Something I've seen quite a bit on Mumsnet is confusing me slightly

(390 Posts)

...I often read statements along the lines of, 'I'm an atheist because I there is no God,' and, 'I don't want my child to be taught about your fairy stories [religious teachings],' which is all fair enough but what's confusing me is, aren't these just people's opinions? One person can't provide definitive proof of the absence of a deity, anymore than another can provide definitive proof of the existence of a deity, surely? Or am I missing something?

This is a genuine query - I'm interested to know. I'm not trying to stir up arguments, although I'm happy to be argued with and told that I'm wrong.

As a person with a faith, I'd say it's all a matter of faith - either you believe it, or you don't. If I was without faith, I guess I'd say it's a matter of opinion. In any case, I don't get the absolute confidence people have that there is no God. I think there is, but I couldn't prove it and wouldn't think to tell another peson that I'm right on that topic and they're wrong. Where does all the certainty come from?

PerryCombover Tue 27-Nov-12 00:43:18

Dunno but as neither bunch can prove it it seems reasonable to keep it away from state funded education

InSPsFanjoNoOneHearsYouScream Tue 27-Nov-12 00:45:08

I don't believe but that doesnt mean I keep my son away from it. When he's older he can decide weather he wishes to be religious or not.

luisgarcia Tue 27-Nov-12 00:46:07

What other things do you believe exist that you can't demonstrate the existence of?

Problem with pitting faith against atheism and then saying "isn't it all a matter of beliefs?" misses the point that the onus is on the ones who believe something does exist. Therefore without that evidence the ones who don't believe it exists are technically the ones with science and certainty on their sides. And when it come to teaching it in schools it's fairly understandable that people would rather children were taught scientifically proven facts rather than faith/wishful thinking.

ps. please don't take offence, I actually have faith myself. I'm just trying to be pragmatic about it.

Himalaya Tue 27-Nov-12 00:55:10

GMto5 - have you heard of the idea of the cosmic teapot or the invisable pink unicorn?

The idea of god is a bit like this to many atheists, just one of an infinate number of things, which are undisprovable, but for which there is not one shred of evidence.

ChippingInLovesAutumn Tue 27-Nov-12 00:57:34

What Luis and Murder said.

If I said to you 'I have a fairy that lives at the bottom of my garden, she comes and chats to me when I'm gardening' - don't you think the onus would be on me to prove that's true, not on you to prove it isn't?

RedMolly Tue 27-Nov-12 09:40:33

I think most atheists would say that they are 99% sure that there is no god, but stop short of being categorical about it because, as you say, it can't be proven. Problem is how do you prove a negative, an absence of something? The lack of evidence for an interventionist supernatural being is good enough for most atheists. If you choose to believe in something for which there is no evidence then that is a matter for the individual and they are free to believe what they want to. Faith should not be taught as fact in state schools.

CaptainBarnaclesDaddyman Tue 27-Nov-12 09:54:01

I'm an empiricist. I like to have proof of something before I can believe in it. This means that I don't believe in God. However, if someone was to produce definitive proof of God's existence, I would believe.

I don't hold with the faith idea because it's just a safety net for religion. The idea that someone can say "there's no scientific evidence of God" and can be answered "God doesn't need to prove he exists because he wants you to have faith that he does" just doesn't hold water. If I made the same argument with a blue spotted monkey people would laugh.

crescentmoon Tue 27-Nov-12 10:12:20

i guess i feel something of what atheists feel about the myth of father christmas. my children speak far more about him at this time of year than Jesus. why is this myth so propagated and pervasive in schools? why is there such a (almost?) unanimous taking part in this huge deception of children?

iv figured, my own opinion, that father christmas is acceptable because he is the god of consumerism for children. this whole 'dear santa can you bring me....' is a clever way to introduce children to the preoccupation with material goods and status - good children get presents bad children dont get presents. they then grow up into adults and internalise rich people are good poor people are bad.

i told dc ages ago that father xmas isnt real but they find it hard when they see images everywhere on tv, in the shops, at school etc. i tell them, probably as atheists teach their children, to keep it to themselves.

Jux Tue 27-Nov-12 10:16:04

I believe in your blue spotted monkey, Captain.

CaptainBarnaclesDaddyman Tue 27-Nov-12 10:20:27

Without any evidence Jux?!? I fear you may have missed my point... grin

Jux Tue 27-Nov-12 10:23:01

I've been primed Captain. Brought up Catholic, you see.

Thank you, everyone. This is realy interesting. RedMolly, I wish more people did say that - so many times on mn I read statements from people who are absolutey sure that there is no God. I should make it clear that I have no problem with that, or with them saying that. I am just puzzled as to where their absolute certainty comes from.

Luis, that is a really good question! Apart from dark matter, and I daresay someone probably can prove that (I'm not a physicist - can you tell? wink), no, I don't think there is anything else I believe in for which I have no evidence. Very thought provoking! The 'evidence' for God, such as it is, is all circumstantial and I can totally understand people looking at it and saying, 'No thanks!' I guess what I don't understand is the aggressive tone some of them use to state that there is no God and anyone who believes otherwise is clearly nuts. I am also aware that some Christians present their faith in this manner too! I give them a wide berth, myself! By 'aggressive tone' I do not mean any of you or your replies. I've really enjoyed reading them. Keep 'em coming, folks.

digerd Tue 27-Nov-12 12:00:52

My SIL lost her mum when mum was in her 60s. Her dad lived on his own for a further 25 years, missing his wife all the time, < he told me as years later I lost my DH>. He coped amazingly well, even in his 80s when he developed Emphysema and treated himself with oxygen tanks and other things. He never moaned or became a grumpy old man. After he died aged 90, I told my SIL how I admired him and she said that it was his RC religion that kept him strong. Thumbs up for Faith in his case.

Himalaya Tue 27-Nov-12 12:38:18

GMto5 - I think most atheists don't say 'anyone who believes is clearly nuts' (although some do).

But what they do say is 'there is not good reason to believe in god' etc...

This can sound 'aggressive' because people usually, in order to be polite, treat religious beliefs with kid gloves, not drawing attention gaps in the logic etc..

DianaTrent Tue 27-Nov-12 14:58:23

I always like it put this way.

In the history of mankind, every time man has encountered any phenomenon he does not understand, he had invented a god to account for it. Over just our recorded history, we as a species have believed and come to discount and disbelieve in thousands of gods. You don't consider it plausible to believe in Odin, or Osiris, or Loki, do you? Would you always find it easy to understand and empathise with someone who devoutly did?

We atheists are not so very different to believers. Nobody believes in all the gods that people throughout history have dedicated their lives to and had mystical experiences in the worship of.

We just disbelieve in one more god than you do. wink

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 17:25:48

I think that one sticking-point for me on these threads is this:

Yes, I understand that atheism = a theo ism, i.e. no god, therefore it is not a statement of belief, it is a statement of the absence of belief.

So...I am not many things (IYSWIM). I am not a scientific materialist. So it's accurate to say that I'm an amaterialist. Well, truer to say that I'm an antimaterialist, but that's by the by.

But...this is not an arbitrary state of affairs; I am amaterialist because I am something else (Christian, in my case). So, saying that you are not one thing (e.g. theist) is all well and good, but that statement only becomes interesting or intelligible if it's counter-balanced by the positive statement of what you are, and it's this part of the equation that doesn't get acknowledged very well, or very often on MN. CaptainBarnacles self-identifies as an empiricist - that makes more sense than just 'I am an atheist.'

So anyway....the atheism is a statement of lack of belief in God, yes, but to it is only meaningful if it is put in the context of what it is that one believe in (in CaptainBarnacles' case, empiricism). And the 'whatever it is you do believe in' may well turn out to be just as much a statement of faith as any religious belief system you care to name. You may be able to defend your belief system (e.g. empiricism) very well, but it is a belief system nonetheless.

So I don't think anyone can avoid belief - we'd not be able to live without belief in something, of some kind. The question, therefore, is not 'do you believe?' but 'What / who do you believe in?'

This is why I think that the teapot / fairies argument is a bit of a non-starter, tbh. It's not that we are standing in some neutral external space, looking in at a
phenomenon in which we don't participate (belief), and judging it from without. The person who believes in God, and the person who believes in empiricism, are equally believers. So it doesn't make sense to say, a priori, that the onus is on either one of them to prove anything. Surely the task is to work out which version of reality narrated by (e.g.) empiricism and (e.g.) Christianity is the truer?

It is complex though, because to even make that type of judgement involves examining our criteria, our evidence (how do we select it? Why do we select some evidence and discard other potential evidence?) and our method. And being open to the possibility that maybe God is real, and therefore if so, and if the Christian tradition is true, God come to us in the person of Jesus and we can only really know the truth of God's existence if we find it in Jesus. So yes, we have (in this hypothetical scenario) two competing narrations of belief, but they aren't equal in that they aren't answering the same question, and their own internal logic is completely different.

It's been a while since I opined on MN about the nature of belief! grin

colditz Tue 27-Nov-12 17:35:34

The certainty comes from the lack of proof. I am as sure that there is no God as I am sure there is no Invisible Pink Unicorn. Neither can be proven, and they are unprovable to the same extent. Therefore I am sure they don't exist.

I understand that it is difficult for believers to imagine this gap, where they have belief, not being filled with a different sort of belief. But then, I find it difficult to imagine how someone who isn't a child can accept the explanations that religion gives you.

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 17:50:34

Colditz, do you follow my argument?

Spero Tue 27-Nov-12 17:55:41

There may well be a god or gods. But as I find 95% of his followers unpleasant, I don't have any truck with him/her/it. My daughter will do her own thing when she is older.

I agree it is odd to say 'there definitely is no god' - makes more sense to say 'so far I have found no evidence to convince me'.

But I don't much care either way. If he does exist, I think he probably hates us. I am certainly unimpressed by what he allows to be done in his name.

colditz Tue 27-Nov-12 18:00:42

Not entire HH, but I'm sure that's my own failing, not yours. (Not sarcastic)

colditz Tue 27-Nov-12 18:06:49

I suppose the point I've been badly trying to make, is that I don't have to believe in evolution, because there is proof of its effect. I don't have to believe in oxygen, because there is proof of its effect. Even if I say that I believe these things don't exist, or never did exist, it doesn't change reality.

But when we start talking about deities, we find that faith is a requirement. Faith that, although there is no proof positive, and frequently proof negative, and almost always proof that another factor was involved (placebo effect, weather, human pattern seeking behaviour), all these things are WRONG and there is a deity in control of the event.

I don't need to have faith in oxygen. If I deny a flame oxygen, it dies. If a deny a believer their deity of choice, and prove that it was eg medication and prayer that cured a child, the child still lives, and the believer still believes, because they have faith to tell them that I am wrong.

colditz Tue 27-Nov-12 18:07:55

Should say medication and NOT prayer

technodad Tue 27-Nov-12 18:10:00

Hi GeorgianMumto5,

Faith, as you rightly say, is a matter of opinion.

I personally feel that I have had faith pushed upon me throughout my life, and many religious people I know (including close family members), would not think twice about saying "bless you", or "would you like me to pray for you" and would not consider that I find this annoying and offensive. I expect I find these sayings probably about as offensive as a religious person might find a reply of "there is no god, grow up".

It basically comes down to common respect, and I would never say "there is no god, grow up" to someone and would expect someone I didn't know well to not make religious comments back to me. In my view, this courtesy extends to everyone within society, so I don't want a priest saying "god bless you" as I leave a funeral, because I don't want to be bloody well blessed thank you very much (especially if god just killed my mate that I have just buried - if god exists, he can get fucked!).

Fundamentally, when our society struggles with teaching basic reading, writing and arithmetic, I find it staggering that our schooling system prioritises teaching "opinion" as "fact". We need to keep faith as a personal thing, and let our schools teach things that are proven. This means that children should be taught about religion, but not that god made the world. This way they can choose their own path, or follow the route desired by the parents (whilst learning about faiths and religious tolerance).

