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Subject:being a good atheist
Time:12:30 am
as i was just saying to a friend

"I appreciated both Keith [former president of australian atheists] and Phillip's [catholic priest] comments. I really like Keith's idea of holding onto the JWs for as long as possible [when they come round to visit]. But that's set me thinking about what i'd say to them.

You know, i was having a really good discussion with Mum last night - and we got onto character. until the 70s (she reckoned), someone's character was very important. It's less of a concern for people now, but i still think 'character assassinations' perpetrated by atheists upon religious believers are quite common, and are a major limitation for the acceptance of atheism by those of faith. That's why i appreciate both Keith and Phillip's approaches, as Keith thinks properly, and Phillip relates to people properly - he is a 'nice guy' - considerate, most importantly. Although having good character and being someone whose word/commitments can be trusted etc is emphasised less now, i think our focus on it in discussing religion is an obstacle. Imagine me having the JWs come round. I could, and rightly so by the standards of critical thinking, direct at them a tirade of indignation about expecting others to give up their rational view of the world for a faithful one.

I could show them the great website 'god is imaginary' - and, well, probably shouldn't have to go further than the first proof about statistics showing prayer is ineffectual.

Then i could take them to another fantastic project 'god checker' - which is chock full of entertaining biographies of all the gods from all the different mythologies throughout history around the world. As fascinating as all that is (and i love the vital statistix down the bottom - i thought it was a basis for a fantastic computer game), a central message to be gotten from that site is that one's experience of god is subjective. otherwise, if there were one true god, why does godchecker.com, in order to be comprehensive and truthful, need to provide dossiers on over 2000 gods (and counting)?



-the fabulous rainbow snake from the australian aboriginal mythology section of the site.

I could then regale them with Mark Thomas's principles of atheism, as outlined right at the bottom here.

and then we could take a break from all the talking by watching Richard Dawkins' doco 'The Root of All Evil?' - download it down the bottom there. - where, among other things, he describes how atheism allows us to grasp the beauty and complexity of life, where religion is too simplistic and detached from reality (because it is, well, about faith and possibly therefore postmodernism (perhaps i would also summarise our fascinating postmodernism vs science lecture!)). In the last part of the second half of that documentary richard talks about just how fortunate we are to be here, what a tremendously small chance we had of coming into the world by virtue of that specific combination of genes our parents gave us. Out of this is the basis for altruism in atheists, for if we are so lucky to just get this one chance (and also the fact that it is just ONE chance), we would feel motivated to treat ourselves and others with the utmost respect, care, love, nurturance, good will and sincerity. or, conversely, recognising no outlandish process of reincarnation will take place, be fully satisfied in knowing that when we 'dispatch' of an enemy in a fashion involving their mortality, they will be gone for good, and the world will really be a better place ;-)

Then i could top it off with saying well, you know, it's not really us that ever reincarnated anyway. Early religious writers appeared to have an uncanny familiarity with the workings of genes back then, such that if one read the bible from the perspective of a guide to achieving gene replication, it would contain some invaluable advice! as an example, the last thing i would show to them would be Matt Weeks' article called Jacob and Gender Roles. here, he points out that genes advertised themselves using the beauty of the woman they were inside (when inside men they advertise themselves by getting him to show how well he can provide resources), causing a man to not only wed her and cause her to bear children (yay! say the genes) but also wed her ugly sister and cause two servants to become pregnant beforehand, as part of the deal. Really bad explanation, read the column, it's great (and did u know he's only 23 like me! i felt shamefully incompetent! the only thing i've done representing anything like his professional, polished 'oh look at me i can write columns' achievements is my livejournal entry about the emphasis on the goddess in the da vinci code and that angsty critique of that body objectification reading last semester! hehe, i've subsequently felt motivated to put it on my livejournal, just to make myself feel like i can do what he does :-P ). see, character does matter still afterall.

