in cancer patients who have a treatable form of the disease, but choose to use "alternative" treatments (alternative to proven). When it's especially tragic is when the cancer patient is a child with idiot parents who believe in this shit-think. An excellent blog often focusing on this idiocy is Respectful Insolence, by cancer surgeon/researcher Orac.

http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/

And well-said, Joe.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 2, 2007 8:06 AM

Jody,

I do not know your personal background or education in mathematics. Nor do I have the time to commit an online blog lecture on the symbiosis of mathematics and poetry. So I will commit my explanation to a few sentences. Right now, I am busy going back and forth from my office to the lab. This is the reason for the delays in my entries. So please bear with me.

Most people will read a poem and only take in the words and the emotionally impact. That is the first initial response, but not the last. Certain poems have more meaning beyond the words. Their pacing and symbolic qualities. Poets like Chekhov and Sonya Kovalevskaya, in their original Russian. Why does Russia produce more mathematicians and poets than any other nation of the world?

Look at the equations of Newton, Kepler, Einstein and Hawking. What do you see? (I do not know your education in mathematics) To most, they see just a bunch of numbers, equations and symbols. There is a lot more. I see poetry of movement. Dimensions and curvatures of space. Mathematicians are known to cry when they see Einstein's equations. Why? How about the poetry of fractals? Jody, I would recommend you do a Google search Poetry in Mathematics or Mathematics in Poetry. You will find plenty of sites and actual university courses.

The great tragedy of US schools is they do not teach the proper applications of math. Among many other problems. The philosophy behind math. The development of logic. How it truly does effect them in their lives. Has anyone said this before: "Where am I going to use this in my life?"

A few years ago, I was helping one of my nephews with his math homework. He was having a difficult time. The classic frustration and anger. I could have given him the answers and went on with my life. Instead I showed him the greater importance in learning and working hard at it. My sister's family dog came into the room. Looked at us sitting at the dining room table. Walked into the next room to lie down. Started to clean his paws. This basic movement last roughly 3 minutes. So I decided to give myself some homework too. I took a few sheets of paper. My more advanced calculator from my briefcase and a 12 inch ruler. Did some calculations and measurements. Went back to the table to write on the paper. About a few minutes later. I showed my nephew the paper. What he would interpret as a bunch of letters, numbers, equations and the rest were scribbles. I told him: "This is the mathematical equations of Tibor's (the dog) movement in the last 3 minutes. Now you will not understand this piece of paper. If you work hard then there may come a time you will understand this piece of paper. Then you will understand the importance of math." Here was the clincher of my argument: "When you do understand... you will most likely make more money than most of your other classmates in school. Especially, the ones who think they will be the next pop idols or professional athletes." After that was said... he was holding the paper and a sly grin appeared on his face.

Of course, I could produce another proof on their real chances of becoming a pop idols or a professional athletes. It's not my job to crush their dreams. I’ll leave that to the world, college sports recruiters and Simon Cowell. Then we finished working on his homework.

Sorry for droning on about that. But the equation on the dog's movement is poetry. Sort of a mathematical version of a haiku.

Posted by: Joe at February 2, 2007 10:20 AM

Nietzsche also wrote about that: that a willingness to suffer is usuallly needed to create meaningful work. Thanks, Joe -- enjoy your comments.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 2, 2007 10:40 AM

Amy, Amy, Amy, if you care so much about reason, then you should read Pascal, and accept Pascal's Wager; either God exists or he does not, and we cannot use reason to determine which alternative is true. However, both our present and our future lives may be affected by the alternative we choose. Since choosing to believe that God exists may lead to eternal life and happiness, and nothing is lost if we are wrong about the other choice, it is better to accept the theistic alternative.

Posted by: Casca at February 2, 2007 12:20 PM

No problem, Amy. Glad to contribute. Great Nietzsche quote. I can imagine the readers here nodding off with my ramblings.

For others to have a better understanding on atheism, the methods and attitudes. Listen to this audio interview of the late Douglas Adams: Radical Atheist. Adams like most Brits is insightful, eloquent and fresh. It is only 10 minutes on You Tube. Especially for the fence sitters out there.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DUfDWwWKXqQ

Posted by: Joe at February 2, 2007 12:35 PM

Joe,
My math education is not a thing of beauty.

However I've read with great admiration A Mathematician's Apology by G. H. Hardy (a delightful piece of homework I awarded myself when I was editing a volume about Jim "DNA" Watson's extensive writings. I am sure you know the Hardy well. Most folk who appreciate the beauty of mathematics do).

"Certain poems have more meaning beyond the words."


"That is a most interesting approach, Joe. Fascinating, but of course limited as I am sure you do appreciate," wrote the stern but kindly Eng Lit teacher, who nevertheless once had a great youthful passion for Mayakovsky and the Futurism/Formalism school. (I am not an Eng Lit teacher, Joe, not remotely).

"I am certain Louis MacNeice's "Bagpipe Music" will be a short work you will profitably enjoy, given your approach" added the stern but kindly and imaginary Eng Lit teacher.

Joe, I've read your comments - and Amy's - with my usual keen enjoyment, and with more care after my first mild blunder about your estimates concerning the death of religion!.

Religion should keep the hell away from science but biology does not offer all the answers - or even the beginnings of answers - when we contemplate life. (Oh dear, I am sounding a little zen - but I'll let it stand).

And not all folk who have caught religion are thick. That's from simple observation as near as empirical as it can be.

(Lovely story about your sister's dog!)

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at February 2, 2007 12:50 PM

Casca, so accepting God is all upside and no downside? Must be an easy decision for you then, especially if you are not allowed to use reason to come to the decision. You just *want* it to be, so it *is*.