In summary, you will likely find that the comments you mention in your first post, are the result of anger and frustration that religion has unfair privileges within society, coupled with the fact that there are many double standards in terms of what is deemed offensive (rather than because the certainty that an atheist has about the non-existance of god). I must put up with my child being brain washed at school, but if I told the priest that god didn't exist and to stop bothering me, then I would be really frowned upon.

When religion (or the lack of it) is truly a private thing, then no one will have any opportunity to inadvertently offend, or the need to intentionally offend to make a political statement.

Simple really!

Snorbs Tue 27-Nov-12 18:14:06

Holo, you seem to be saying that a simple statement of atheism is somehow not enough because, um, you claim it's not. Instead one must have a positive statement of what one does believe because, um, you claim that one simply must.

Sorry, I don't buy that. I don't believe in gods. That's it. I don't believe in lots and lots of things that strike me as folklore. But just because I don't think Finn McCool really existed, it does not follow that I must therefore believe in something else such as empiricism. That's a non sequitur.

Atheism isn't a "believe in the supernatural or have an equal faith in something equally esoteric to counter it" thing. I don't believe in gods. I don't believe that there's Russell's teapot out in space. I don't believe both with about the same level of certainty and just as my disbelief in gods doesn't require a positive affirmation in a given philosophical standpoint, neither does my belief in the teapot. You may say that they're not equivalent standpoints but, to me, they seem pretty much the same.

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 18:17:01

Why do you hold those viewpoints, Snorbs?

technodad Tue 27-Nov-12 18:18:53

Because she has thought about it carefully

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 18:21:33

...whilst I, on the other hand... grin wink

If 'careful thought' is the arbiter of who is right, we've got quite an arm-wrestle ahead! grin

colditz Tue 27-Nov-12 18:22:33

I disagree with your statement that we'd not be able to live without belief in something. With enough food, oxygen and care from those around them, everything lives barring disease, age or injury. I live perfectly well without belief.

SolidGoldYESBROKEMYSPACEBAR Tue 27-Nov-12 18:25:53

Look, the main point of religion has always been social control, and the privileging of one class of people over the rest. That's the main reason for objecting to it, and refusing to take any of its silly, self-contradicting mythologies seriously. No one has ever been able to produce any evidence that their or anyone else's imaginary friends exist. Therefore the imaginary friends don't exist. Simple as that.
If it comforts you (generic, hypothetical 'you', not singling out any specific poster) to have an imaginary friend, and you favour one with a substantial myth system and a powerful political machine behind it, then that's sort of fair enough. If your imaginary friend makes you feel a bit happier, fair enough. If you do socially positive things because you think that's what your imaginary friend would like you to do, then that's also fair enough: the social benefits are there whether you're doing things to please an imaginary friend or because you can see the sense in doing them all by yourself.
Up to this point, your imaginary friend is about as relevant to me and other people as what colour of wallpaper you have in your dining room.

Unfortunately, that's not enough for some people. Their imaginary friends are their excuse for mutilating their children's genitals, enslaving women, trying to control what other people eat and who they have sex with, and all the rest of it. This is why it's important to object to the bullshit and laugh at it and point out its faults. Because the people with the biggest investment in peddling imaginary friends are the ones who want control over the rest of us.

MMMarmite Tue 27-Nov-12 18:26:46

HolofernesesHead that's an interesting post.

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 18:26:56

Really? Do you vote? Do your dc go to school? If so, how did you choose their school?

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 18:27:50

(That was to Colditz btw - flurry of posts in between! Just about to read SGB's now...)

colditz Tue 27-Nov-12 18:28:47

But this is an arm wrestle that will go on forever. Because you are a believer, you cannot conceive of a life without belief, and to you it would at least be an empty hell, or you feel that you couldn't live.

Bt my life, as someone who lives without belief and wants the onus of proof, is not empty, and I live quite happily.

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 18:30:11

SGB I do find your posts hard to read; I have to translate them in my head to a kind of reality that I recognise.

I also disagree with genital mutilation.

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 18:31:43

So Colditz, do you vote? Or send your dc to school? If so to either of those, how did / do you decide who to vote for / which school to let your dc be part of? What was the thought process?

colditz Tue 27-Nov-12 18:34:44

I chose their school because it had the best record of dealing with special needs. This did not require belief, it required statistics. I vote, I choose the candidate who is offering me and mine the best option. This, again, doesn't require belief, unless you mean the day to day assumption that someone isn't lying. If he turns out not to do what he said he would do, I would vote for someone else next time.

People who 'believe' don't do this, they don't switch allegiance and opinion just because their deity of choice didn't do what he said he would do, such as deliver them from evil and protect them from harm. They concoct ever more self blaming excuses abut WHY they weren't delivered and protected, and ignore what would be glaringly obvious to someone who examines statistics before making a decision.

MMMarmite Tue 27-Nov-12 18:35:32

I think the Christian God most likely doesn't exist because the claims made about him lead to many logical contradictions.

MrsHoarder Tue 27-Nov-12 18:39:39

Imagine you knew an adult who believes in father Christmas. Not totally outlandish, almost all children do. They never receive presents from him and claim this is because they have been bad this year. Nothing you can say will convince them that the father Christmas their patents told them about as a child isn't real. But also nothing they tell you could ever convince you that he is real.

This is how a God who provides no concrete evidence of his existence appears to me. And I have tried to have faith as a young adult.

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 18:45:07

Okay, so, I understand the school thing entirely (my ds has SN). For my parents, the choice of school for me and my sibs was very conditioned by belief (their strong belief in state education coming from strong Socialist commitment). I am choosing to send my dc to a church school (with a very good SEN dept) because of my beliefs. Even if people 'just' send their dc to the school down the road there are nearly always some forms of belief involved - belief in community cohesiveness, belief in environmental responsibility, belief in family continuity etc. These are all valid beliefs.

Voting - what info did you use in working out what the best option was? Which bits of the various manifestos you read did you filter out as irrelevant, and which bits did you feel were essential? I won't tell you how I vote, but my voting strategy is very much based on my beliefs about the crucial problems we need to address, the truth of how the world is and what we need to do to respond responsibly to that truth. So voting is an exercise in believing.

You said that your life is not empty - that's exactly my point! All people's lives, religious or not, are full of all sorts of beliefs that determine the decisions we make and the things we do. We can't not believe. We might not believe in God, but we can't not believe full stop.

technodad Tue 27-Nov-12 18:47:22

But I have all the evidence for Father Christmas in the love I have for him, and the love he has for me. That is evidence enough. Prove that he doesn't exist. wink

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 18:52:17

MrsH, being a Christian is nothing like your Father Christmas analogy. Your argument would only stack up if Jesus had never lived.

MMMarmite Tue 27-Nov-12 18:52:18

Holo, what criteria do you use to reject belief in something then? Are you open to the possibility that the Muslims are right? Are you not worried that you will burn in hell for being a Christian? "And whoso opposes ALLAH and HIS Messenger, Then ALLAH is surely Severe in retribution."

Himalaya Tue 27-Nov-12 18:58:07

Holo - a vote is not an exercise in belief in the existence of something though which is what we are talking about here. It's the same word but used in a quite different way

"I believe I'd like a cup of tea" ....
"I believe in the value of cooperation"

Etc... Are different kinds of beliefs to

"I believe in ghosts"
"I believe in heaven"

Etc....

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 18:58:07

MMM, [whispers in case I get into trouble wink] I don't believe that anyone will burn in hell.

As for Muslims being right...well, IMVHO, many Muslims are right on many things. I believe strongly in Jesus as the ultimate revelation of the nature of God, so obviously, I think that Muslims miss out on that. But tbh I see that working out what it means to say that Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God's nature is a lifetime's work, so I'm not there yet either...

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 19:00:04

Himalaya, hello! smile

Yes, absolutely, the word 'believe' is vast. I like the meaning that focuses on trust (as in the 'I believe you' campaign). Christian belief is a trust in a person (Jesus). Which is often overlooked in these discussions, so thank you for bringing that up.

colditz Tue 27-Nov-12 19:09:37

But I voted according to what the politician SAID he would do for MY family. Not because I believed he was going to do xy and z, but because he SAID he would.

I don't act on my beliefs, I act on proof of my ideas. The things you say are essential beliefs aren't beliefs at all, they are thoughts and drives.

I will send my children to school tomorrow, because without an education, they will struggle to find employment, and they will be poor and unhappy. It's not a belief, it's backed up by evidence. I will get dressed tomorrow, before I take them to school, because if I don't, I will be arrested for indecent exposure, and furthermore, it's November, and cold. This isn't a belief, it is a fact that is backed up by the evidence of the British judicial system, a calendar and a thermometer. I will feed my dog tonight, not because I believe it is a good thing to do, but because it is an essential part of owning a dog, because if you don't feed them, they suffer and die. I tip waitresses because I want them to have some more money that they get paid. I am kind to people around me because I would feel very guilty and worried if I wasn't, because my mother taught me to be that way.

Not one of those things requires belief. Conditioning, a certain amount of knowledge about the culture I live in and the people a spend time with, yes, but what do I need to believe in order to function as a person?

technodad Tue 27-Nov-12 19:11:23

Holo

You stole my line about Father Christmas and replaced the word love with the word trust!

Anyway, lets get back to the point.
Why do atheist a get frustrated and upset religious people? See the above thread!

headinhands Tue 27-Nov-12 19:13:27

I see no evidence for any interventionist god, yahweh/allah etc so I have no logical reason to assume that such a god exists. If there is a god who is unconcerned with us there's no point thinking about it 'cause it ain't thinking about us.

I enjoy these threads on MN where you see people from different faiths claiming the same cause for their beliefs, nature, answered prayer, personal revelation and so on coming from believers of all the mutually exclusive gods. As someone further upthread said, a Christian need only think about how they feel about Allah/Islam and vice versa to see how easy it is to not believe in something.

Himalaya Tue 27-Nov-12 19:13:50

Holo - hello!

Isnt it more accurate to say Christian belief is trust in a dead person who is able to communicate with the living ?

Again it is very different from what is usually meant by trusting a person, and it erases the precisely the bit that is hard to believe from the conversation.

I think eliding religious belief with the "I believe you" campaign is a bit of sleight of hand - one is about not treating women who report they have been the victim of an assault as if they are lying, the other is about belief in the supernatural. Not the same at all!

NicholasTeakozy Tue 27-Nov-12 19:19:46

When asked if I believe in God I always ask "which one?" Invariably the answer is either Christ, in which case I point out that Christ isn't a god, merely a prophet of Jehovah, or Allah. In both cases I point out that as they only believe in one of the 4000 or so gods they're only one god away from atheism. smile

I also adapt what Douglas Adams said: God used to be the best explanation we had. However, we have thousands of better explanations now.

MrsHoarder Tue 27-Nov-12 19:21:39

What evidence do you have for the existence of Jesus as reported in the Bible?

Not just a popular figure who spoke of loving your neighbour, but as the son of God who was resurrected. No historian would accept the word of 12 people as definitive fact that something happened.

I could have faith that Father Christmas is the immortal incarnation of St Nicolas.

As it is, I had a Christian upbringing (in which Father Christmas also played a role) and gradually came to the conclusion that however much I would like there to be a loving interventionalist God, I didn't really think there was any God at all (this came a decade after the gradual realisation that Father Christmas was actually my parents).

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 19:23:44

Colditz, maybe you're using the word 'idea' in the same way that I'm using the word 'belief.' They are not that far apart.

You sound like a very pragmatic and good person. I'm the kind of person who likes the thought of myself believing in things (e.g. I like having strong political ideas / beliefs, I like the thought of myself believing in feminist ideals etc). I'm also quite philosophically attuned and aware of the deeper currents behind what people say, and more given to spotting connections between, for example, an 18th c. philosopher and a MN poster, and I'm happy to think of myself in relation to various modes of 'careful thought' down the centuries. Maybe you're less inclined to think about yourself in those terms (apologies if I've got you wrong).