um, yeah, so that would like, rationally speaking, blow them out of the water (not to mention taking up a whole day!). but so what. there's something more important to them than acknowledging they've got a faulty understanding of the world and appropriately updating it. they need to protect their sense of being of good character. i am at risk of seemingly attacking it, objectifying them by their irrational belief, if i took keith's seemingly flippant (which may in other settings be appropriate) style of communicating his convictions as a guide. i would need, therefore, to employ Phillip's niceness in putting across keith's message. the problem is though, that whilst athiests might have moved on and finally realised they can live better without faith in god, they are still as invested in the enterprise of character building. when they see a religionist, they see a great opportunity to destroy their character ratings, and simultaneously increase their own, by showing the religionist to be a poor reasoner.

this, of course, shows up their lack of self confidence, since otherwise they wouldn't take an interest in such easy targets. we can address this issue by asking the atheist if they really think it's sensible to abuse other's self-confidence in the process of gaining some for themselves. i think if they really thought about it they would say no, knowing how much it sucks to have no self confidence. knowing that it can drive you to become destructive toward others, and do things like abuse those whose only fault is an incomplete understanding of reality. with this knowledge, the atheist lacking self-confidence/self esteem would be set. they would still see the faults of religionists, but also be equipped to bring about the extra understanding within the religionist that they see them as lacking in a way that the religionist feels honoured as an otherwise worthy person. this style of relating to someone is a basis for creating friendships and intimate relationships which is really what the unconfident atheist is after. but perhaps the achievement of such closeness would then cause the atheist to abandon their crusade, as they have a more sustainable way of feeling self confidence now and don't care for the labour intensiveness of confronting religionists! i don't know, but i think the latter is better still, as an insincere, disrespectful atheist confronting religionists is bad for everyone, in the end delaying their progress toward seeing the truth and giving atheism a bad name.

for example, i bet many more people think phillip is a really great guy and so nice to be around versus keith, because the former is perhaps very practiced at affirming people's worth, where keith maybe is the opposite. i'm speaking generally here, - but since they're representatives for broader causes i think these comments are still valid. i particularly appreciated phillip's appreciation of the worth of atheists that you wrote about here:

"It's not correct to say people are lacking in belief as this sounds like they are lacking a sense of values, because they are 'also looking for truth and goodness, what is true, to do what is right, to love well, but not in religious terms.'"

this is really good, and the same goes for how atheists think about religionists, even if keith complains that "
it [is] strange how atheists are thought to have no morals and are the 'lowest of the low.'"

so yeah i think i covered it, although the idea that religion is a way to find meaning... i dunno, i think that more relates to religion being many things, not just the faith in god. as you said, the bible is made up of songs, poems, stories, history. what is the potential of such writings? to explore. to expound upon the nature of living as a human (which, btw, genes couldn't give a stuff about and if they could think i'm wondering if they'd be kicking themselves for evolving us a brain to realise how we've been a slave to them for so long, and that we just might rebel and use (god save us!) contraception and the like). the bible and religion, because it is so broad, includes elements that are metaphorical, mythical, mysterious, and poetic. those four words are the way in which i break down spirituality. it is through those types of explorations that the meaning of life comes to be tied to religious experience. but correlation does not imply causation (great wikipedia article on it) -and as you well know, great meaning and profundity can be infused into the writings of anyone sufficiently proficient at or absorbed in the process of appreciating the mysterious, metaphorical, mythological and poetic nature of our existence.

i'm sending in my applications for joining the atheist foundation and the secular party of australia tomorrow!
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(Anonymous)
Link:(Link)
Time:2006-08-10 03:55 pm (UTC)
The general notion you present that atheists tend to be lacking in character in terms of how they address people may be a valid one if all you look at is what is generally shown to the public. Now, I'm not talking about the Sam Harris' and Richard Dawkins' of the world; in my opinion they are quite civil in their efforts to make their views known. Rather I'm talking about those who can be commonly found on internet sites launching blunt attacks on religious points of view. But there is some self selection going on here that makes these atheists potentially representative of only a subset of atheists.

There is nothing about atheism as such that would make an atheist less civil in voicing his mind than a religious man who at least has the facade of being polite. However, atheists do tend to suffer from a chronic feeling of being oppressed by the religious majority. There is a constant sense (from what I know of being an atheist, and from what I know of other atheists) that to speak out against a person's religious beliefs let alone to speak out against religion as such is not only blasphemous, but evil and unworthy of tolerance. Thus, those atheists who do speak out, are more likely to be aggressive in their presentation and, unfortunately come across in a negative light regardless of the content of their words.