Some people may disagree that there is no downside though. Accepting a mystical 2nd reality and believing that miracles could happen at any time and that certainty is impossible could be viewed as crippling your mind. Especially when your 2nd version of reality (heaven) is viewed as superior than our lower, baser form of existence here on earth.

One might think that that is a deadly philosophy.

Posted by: Jon at February 2, 2007 1:06 PM

Thanks Jody for the suggestions. My reading list always expands and never shrinks. In the last month, I've been centering on the Thomas Nashe's works.

Yes, I've enjoyed my tours with Hardy's works. Especially the Hardy-Weinberg principle on population genetics. Those two are a prime examples of the different mentalities among scientists. What was the famous quote about the differences between Hardy and Weinberg? "Hardy brings back the sexy and Weinberg doesn't." Warning! Its a science joke. My favorite quote: "A mathematician, like a painter or a poet, is a maker of patterns. If his patterns are more permanent than theirs, it is because they are made with ideas."

Presently, biology doesn't give all the answers to life. Because all the questions about the mysteries of biological life have not been solved. I doubt it if they ever will be solved. One answer will always open a few more questions and so on. Even Dawkins on several occasions has stated similar positions.

A little Zen doesn't hurt now and then. Maybe add some Shingon to the mix.

I disagree that religion is close to being empirical. Or that the closeness resembles consensus.

Very impressed on your job editing Dr. Watson's papers.

Posted by: Joe at February 2, 2007 2:44 PM

However, it seems to me that calling billions of people, who believe differently from you, "stupid," "gullible," "fools/foolish," etc. (I am quoting various postings here, not just yours) is not an argument, it is an ad hominem attack and an intimidation tactic.


You're right - it's not an argument. It's not an attack either. It's a conclusion.


Casca: re Pascal's wager. The problem is you are trying to create knowledge out of ignorance. Perhaps God exists. But you still don't know which God. Maybe it's Yahweh. But then again, maybe it's Huitzilopochtli, Zeus, Prester John or Sawney Bean. You don't know whether this putative god will reward and punish. Maybe he's noy interested in your shenanigans. And even if he does reward & punish, you don't know whether believing in him/her/it/them will lead to punishment or reward, or what kind of punishment or reward. Maybe you'll get a lollipop! Now, explain again how you rationally place your bet?

Posted by: Norman at February 2, 2007 3:10 PM

No, no Joe.

It's not religion that's close to empirical. I didn't say that.

It's simply my friendly observation from experience that some folks who have the god thing are far from idiotic.

And - not Jim's papers - I was editing a work about ALL his writings - which you probably know extend far beyond papers. (Boy, do they!)

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at February 2, 2007 4:01 PM

Casca, Casca, Casca,

You are a prime example of where a little knowledge does more harm than good.

The basis of Pascal's wager is not the existence of god. But the prudence in the belief of a god. Big difference.

So god doesn't exist. Believers in the wager will still need the 'belief' in a god of some kind. How about an artificial one?

So be patient. The computer scientists of the world may build a giant super computer to lord over you. I'm sure the boys and girls at MIT will build some kind of device that will be able to hear your prayers and offer wisdom in any celebrity actor's voice of your choosing. What would be your preference? Living or dead actors? Male or female? My guess would be male. Am I right?

Posted by: Joe at February 2, 2007 4:06 PM

Again, I'm available for worship, and there's a good deal of proof I exist. I'd be happy to take your money in exchange for promising you nothing whatsoever in return. (At least I'm honest.) You really believe it when they tell you you're going to heaven? Anybody you know ever been to heaven? And if you believe that shit, don't sneer at the Muslims who believe they get 72 virgins if they blow your ass up. Who's to say your unproven belief is more valid than their unproven belief. And thanks to all you rational people who chimed in above. I write all day Friday and work with my editorial assistant on Friday afternoon, PST, so I can only pop in from time to time.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 2, 2007 4:15 PM

Dammit, not another hundred-post thread! You guys are stealing our thunder. And, you're ALL in for it, when Cthulhu wakes up and starts kicking ass. And who'll be standing at his right tentacle? Thaaaat's right. Me, laughing.

Re Pascal's Wager, besides the point Norman makes - if we believe in 'God,' which one do we believe in? - the whole notion of 'deciding' to believe something is nonsensical. You can't decide to act as though you believe something; I can say, "I'm not going to believe in the law of gravity!" and step out a high window, or "I don't believe regular laws apply to me" and go 100 on the freeway, but I'll still go splat/get a big ticket.
What we really truly believe is the sum total of our experiences. I suspect a Supreme Being (besides Cthulhu) will not be impressed by someone loudly declaiming, a la Ash in the graveyard to get the Necronomicon, "OK! Klaatu verata (cough/mumble)! I believe in God!" I could no more 'decide' to believe in God, pick one, than I can decide to believe that fire's not hot. I could be hypnotized into believing that, but I bet my hand would still burn in a fire.

Also, Pascal's idea that we lose nothing by believing in God bears some examination. We often lose a lot, or cost a lot to others (like, say, homosexuals) by following what we imagine to be the dictates of some God. If we're Spanish conquistadores, we may feel we have a duty to dash out the brains of Aztec babies, thereby sending them straight to Heaven, rather than letting them damn themselves with their pagan beliefs.

In my observation, most people, I should say Christians, use Christianity like a salad bar, picking this, leaving that, going with whatever was drummed into them young + what feels right. And as more than one person has pointed out, especially in regards to the goons currently in executive power, they may believe IN Jesus, but they sure don't BELIEVE Jesus.

Posted by: cat brother at February 2, 2007 4:32 PM

Whoops, I meant to say, above, you CAN decide to act LIKE you believe something....stupid spellchecking...

Posted by: Cat brother at February 2, 2007 4:59 PM

Sorry, Jody. Friday is always a hectic day for me.