Techno, I don't accept your analogy between Father Christmas and Jesus.

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 19:29:50

Him, sleight of hand no. Trust, faith, belief are all the same word in Greek (the language of the NT).

colditz Tue 27-Nov-12 19:30:08

But the difference between my ideas about feeding my dog, and your ideas about believing in your god, is that should evidence be provided that I DON'T need to feed my dog daily, that it is in fact bad for her, I would stop doing it. Whereas if evidence was presented to you that your two hours in church would be much better filled in the bath, you'd ..... Ignore it and go to church anyway. Because you have faith that its the right thing to do, because your god has told you to.

MMMarmite Tue 27-Nov-12 19:32:58

Thanks for the reply holof. What I'm trying to get at, is that you and a muslim (or another christian) end up with very different beliefs about the nature of God, the supernatural and God's will. So what method do you use to decide what you believe about God? For example (don't answer all these if it takes too long!), how do you decide whether to believe God is all-powerful or not? How do you decide what he wants us to do? How do you decide whether hell exists?

MorrisZapp Tue 27-Nov-12 19:33:19

I don't agree that atheists should have to state what they 'believe in'. I don't believe in anything that doesn't definitely exist.

If you believe in god etc then that's fine. I don't, and there is no chasm to fill.

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 19:36:30

I don't have a dog. I do have a cat. I've read cat care books, taken my cat to the vets and I feed my cat. All of these things are based on...what? Trust that the vet really is qualified and not a charlatan? Or evidence of some kind? Trust that the cat care book was written by someone who knows a bit about cats? Or evidence of some kind? Trust that what is in the pouch really is cat food? Or evidence of some kind? I'm not being obtuse here, I am genuinely interested in the interplay of trust and evidence.

As for the evidence that my time in church could be better used elsewhere, what kind of evidence could suggest this? How could it be measured?

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 19:39:14

Morris, I didn't say that atheists have to say what they believe in. That's their business. But I think it's intellectually disingenuous, or maybe naive, to think that it's possible not to believe anything at all.

MMM, one moment...

colditz Tue 27-Nov-12 19:41:44

First, I trust that the vet, a qualified person, knows what they are talking about, because vets generally know how to treat animals, this is backed up by statistics. Secondly, if my dog were to become ill as a result of following the vets advice, I would take her to a different vet.

Would you become an atheist if a prayer didn't come true?

colditz Tue 27-Nov-12 19:47:52

Ok, as for the church time thing, it was a hypothetical position, but if we maintain this.... Firstly, I would need to know why you go to church. Shall we assume peace of mind? Based on that assumption, if I say, took you to a two hour yoga class, which gave you immense peace of mind, would you stop going to church and do yoga instead?

Or maybe you go because doing so makes you feel like someone who is ding good things. Based on this assumption, would you not volunteer in a homeless hostel instead? Or an old people's home? These are both good things, and they benefit more people than yourself. Would you stop going to church to do that instead?

Or maybe you go for a sense of general spiritual well being. How about if you got a more intense sense of spiritual well being at a seance? Would you go to seances instead of church?

Because I go to my counsellor for guidance. If I fund better guidance elsewhere, I would simply go elsewhere. I don't BELIEVE in her, I just know that since seeing her, I have felt better. If I felt better from having a long hot bath instead, that is what I would do.

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 19:53:59

So MMM, how do I work out what is true? Well, I had a Christian upbringing too. I have friends of different religions and I am the type of person who is always inclined to see what we have in common rather than what we disagree on. So I'm not the type of person who is happy with having a Christian identity which is formed in contrast to other religions (i.e. saying 'we are right and they are wrong.') I've spent a lot of time reading the Bible, reading about the Bible, reading history, philosophy etc, and searching my soul pretty deeply - as deeply as I'm capable of, anyway. I have changed my mind on various issues over the years, and hopefully will continue to do so.

So after all that, for me, it does come down to (sorry to be a stuck record) Jesus, who Jesus was and what he did, and what he said about God as the Father of all. I'm not sure if I'd believe in God if it weren't for Jesus. I'm not sure it'd be a question I'd find interesting. So I am quite a WWJD person. But I also believe in the Spirit, and I believe that in the Spirit, all who have died will live forever, and all who are alive can enter into the fulness of life. So those are pretty much my basic beliefs, and from them, I bumble along and try to do what seems right.

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 20:01:59

The vet could be a really good actor, Colditz [paranoid] wink

Would I become an atheist if i said a prayer and the thing I prayed for didn't happen? Of course not. That would be extraordinarily premature. We are bounded by time ('Days are where we live' - Philip Larkin). God isn't. Who am I to tell God when to do things? At what point do I decide He's not heard?

The thing about church is this; far be it from me to speak for anyone else, but for me, going to church is a priority because it is the absolute centre of who I am. The other things you suggested; yes, they're good things to do, no question about it, but there isn't one other single thing which expresses 'this is who I am' - othre activities might express aspects of who I am, but only worshipping God in church expresses the whole for me. So it's irreplaceable. It's the centre out of which all the other stuff I do comes.

headinhands Tue 27-Nov-12 20:11:37

And again Holo how do you know who/what god is? A Muslim/Hindu will say the same things about their path to belief as you do about yours? Many will have been equally earnest and genuine in their soul searching and studies but come to be every bit as convinced of a different answer.

headinhands Tue 27-Nov-12 20:15:19

Holo, when you say it's 'intellectually disingenuous for someone to not believe in anything' do you mean things they have no evidence for?

Himalaya Tue 27-Nov-12 20:19:53

Holo -

I wanted to go back to something you wrote earlier about not being a materialist (... I know we've chatted about this before).

This is what I cannot get my head round.

99% of the time I think you are a materialist - about thunder, floods, disease, Derren Brown, where all the biscuits went, people who hear voices in their heads etc..I bet your explanation of these things are much the same as mine. And even where we don't know the answer , as with Derren Brown, I bet we both agree that he is a clever entertainer rather than able to do actual magic (I.e. we presume materialism)

Also about things like your DH not being an alien pretending to be human by defying known (materialist) laws of physics, the fact that you are the same person who as yesterday etc...I imagine you are a materialist?

it is only concerning "the feeling of god" that you are not a materialist and allow for supernatural explanation.

You can't just say well "it's all faith" because I don't think you or anyone else really thinks that faith in god is the same kind of thing as faith that your DH isn't an alien imposter.

SolidGoldYESBROKEMYSPACEBAR Tue 27-Nov-12 20:24:00

Holo: There's no evidence that a specific individual called Jesus existed 2000 or so years ago. None at all. It's more likely that most of the Christian mythlogy (well, the bits that weren't ripped off from other mythologies and bolted on) is based on a mixture of outright fictions and exaggerated tales of various individuals who did good or useful (or just lucky) things.

And just how do you balance being a feminist with subscribing to a patriarchal and thoroughly woman-hating mythology? Or does it come down to the same old 'Well, Imaginary Friend knows best so I'll just ignore the cognitive dissonance'?

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 20:26:01

Hello HiH! No, I mean what I said, that it's either naive or disingenuous to say that you just don't need any form of belief in anything in order to live. One person's evidence is another person's toilet paper, anyway (this could literally be true - DNA - hmmm, best not to go too far down that route....)

So HiH, as I said, I have friends of other beliefs, so the arbiter can't be, to use Techno's words from earlier, 'careful thought' because as you rightly say, all kinds of people think carefully. I am slightly wary of using the word 'know' in relation to God because it is a bit presumptuous. I believe in / trust in Jesus, trust that Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God. I don't claim to be able to say in totality what that means, because it's a very deep statement. (To be fair, I don't claim to say in totality what it means for me to be a mother, because mothering is a lifelong relationship and i'm still quite near the start of it.) I fully accept that people of other faiths are equally committed to their faith as Christians, and I fully accept that people of no faith are as genuine and good as any religious person.

colditz Tue 27-Nov-12 20:30:25

Your point about DNA .... If more research is done, and it turns out to be untrue, or unproven, I will turn on a sixpence, I will stop thinking that DNA is the reason behind xy and z.

But throughout time, more and more and more research has been done into deities and supernatural beings, and not one shred of evidence has come up to disprove my stand point, which is that they don't exist. Not one. But the evidence has no impact whatsoever on believers, because they have faith. It is not belief which is needed for religion to stand, not belief as you have described it, it is faith.

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 20:38:13

The problem, though, from my POV, is this:

My MIL used to say 'money's only good for what it can buy' (good old fashioned saying). And IMO, research is only good for what it can do. Science is great at finding out about the universe. Brilliant. But it's no good for finding out whether God exists, because God isn't in the universe. So I don't see what research could be carried out that would definitively settle this one.

As I said upthread, in Greek (the language the New Testament is written in), trust, belief and faith are all the same word, all the same thing.

colditz Tue 27-Nov-12 20:41:05

But I don't speak Greek. I speak English, I think in English, and I make a distinction between trust, belief and faith. I cannot be expected to stop doing that because the New Testament, someone else's holy book, was once printed in Greek!

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 20:48:58

So how do you distinguish them? And why are those distinctions meaningful?

Reading this thread has reminded me of a really beautiful song by Nick Cave (lyrics below). So lets all just resect each other deeply held beliefs yeah? Speaking as a committed Atheist (apart from a few years wanting to be a Nun thanks to Julie Andrews and Powell & Pressburger!), I just can't accept the existence of a supreme being and it not a matter of opinion for me, any more than deeply held religious faith is considered an 'opinion'. I respect the person not the faith, thats just how I roll [shrug].

"Into My Arms"

I don't believe in an interventionist God
But I know, darling, that you do
But if I did I would kneel down and ask Him
Not to intervene when it came to you
Not to touch a hair on your head
To leave you as you are
And if He felt He had to direct you
Then direct you into my arms

Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms

And I don't believe in the existence of angels
But looking at you I wonder if that's true
But if I did I would summon them together
And ask them to watch over you
To each burn a candle for you
To make bright and clear your path
And to walk, like Christ, in grace and love
And guide you into my arms

Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms

And I believe in Love
And I know that you do too
And I believe in some kind of path
That we can walk down, me and you
So keep your candles burning
And make her journey bright and pure
That she will keep returning
Always and evermore

Sorry that was nonsensical in places, I think I need to practice editing before pressing post. blush

Anyway - respect the person and respect their right to a faith, but I reserve the right to not respect most world religions - I quite like Pagans and pantheists - as I can see the appeal but monotheistic, one supreme being religions, just don't seem to move me on any level. The songs and architecture they have inspired can be awesome though.

DioneTheDiabolist Tue 27-Nov-12 21:15:38

Technodad, you really equate the positive sentiment of "bless you" with "There is no god, grow up", which is a statement followed by an insult?

Really?shock

SolidGoldYESBROKEMYSPACEBAR Tue 27-Nov-12 21:28:36

Holo: Yeah, right - Science can't investigate my imaginary friends because, well, they're imaginary. That's the equivalent of playing a game and going 'Waah, there's a Special New Rule that means I Always Win' and then wondering why the other kids are laughing at you.

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 21:38:34

BigMouth, that's a lovely song. I'll have to Youtube it! smile It reminds me of all the people who say, 'I don't really pray, but...'

SGB - I don't see talking about God as a game.

technodad Tue 27-Nov-12 21:42:49

No, I don't exactly equate them, what I am saying, is that it is very easy to get on the outrage wagon and misunderstand someone's sentiments. Also (and more to the point), it is easy for people to force their faith on others without thinking about the implications of their cute little phrases.

The phrase "bless you" can easily be understood to mean "I believe in god and I wish to impart my belief on you to protect you" (in a slightly patronising way). The phrase "there is no god, grow up" can easily be understood to mean "I don't believe in any god, and I want to help you to realise it" (in a very patronising way). They are not worlds apart in in fairness and I find the idea of being blessed by a religious group which such a horrendous history (and present) to be pretty offensive. The difference is, I never go round saying "there is no god, grow up" to random strangers, but random strangers feel free to say "bless you" to me all the time.

