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Is Atheism Just A Rant Against Religion?


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By Benedicta CipollaReligion News Service

Saturday, May 26, 2007; Page B09

 

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/conte...id=sec-religion

 

Despite its minority status, atheism has enjoyed the spotlight of late, with several books that feature vehement arguments against religion topping the bestseller lists.

 

But some now say secularists should embrace more than the strident rhetoric poured out in such books as "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins and "The End of Faith" and "Letter to a Christian Nation" by Sam Harris. By devoting so much space to explaining why religion is bad, these critics argue, atheists leave little room for explaining how a godless worldview can be good.

 

At a recent conference marking the 30th anniversary of Harvard's humanist chaplaincy, organizers sought to distance the "new humanism" from the "new atheism."

 

Humanist Chaplain Greg Epstein went so far as to use the (other) f-word in describing his unbelieving brethren.

 

"At times they've made statements that sound really problematic, and when Sam Harris says science must destroy religion, to me that sounds dangerously close to fundamentalism," Epstein said in an interview after the meeting. "What we need now is a voice that says, 'That is not all there is to atheism.' "

 

Although the two can overlap, atheism represents a statement about the absence of belief and is thus defined by what it is not. Humanism seeks to provide a positive, secular framework for leading ethical lives and contributing to the greater good. The term "humanist" emerged with the "Humanist Manifesto" of 1933, a nonbinding document summarizing the movement's principles.

 

"Atheists are somewhat focused on the one issue of atheism, not looking at how to move forward," said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the Washington-based American Humanist Association. While he appreciates the way the new atheists have raised the profile of nonbelievers, he said humanists differ by their willingness to collaborate with religious leaders on various issues. "Working with religion," he said, "is not what [atheists] are about."

 

The Harvard event linked via video to a conference on global warming at the Baptist-affiliated Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. Addressing both meetings was biologist E.O. Wilson, whose book, "The Creation," urges the faith community to join the environmental movement.

 

Even as he complimented the "military wing of secularism" for combating the intrusion of dogma into political and private life, he told his audience that religious people "are more likely to pay attention to that hand of friendship offered to them . . . than to have suggested to them, let us say, Richard Dawkins's 'The God Delusion,' which sets out to carpet-bomb all religion."

 

In his book, Dawkins likens philosopher Michael Ruse, a Florida State University professor who has worked on the creationism/evolution debate in public schools, to Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister best known for his appeasement policy toward Nazi Germany.

 

Ruse, in turn, accuses "militant atheism" of not extending the same professional and academic courtesy to religion that it demands from others. Atheism's new dogmatic streak is not that different from the religious extremists it calls to task, he said. Dawkins was traveling and unavailable for comment.

 

The suggestion that atheists may be fundamentalists in their own right has, unsurprisingly, ruffled feathers.

 

"We're not a unified group," said Christopher Hitchens, author of the latest atheist bestseller, "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything."

 

"But we're of one mind on this: The only thing that counts is free inquiry, science, research, the testing of evidence, the uses of reason, irony, humor and literature, things of this kind. Just because we hold these convictions rather strongly does not mean this attitude can be classified as fundamentalist," Hitchens said.

 

Distinguishing between strong opinion and trying to impose atheism on others, Phil Zuckerman, associate professor of sociology at Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif., also finds "fundamentalist" a misnomer. Instead, he faults atheists for preferring black-and-white simplicity to a more nuanced view of religion.

 

"Religion is a human construction, and as such it will exhibit the best and worst of humanity. They throw the baby out with the bath water in certain instances," he said.

 

The humanists are taking advantage of renewed interest in atheism -- in effect riding the coattails of Dawkins and Harris into the mainstream -- to gain attention for their big-tent model. According to the American Religious Identification Survey, conducted by the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, the share of American adults who do not subscribe to any religion increased from 8 percent in 1990 to more than 14 percent in 2001.

 

While only a small portion of the nearly 30 million "unaffiliateds" might describe themselves as atheist, Epstein, from Harvard, sees humanism appealing to skeptics, agnostics and those who maintain only cultural aspects of religion.

 

A common critique of the new atheism is that it conflates belief with religiosity. In his research, Zuckerman has found that people may be outwardly religious not simply because they believe, but also because they're looking for community and solace within congregations.

 

More than a kinder, gentler strain of atheism, humanism seeks to propose a more expansive worldview.

 

"Atheists don't really ask the question, what are the vital needs that religion meets? They give you the sense that religion is the enemy, which is absurd," said Ronald Aronson, professor of humanities at Wayne State University in Detroit.

 

"There are some questions we secularists have to answer: Who am I, what am I, what can I know? Unless we can answer these questions adequately for ourselves and for others, we can't expect people to even begin to be interested in living without God."

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Talk about broad generalizations, damn.