But, I would argue, it is members of the religious community who are lacking in character, for it is they who shut down conversation. It is they who prattle on with unjustified self-righteousness about beliefs and philosophies for which they have no rational grounding. And it is the religious minded who carry on such barbarism as war for the sake of tribalistic points of view grounded in an irrational epistemology. On this last point, many may argue that the worst (by whose standards, they will not tell us) killers and oppressors have been atheists (a label they will then proceed to use incorrectly). They will then list Mao, Hitler, and Stalin as prime examples and yet fail to realize that the religious or if you prefer, anti-religious beliefs of these men are not the cause of their evil actions. Rather, the cause of their evil is that each of these men lived according to false premises. They failed to understand something about the fundamental human condition and acted on beliefs just as false as religious leaders do.

In closing, it is important to remember (and I am not saying that anyone who reads this does not realize this point) that one’s character does not determine whether that person’s beliefs are right or wrong just as one’s (religious) beliefs has nothing to do per se with what one’s character will tend to be.
(Reply) (Thread)

rednorth
Subject:legitimate concessions to theists
Link:(Link)
Time:2006-08-10 04:19 pm (UTC)
"In closing, it is important to remember (and I am not saying that anyone who reads this does not realize this point) that one’s character does not determine whether that person’s beliefs are right or wrong just as one’s (religious) beliefs has nothing to do per se with what one’s character will tend to be."

Yes, that is the basic message i was trying to put across. A good summary.

From personal experience, i know it can be very offputting, no matter how well founded the criticism is, to feel that one is the victim of defamation, of having one's character, as a whole, being brought into question.

so, as part of being a 'good atheist' (meaning, for example, that one is good at portraying atheism in the best possible, most truthful light and hopefully one that is simultaneously attractive to religious believers) i think, if we aren't doing it already, we would do well to remember that recipients of our message deserve to be honoured, deserve to be treated with the assumption that they are of good character and that their faulty reasoning leading to their faith in god is an obstacle easily overcome.

this is not at all to belittle what you have observed here: "It is they who prattle on with unjustified self-righteousness about beliefs and philosophies for which they have no rational grounding. And it is the religious minded who carry on such barbarism as war for the sake of tribalistic points of view grounded in an irrational epistemology."

i'm not excusing them, but rather looking at legitimate concessions which we may be able to give to religious believers which would also smooth the way to us being able to present to them our position, and possibly even win them over at some point.

at this point i'm thinking a good strategy would be to start out the conversation with a general confirmation of each other's mutual appreciation for the value of life, for the wonder of it all, for the meaning with which it is imbued. and to then ask if, perhaps, out of this fundamentally similar approach to life, atheism and theism are simply two different methods to approach the world ... with the implicit message that atheism is the better, although it might appear less arrogant and might prove to be closer to the truth to say that theism also has a place, at least in the absence of the faculty of reasoning which our advanced education system has blessed us with today.

so i guess what i'm about here is the legitimate concessions we can afford theists, and how giving these to them might smooth the path to some reconciliation between us and them.
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(Anonymous)
Subject:Re: legitimate concessions to theists
Link:(Link)
Time:2006-08-11 09:42 pm (UTC)
I think I better understand the point you are trying to make, thank you. I do, however wonder at some of what you have said. For example, you say that theists “faulty reasoning leading to their faith in god is an obstacle easily overcome.” Yet the decision to believe according to faith over reason is so deeply routed that it can be one of the most difficult things to change. This is especially true the older a person is and the younger he was when indoctrinated with the false epistemology of faith. Furthermore, theists are often so convinced that faith is responsible for so much that is good in their lives and defines them so completely that even if they agree with a rational argument against the use of faith (or rather the rejection of reason in certain contexts), they will turn around the next second and keep right on living and thinking as they have.

I have actually had first hand experience with this. I have had long conversations about reason and its application in science being the best, if not only epistemological tools available to us. I have gotten theists to demonstrate to me that they understand this point, and then act in complete opposition to it.