The phrase "I will pray for you" (which a close family member said to me just a couple of days) can easily be understood to mean "I don't care that you are an atheist, you are wrong and you need moral help", which will get short shrift from me!

The big thing is, that most atheists don't walk round their world constantly banging the drum, bumping into people saying randomly "there is not god, make the most of this life it is just compost afterwards". But religious people do, and some how think they have a god given right to show their badge. They think it is OK to assume that I am comforted by their belief when I am grieving and don't ever think of the implications of their actions in this regard. Hell, they even bang on the door trying to convert me (and force feed unproven nonsense stories to my children).

You will of course tell me that some atheists do bang the drum (e.g. Dawkins, Minchin, Cox). But whereas the Arch Bishop of Canterbury is publicised as a foundation of our society, the atheist equivalent people are often demonised by the religious Mafioso.

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 21:45:19

A non-Christian member of my extended family is always going around saying 'Aw, bless him / her / you!' in a very cutesy way. Also my sis, a faithful Christian, left FB because of the people from her church only ever posted Bible verses and it made her feel worldly. smile So I share your pain, Techno.

DioneTheDiabolist Tue 27-Nov-12 22:07:49

I expect I find these phrases probably about as offensive as a religious person would a reply of "there is no god, grow up"

I agree that they could be offensive if directed to you in a PA manner, but this is not always the case. In contrast, telling someone to "grow up" is always an insult.

technodad Tue 27-Nov-12 22:15:34

Yes. But you are not listening. I don't tell people to grow up. I don't even tell people I am atheist.

DioneTheDiabolist Tue 27-Nov-12 22:22:09

I am listening/reading.

I never said that you tell people to "grow up". I simply pointed out that I was shocked that you found a rather common phrase, used by atheists and Christians alike (particularly after sneezing) probably about as offensive as the insult "grow up".

technodad Tue 27-Nov-12 22:40:05

Well it was the "would you like me to pray for you" one that is more offensive to me, you are right, I wasn't clear on my previous post.

However, the fact is, these phrases are use a huge amount from my experience and so it is the cumulative effect that takes it's toll, so after a while it is easy to become a little over sensitive to even "bless you".

MrsMcCave Tue 27-Nov-12 23:19:27

Technodad, I'm sure that when people say they will pray for you they are not implying that you are morally wrong!

I believe in God because otherwise I'd have to believe in coincidence, and I'm way too cynical to do that. smile

SolidGoldYESBROKEMYSPACEBAR Tue 27-Nov-12 23:31:24

I still find it faintly surprising that educated, functional adults take any of this crap seriously, though. Well, the ones who are making a few quid out of it, or the ones who are aware of the usefulness of mythology in keeping others In Their Place (do as you're told or the imaginary friend will get you), I can understand their motives. But in otherwise sensible people it just seems a bit ridiculous.

DioneTheDiabolist Tue 27-Nov-12 23:47:09

Maybe those otherwise sensible people have experienced something you have not?

happybubblebrain Tue 27-Nov-12 23:49:11

I would love to know what it is that makes the believers believe. Without one shred of evidence, what makes people so certain that God exists? Why would God hide from everyone? I would love to be convinced otherwise, but I don't think it is posssible to convince a non-believer without some evidence. Faith is a meaningless word to me and it makes idiots of people.

I think religion should be kept out of schools. I think it confuses young minds. It's a kind of arrogance to claim you know and understand about matters higher than yourself and to try and teach it. It just seems like a big pretence to me. I don't want fakery being taught to my child.

DioneTheDiabolist Wed 28-Nov-12 00:00:24

Faith is experiential.
I did not believe, then something happened and I began to question my disbelieving stance. This is what lead me to my faith.

I don't know why that makes me an idiot though.hmm

BandersnatchCummerbund Wed 28-Nov-12 00:06:19

I don't know if God exists or not. I don't really know who, or what, God might be.

But if I am pretty sure of one thing, it's that people who only believe in things they can measure (empiricism, rationalism, call it what you will) have a very impoverished way of thinking. They say that God is love, and I do know that you can't measure love but you can believe in it. And that you can also doubt it. And that a love might exist, or not exist, and that whether or not you believed in it might not affect its existence, or non-existence, at all. So I'm not really thinking about God at all - it concerns me less that various people don't believe in God, than that they don't believe in anything they can't measure.

Of the educated and thoughtful people I know (people whose opinions I respect the most in other areas) I'd say a good half of them (used to say "most", but now I think more like half) are "religious", or have a sympathetic understanding of religion. And that very few of them have any feeling of real certainty either way, or any way, although some of them might do.

BandersnatchCummerbund Wed 28-Nov-12 00:08:45

(I shouldn't really have named empiricism or rationalism in that post, because it's lazy - they're far more complex than that, obviously. My fault.)

"But if I am pretty sure of one thing, it's that people who only believe in things they can measure (empiricism, rationalism, call it what you will) have a very impoverished way of thinking."

I don't agree at all.

You can have an impoverished way of thinking with or without faith.

As far as I'm concerned if your faith helps you and doesn't impact (negatively) on others then great. If it does impact others, you feel the need to impose it on others, or you are unable to separate belief from knowledge, then not great.

You can not say with certainty that God or whatever exists, whereas atheists/agnostics can say with certainty that no evidence has ever been produced. That gives them the certainty of knowledge.

Though atheists/agnostics cannot say with certainty that evidence will never be produced, the chances are slim. Science/logical thought is on their side.

Maybe they miss out on the feelings faith can give. Some of them may even feel some regret over it. In the same way that some with faith may regret not having science on their side. As long as both sides realise they are approaching the issue from very different directions, with very different motives, which will understandably give very different results.

Neither is exactly "wrong" in their views. While faith is obviously wrong from a scientific/logical viewpoint. Lack of faith may be seen as wrong from an emotional/intuitive standpoint.

I think the two can co-exist, as long as one doesn't try to impose it's will on the other. Sorry believers, but religion has the track record on this one. One of the main reasons that atheists are so vehement in their conviction. They've been sidelined for so long. And unfortunately, no matter how good the intentions of faith, organised religion is used more for bad than good.

And that brings me back to impoverished thinking. I'd say those who use their faith to hurt/manipulate others, they are the truly impoverished ones.

SolidGoldYESBROKEMYSPACEBAR Wed 28-Nov-12 00:34:05

It's far more impoverished thinking to insist that some Bronze Age mythological bullshit is true, particularly if you then go on to insist that other people take it seriously when doing so harms them and restricts their freedom. It's no accident that all the myth systems control what their adherents eat, who they associate with, etc etc. Again and again and again, powerful people have insisted that developments in human progress and the granting of rights to minorities should not be allowed... because their imaginary friend wouldn't like it.

As to believing in any old kind of woo-bollocks, whether that be the big-brand stuff such as Christianity or the less powerful, such as ghosts and horoscopes, because you 'experienced' something, a subjective experience which could be anything from indigestion to coincidence is not evidence.

DioneTheDiabolist Wed 28-Nov-12 00:47:20

IMHO, believing that those different from you are inferior leads to impoverished thinking. This stance has been used by many religions to justify such things as wars and slavery.

Why some atheists wish to adopt a similar stance now continues to shock me.

SolidGoldYESBROKEMYSPACEBAR Wed 28-Nov-12 00:59:01

Some people's views are inferior to mine. I don't waste time tiptoeing 'respectfully' round the opinions of racists or MRA bucketheads even though I support their right to believe whatever crap they like. I'll still go up against them when they are exercising their beliefs in such a way as to do harm to others. Same goes for the superstitious - believe in all the rubbish you like, have as many imaginary friends as you can handle. But don't expect other people to take your beliefs seriously when they're ludicrous.

SolidGoldYESBROKEMYSPACEBAR Wed 28-Nov-12 01:13:14

Or, to look at it another way:

If a person believes that (for example) women shouldn't go out alone at night because of rapists, then that's a bit silly, and wrong, but it's a belief the person is entitled to hold.

If a person believes that women shouldn't go out alone at night because of rapists and campaigns for it to be illegal for women to go out alone at night because of rapists, then that's a belief that's becoming a bit of a problem.

If that person tries to forcibly prevent a woman, or women, from going out alone at night because of rapists, despite the woman or women knowing that most rapes are not committed by strangers, etc etc, then that person's belief and behaviour are an unacceptable problem.

BandersnatchCummerbund Wed 28-Nov-12 01:15:25

You can have an impoverished way of thinking with or without faith.

Indeed you can. Not sure why you thought I was suggesting otherwise.

^As far as I'm concerned if your faith helps you and doesn't impact (negatively) on others then great. If it does impact others, you feel the need to impose it on others, or you are unable to separate belief from knowledge, then not great.

You can not say with certainty that God or whatever exists, whereas atheists/agnostics can say with certainty that no evidence has ever been produced. That gives them the certainty of knowledge.

Though atheists/agnostics cannot say with certainty that evidence will never be produced, the chances are slim. Science/logical thought is on their side.^

We impact on each other just by being alive. We all live our lives by beliefs, whether those beliefs come under the heading of religious/anti-religious or not. We all attempt to impose our beliefs on others all the time (see the poster below you). And what do you mean by "knowledge" and "certainty"? Scepticism suggests that it's possible to destabilise just about any view, belief, knowledge, fact, scientific method, etc. That is not to say that I don't believe in them - but it is a function of faith nonetheless.

The most extraordinary thing, for me, is our rigid modern separation of physics from metaphysics, science from philosophy, and our assumption that is simply "a fact", the only way it could be.

And that brings me back to impoverished thinking. I'd say those who use their faith to hurt/manipulate others, they are the truly impoverished ones.

Of course. But again, faith and belief are not confined to religious faith. We all believe that our own way of seeing the world is best. I know few people who don't believe that if only others saw the world as they did, that world would be a better place.

sashh Wed 28-Nov-12 05:21:41

I think most atheists would say that they are 99% sure

I disagree, they would not be atheists.

There is no proof either way, however there is a lot of evidence for evoloution, the age of the earth, people not being possessed, etc etc.

nooka Wed 28-Nov-12 06:14:40

People who are only 99% sure should probably define themselves as agnostics, but I'm not sure any of us non-believers really care enough to define our stance terribly accurately. I usually describe myself as an atheist, but when looking at definitions more closely am probably a bit of an anti-theist and rather more of an apatheist. Generally I think that the whole god thing is just utterly irrelevant to my life, but sometimes I more actively reject theist beliefs.

The thing is though that it's not really very debatable. Fundamentally you either have faith or you don't. My mother attempted to persuade me that you could be a Christian whilst not really believing any of it rationally (there is quite a tradition of doubting Christian philosophers apparently) but you know what I don't really want to believe in any of it. I don't see that faith is particularly life enriching and much of religion both in ritual and practice is to me really unappealing and at times disturbingly unpleasant.

Thinking about Christianity which I know most about having been brought up Catholic/CoE there sure is some interesting stuff in the Bible, but it's all so contradictory, and the God of Love thing just doesn't square with the smiting and other unpleasantness in the old testament. Then there is all the picking and choosing and politics as to was in and out of the different versions, the religious schisms and arguments, the pretty awful behaviours of the different churches and so on. Which means that if there is a Christian god it seems either he isn't actually terribly nice, or he isn't terribly effective, or he isn't terribly interested or people got everything wrong. None of which make me think 'sign me up to that please'.

On the believing in other stuff, having morals, a spiritual life etc etc all of which get trotted out every now and then, well I have as much or as little of those as the next person really. We live in a beautiful world, I am aware I am very fortunate. I try and be nice to other people and expect that generally they will be nice to me, and this is my general experience. I develop views and opinions generally based on my experience. People with faith tend to think all the same types of things as me just with an added extra. As I have no god shaped hole in my life I feel no need for that extra. When I 'lost' my faith as a teenager I didn't feel any loss, except perhaps for the niggling feelings of guilt that being a Catholic seems to require.