Posted by: Joe at February 2, 2007 5:16 PM

First, spellchecking is for the gays.

Second, God is dead.

Thanks for your attention to these matters.

97.

PS- I didn't read most of the comments.

Posted by: Crid at February 2, 2007 6:55 PM

We like the gays. We, 98.

I read a lot of the comments but skipped the long, boring, evidence-free ones.

And yes, cat bro is right, belief in god comes with costs: Wasting your life, disliking, hating or wanting to kill people who don't buy into the same particular brand of unproven crap you do...or who have non-mainstream sexuality...preventing stem cell research...and wasting your life in some "house of worship" praying to an imaginary diety.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 3, 2007 1:02 AM

99

Posted by: Joe at February 3, 2007 4:25 AM

My journey into being entirely 'god-free' was not dis-similar. Having watched one of the people I loved above all other die slowly over five years whilst going progressively insane, I came to the conclusion that if there was a God, he was most certainly my hated enemy... but when a calmed down (several years later), I realised that I was making the same mistake as the believers. God is a psychological artifice that people use to avoid having to deal with the brutal realities of our existence. Probably the only thing Marx ever wrote that I agree with is his god being the 'opiate of the masses' quip. God, like opiates, dulls the mind and eases the pain. But my need to hate 'god' was really just doing the same delusional thing. In truth there is no god out there who loves you and no god who hates you either. There is no god. Get over it.

Posted by: Perry de Havilland at February 3, 2007 5:26 AM

101.

Yes, we like the gays. Cthulhu spreads his loving tentacles to all.

In my experience, those with the biggest problem towards the gays are the ones who think maybe they see one every morning when they shave. And they have no idea how many of their friends and relatives are gay.

Posted by: Cat brother at February 3, 2007 6:20 AM

Pass the Soma and praise Ford. 102 (maybe 103: For ye of little faith in Internet Explorer)

Out of all the posts here by believers. They have one single criticism towards atheists:

"Stop raining on our parade."

Not good enough.

Posted by: Joe at February 3, 2007 8:40 AM

Exactly right. That's why they go on and on and on.

The point: There's no evidence there's a god. Therefore, believing in god is stupid.

"Stop raining on our parade."

If you don't like it, buy an umbrella. Whatever you do, don't start thinking, or you'll have to agree we're right.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 3, 2007 9:03 AM

> Wasting your life

You think a life with faith is wasted? Measured how?

> disliking, hating or wanting
> to kill people

Atheists do all that stuff too.

> preventing stem cell research...

Who's preventing stem cell research? The marketplace is all over it. It's better to have the listless bureaucrats of government staying out of the way. The profit-minded entrepenuers have keener eyes and a taste for risk.

> wasting your life in some "house
> of worship" praying to an imaginary
> diety.

Don't want to get all Thomas Aquinas on you, but the deities are real, even if they don't exist. People really pray to them. And it's not like being atheist makes a person useful or meaningful.


> watched one of the people
> I loved above all other die
> slowly over five years whilst
> going progressively insane,

Hitchens, whose book on religion is due any minute now, puts it very succinctly: "This ends badly."

> God, like opiates, dulls the
> mind and eases the pain

The response of the snotty atheist is to A) pretend there's no pain and B) further burden the afflicted by piling on with condescension ("Get over it"). We're expected to admire this. Sensible atheists acknowledge that life hurts like hell, and respond to those who suffer a little more warmly.

Perry, you're real close to an important truth: Human nature sucks.

> those with the biggest
> problem towards the gays

I think *you're* really cute though... Those rippling biceps and quads and delts... You, the proudly independent businessman, with your crystalline sense of right and wrong... You're just TOTALLY faboo! Women dig you! Guys dig you! EVERYONE digs you!

Posted by: Crid at February 3, 2007 9:03 AM

"Out of all the posts here by believers. They have one single criticism towards atheists:

"Stop raining on our parade."

It has certainly put a big dent in my fender that few of the believers posting here have dazzled.

So I am retiring from my drippy-liberal atheist pose - that not all believers are hopeless, self-deluding thickies - and let them speak for themselves.

(Though I shall continue to admire some in private).

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at February 3, 2007 9:24 AM

Crid,

Aquinas' 5 proofs on god have been disproven many times over. Most recently, by Dawkin's latest book. I recommend reading pages 77-80 in The God Delusion. I will give you the credit for using the posteriori arguement. It is a nice change of direction.

I would engage in the debate, but it may remind me of my years of catholic schooling. Bless those Jesuits for teaching me to think critically.

Posted by: Joe at February 3, 2007 9:41 AM

Opah leeze... I'm not saying God exists, I'm saying the collection of beliefs expressed in prayer isn't a collection of psychotic tics, which is the way Amy & Co like to talk about it.

It's amazing that people could put such effort into making fun of others and expect their targets to respond positively. It's amazing that people could be so eager to make fun.

> Bless those Jesuits for teaching
> me to think critically.

Hitchens and Hughes (the Aussie) have chapters that go like that too. You weren't trying to be ironic, were you?

Human nature is the problem.

Posted by: Crid at February 3, 2007 10:02 AM

There is nothing more tedious than those who set up strawmen in order to knock them down, and pretend they're having a rational argument. I mean only what I say. I also have a two paragraph limit. If you don't have my attention by then, I'm moving on.

No proof of God? I find it staring me in the face everywhere I look. To think that humanity has arrived at the here & now of the state of the world by accident is the supreme act of conceit. Masefield as usual was on target when he wrote:

Only a beauty, only a power,
Sad in the fruit, bright in the flower,
Endlessly erring for its hour,

Posted by: Casca at February 3, 2007 10:05 AM

> Masefield as usual was on
> target when he wrote:

I did a comment about this last month. Liberals use this technique a lot too. It presumes that in moments of strong feeling or warmth or pathos, the entire bank vault is open for pillage, and all the logical fundamentals are flexible. If you cried when Bambi's mother got killed, then you too have to believe that Motherhood is always right, and that Hillary should be President, that the Bears should cover the spread, that "Global warming is REAL!", and most especially, that God exists.