 

I'm living my life, pure and simple, with a lack of God(s) belief. Frankly, I'm sick of articles and shit that tell me what I should be *focusing on* as an atheist.

 

"There are some questions we secularists have to answer: Who am I, what am I, what can I know?

 

I don't have to answer shit.

 

Unless we can answer these questions adequately for ourselves and for others, we can't expect people to even begin to be interested in living without God."

 

Bologna. When people ask, "How can an atheist be happy without God"...believe me, their interest has been peeked.

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They can kiss my fuzzy atheist ass. I don't have to answer a damned thing and I sure as fuck don't have to brown-nose believers.

 

Agreed, though I'll reserve comment on the books cited. I'm still waiting to get them in the mail from Amazon.

 

I don't always agree with Hitchens, but I love hearing him speak. I have a lot of respect for anyone who will tell anyone they are being retarded like I will. It's fun watching him rip into fundies with his 'prove it' mentality.

 

It's odd that religious folk will admit how smart we are, then treat us like idiots.

 

"I don't understand how you can believe in a world without god." "You should think more about Jesus."

 

If I'm intelligent, and you don't understand something, the problem probably isn't on my end.

 

Telling me what I should focus on, and what I should be thinking about is just as stupid. Why should I listen to them when they just told me 'I' was the smart one? Shouldn't it be the other way around? I mean, even in Catholic school I was taught to 'learn' from smart people, not teach them how to be think like me. That's a bit like taking an Alien Ware PC and refitting it to be a Comadore 64.

 

It's fun to see the look on their faces when I point this out, but it doesn't really do any good.

 

"God loves you, even if you don't believe in him."

 

Then shouldn't I toss my Mom into a lit cremation chamber and lock the door the next time I see her? I love her too after all.

 

It's a wonder fundies have any friends at all with that line of thinking. You'd think they'd have killed them all by now.

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"There are some questions we secularists have to answer: Who am I, what am I, what can I know?
If these questions are inadequately (albeit satisfactorily to believers) answered by religion, then who are we to presume to hold the truth of these questions?

 

Whoever wrote this article doesn't seem to realize they're advocating packaging our viewpoint and selling it the same way theists do, full of promises we know full well we can't meet. Life doesn't come with a rulebook, deviation from which is the source of all our ills, that shit just fuckin' happens, and everybody has to find their own way of dealing with it. That's what's great about general unbelief: there's NOBODY telling you about ONE way to go about doing things; you're free to learn for yourself.

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Atheist/Secular/Non-Deist thinking can't provide what a religion (in the Western sense) does... a viable alternative to independent thought... In terms of the a-religious, thought, much of it either independent or, heaven forfend, original, is all the individual has and making it work in a Technological society.

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"There are some questions we secularists have to answer: Who am I, what am I, what can I know? Unless we can answer these questions adequately for ourselves and for others, we can't expect people to even begin to be interested in living without God."

 

 

And what gives this guy the idea that I somehow care what others believe?

He has the nerve to call atheists "dogmatic," when he's the one trying

to convert others to his position.

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I'm living my life, pure and simple, with a lack of God(s) belief. Frankly, I'm sick of articles and shit that tell me what I should be *focusing on* as an atheist.

 

That about sums it up. The last time I let people tell me how to live my life and what to think I was in church. The only thing I'm obligated to do is a negative; that is, not hurt others.

 

when Sam Harris says science must destroy religion, to me that sounds dangerously close to fundamentalism,"

 

And in the context they are presenting this quote I'm thinking the writer is creating a straw man. Science can and must destroy religion via education. By education, I doubt very highly he means indoctrination. Give a child a proper understanding of science and the rules of logic and that child will come to their own conclussions. What is fundementalist about this? This is a good thing, no?

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"There are some questions we secularists have to answer: Who am I, what am I, what can I know? Unless we can answer these questions adequately for ourselves and for others, we can't expect people to even begin to be interested in living without God."

 

 

And what gives this guy the idea that I somehow care what others believe?

He has the nerve to call atheists "dogmatic," when he's the one trying

to convert others to his position.

 

As an observation; when we get post bombed by a Fundy we all feel obliged to:

 

1) Tell them we think they're wrong

 

2) Tell why we think they're wrong (thus risking converting them)

 

If we really didn't care the one who cared most would say 'fuck off fundy' and the the rest would ignore them...

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"There are some questions we secularists have to answer: Who am I, what am I, what can I know? Unless we can answer these questions adequately for ourselves and for others, we can't expect people to even begin to be interested in living without God."

 

 

And what gives this guy the idea that I somehow care what others believe?

He has the nerve to call atheists "dogmatic," when he's the one trying

to convert others to his position.