HecatePropylaea Wed 28-Nov-12 06:31:43

What I don't understand is why people have to mock others because they have a different belief.

fair enough, disagree. Fair enough, think it's a load of bull, but there's no need to sneer and mock someone. I hate that.

I also hate it when people try to shove their religion down other people's throats.

I just wish people could accept and respect other people's views without getting hysterical about it, taking an opposing view as a personal insult or openly sneering.

msrisotto Wed 28-Nov-12 07:02:30

Atheist means to be without belief so quantifying how sure atheists are is a bit nonsensical. However, most atheists when pushed would say they are agnostic atheists, they are without belief but accept we cannot be 100% sure, being unable to prove a negative etc

MrsHoarder Wed 28-Nov-12 07:11:50

And the accusation that atheists are intellectually impoverished explains why atheists are so defensive.

I don't think I'm intellectually impoverished. I see the beauty of mathematics, love literature and poetry, and my husband and son are the centre of my world. I think that as human beings we have a duty to each other to minimise suffering in the world and keep the light of sentience alive.

As a child I did believe in a loving God, and as a troubled teenager I clung to that belief even when my faith was worn away. It is only as an adult that I have decided that there is no evidence of that God and that I shouldn't live my life for him.

This doesn't make me anti-religion. At DH's request we married in a church as it was far more important for him to make his vows in a church than it was for me to not do so. I just don't think that the church should try to influence legislation when no harm is to be done if the law passes (thinking about gay marriage and abortion in particular, but don't want to debate the rights and wrongs of them here).

I used the Father Christmas analogy because most people can remember losing their belief in Father Christmas, whereas the "invisible pink unicorn" type comparison no-one truly believes in.

I actually don't have an objection to DS learning about Christianity in school in principle, its just that I get the impression that schools are pushed for time and resources as it is. The passing on of untruths seems to me to be something that could easily be cut from the curriculum without damaging the education of our children. There is nothing to stop those who do believe from taking their children to Sunday school. After all, pre universal education it would only have been on a Sunday that anyone received religious instruction.

MrsHoarder Wed 28-Nov-12 07:12:18

* where anyone is clearly the lay man. Not clergy etc.

higgle Wed 28-Nov-12 07:20:00

I have never believed in God. I sat in religious studies in my primary school aged 5 and thought to myself "what a load of nonsense" and couldn't understand how anyone could believe what was being said.

As an adult I tend to believe that religions believing in an external god have survived because they give society the opportunity to control the individual. I prefer the Buddhist idea of "Buddha nature" where we all have the internal resources within ourselves to live in a proper way, but need to access them.

I prefer to see all religion kept out of schools.

SolidGoldYESBROKEMYSPACEBAR Wed 28-Nov-12 17:03:42

Superstition and the superstitious deserve and need to have the piss taken out of them when they insist that their drivel should be 'respected' by people to whom it is of no interest. You're not asked to 'respect' another person's choice of music, or wallpaper, or which football team to support, especially if you have no interest in sport, art or home decor. Yet there's this whole institutionalized business of having to sit by and listen politely when people cack on about their imaginary friends.

technodad Wed 28-Nov-12 20:16:34

Well said SolidGold.

May I flip the question around and ask it back to the religious community on MN.

What would you prefer (you can only choose one or the other):

1) People making childish digs about your religious choice, but doing you no real charm, or

2) A society where a religion that you don't agree with (for ethical and philosophical reasons), has unfair and unjustified privilege within society and where your children are brainwashed with a religion you don't believe in or agree with.

I have to put up with number 2, and it is crappy. I think religious people have the better end of the stick!

I'm only page 2 so far (working my way through) but thank you all so much for replying! Holofernes and Colditz, I think you btoh make really excellent thought-provoking points. Colditz, your explanation of proof/belief are very interesting and are really helping me to understanmd what atheism is about. makes a lot more sense to me now.

SolidGold, your thoughts, as ever, are very interesting and I appreciate you contributing. I think describing a deity as 'an imaginary friend,' is the kind of thing I'm talking about and that does sound a bit offensive. I'm not personally offended, but I read that and think, 'Why would you say that to anyone? I wouldn't deride you for your beliefs/evidence-based arguments - I'd want to listen to them, as here, and think about them and discuss them.' However you look at it, I think, 'imaginary friend' in this context, sounds derisive.

Right, off to read a few more pages...

HolofernesesHead Wed 28-Nov-12 21:26:58

Funny (and very leading) question Techno, but I'll bite...

If I had to choose either, I'd go for option 2. I've travelled a lot and spent reasonably long periods of time in countries in which Christianity is a minority religion. I loved those places, and felt no less Christian because there were temples everywhere instead of churches. In fact in some ways it's easier to be Christian in those places because you don't have all the cultural baggage that we do in the UK. My Christianity was always respected (sorry SGB) and I had no problems being me. As for schools, yes, I've talked to Christian teens in a Muslim country about how to be Christian in an Islamic school. It's not necessarily a bad thing IMHO, it means that bring a Christian really has to mean something. So in all honesty, I'm pretty sure that I could live in a country with a state / dominant religion other than Christianity, and be happy there. There'd have to be good food, though! ;)

Whereas the wind-ups (option 1) are a bit tedious, and often a dead end alley as far as real conversation and exploration are concerned.

HolofernesesHead Wed 28-Nov-12 21:28:10

Funny (and very leading) question Techno, but I'll bite...

If I had to choose either, I'd go for option 2. I've travelled a lot and spent reasonably long periods of time in countries in which Christianity is a minority religion. I loved those places, and felt no less Christian because there were temples everywhere instead of churches. In fact in some ways it's easier to be Christian in those places because you don't have all the cultural baggage that we do in the UK. My Christianity was always respected (sorry SGB) and I had no problems being me. As for schools, yes, I've talked to Christian teens in a Muslim country about how to be Christian in an Islamic school. It's not necessarily a bad thing IMHO, it means that bring a Christian really has to mean something. So in all honesty, I'm pretty sure that I could live in a country with a state / dominant religion other than Christianity, and be happy there. There'd have to be good food, though! ;)

Whereas the wind-ups (option 1) are a bit tedious, and often a dead end alley as far as real conversation and exploration are concerned.

HolofernesesHead Wed 28-Nov-12 21:29:12

Gah, double posted - sorry!

Right, I've got as far as page three now. NicholasTeakozy (great name, btw!), regariding your argument:

When asked if I believe in God I always ask "which one?" Invariably the answer is either Christ, in which case I point out that Christ isn't a god, merely a prophet of Jehovah, or Allah. In both cases I point out that as they only believe in one of the 4000 or so gods they're only one god away from atheism.

Christians see Jesus as God, so the whole 'prophet of Jehovah' argument will not wash with them. Fair enough if others see him as a prophet. I'm just saying christians wouldn't.

Colditz, I like the 'would you spend those two hours in the bath instead?' idea. I think if you said, 'There is no God, so take a bath instead,' I'd still go to church, beccause I'd think, 'Well that's your opinion and I want to go to church.' If you presented me with evidence that there absolutely is no God then I would take the bath, because I'd not want to waste any more time in the pursuit of what had turned out to be no more than a fantasy (what SG calls imginary friends) but I don't see how you could absolutely disprove God. I do understand the evidence on which your atheism is based and I think you explain it really well. I just don't think, still, that you can disprove the existence of God, any more than I can prove it. Consequently I am still going to church, even though the bath sounds really appealing!

BigMouth, those song lyrics are beautiful.

MMMarmite Wed 28-Nov-12 21:56:57

Whether you can disprove "God" depends on what you mean by God. If someone claims "God exists" and means "A superpowerful being called God created the universe, but doesn't interfere with they way it runs now" then I'd say there's not much evidence one way or the other - also, while interesting, it doesn't make much difference to humans whether this version of god exists or not.

If someone claims "God exists and is all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing, will answer prayers and is accurately described by the texts of the bible", I'd say there is strong evidence against this claim. Firstly the god described in the bible commits many evil acts, such as inciting his followers to commit murder and rape. Secondly, the state of the world, with innocent children suffering and dying, is strong evidence against the existence of an all-powerful, all-loving god.

I am now on page 5 and, Hecate, I couldn't agree more! I hope I never sneer at another's beliefs, nor shove my religion down other people's throats. I find that offensive. I know I started this thread, but that was because I wanted to hear other people's views, rather than have my own confirmed. I wanted to better understand something I find confusing (and I think and hope I now do).

sassh, your comment has just made me realise that some of my own arguments are flawed here. You are right: it must be possible to be 100% sure that there is no God or you couldn't be an atheist. Good point! I'm still not convinced that anyone can 100% prove that, but I do see that you can be 100% sure about it. I can't 100% prove that there is and I'm not 100% sure that there is (I'm open to the idea that I may be wrong) but I find that my life with faith makes far more sense to me than my life without.

Bandersnatchcummerbund (top name!), how right you are: 'I know few people who don't believe that if only others saw the world as they did, that world would be a better place.'

Solid Gold, your example about women going out at night was a really powerful one, as it is a set of religious beliefs (or a particular interpretation of those beliefs) which led to just that situation. I also agree with you (and many others) about followers of religion using their god to justify appalling mistreatment of other human beings. In that case I don't find myself wanting to turn away from the god, but I do find myself wanting to have nothing to do with those of his followers who act in that way. The track record is not good.

Hmm...I meant, 'I am now on page 4.' Sorry. However, I am now on page 5.

Technodad, I would take option 1. That's how I feel things are. I am open to the idea, though, that I don't see the, 'unfair and unjustified privilege within society,' because I am part of it, by virtue of sharing the same faith.

My children don't go to a religious school. I am glad of that. I do feel they get all the education they need, regarding my faith, at home and at church. At their school the collective worship is what I think the LEA calls 'broadly christian,' in that they sing some songs with the word, 'Jesus,' in them, none with the word, 'Mohammed,' in them and a lot more that are open to interpretation. I am sure that my children think those songs are about their god, just as I am sure that the children of other faiths think they are singing about their god. Their religious education in their school is, I think, a tiny bit marvellous. This term they've all been learning about Judaism and Christianity. In the Summer term they learned about Islam. They found it really interesting and my son went on a trip to a mosque with his class. That's where religious education in schools is good: where it offers the children a chance to find out about the beliefs of others and to see where and how they worship.

SolidGold, I don't think you have to respect a person's beliefs and I think it is perfectly OK to listen and say, 'I'm sorry, but I disagree. I think your god is no more than an imaginary friend.' That's your opinion, which you are entitled to hold and entitled to express. I think, though, that you can express those views while remaining respectful of the person who holds them. To use your wallpaper analogy, if I went round someone's house and thought their wallpaper was vile I wouldn't say, 'You must have terrible taste - that wallpaper is hideous!' that would be hurtful. In the same way, why not disagree with someone about their religious beliefs without using derogatory language? That I don't get. I do, however, think that you can be more forthright about religion than you can about wallpaper. Most people with vile wallpaper aren't on a mission to make you paper your walls in the same way. Many people with religious beliefs are hoping to persuade you to believe the same things as them. A more forthright approach is therefore entirely acceptable. Even so, there are limits. If I disparaged your worldview in the same way you seem to disparage the worldview of religious people, I'd think myself to be very rude. That said, I like to read your posts, but as I said earlier, I don't feel personally offended, even if I do think, 'My word, SGB comes over as rude and strident!'

SolidGoldYESBROKEMYSPACEBAR Wed 28-Nov-12 22:47:21

Holofernes: I don't think you understood Technodad's point about the privileging of one superstition over others. You mentioned, quite a way upthread, that you have chosen to send your DC to a school where they will be taught Christianity along with their maths and history and PE. While that's fair enough and a choice that should be open to you, people who are not interested in Christian mythology and do not consider it 'true' or remotely relevant to their lives often do not have the same choice; their kids get this crap peddled to them as true and important at school because there are no other schools available. There are, in fact, plenty of Christians who disagree with 'compulsory Christianity' in schools, it's not just us meddling rational types who think that it's a parent's job to teach DC about the parents' worldview when it comes to picking an imaginary friend.