'And don't try and deny it any more! We saw you crying when Bambi's mother died, so we know that you agree with us in your secret heart of hearts. So STFU and do as you're told!'

Others might wonder how Masefield's interest in botany compels us to believe in supernatural forces.

Posted by: Crid at February 3, 2007 10:14 AM

Don't want to get all Thomas Aquinas on you, but the deities are real, even if they don't exist. People really pray to them.

That is self-evidently correct but it also means Mickey Mouse is 'real' too in the same sense you are describing. And Cthulhu as well I suppose. Is that supposed to make the believer's case more credible?

We're expected to admire this

I think you have mistaken me for someone who gives a damn what others 'admire'. A great many people admire things I find unaccountable, such as members of political elites (whilst strangely disliking members of the non-state sanctioned organised crime), they admire 'Big Brother' contestants, they admire a homicidal Cuban mass murderer and hang posters of him on their bedroom walls. People admire all manner of things that defy both sense and aesthetics to my way of thinking. I stopped caring over much quite some time ago.

I am just saying it the way I see it rather than seeking admiration or attempting to make you or anyone else see things my way. I am a great believer in tolerating whatever delusions float people's boats right up to the point their belief induces them to start shooting at me, at which point my tolerance for said inanities evaporates.

Perry, you're real close to an important truth: Human nature sucks,/em>

Not the point I was making at all. It is the reality of nature that 'sucks', not human nature per se (but that is a whole other discussion methinks). Until we develop the technology to 'save' our emergent self, we and those we love eventually die in broken or disease riddled bodies. That is the 'major suckage' bit about nature that is immutable, at least at the moment.

Posted by: Perry de Havilland at February 3, 2007 10:21 AM

To think that humanity has arrived at the here & now of the state of the world by accident is the supreme act of conceit.

I have no idea how it arrived (although I see evidence of evolution). The supreme act of conceit is assuming you do know. Well, "supreme act of conceit" is a little stuffy for my liking, but it's wild that you think you know, and that you have the answer.

P.S. Who do you think is more convinced, you or somebody who wants to blow you up because they think they know better?

We saw you crying when Bambi's mother died,

Suddenly, I'm hungry for a nice, fat steak of cartoon venison...

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 3, 2007 10:24 AM

All us athiests want you religious types to do is admit that belief in god FEELS good. It's emotional, it fills your need for cuddles and cute kittens. Don't try to convince us that it has anything to do with your ability to reason. It's OK, we won't think you're wussies. We'll respect you more if you just admit it! And then you can admit you like chick flicks and Bambi too.

I personally enjoy a massage and a hot bath, but I worship neither my masseuse or the hot water.

Posted by: Chris at February 3, 2007 10:25 AM

"To think that humanity has arrived at the here & now of the state of the world by accident is the supreme act of conceit."

No, the supreme act of conceit is thinking that an all powerful being gives a shit about you singing his praises in a church. And that this same being gives a shit about this church that you spent a fortune building. Its real function is the glorification of humans, not 'god'.

Posted by: Chris at February 3, 2007 10:33 AM

Casca - here's my 2 paras.


No proof of God? I find it staring me in the face everywhere I look.
I guess you mean the universe is so big, so complex, so beautiful, that it could not have just happened. There must be something even bigger, more complex and more beautiful that created it. This is like seeing a boy in a tree, and concluding that he must have climbed down from a higher tree.


To think that humanity has arrived at the here & now of the state of the world by accident is the supreme act of conceit.
I don't understand this. Surely it is a greater conceit to think that the almighty creator of the entire universe set aside some of his infinitely valuable time just to create little old you? But anyway, conceit is irrelevant to whether a proposition is true.

Posted by: Norman at February 3, 2007 10:52 AM

Crid,

To me, Aquinas is trigger word for me. Sort of a temporary 'manchurian candidate' moment. LOL

Posted by: Joe at February 3, 2007 11:01 AM

> It is the reality of nature that
> 'sucks', not human nature per se
> (but that is a whole other
> discussion methinks).

Uh... OK. But i'll bet $50 that methinks is word you don't use much.

> who gives a damn what
> others 'admire'.

You're a rebel! You're your own man, you play by your own rules! No debts/no receivables, you move through the world like a cannonball through the mist!

Knowing that kids watch Mickey Mouse cartoons (whether or not they 'believe' in them) is information. Seeing them watch cartoons and eventually outgrow them and move on to other, more nourishing narratives (we hope) gives important clues about what's going on in their heads. I wish atheists could do the same thing with religion.

But too many atheists can't. They're too busy belittling the believers, and posturing to prove that their beliefs are completely different and superior. But human nature applies in all cases, don't it?

Posted by: Crid at February 3, 2007 11:04 AM

Yes, but people don't want to kill me or legislate what I can or can't do because they watch Disney cartoons. There's a little more at stake here.

Again, there's a reason I don't really care if you believe in astrology -- because it's unlikely to affect my life and those of others if you do.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 3, 2007 11:29 AM

Even in WLA, you are surrounded, absolutely AWASH in strangers who go to church every Sunday. Ain't no thang.

Posted by: Crid at February 3, 2007 11:39 AM

Uh... OK. But i'll bet $50 that methinks is word you don't use much.

You lose. I just searched Samizdata and came up with 20 articles (of which 10 by me) using the word "methinks". Would you like my mailing address for the $50 cheque? I also accept paypal.