 

As an observation; when we get post bombed by a Fundy we all feel obliged to:

 

1) Tell them we think they're wrong

 

2) Tell why we think they're wrong (thus risking converting them)

 

If we really didn't care the one who cared most would say 'fuck off fundy' and the the rest would ignore them...

 

 

Telling them why I think they're wrong is not the same as converting

them. I don't tell them unless they ask. I don't parade on street corners

with a bull horn exhorting people to become atheists. I don't try to force

them to believe what I believe. I don't feel obligated to convert the

world to atheism, secularism, or any other kind of "ism" or system of

belief. I don't consider the belief that many have in imaginary sky-beings

as a threat to my lack of belief. So how "dogmatic" am I really?

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Semantics...

 

The fact we respond at all is because we care what someone thinks, even if the only thing we care they think is that we think they're not an fog-horn mouthed idiot. I usually try to disabuse them of the idea I don't think they're an idiot :)

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Actually, I must be in the extreme minority on this one. I don't see any of the "telling atheists what to think" that some are seeing here. All I'm hearing is a criticism of evangelical-style atheism that builds itself on negatives: "Religion is bad". It's not any different that the religious fundi saying: "The world is bad". I am hearing this guy saying it’s much better to focus on the positive things that each side of the discussion brings to the table.

 

He's recognizing that religion is a creation of humans, and as such to call it pure bad is in essence to say humans are pure bad. To me that's intellectually dishonest. Religion has definte problems, without doubt, but isn't in essence calling it a great evil a pretty religious statement in itself? Anyone taking black and white positions frighten me. There little room for discussion of ideas. Has black and white thinking ever led to understanding and growth, or does it lead to divisions and wars?

 

I'm sorry, I just don't get the complaint on this one. Just a thought: Once upon a time I became a fundamentalist because it appealed to the black and white thinking I had back then. If that thinking doesn't change leaving fundamentalism, isn't it entirely possible to become a secular fundamentalist? I would definetly answer yes.

 

So is the problem religion, or human beings?

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Semantics...

 

The fact we respond at all is because we care what someone thinks, even if the only thing we care they think is that we think they're not an fog-horn mouthed idiot. I usually try to disabuse them of the idea I don't think they're an idiot :)

 

 

I don't consider this to be semantics, but at this point we simply disagree....

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So is the problem religion, or human beings?

 

:thanks:

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Religion is a bad thing. Dawkins and Harris are just saying that. Saying 'religion is bad' and saying 'this is what we should do instead' are two totally different issues, and one man does NOT need to tackle both- although I'll say, being familiar with the writings and lectures of both aforementioned thinkers, they offer a very POSITIVE view of a nontheistic world- they simply don't support the idea of granting religion respect it isn't worthy of.

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So is the problem religion, or human beings?

 

:thanks:

You're quite welcome. Thanks for the topic. Actually, I believe this gentleman who is the one of the article posted directly in response to the articles that webmaster Dave posts on the home page. I'll see if I can't hunt that down for you. I honestly don't see the issue why what he says is taken as harshly as this. People create religion. It's that simple. It's about people. Is it that we blame religion for our own shortcomings?? I was a black and white thinker. That's why I became a fundamentalist. Not the other way around.

 

EDIT:

 

Ahh yes... memory still servers me well despite advances in years!!! http://www.exchristian.net/2/2007/03/harva...y-turns-30.html

 

Here's a post here directly on the ExC itself from the chaplin himself on that post link above. I hope it might help to clarify some major misconceptions that might be happening here:

 

I am appreciative that people are discussing this. We don't believe Dawkins, Harris, etc. are nearly as bad as religious fundamentalists. We aren't "against" them in the sense that I think there is a lot of deserved anger out there against traditional religion, especially on a site like this, which I support. But the fact is that the anti-religious, religion needs to be defeated perspective does not represent most of us non-religious people and Humanists. We are looking to be treated equally as citizens, not to denigrate others. We don't expect everyone to think the way we do about religious matters and we don't kid ourselves into thinking the world would suddenly be problem-free if everyone did. We're damn proud to be Humanists and atheists. And we will respond strongly to discrimination against others like us. But we endorse and affirm a pluralistic vision of society, acknowledging that many of our religious neighbors want the same good, decent lives we do. Until Dawkins and Harris incoroprate this point into their public statements more, or until other voices saying so are heard more loudly, we feel we have to bang the drum a bit.

 

Thanks for reading and all the best. Hope some visiting this site will come to our conference!

 

Sincerely,

 

--

Greg M. Epstein

Humanist Chaplain of Harvard University

Very, very cool! I would love to talk with this man in person. This resonates with me quite strongly.

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So is the problem religion, or human beings?