GeorgianMum: When it comes to dealing with individuals in general conversation, I don't generally grab them by the lapels and shout 'There are no gods, buckethead, get over it!' I do have friends who believe in some god or other (different friends, different imaginary friends) - we mostly agree to differ on the subject. However, any new acquaintance who starts banging on about his/her beliefs when I haven't asked for the information might find him/herself getting a more robust discussion than s/he expected. However, on an internet forum in a general discussion, I don't think it's necessary to fanny about pretending to take daft arguments ("My imaginary friend IS real! I KNOW it is. It's Real because *I said so!") seriously.

And 'imaginary friend' is a useful catch-all term that makes it unnecessary to go through all the Yahweh Zeus Rama Jehovah Thor Allah Baron Samedi Cthuhlu specific names and all the rest of the wide variety of imaginary friends different people go in for.

HolofernesesHead Wed 28-Nov-12 23:08:40

SGB, I do understand Techno's question. Think about the group of Christian teens I spent time with, who attend an Islamic school. In their country, Islam is privileged. My point is that they can still be as Christian in an Islamic state as they could in a supposedly Christian one. IMO countries aren't 'Christian' anyway, people are. And yes, i send my dc to a church school. IMO I'm glad that Church schools are on offer, but their being Christian doesn't depend on that, or necessitate it. (

SolidGoldYESBROKEMYSPACEBAR Thu 29-Nov-12 01:21:43

Holo: My concern with the teens you describe is that it sounds as though they are 'free' to obey a mildly different set of homophobic, misogynistic, restrictive superstitions. I'd be more convinced of the harmlessness of allowing superstition a privileged status (no matter which brand of superstition it is) if you could describe teens who were free to openly reject any imaginary friends whatsoever, eat and drink what they like and have the kind of sex lives they choose.

HolofernesesHead Thu 29-Nov-12 08:18:26

SGB, it would be possible for you to make the points you make without being so inflammatory. 'Invidible friend' may be a useful catch all term to you, but it is inflammatory. You know that, otherwise you wouldn't use it. There are lots of other useful, catch all terms to describe groups of people that are deeply offensive and inflammatory .

Anyway, cutting through the polemic, I take it that what you are trying to say is that you are unhappy about the number of church schools in your local area. Is that right? If so, do something about it. Find out why there are so many church schools, find other patents who feel the same and start exploring how things could be different; talk to to your MP, stand as a local councillor even.

Spero Thu 29-Nov-12 08:25:41

I have just read an article in the Irish examiner about a woman giving a talk at Mass that her sn chid was a 'punishment from God' - so 'invisible friend' is fine with me, and pretty mild actually.

I think it was Terry Pratchett who said, the freedom to offend is the only freedom worth a damn as it is the one on which all others are based.

MrsHoarder Thu 29-Nov-12 08:28:28

Holo the point is that there are no secular schools in England. If a school is not a faith school it still had to have a daily broadly Christian act of worship. This is the privilege christianity hold in the English education system.

* I an aware education is a devolved matter and am not aware of the rules for Scotland/Wales/NI.

nooka Thu 29-Nov-12 08:36:10

Plus there are many more rural areas where the only local schools are CoE and there is frankly bugger all that anyone can do at a local level about it, and the government has been encouraging the establishment of more faith schools (presumably keen on the donations from such groups, as it's certainly not because there is any evidence that people are getting more religious give that church attendance continues to slide).

Personally I don't think that religion has any place near schools at all, but my mother thinks it is appalling that where we live now the schools are strictly secular and so my children have virtually no religious knowledge at all.

HolofernesesHead Thu 29-Nov-12 08:53:46

Sleek, okay, so on the basis of your logic, the man with whom I had a conversation last week was right. He said 'women are rubbish leaders; just look at Margaret Thatcher.' (I went on to say, ah yes, let's look at George W. Bush, shall we?) If you decide that one unhelpful woman makes it okay to discount women altogether, or to use offensive, inflammatory language against womankind, I have a major problem with that. If you go on holiday and have an unfortunate experience with one person, and come back muttering racist and xenophobic remarks about 'bloody foreigners', I have a major issue with that. As for whether it's defensible to be inflammatory, ever...well, that's a valid question. But if you are trying to talk to someone, surely it's counter-productive to constantly belittle and offend them? Why would a sensible person do that? Seriously, what are the reasons?

HolofernesesHead Thu 29-Nov-12 08:54:44

So which of you who have posted have spoken to your MP about the provision of schools in your local area?

Himalaya Thu 29-Nov-12 09:14:06

Holo - I think it is a bit disengenuous to suggest that local councillors and MPs are able to replace discriminatory schools with non discriminatory ones on a local basis if only people would ask them. The cases I've heard about e.g. Where a community had two schools but only enough pupils for one, the church school takes priority to stay open, even if more local people would like a community school.

There are church schools because of historical religious privilidge, and the church, like any interest group defends its own interests.

I do think people should take action - at a national level, and if there is a new religious Academy proposed in their area, but telling people to become local councillors because they will be able to influence the role of religion in schools is telling them to waste their time.

HolofernesesHead Thu 29-Nov-12 09:18:58

Him, I didn't say that people should try to replace local church schools with humanist ones, I said that they should find out why there are so many church schools, and what steps would need to be taken. They might well find that getting involved in national education policy is the way forward.

HolofernesesHead Thu 29-Nov-12 09:22:01

Just as an aside, how do you feel about groundroots involvement with local politics as a way of making a difference in the world? Do you feel it's a waste of time generally, or just with regard to certain issues? (not a leading question, genuinely interested in how people view local politics).

Himalaya Thu 29-Nov-12 09:23:52

But we know why there are so many church schools. It is an accident of history which the churches have defended vigorously because it is useful to get bums on seats and maintain their privilidged place in public life.

HolofernesesHead Thu 29-Nov-12 09:31:10

How much serious reading have you done on the history of church schools, Him?

And are you saying that that's just the way things are and we have to accept it?

MrsHoarder Thu 29-Nov-12 09:38:28

And in the 19th century the local community would give the money to the church to start a school because the vicar would be the only literate person in the community and book learning was considered to be something that came from the church.

My (C of E) village school was established in 1824 funded by the local "lord" for the village. That he gave the money via the church isn't really relevant, the money was given to the person best suited to establish a school in that village. 20th century schools belonging to other faiths are more complex, but they mostly follow from the accident of history that meant that C of E schools are a large part of our education system.

These schools should be returned to the whole of the community that paid for them originally. Where they are historic C of E then they should become community schools, 20th century faith schools should be offered back to the churches that "own" them. If they choose to try and run a private school that's their call, otherwise they could give them to the LA to run as a school for the community.

Of course the risk of loosing all our school places as faiths place less emphasis on charity and helping others than on retaining privileged education for their own children means this will never be done.

Himalaya Thu 29-Nov-12 09:44:04

No I'm saying that telling people to become a local councillor because that will give them the power to challenge the undue privilidge of religious institutions in state education is sending them on a wild goose chase.

... It implies that the reason why 1/3 of primary schools have equal opportunities policies that would be illegal in any other public service is because not enough people are becoming councillors or writing to their MPs about their local schools. Which is just not true. It is embedded in national laws.

It's like a reverse situation to you internally translating SGB's language into something more polite.

It's a very polite way of saying "shut up and stop moaning"

HolofernesesHead Thu 29-Nov-12 10:01:58

Him, do you mean that you think I'm telling you to shut up and stop moaning? If that's your impression, you've misheard. I'm arguing that you should be doing more to change things, if you feel really passionately.

Tbh from my perspective, money is just one factor that led to the rise of church schools. Yes, an important one. But the passion / dedication to provide church schools was an equally important factor, and tbh, if you feel really, really strongly that secular schools should be available, then why not do something about it, even if you have to recognise that it might take generations to get to where you want to be? And that leads on to the wider question; if you want to make a difference in the world, why not get involved with local issues? If you feel passionately about schools, you're going to be the type of person who cares passionately about other issues and could potentially do a lot for your community. How is that a wild goose chase?

From my POV, I like church schools, and I think that they do a great deal of good, but I don't believe that they should be foisted upon people.

Bluegrass Thu 29-Nov-12 10:14:32

" if you feel really, really strongly that secular schools should be available, then why not do something about it"

Like challenging belief in religion as something better suited to the mythologies of a more credulous past and arguing the point on high traffic websites? Sounds like she is already doing something about it (but you're right, it will probably take generations before Yahweh goes the way of Zeus!

HolofernesesHead Thu 29-Nov-12 10:17:59

Point taken, Bluegrass. Talking about it is doing something about it.

SolidGoldYESBROKEMYSPACEBAR Thu 29-Nov-12 11:23:44

Referring to people's imaginary friends is simply a clear way of pointing out to them that others do not agree with them and that their delusions deserve no more respect or privilege than any other opinion.

HolofernesesHead Thu 29-Nov-12 11:49:09

Oh SGB, if only this approach were taken in all areas of life. If only it were okay to say 'well, 'Johnny Foreigner' is a clear way of saying that others dislike non-UK citizens and that they deserve no respect in their own right'. Or to say 'well, 'fine little filly' is a clear way of saying that others appraise women as objects and that they deserve no respect in their own right...' The list goes on. You might be able to justify your opinions, but so can BNP members and outright sexists, and people who believe in eugenics, and so on, and so on. Would you defend their right to use words in a clear way to point out to women / non-whites / people with SN / anyone in fact, that some people disagree with them and have no respect for them in their own right? This is a real question, and it's based on your logic, with which I strongly disagree.

Is it okay, to use inflammatory, disrespectful words to describe people, just to make it obvious that you disagree with them or dislike them? I don't think it is. Imagine what the world would be like if everyone did this all the time. Imagine what it'd be like for the vulnerable, the marginalised. I don't want to live in a world like that, and I'd fight tooth and nail for my dc not to have to.

CoteDAzur Thu 29-Nov-12 12:00:09

What is the difference between an imaginary friend and one for whose existence you have no proof whatsoever?

CoteDAzur Thu 29-Nov-12 12:02:11

You should read Carl Sagan's Demon-Haunted World. Especially the part about the dragon in his garage:

"A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage" Suppose I seriously make such an assertion to you. Surely you'd want to check it out, see for yourself. There have been innumerable stories of dragons over the centuries, but no real evidence. What an opportunity!

"Show me," you say. I lead you to my garage. You look inside and see a ladder, empty paint cans, an old tricycle--but no dragon.

"Where's the dragon?" you ask.

"Oh, she's right here," I reply, waving vaguely. "I neglected to mention that she's an invisible dragon."

You propose spreading flour on the floor of the garage to capture the dragon's footprints.

"Good idea," I say, "but this dragon floats in the air."

Then you'll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire.

"Good idea, but the invisible fire is also heatless."

You'll spray-paint the dragon and make her visible.

"Good idea, but she's an incorporeal dragon and the paint won't stick." And so on. I counter every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won't work.

Now, what's the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all? If there's no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists?

HolofernesesHead Thu 29-Nov-12 12:04:34

Cote, that's a valid question. I'm not going to answer it now. wink For the moment, the question is 'is it okay to use inflammatory and derogatory language with the intention of making sure that your disrespect for another human being is clear?' If so, where do we draw the line so that society doesn't break down?

CoteDAzur Thu 29-Nov-12 12:05:17

Of course you won't answer it because you can't.

HolofernesesHead Thu 29-Nov-12 12:05:41

I'll come back to the dragon story later. For now, I'm interested in how we talk to each other as humans.

HolofernesesHead Thu 29-Nov-12 12:06:23

Cote, what do you think about my question?

CoteDAzur Thu 29-Nov-12 12:12:24

"'is it okay to use inflammatory and derogatory language with the intention of making sure that your disrespect for another human being is clear?'

Without any more clarification, I would have to answer that with a general "Yes". Sometimes, people feel the need to be clear about such things and that is not an entirely bad thing.