You're a rebel! You're your own man, you play by your own rules! No debts/no receivables

All true, though a couple deadbeat chums do owe me some money now that you mention it.

you move through the world like a cannonball through the mist!

Indeed, particularly in the German sense of the word mist.

As for the rest, if I wanted to 'belittle' believers, I would post my comments on the blogs of Christians rather than the blog of a sublime Godless Harlot. I am just having a discussion in a place for having exactly such discussions.

I really truly honestly do not care if you believe in god as I am really very tolerant of the things others hold dear. Tolerance is not respect however. Fortunately we do not need to respect each other in order to discourse intelligently, we just need to tolerate each other (that fact being the very basis of any functioning post-Enlightenment civil society).

I am a Popperian and so regard damn near everything we know as 'just' a theory and we form a critical preference for the one which best explains reality on the available evidence. Could you be right and there really is a Beardy Guy In The Sky? Yes. Do I think that is the best theory to explain reality? No, I do not. It is possible the reason the earth orbits the sun is because it is being pushed by invisible pixies (I am paraphrasing from David Deutsch's "Fabric of Reality")? Yes, that would indeed explain things. Are there better explanations which lead to rather different theories? Yes, there are. Do I think my theory is superior to yours? Yes, otherwise I would adopt your theory. Clearly the same applies to you.

Posted by: Perry de Havilland at February 3, 2007 1:54 PM

Hey, Perry, if I lend you my crystalline sense of right and wrong, can I be the cannonball for a little while?
But Crid's right, damn I'm pretty. If I was made of chocolate, I think I'd eat myself. Got that, Amy, you Goddess Harlot?

Posted by: Cat brother at February 3, 2007 2:25 PM

> Would you like my mailing address

No, I want your friends to come and vouch for you. The ones at work, the ones who pee standing up and kiss girls (not necessarily at the same time). I want them to tell me you say "methinks" all the time without getting a bloody nose in reply.

> I really truly honestly
> do not care

Oh, you care! You care! You all care so fucking much. This is wonderfully silly. In anonymous fora, people fill hard disks to explain how they don't care, how they came to their brilliant understanding of the world through their own strength of character and penetrating insight, how they owe nothing to God or God's believers or the brilliant Aquinas or even the man on the street.

They pretend that they didn't inherit a civilization of relative peace, safety, cheap food, dry clothing, warm housing and effective medicine. They pretend life is actually a Darwinian nightmare of heartless cunning and primitive illiteracy, but they've thrived because they have special powers, and they want us to know about it.

> Clearly the same applies to you.

If the Altavista translator is working correctly, I think you're trying to say that opinions are like assholes, and that everyone has one. Which is true, but opinions are sometimes backed up with something besides shit.

> Tolerance is not respect however.

Methinks you should've used a comma.

Posted by: Crid at February 3, 2007 2:49 PM

Grammar is for heterosexuals?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 3, 2007 3:03 PM

People shouldn't be assholes about it either way, is all.

Posted by: Crid at February 3, 2007 3:44 PM

Crid, I'll send you a $50 cheque myself, if you've ever bloodied anyone's nose for using 'methinks,' or if you've ever hung out in a group where that's common practice.
'Not caring what others believe' is a far cry from your ranting description of someone who thinks themself in a Darwinian jungle and beholden to none. No, really, we don't care what you believe, though it's fun to make those veins pop out on your forehead.

Perry me lad, aren't you glad you stopped by? Try one of the Iraq threads sometime, you'll get more of the same calm, reasoned argument from the Cridster. I was just thinking of an Advice Goddess Week at the Beach, with all the regular posters coming...and by about the third day, we'd pass around a hat to hire a drifter to disappear Crid after yet ANOTHER dissertation on why we should've gotten different pizza toppings last night.

Posted by: Cat brother at February 3, 2007 3:51 PM

Sundrieds, 'shrooms, green pepper, thanks for asking!

Posted by: Crid at February 3, 2007 4:32 PM

Amy - If you refuse people their faith, will you at least grant them their hope? I'm no believer, actually less so after a brush with death (Couldn't make myself pray for help to the same deity that would have made me sick). But still in the dark of night a piece of me hopes that I would somehow see my little girl again should medical science fail me in the end. In other words, I hope I'm wrong.

Posted by: ProudMama at February 3, 2007 7:34 PM

Do you really think false hope is a beautiful thing? People who believe in heaven are prone to waste their lives. And they still want to control the rest of us (and sometimes kill the rest of us) in the name of "faith."

As far as I can see, I'll eventually be worm food. I've had people I care about die -- and I appreciate the times we had and carry with me stuff I learned from them/gained from knowing them. Magical thinking, to me, is anti-life.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 3, 2007 10:23 PM

Those are some broad strokes. "People who believe in heaven are prone to waste their lives." Except of course for all of the great thinkers and doers who happen to also be believers. "And they still want to control the rest of us." Except of course for when they don't. And why so opposed to hope, which I for one wasn't confusing with what you refer to as "magical thinking." I'm not sitting around praying to be proven wrong because. . .I don't pray. I just hope it turns out there is something or "someone" more, most evidence to the contrary and lottery-sized odds aside. It sure would be nice surprise. And even the all-knowing Amy can't say with 100 percent certainty that that isn't the case. If not, worm food it is.

Posted by: ProudMama at February 4, 2007 12:00 AM

There's some part of you that's voluntarily dumb if you believe in god.

People who believe in god are the ones who want to deny gays rights, prevent research, make or keep certain kinds of sex acts between consenting adults against the law, make homosexuals live lives of hell, and all sorts of other religiously based bullshit. Also, religion is an exceptionally divisive force. I grew up chased around by kids who called me dirty Jew. And I can assure you, that as an atheist, I don't give a shit how anyone has sex, I just hope they're having it, as I think it's probably diminishes road rage.