You suggest that “a good strategy would be to start out the conversation with a general confirmation of each other's mutual appreciation for the value of life, for the wonder of it all, for the meaning with which it is imbued.” This may be a good idea. It could provide a way to convey that any subsequent discussion is between two human beings without being obvious about it. I actually just play things by ear when it comes to figuring out how to address people though. I treat the tone of the conversation the same way that I would treat the tone of any conversation. The one thing I am trying to get myself to do is to not be afraid to become tactfully aggressive if necessary. The fact is, there are just some people who don’t let you say anything if you’re not in some way aggressive. The conversation is just not allowed to be had.

Your proposed goal seems to be to “smooth the path to some reconciliation between us and them.” I agree with this to the point of wanting to get to the point of being able to have a conversation about religion (which could be atheism versus atheism, or any other topic related to religion). However, concerning the specifics of a conversation in which the intent is to get someone to think more rationally (or something along those lines), I would say that inherent in the conversation is going to be some sort of friction since, as I mentioned before, the purpose is to question each other’s fundamental beliefs. The trick is to minimize adversity so that the conversation can move forward. But again, I find this easiest to do on a personal basis. I am not sure to what degree there might be general principles for this sort of thing.
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rednorth
Subject:Re: legitimate concessions to theists
Link:(Link)
Time:2006-08-12 03:44 am (UTC)
Wow. Thank you for coming back and making that contribution. I really appreciated the personal experiences you related. I have had the same type of encounters over the past couple of years with one particular friend.

I really, really liked this point: "Furthermore, theists are often so convinced that faith is responsible for so much that is good in their lives..." That is my major beef with theism. Whilst I acknowledge that it may have appeared that I was after a set of common strategies to apply in confrontations with theists, I still think this will always be something I'll bring up. I will question whether, in fact, their god is the cause of all that is good in their lives and, they would say, my life. Then we'll go from there! That should get things happening on a personal basis, too, I think.

Yes, I really think it is important to address each case individually. I wonder though if this will mean even more effor on our part, even more dedication, devotion and attention to the cause of uprooting an unreasonable reliance on faith. So I guess what I'm really after in all this is to discover the central elements, the common themes that I should be prepared for, like the idea that their faith is the source of the goodness of life.

On a side note, I've caved into you lot! I'm punctuating, capitalising and spelling properly now. I am only doing this because it is important to look after the image of both this forum and the cause therein. I was a bit suspicious because this means doing what psychologists call the peripheral route to persuasion (how appealing the idea looks, how happy etc. it makes the audience feel), when I was more intent on the central route (its logical content, its empirical basis, the facts). I guess if we get so many random strangers coming through here with no real idea of the importance of what we discuss, they might be a bit more likely to stay on and process the ideas if they are presented in a generically appealing way to start with.
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noahtall
Subject:Re: legitimate concessions to theists
Link:(Link)
Time:2006-08-12 04:27 pm (UTC)
It looks like I wasn’t logged in when I posted my last two responses. I didn’t realize that.

I can appreciate the fact that you continue to look for a comment element that may unite the thinking of theists (or particular subgroups like Christians, or certain denominations of Christians for example). I have spent much of my life doing the same. But the more I search for this common element, the more elusive it seems to be. As soon as I find something I think to be a generalization, I just as quickly find in conversation that those who subscribe to the relevant belief system lack the element I had found.

At this point I will issue the disclaimer that most of the theists with whom I have had any interaction have been some sort of Christian. That having been said, I have over time come to conclude that there exists no such thing as a Christian. There is no Orthodox Christian, nor Presbyterian, nor Baptist, Lutheran, Mormon, or any other sort. For within each of these religions and sub-religions exist countless interpretations of even the most basic tenants such that it seems no assumptions can be made that will apply even to a majority of self-proclaimed Fill-In-The-Blank-ists.

And yet this observation, which through my experience stands the test of time, leads to one thing that is common ground. It all leads to the daemon of inconsistency. And indeed, I have found that if one digs deep enough (and for some it need not be very deep), one will find that faith is born when one develops an epistemology and either insists that there be mystery in how one can know things, or refuses to care whether there is or not. Likewise, the supernatural arises when one insists that mystery is a final answer to the questions of the world itself.