"If so, where do we draw the line so that society doesn't break down?"

LOL. Breakdown of society, no less. Aren't you being a bit melodramatic?

CoteDAzur Thu 29-Nov-12 12:16:28

As humans, we talk to each other in various ways. Sometimes, rational discourse is possible, other times, it's not. In the latter case, it is very frustrating when the other person will not (cannot?) acknowledge that their position makes little to no sense, and is based on no evidence whatsoever.

As you say, we are human, and it is not always possible to conceal such frustration with a fellow human who should be perfectly capable of logical thought & reasoning. Sometimes, contempt is voiced.

And society does not break down. No, really.

HolofernesesHead Thu 29-Nov-12 12:17:42

Breakdown of society melodramatic. Maybe. Think about what it is that keeps, or makes, a community cohere though.

So, if it's okay to be inflammatory and derogatory in order to express disrespect, where do we draw the line? I.e. at what point is it not okay? Wrt race? Gender? Sexuality? Political affiliation? Ability? Accent? Taste in music? Names of DC? Town of birth? Class? How we do we decide what's 'fair game' and the point at which inflammatory and derogatory language becomes indefensible? (think of that comedian whose name I can't remember who made jokes about people with SN...is that okay?)

SolidGoldYESBROKEMYSPACEBAR Thu 29-Nov-12 12:23:58

It's perfectly OK to use derogatory language about people's opinions. This is not the same as using negative language about the characteristics over which they have no control, such as ethnicity, gender, size, SN etc.

Would you insist that, in discussing immigration with a racist, you refer to their views as 'patriotism' rather than 'bigotry' to avoid trampling their delicate feelings?
'Imaginary friend' is accurate shorthand. The fact that using it indicates that the user disagrees with the person waving his/her imaginary friend around is something the imaginary-friend waver just has to suck up.
Or, of course, provide some kind of evidence that the imaginary friend is not imaginary at all.

CoteDAzur Thu 29-Nov-12 12:25:07

You are taking PC to the extreme. If you feel contempt for someone's opinions, it's OK to say this.

If you bang on about a belief for which you have no evidence whatsoever, it is likely that once in a while someone will point out to you that this does not inspire a whole load of respect. Especially if you go on about how rational people who expect proof to believe something have an "impoverished way of thinking".

CoteDAzur Thu 29-Nov-12 12:27:06

Exactly. You aren't happy with the word "imaginary", but also can't don't want to answer the question "What is the difference between an imaginary friend and one for whose existence there is no proof whatsoever?"

This sounds like an internal conflict that you need to solve within yourself.

And no, society won't break down if you can't. Not so sure about your psychology, though. It's always better to work these things out rather than let them fester smile

HolofernesesHead Thu 29-Nov-12 12:32:59

What about anti-Semitism, SGB? That (usually) covers ethnicity and belief. Is that okay? No, I thought not.

Anyway, you're predicating your answer on a understanding of religion that I don't think is altogether true (i.e. that it's not intrinsic to the person's identity). I'd change my nationality sooner than my faith, personally.

But to the question I asked earlier: if you want to talk to someone, why would you want to do so in language that constantly belittles and offends them? What is gained?

CoteDAzur Thu 29-Nov-12 12:35:09

What about anti-Semitism? These days, it is a blanket term that includes people who criticise Israel for bombing Palestinian civilians.

HolofernesesHead Thu 29-Nov-12 12:38:12

You've never met any neo-Nazis, then? Believe me, anti-Semitism exists (and not just in politically extreme circles). I've heard some cracking examples recently, in leafy UK suburbia.

CoteDAzur Thu 29-Nov-12 12:45:07

If you are talking about neo-Nazis' hatred of Jews (not sure why? [puzzled]), of course that is not right. As SGB explained, blind hatred of a group of people due to their skin color, ethnicity etc is not to be tolerated (and it's not) but this has nothing to do with telling people that their opinion is not rational and has no factual basis, which is perfectly fine.

In other words, you can't make people stop telling you that your views don't make sense. Sorry but you'll have to deal with hearing it, or consider believing in things you have evidence for.

SolidGoldYESBROKEMYSPACEBAR Thu 29-Nov-12 12:45:22

Holo: do you mean 'Is it ok to use derogatory language to point out to an anti-semite that s/he is talking shit?' Of course it is.

CoteDAzur Thu 29-Nov-12 12:46:01

SGB - Don't. Or society will break down hmm

HolofernesesHead Thu 29-Nov-12 12:52:06

Cote - sorry to belabour this point, but...saying 'your views don't make sense to me / I don't understand your views' is one thing, and deliberately using language which you know will be heard by them as offensive and inflammatory, in order to belittle their viewpoints and therefore them, is quite another.

No SGB, I meant is it okay to be anti-Semitic, IYO? Jews are people of faith; does this therefore make them fair game for inflammatory language?

And most of all, who gets to decide when it's okay to use inflam. language? Say person A sees as aspect of herself as intrinsic to her identity. Person B sees that aspect as not intrinsic. Is person B within her rights to use inflammatory language of that aspect of Person A's identity? Or, Person C values an aspect of their identity. Person D does not value it, and thinks that he has good reasons not to. Is Person D within his rights to offend person C? (This feels like an ethics class...)

CoteDAzur Thu 29-Nov-12 12:58:19

Holo - You are not hearing me.

"is it okay to be anti-Semitic"

In the racism sense - no, not OK. (You know this, I presume)

In the sense that one can criticise Israel for its policies and be called an anti-Semite - yes, perfectly OK.

Are you clear on this? I can repeat as many times as you need, take your time.

"No SGB, I meant is it okay to be anti-Semitic, IYO? Jews are people of faith; does this therefore make them fair game for inflammatory language?"

By the same token, would it be ok to call neo-Nazis racist fuckwits? I mean, surely infammatory/offensive is wrong no matter the belief it's aimed at right?

HolofernesesHead Thu 29-Nov-12 13:02:23

The point I'm making Cote is that race and faith, and various other aspects of identity, are not so easily separated. Yes, of course you can criticise Israel's politics without being anti-Semitic, just like you can criticise UK politics without being treasonous.

So, who gets to decide what's okay (out of persons A, B, C and D above), IYO?

NamingOfParts Thu 29-Nov-12 13:05:21

Okay, what is an acceptable collective noun which atheists such as myself can use for all the different entities that other people believe in but atheists dont?

CoteDAzur Thu 29-Nov-12 13:06:14

"saying 'your views don't make sense to me / I don't understand your views' is one thing"

Who is saying "I don't understand your views"? smile

We do understand your views. You believe in a deity for which there is no proof whatsoever. It's really not hard to understand.

Many people will find that ^ is not a rational position. You have no evidence. No proof. Nada. You believe in some story from 2,000 years ago, embellished over the centuries, about a deity, sin, heaven etc without a shred of evidence.

You can find it offensive all you like, but you will get told that your position is not a rational one, if you have no rational basis for it.

There is nothing you can do to stop people telling you what they think of your opinions, and dire warnings re breakdown of society is just making your views look even less rational.

HolofernesesHead Thu 29-Nov-12 13:06:23

Murder, yes, personally I don't think it's always wrong to avoid inflammatory language.

But if I were in a pub with a Neo-Nazi and had one shot at being able to try and make a difference to the way s/he sees the world, would I call him/her a fuckwit? No, because that'd shut down any hope of communicating with him/her, and therefore any hope of influencing him/her.

CoteDAzur Thu 29-Nov-12 13:07:32

Holo - I know what you are trying to say, and that is also false. Racism isn't comparable to telling people "Your opinion has no basis in fact and I have no respect for it".

"But if I were in a pub with a Neo-Nazi and had one shot at being able to try and make a difference to the way s/he sees the world, would I call him/her a fuckwit? No, because that'd shut down any hope of communicating with him/her, and therefore any hope of influencing him/her."

Think of it like this then, you've tried reasoning, you've tried appealing to their better nature, they aren't the first neo-nazi you've had to deal with, they wont be the last, and a lot of them spend their time making decisions which affect your life which you have little recourse against, and they've categorically told you that you are wrong they are right, and in addition they are morally superior/better than you. Still want to refrain from calling them a racist fuckwit? Would you blame someone else in that situation from calling them a racist fuckwit?

NamingOfParts Thu 29-Nov-12 13:10:09

I think that MrsHoarder's suggestion at 9.38 about returning the establisment religious schools to the community and giving the modern faith schools back to their religious organisations to be run as private schools is an excellent one.

HolofernesesHead Thu 29-Nov-12 13:13:27

Naming, the most obvious one that springs to mind is 'theists.' Or 'belief system' rather than 'imaginary friend.' These are pretty neutral terms IMO.

Cote, I don't find atheism offensive per se. I had the most wonderful, uplifting, affirming conversation with a dyed-in-the-wool atheist last week. I do find tedious, and puzzling, the deliberate and repeated use of words which are deliberately intended to belittle someone. As I said, I don't think that strong language is always wrong. I do believe pretty strongly though that all people should be respected on their own terms, in the identity which is important to them. Yes, I'd challenge identities which I believe to be morally wrong (eg neo-Nazism). But if I were trying to talk to someone whose views I found morally wrong, I'd try and do it without resorting to language which shuts down communication.

HolofernesesHead Thu 29-Nov-12 13:14:32

Go on, Cote, elaborate on / substantiate your assertion while I read the other posts...

HolofernesesHead Thu 29-Nov-12 13:16:44

Murder, maybe I'm restrained, but yes, I would avoid saying that. If push came to shove I'd go more down the route of saying 'this is how your way of seeing the world makes me feel...' and then go all guns blazing into how it actually feels to be the victim of racism. That'd be much more likely to have an impact.

CoteDAzur Thu 29-Nov-12 13:19:27

What assertion?

Why don't you answer the question from two hours ago, which you said you would come to?

Namely:

What is the difference between an imaginary friend and one for whose existence there is no proof whatsoever?

I think this question will be the start to your understanding that people are not trying to be offensive or derogatory when they say "imaginary".

CoteDAzur Thu 29-Nov-12 13:20:06

I have to work now. I hope that you will take this time to answer that simple question.

NamingOfParts Thu 29-Nov-12 13:21:10

Thanks for that Holo.

"Murder, maybe I'm restrained, but yes, I would avoid saying that."

But would you judge someone else for saying it? Just because it isn't your method of dealing with it.

NothingIsAsBadAsItSeems Thu 29-Nov-12 14:09:07

I don't understand the need to believe in one all powerful God. Why not believe in many Gods/Goddesses who specialise in certain areas confused

I'd prefer to pick and choose a variety of Gods/Goddesses and whichever aspects of a variety of religions appeal to me -> Hence my inability to state which religion I affiliate myself with.

I don't think religion should have any hold on politics or on education baring RE

"Why not believe in many Gods/Goddesses who specialise in certain areas "

Pick'n'mix religion grin

ilovetermtime Thu 29-Nov-12 14:40:15

I'm going to answer the original OP, which asked where the certainty comes from that there is no god.

This is a good question, but as I have recently decided I am an atheist after over 30 years of trying to find God and invite him into my life, with no luck, my thoughts are still quite clear.

Basically, I am certain there is no god because:

1) other than the Bible there is no evidence at all for a god, and calling the Bible evidence is itself a bit of a stretch.

2) I have tried everything to 'find' god, and had no luck whatsoever.

Leading me to conclude that most (not all) people's belief in god actually stems from conditioning during childhood and the others (I'm thinking born againers here) have had some sort of experience that if you investigated it thoroughly would turn out to have an alternative explanation.

I feel like I've tried my best to believe, but at the end of the day it just feels wrong, and I apologise in advance to the believers, but it just seems a bit stupid and unneccessary.