I never said I'm all knowing. If I were, I'd be "lottery multimillionaire Amy."

What I am is somebody who isn't going to believe in anything without evidence. There's no evidence for god, heaven, hell, Satan, Zeus, flying yogurt, or a giant talking green chicken ruling us all. If and when I see proof of the existence of any of those things, I would feel differently. At the moment, it seems life is random, and there is no god -- again, according to the evidence.

If you believe in god, do you, to borrow from Sam Harris, also believe, with as little evidence, that your frozen yogurt can fly? Don't shut off your brain because a man in a long black robe tells you there's a god -- in between diddling the altar boys. (Is god watching over that shit, too?)

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 4, 2007 12:49 AM

Hope ... I've reached the age where you spend more and more time burying friends and relatives. My wife is ill with a life expectancy of a few years, barring miracles, or more likely but still not very likely, improvements in medical science. When we were first learning about the condition, it was like a bad dream you can't wake up from. Dreams are the only time most people face death and get away from it. They can be very realistic. I sometimes wish we could wake up, but I know in my boots it's just wishful thinking. We follow in the footsteps of the countless millions who went before us, to the "undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveller ever returns." Everybody does, but most of us don't have to think about it in very concrete terms for most of our lives.


So, is there hope? Not as far as I or my wife can see. She is the most pragmatic person ever. We live with death, and in her favourite words which I suggested for her epitaph, "get over it." Meantime we live not quite as if there were no tomorrow, but certainly not more than a few years of tomorrows. We do those things "to do before you die" (which aren't all selfish, btw) and generally spend the kids' inheritance. There's not enough time in the day for hoping or praying!

Posted by: Norman at February 4, 2007 1:04 AM

I don't have hopes of meeting up with people I've cared about who've died -- any more than I have hopes of riding a flying carpet to the coffee joint tomorrow. What I do have is their influence in my life...who I am, how I see things, etc. I don't choose friends lightly, and these four people have all been vast in terms of their influence and their impact on me, and they're frequently on my mind...all of them. Last night, my friend Jill mentioned Marnye, and I got an email about Marlowe last week. Having other people remember them is tremendously comforting -- like having contact with them the only way I can. And personally remembering them and building on their influence on me is what keeps them with me in some small (rational) way.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 4, 2007 1:23 AM

Crid, dude, I am a friend of Perry's (I've even shared an abode with him for a while) and I can vouch for him. Now stop being a dickhead to him and go back to being the Crid we know and love.

Posted by: Jackie Danicki at February 4, 2007 6:29 AM

Crid, dude, I am a friend of Perry's (I've even shared an abode with him for a while)

That is true. She just sneaked into the house and locked herself in the guest room one day, refusing to leave for months on end, it was a nightmare. Eventually I lured her into the street by laying a trail of expensive handbags up the stairs and out the door and then changed the locks when she went outside.

and I can vouch for him. Now stop being a dickhead to him and go back to being the Crid we know and love.

Thanks Jax but people often thrash round when being spanked. Crid is probably enjoying it, people often do (he's probably a Catholic after all. I used to be one too so I do understand). Now is it going to take signed affidavits? Or is Crid, as I suspect, "all mouth and no trousers" as we say in the UK (I say that quite a bit, too). The term "methinks" is really not that exotic on this side of the Atlantic, the clue being that there are ten other articles on Samizdata not by me in which people use the word.

As for Aquinas (I have often described Ayn Rand as "Aquinas without God", so I do not think Thomist thought is completely without value), I have three words for you "William of Ockham".

They pretend that they didn't inherit a civilization of relative peace, safety, cheap food, dry clothing, warm housing and effective medicine.

Oh, I did not realise we were talking about the many splendored glory that is capitalism now, I thought we were talking about belief in god.

They pretend life is actually a Darwinian nightmare of heartless cunning and primitive illiteracy, but they've thrived because they have special powers, and they want us to know about it.

And now I have no idea what the hell you are talking about.

Posted by: Perry de Havilland at February 4, 2007 7:10 AM

Actually, I just searched my own blog and caught myself using 'methinks'. Not to beat a dead horse, but here it really is the sort of word one would think nothing of hearing another utter.

Posted by: Jackie Danicki at February 4, 2007 7:30 AM

I agree, Amy.

My religious friends always use the afterlife question.

Personally, I am in favor of an afterlife. But do I believe in one? No. Just like I am in favor of a crime free society. Could there be an actual crime free society? Nope.

Posted by: Joe at February 4, 2007 7:44 AM

You have really gone native, Jax.

Back to the original topic... When a believer describes an atheist or agnostic opinion as "demeaning believers" because it perforce rejects "god" as a solution to whatever the problem is at hand (or it would not be an atheist/agnostic opinion), does that mean if a believer expresses an opinion invoking god, they would automatically expect atheists or agnostics to find that "demeaning to atheists/agnostics" rather than simply "wrong"? Just curious.

Posted by: Perry de Havilland at February 4, 2007 7:48 AM

They pretend life is actually a Darwinian nightmare of heartless cunning and primitive illiteracy, but they've thrived because they have special powers, and they want us to know about it: says Crid

"And now I have no idea what the hell you are talking about": scolds Perry.

Crid makes his point with heat - but I think his diagnosis is spot on. (I second his pizza topping preference, basically).

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at February 4, 2007 9:36 AM

Really, Jody? 'Sundrieds?' Isn't that kind of ....gay? Sorry, meant to ask Crid that, and he's left us.