 

:thanks:

You're quite welcome. Thanks for the topic. Actually, I believe this gentleman who is the one of the article posted directly in response to the articles that webmaster Dave posts on the home page. I'll see if I can't hunt that down for you. I honestly don't see the issue why what he says is taken as harshly as this. People create religion. It's that simple. It's about people. Is it that we blame religion for our own shortcomings?? I was a black and white thinker. That's why I became a fundamentalist. Not the other way around.

 

EDIT:

 

Ahh yes... memory still servers me well despite advances in years!!! http://www.exchristian.net/2/2007/03/harva...y-turns-30.html

 

Here's a post here directly on the ExC itself from the chaplin himself on that post link above. I hope it might help to clarify some major misconceptions that might be happening here:

 

I am appreciative that people are discussing this. We don't believe Dawkins, Harris, etc. are nearly as bad as religious fundamentalists. We aren't "against" them in the sense that I think there is a lot of deserved anger out there against traditional religion, especially on a site like this, which I support. But the fact is that the anti-religious, religion needs to be defeated perspective
does not represent most of us non-religious people and Humanists.
We are looking to be treated equally as citizens, not to denigrate others
. We don't expect everyone to think the way we do about religious matters and we don't kid ourselves into thinking the world would suddenly be problem-free if everyone did. We're damn proud to be Humanists and atheists. And we will respond strongly to discrimination against others like us.
But we endorse and affirm a pluralistic vision of society, acknowledging that many of our religious neighbors want the same good, decent lives we do.
Until Dawkins and Harris incoroprate this point into their public statements more, or until other voices saying so are heard more loudly, we feel we have to bang the drum a bit.

 

Thanks for reading and all the best. Hope some visiting this site will come to our conference!

 

Sincerely,

 

--

Greg M. Epstein

Humanist Chaplain
of Harvard University

Very, very cool! I would love to talk with this man in person. This resonates with me quite strongly.

 

Very, very, very cool! Thanks again Antlerman.

 

I find it interesting that he is a Humanist Chaplain - we need more of his ilk.

 

I'm just wondering, could there be more understanding and respect between believers in God and atheists.

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So is the problem religion, or human beings?

 

:thanks:

 

I second that :thanks:

 

I've maintainted for a long time that it's not religion per-se that is the problem, but rather taking one's beliefs to illogical extremes and letting them cause oneself harm or encourage harm to others. That, and the despotic Abrahamic cults are not the only religions that exist, since those things are not exclusively synonomous with each other.

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So is the problem religion, or human beings?

 

:thanks:

 

I second that :thanks:

 

I've maintainted for a long time that it's not religion per-se that is the problem, but rather taking one's beliefs to illogical extremes and letting them cause oneself harm or encourage harm to others. That, and the despotic Abrahamic cults are not the only religions that exist, since those things are not exclusively synonomous with each other.

 

I like that.

 

The problem isn't the idea of god itself, but rather what people do with the idea of god. The fact that the idea of god is so vague and can be used to justify anything is what makes it so prevailent and popular.

 

It's an easy out for any difficult thinking, and can be used to justify suspect moral actions.

 

God = an irrefutable excuse for any stupid/evil idea or act.

 

God is the perfect tool for immoral, greedy, selfish, violent, behavior. Quite literally a 'get out of jail free' card for anyone who can figure out how to spin the truth.

 

Plus, he's a fit's everything explination for anything you don't feel like thinking about.

 

God really does make life easier, if you're willing to be an ignorant self centered prick.

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I am hearing this guy saying it’s much better to focus on the positive things that each side of the discussion brings to the table.

 

I think the reaction you are seeing here AM is a result of the fact that most of us spent years in church being told what they should and shouldn't do. When we deconverted, we reflected on this and came to the conclusion that we just want to live our own lives sans any particular code of conduct. We are fed up with others moralizing to us, even in indirect forms. I suppose that atheists who have never been religious or who hadn't suffered through years of indoctrination, would not react the same way we are. At least I think this is true for me.

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So is the problem religion, or human beings?

 

Humans are certainly not without their flaws. But religion is a meme, (like any ism is) that exacerbates those flaws on an exponential level, so yeah, I'd say the problem is mostly with religion.

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So is the problem religion, or human beings?

 

Humans are certainly not without their flaws. But religion is a meme, (like any ism is) that exacerbates those flaws on an exponential level, so yeah, I'd say the problem is mostly with religion.

IMO it's 50/50, since humans invented religion. It's our own fault religion has such a power over us. But it is true, religion is a meme virus, but humanity got the power to obey or disobey them. :shrug:

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When we deconverted, we reflected on this and came to the conclusion that we just want to live our own lives sans any particular code of conduct. We are fed up with others moralizing to us, even in indirect forms. I suppose that atheists who have never been religious or who hadn't suffered through years of indoctrination, would not react the same way we are. At least I think this is true for me.

 

And true for me also.

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