When this happens, one is allowed to shrug at data and ignore it making one’s beliefs inconsistent with reality. One is suddenly allowed to twist data in order to fit one’s beliefs because if doing so is wrong, it doesn’t matter because there mysteries beyond any comprehension inherent in the universe. If you have the suspicion that one need not be religious to think in this insane manner, you are correct. Postmodernists think the same way. They are the material mystics who together with spiritual mystics sandwich modern thinkers between two mind boggling fronts of irrationality.

What faces us is a war of ideas. The fact that these are the most fundamental ideas one can posses makes each battle all the more difficult. Add to that the fact that a war of ideas cannot be fought with the brute force of military wars and you find what seems to be an increasingly daunting task. And this is another reason I like to emphasize individual attention. I think it is more effective to change the thinking of one individual than to spread one’s self thin and try to reason with many each of whom has his own particular flavor of faulty thinking.

Which brings up yet another point: faulty thinking: why are we to say that other have it but we don’t? Who is to define what faulty thinking is? This is a question that someone is guaranteed to ask at some point in the kinds of conversations we have been referencing. And when that question is asked, the discussion always becomes much bigger than it had been before. It becomes (as I have hinted before) a discussion of epistemology. And since I am beginning to repeat myself, I shall stop for now. But I find this to be a useful exchange.
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rednorth
Subject:Re: legitimate concessions to theists
Link:(Link)
Time:2006-08-12 10:10 pm (UTC)
dude, this is exactly the kind of response i was after. you should see the bickering that the atheism forum dissolves into. a bunch of nitpickers. thanks so much for your considered response.

two bits i LOVED - "Postmodernists think the same way. They are the material mystics who together with spiritual mystics sandwich modern thinkers between two mind boggling fronts of irrationality." I quoted you on my university WebCT forum on that one! Thanks so much.

"I think it is more effective to change the thinking of one individual than to spread one’s self thin and try to reason with many each of whom has his own particular flavor of faulty thinking." I hate the idea of heros, but i love the things you're saying more than that; so i'm going to temporarily support hero worship long enough to say you are my hero for saying that. Ok, period of hero endorsement now closed.

Wow, should i just quote the whole last paragraph (since i've just been dumping quotes in here as i go along?)? I'm sounding gushing here, so i'll stop, as i really agree with the idea that an argument overstated is an argument weakened.

But i think you're definitely onto something. You know, there's a never ending stream/deluge of bible toting/quoting fundamentalists who present a daunting challenge to many atheists. They seem to know so much about their position by backing themselves up with all those quotes and passages (which you point out ends up highlighting the lack of internal consistency in the bible, and i really love that idea that there's no christian in existence, that assertion NEEDS MORE EXPOSURE, PROMINANT EXPOSURE) - so us as atheists need to know our stuff too. We need to get good at educating others about the principles of critical thinking. What i really like are these two websites:

Truth mappinghttp://www.truthmapping.com/index.php
TruthMapping.com: Home

and

http://www.fallacyfiles.org/index.html
Logical Fallacies: The Fallacy Files

you might enjoy my little truthmap about circumcision as an attack on intelligent design ;-)

http://www.truthmapping.com/viewtopic.php?id=498

Thank you so much for spending the time to reply with such deep thought. Actually, it seems like you're fairly familiar with all this and have a lot of experience, so that shortcuts a lot of deep thought for me! So often in my life i'm confronted with older people, people who have 'experience', who at the same time espouse religionism as though they are the unquestionable authority. So thank you for providing feedback as a person with experience in the devoted practice of atheism.
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noahtall
Subject:Re: legitimate concessions to theists
Link:(Link)
Time:2006-08-12 11:30 pm (UTC)
I have more to say in response to your last message, but that may have to come after I've looked at those links you provided. For now, allow me to say with enthusiasm the first thing that came to mind when I read your last response: "Somebody gets it!"
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rednorth
Subject:Re: legitimate concessions to theists
Link:(Link)
Time:2006-08-12 11:49 pm (UTC)
:-) me too

thanks

*ponder* time to sleep now i think! what with staying the whole night devouring these new ideas and all... it's literally 9am on a sunday morning oh my goddess
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