Crid tends to make his points less with heat and more like one of those garden sprinklers that goes 'tschk-tschk-tschk' and spins in a circle. Maybe a heated model. 'Heartless cunning and primitive illiteracy' seems to describe Crid's oft-stated view of mankind/human nature, which needs to be curbed by religious belief, which in the last thread on this topic, he referred to as 'road-tested.'
To recognize the shortcomings of much of the religious belief out there is hardly the same as claiming special powers. It's kind of hard to do an undergrad degree in religious anthropology, and find the roots of Judaism (human sacrifice at Elephantine! One god, two goddesses!) and take the Judeo-Christian thing at face value.
I have absolutely no problem acknowledging the brilliance of many religious men, and now wish I had gone to a high school staffed by Jesuits. Smart is smart.

Posted by: Cat brother at February 4, 2007 10:08 AM

> I can vouch for him.

No one doubts that Mr. de Havilland is a conscientious taxpayer; a defensive driver; good with children, housepets, and the elderly; and a fine dancer. Shucks, he probably has a green thumb!

And he's come to the right website! Posturing and clucking and being snarky about this is fiber in Amy's bloggy diet. The pride that atheists here take in mocking the faithful is absolutely senseless. It's isolated people shaking their willies at other isolated people... (It's Craiglist, but without going on an actual date.) It has nothing to do with their relationships to next-door-neighbors, lovely people who are quite likely to be fervently religious... As are the employers, associates and passersby who greatly enrich our lives without intrusion. We each eat food and burn oil and use tools from all around the globe. The planet is more rewardingly interdependent, and contigent upon the genius of preceding generations, than ever before. And these self-portaits of heroic self-sufficiency and superiority do nothing to solve the real failures that religion can bring, whether internationally or in our own cities. And again, here in the States, this stuff is very much contained: The silliness has zero payoff outside the blog. It's a bad rhetorical habit.

> Now stop being a dickhead

You sound like my first wife.

> probably a Catholic after all.

Lapsed Methodist.

> "all mouth and no trousers"

Here's the principle by which I handle the faithful within family and without: "Be as decent as you can. Don't believe without evidence. Treat things divine with marked respect -- don't have anything to do with them. Do not trust humanity without collateral security; it will play you some scurvy trick. Remember that it hurts no one to be treated as an enemy entitled to respect until he shall prove himself a friend worthy of affection. Cultivate a taste for distasteful truths. And, finally, most important of all, endeavor to see things as they are, not as they ought to be." --Ambrose Bierce

> I thought we were talking
> about belief in god.

Somehow the topic drifted into how the faithful are weakened by the wretchedness of life... Whereas you, it's implied, seized an opportunity to be steady and realistic.

I think life sucks. Not only does it end badly, but terminus can follow decades --or a whole lifetime-- of needless suffering. And that's just from the NATURAL world! Once the nature of men --as expressed in Afghanistan's illiterate warlords and elsewhere-- ups the ante, things can get even worse. A person punished by this planet might look to the heavens over a grave and ask why. If they seem to hear an answer and take comfort, we should respond with something more thoughtful than "Get over it."

> here it really is the sort of word
> one would think nothing of hearing
> another utter.

I imagined Cockneys in his workplace hearing a call to fisticuffs. It's so easy to forget that *America* is the place with the least isolation by class....

> Smart is smart.

And parts is parts!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTzLVIc-O5E

Posted by: Crid at February 4, 2007 11:14 AM

Back atcha with extra cheese AND spice, Crid:)

(Actually this is for Cat, Amy, Perry, Joe et al too.
You just aren't HUMAN if you hate it..!)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMsv3MrbDcs

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at February 4, 2007 11:34 AM

Not sure why I'd hate it. Much prefer Hindu fashions to those of other religions.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 4, 2007 11:47 AM

Whoa Jo-dayy! Hubba hubba!
1. The neck-snapping part of the dance looked painful.
2. I was ready to say, I'll take the chick in the bellydance outfit as evidence of God, but instead I'll just say, I'd let Crid in the beachhouse for a week, if that girl was staying next door. And wanted to work on her tan, a lot.

Posted by: Cat brother at February 4, 2007 11:48 AM

Cat,

It was a military school run by the Society of Jesus.

Put strips of calamari on my pizza.

Posted by: Joe at February 4, 2007 12:48 PM

Crid, you ignorant slut, Masefield was talking about humanity, not flowers. Try reading the entire poem, The Passing Strange. It's an incredible collection of rhyming triplets. He was afterall, Poet Laureate of GB for twenty-seven years.

OUT of the earth to rest or range
Perpetual in perpetual change,
The unknown passing through the strange.

Water and saltness held together
To tread the dust and stand the weather,
And plough the field and stretch the tether,

To pass the wine-cup and be witty,
Water the sands and build the city,
Slaughter like devils and have pity,

Be red with rage and pale with lust,
Make beauty come, make peace, make trust,
Water and saltness mixed with dust;

Drive over earth, swim under sea,
Fly in the eagle’s secrecy,
Guess where the hidden comets be;

Know all the deathy seeds that still
Queen Helen’s beauty, Caesar’s will,
And slay them even as they kill;

Fashion an altar for a rood,
Defile a continent with blood,
And watch a brother starve for food:

Love like a madman, shaking, blind,
Till self is burnt into a kind
Possession of another mind;

Brood upon beauty, till the grace
Of beauty with the holy face
Brings peace into the bitter place;

Prove in the lifeless granites, scan
The stars for hope, for guide, for plan;
Live as a woman or a man;

Fasten to lover or to friend,
Until the heart break at the end:
The break of death that cannot mend;

Then to lie useless, helpless, still,
Down in the earth, in dark, to fill
The roots of grass or daffodil.

Down in the earth, in dark, alone,
A mockery of the ghost in bone,
The strangeness, passing the unknown.

Time will go by, that outlasts clocks,
Dawn in the thorps will rouse the cocks,
Sunset be glory on the rocks:

But it, the thing, will never heed
Even the rootling from the seed
Thrusting to suck it for its need.

. . . . . .

Since moons decay and suns decline,
How else should end this life of mine?
Water and saltness are not wine.

But in the darkest hour of night,
When even the foxes peer for sight,
The byre-cock crows; he feels the light.

So, in this water mixed with dust,
The byre-cock spirit crows from trust

That death will change because it must;

For all things change, the darkness changes,
The wandering spirits change their ranges,
The corn is gathered to the granges.

The corn is sown again, it grows;
The stars burn out, the darkness goes;
The rhythms change, they do not close.

They change, and we, who pass like foam,
Like dust blown through the streets of Rome,
Change ever, too; we have no home,

Only a beauty, only a power,
Sad in the fruit, bright in the flower,
Endlessly erring for its hour,

But gathering, as we stray, a sense
Of Life, so lovely and intense,
It lingers when we wander hence,

That those who follow feel behind
Their backs, when all before is blind,
Our joy, a rampart to the mind.

Posted by: Casca at February 4, 2007 1:22 PM

Can some one please tell me why Bollywood movies don't do well in the states?

The video had great production quality. Except for this constant melodic noise of someone strangling a cat. Was it a technical glitch or something? A You Tube problem?

Posted by: Joe at February 4, 2007 2:20 PM

When Indian women are beautiful, they are soooooooo beautiful...As Sir Mix-A-Lot quoth -
Little in the middle
But she got much back...

I'm still trying to translate 'LA face with an Oakland booty' into Indian terms..

Posted by: Cat brother at February 4, 2007 2:29 PM

By the way, I loved the film, Hari Om, about a French woman who ditches her asshole French gem dealer boyfriend and travels through India with the driver of a motorized rickshaw. The next best thing to being there.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 4, 2007 2:45 PM

> Masefield was talking about humanity

I don't care. Presumably he admires some people and dislikes others. That would be par for the course, and it would not instruct us on the presence of a supernatural force. When it comes to metered art of the 20th century, you can't beat Zappa's fuzztone electric solos from April '69 through December '84. Some people have a gift for rhythm and rhyme, but there's no evidence they received the blessing from a Creator. Besides, I only do poetry when drinking, and you should be glad I'm not in the mood, you little weasel!

Bears by 3.

Posted by: Crid at February 4, 2007 2:55 PM

That was culturally insensitive of me. I can see why Bruce Sterling likes Bollywood movies. He was stuck growing up in India. I did like the Hindu Go Go video in the beginning of the movie Ghost World.

If I grew up in Turkey... I would probably enjoy this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=utqnLoDfG3Y

Posted by: Joe at February 4, 2007 2:58 PM

At the risk of stopping the counter on this post from resembling the sign outside McDonald's, there's an interesting discussion going on up here:

http://www.advicegoddess.com/archives/2007/02/everybody_must_1.html

An excerpt from one of the comments:

Imelda wrote:
So, next time a Muslim blows up an American, give yourself a good pat on the back and say "I did that". Great job Amy! You go girl!

Amy responded: I attack Christians and all god believers all the time. Christians and other believers think it's just awful. Your post above brings me to the question: How come only insulted Muslims will take my comments as a reason to blow people up?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 4, 2007 4:14 PM

LMAO, congratulations, you meet the standard of invincible ignorance. Masefield doesn't say anything deprecatory about anyone. Doubt that he ever did.

Now if you seek evidence of a supernatural hand in the affairs of man, need you look any further than a Rex Grossman QB'd team making it to the Superbowl?

Posted by: Casca at February 4, 2007 8:49 PM

> LMAO, congratulations, you meet the
> standard of invincible ignorance. Masefield
> doesn't say anything deprecatory
> about anyone.

Anybody catch in irony in those two lines? Anything at all?

Some guys are reallly precious about football, some guys really like guitars, and some guys go really apeshit for poetry. Individual fascinations, no matter how sincere, are not evidence of God. That so many people find within them opportunities to make fun of others gets us back to human nature, not closer to Heaven.

Posted by: Crid at February 4, 2007 9:18 PM

No one doubts that Mr. de Havilland is a conscientious taxpayer;

As I am not keen on being robbed, that would be a 'no'.

a defensive driver;

Not much call for a car when you live in Central London so I do not have one.

good with children

No, I am not very tolerant of children and so I avoid them whenever possible.

housepets

Cats are good but I'll eat just about anything else if it stands still long enough.

and the elderly;

Only if they are not related to me.

and a fine dancer

Indeed.

Shucks, he probably has a green thumb!

No, I hire illegals to do that sort of thing for me. I have a first rate trigger finger though.

I imagined Cockneys in his workplace hearing a call to fisticuffs. It's so easy to forget that *America* is the place with the least isolation by class....

And no doubt having watched Mary Poppins from start to finish ten times when growing up, you really do what you are talking about. Sure, whenever I drive through South Central LA I always marvel at how the USA has no class system.

Posted by: Perry de Havilland at February 5, 2007 12:18 PM

I just have a question? If you don't believe in God then what do you believe happens to you when you die? I have lived through very painful experiences in my lifetime and I know that without my faith in Jesus Christ, I would be seriously messed up. It's not just a matter of believing in God, But having a relationship with him and expereincing unconditional love every day. Whether you believe in Him or not he still loves you.

Posted by: marie at November 29, 2007 12:03 PM

If you don't believe in God then what do you believe happens to you when you die?

Haven't a clue. And guess what, neither do you and neither does anyone else. You believe what you're told, entirely without evidence or rational thought.

To say "he still loves you" is ludicrous. It's like saying "my desk thinks you're a houseplant." There's no evidence "he" exists or "my desk" "thinks" anything. Hence, I'd be an idiot to believe either.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 29, 2007 12:07 PM

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