Right, I'm now at the end of page 5. SolidGold, I love your answer to my question! Made me laugh out loud (in a good way!). I'm still not convinced 'imagiary friend' is the way to go, but I like your Terry Pratchett quite so much that I will let it go. I can't say I like the quote and carry on protesting really, can I? grin

And now I'm at the end of page 6 and I very much like this answer, from Holo:

'Is it okay, to use inflammatory, disrespectful words to describe people, just to make it obvious that you disagree with them or dislike them? I don't think it is. Imagine what the world would be like if everyone did this all the time. Imagine what it'd be like for the vulnerable, the marginalised. I don't want to live in a world like that, and I'd fight tooth and nail for my dc not to have to.'

Holo, it does seem to be seen as generally 'OK' to mock christianity, at the moment. I'm sure lots of people could come up with lots of answers as to why that's OK and why christians have it coming to them, because of (...insert favourite dreadful thing done in the name of christianity here...)* but I agree with you here: it is not reasonable to do so. If I start mocking atheists, agnostics, materialists, humanists, anyone who doesn't share my religious beliefs, then I guess I'm fair game. I haven't though, so it'd be nicer if everyone else did the same. That said, if you really feel the need to mock it, then go right ahead. I still don't get why people feel that way (which, I think, take me back to my OP), but there we are.

*Very simplistic view of it all, I know.

Funnily enough, the other people it is apparently OK to mock and deride are Jehovah's Witnesses. I'm not a big fan myself, have looked into it and find the whole thing...very much not to my tastes, but I cringe when I hear people make derisory comments about the Witnesses who just called on them, etc. I heave a sigh of despair when I open the door to them too, but inwardly. They're doing something that they feel is important, they're not leading a crusade, or advocating FGM, or anything else that's anything more dreadful than interrupting my morning, so why all the hostility? Holo's right: it just isn't OK to be mean!

NamingofParts, that is a very good question. Someone (and I have now forgotten who) suggested, "Your opinion has no basis in fact and I have no respect for it," which I think is a reasonable reply to anyone sharing their faith with you. I also think it is reasonable to interrupt someone and tell them that you aren't interested and if they don't get the hint, then I would think it reasonable to use the imaginary friend argument, purely because they're clearly not going to respond to polite discourse and why should you listen to them if you don't want to? I don't think forcing one's views, political,
religious or otherwise, on anyone, is at all respectful. To that end, I don't think wading straight in with, 'imaginary friend' is that respectful either.

ilovetermtime, thank you for your reply. That makes a lot of sense to me and I do not think you owe me any kind of apology. It makes sense because (I know this may sound daft) I once tried to not believe. I was very pissed off with God at the time, and decided I'd be better off without the whole shebang. What did I then do, repeatedly? Remind God that I was ignoring him now. Maybe it was a lifetime of praying, old habits dying hard and all that, but repeatedly talking to a deity you have just decided cannot exist is...well, counter-productive. A very pissed-off me decided to go back on my word and begrudgingly accept the existence of God. My inability to disbelieve, therefore, persuades me that your inability to believe (I hope 'inability' doesn't sound offensive here - it wasn't meant to, but I don't think I picked a good word) makes sense to me. That was a while back. I'm OK with the whole God-thing now and feel better for the crisis of faith. Didn't feel much good at the time, mind!

Anyway, you may be right about the 'experience' and you may also be right about being able to explain that some other way. I remain happy in my faith and am very grateful for all those of you have answered my question (and brought up others for me to think about). I am feeling slightly guilty that I haven't answered Cote's question, although I don't think that one was aimed at me, so maybe that's OK after all!

And behold - now I have shared something of my faith and probably provoked a load of these faces: hmm. Sorry, folks. That's not what I asked the original question for. It was just in explanation of how ilove's stance made so much sense to me.

NicholasTeakozy Thu 29-Nov-12 17:27:11

I find it strange we're not supposed to criticise religion, and in his speech to Digital Biota Douglas Adams said:-

"Now, the invention of the scientific method and science is, I'm sure we'll all agree, the most powerful intellectual idea, the most powerful framework for thinking and investigating and understanding and challenging the world around us that there is, and that it rests on the premise that any idea is there to be attacked and if it withstands the attack then it lives to fight another day and if it doesn't withstand the attack then down it goes. Religion doesn't seem to work like that; it has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. That's an idea we're so familiar with, whether we subscribe to it or not, that it's kind of odd to think what it actually means, because really what it means is 'Here is an idea or a notion that you're not allowed to say anything bad about; you're just not. Why not? - because you're not!' If somebody votes for a party that you don't agree with, you're free to argue about it as much as you like; everybody will have an argument but nobody feels aggrieved by it. If somebody thinks taxes should go up or down you are free to have an argument about it, but on the other hand if somebody says 'I mustn't move a light switch on a Saturday', you say, 'Fine, I respect that'. The odd thing is, even as I am saying that I am thinking 'Is there an Orthodox Jew here who is going to be offended by the fact that I just said that?' but I wouldn't have thought 'Maybe there's somebody from the left wing or somebody from the right wing or somebody who subscribes to this view or the other in economics' when I was making the other points. I just think 'Fine, we have different opinions'. But, the moment I say something that has something to do with somebody's (I'm going to stick my neck out here and say irrational) beliefs, then we all become terribly protective and terribly defensive and say 'No, we don't attack that; that's an irrational belief but no, we respect it'."

Which covers it far more eloquently than I ever could.

HolofernesesHead Thu 29-Nov-12 17:41:47

Nicholas, we are allowed to criticise religion. I haven't heard anyone on this thread assert otherwise.

What I've been getting at on this thread is that using deliberately inflammatory etc. language will cause offense, and have a negative impact on conversation between believers and non-believers because faith is so incredibly intrinsic to the believer; in my case, more intrinsic than any other aspect of who I am. I still don't see why it can be a good thing to deliberately offend someone with whom you're trying to talk. Intimidation, maybe? Cheap point-scoring? Self-satisfaction? Lack of engagement with what the other person'ssaying so hide behind inflammatory words that keep the other person at bay? Really, what is the point?

I honestly don't understand how this is okay, without also making homophobia, racism, sexism etc etc okay too, or unless the offensive person is telling me what my religion is to me (i.e. non-intrinsic to me), which I do not accept as a valid argument (because then all the homophobes would be within their rights to tell gay peple that their sexuality is a disease, etc etc).

Cote - I could reply with an answer regarding the phenomenology of childhood imagimary friends, and the phenomenology of religion. Is that what you would like?

JoTheHot Thu 29-Nov-12 18:17:40

Holo, homophobia etc are unacceptable because gays, blacks and women are very heterogeneous groups, and it is thus unreasonable to tar all with the same brush. By contrast, everyone who affiliates with most mainstream religions is unavoidably lending their support to homophobia, sexism and many other deeply distasteful views, making them ripe for strong criticism. I'm tolerant of everything but intolerance. It's not always productive to be too forceful, but the desire to shock religious people out of their comfortable intellectual havens is sometimes too much to resist.

HolofernesesHead Thu 29-Nov-12 18:29:03

I see your thinking Jo, but having been a Christian all my life, it sounds to me as if you're tarring all believers with the same brush. Anyway, gay people are very far from one heterogeneous group. As are women, etc. Why should they be so?

That the impulse is too much to resist I can understand, but again, I can't condone it, otherwise I'd have to condone racists not being able to stop themselves from using offensive language, etc. So I'm still not convinced.

mathanxiety Thu 29-Nov-12 18:32:08

'I think most atheists don't say 'anyone who believes is clearly nuts' (although some do).
But what they do say is 'there is not good reason to believe in god' etc...'

If there is a reason then we are not really talking about belief. You can't really believe in something that is demonstrably there. You either accept what your eyes see or your ears hear or you don't. Not to believe what is tangible would be a bit silly. The point about belief is that it is belief and not acceptance of something tangible. The point about science is that it is about understanding and questioning and there is no 'believe' to it.

HolofernesesHead Thu 29-Nov-12 18:38:22

Jo, just realised that you said heterogeneity and not homogeneity; my apologies. Yes, I agree, women vary. smile (But so do religious believers!)

Math, yes, I hear you. Not sure if I agree, but I hear you.

JoTheHot Thu 29-Nov-12 18:51:57

The religious are heterogeneous in many ways, but in so far as they ally themselves with mainstream religions they homogeneously encourage mainstream religions' intolerance, and therein lies the problem.

You would not have to condone racist abuse, rather abuse directed at racists. It is the tolerant abusing the intolerant which I can empathise with.

HolofernesesHead Thu 29-Nov-12 19:03:56

But Jo really....I think you're wrong. I know it's easy to characterise religious people as intolerant, judgemental, etc, and in some cases that's justified, but in many cases, people of faith can be the most accepting, loving people in any given locality. I could tell you some stories. You might argue that churches are organisationally intolerant etc, but again, I could tell you some stories. It's the automatic 'religious= intolerant=fair game for abuse' logic that I object to.

Holo I don't think you are reading what Jo was getting at there. The point, as far as I read it, is that by identifying as a religion (specifically organised religions) you are lending your support to an organisation. An organisation which is, in a lot of cases, intolerant.

SolidGoldYESBROKEMYSPACEBAR Thu 29-Nov-12 19:36:06

Yes, the aim of using non-polite language about people's delusions and imaginary friends is not to attack individuals' beliefs, however silly - it's to challenge the concept that this irrational nonsense should be treated with 'respect' when it is harming others or getting in the way of progress, as it so often does. People fighting for equality, or reproductive rights, or against the mutilation of children's genitals in the name of an imaginary friend still get told that they need to be 'respectful' towards the 'culture' and 'faith' that is doing the harm. Why the fuck should we respect ignorant barbarism?

On a lesser level, when people want to (for instance) put up bloody great fences to make a boundary so they can switch on lights which they wouldn't otherwise be 'allowed' to switch on on, as their imaginary friend doesn't like it, why should other people have to have their view/right of way interfered with on the grounds that a bunch of prats can't get over their witless superstitions?

HolofernesesHead Thu 29-Nov-12 19:40:19

Surely it depends which church / denomination you identify with. Is there a difference, also, between an organisation which explicitly aims to be intolerant of others (eg BNP) and another which intends to love the world, but gets a fair few things wrong (the churches?) surely in the BNP you have to be intolerant to be part of it, it's written in, whereas there's nothing in the Christian faith that says you have to be intolerant.

SolidGoldYESBROKEMYSPACEBAR Thu 29-Nov-12 19:43:51

Holo: the mythological brand which is the Official Superstition in this country has just formally declared that women are inferior, second-class human beings. THat's a clear example of people denying other people rights on the grounds that their imaginary friend wouldn't like it. So, once again, why should rational people be expected to treat this harmful bullshit with respect?

GrimmaTheNome Thu 29-Nov-12 19:44:05

Holo - religion isn't intrinsic like someones colour or sexuality. It really isn't something inherent. There are too many people who have been christians who are now atheists, atheists who are now christians, christians who are now muslims for that to be true.

If you had been born into a different culture, you'd still have the same colour, the same sexuality but its a fair bet that your religion would be different.

HullyEastergully Thu 29-Nov-12 19:44:21

I'm liking DianaTrent's post

HolofernesesHead Thu 29-Nov-12 19:46:43

Ah, I give up. Enough of trying to explain. If you haven't got it by now...see you on another thread!

MrsHoarder Thu 29-Nov-12 20:04:23

Holo just because you can't see your faith changing doesn't mean you can't choose to change your faith, or that there is nothing that the church could do which might make you break away from it.

There are some labels which I/my parents have chosen to apply to me that I could never imagine removing, but they are there by choice (for example mathematician, bookworm, atheist). There are other labels that are there for now but I'm not that dedicated to (for example cyclist) and am likely to change in the futre. My sexuality and race however I have no choice over, that just is and is not something I can consciously change.

In a free society things which have been chosen should be rigorously debated and joked about. Those which have been determined by a chance of biology should be protected.

You have no right not to have your choices mocked. If you are solid in your faith then surely a little teasing will not harm it?

ilovetermtime Thu 29-Nov-12 20:44:08

Thank you Georgian, I'm glad you didn't take offense, I didn't mean any, but words can look harsh when written down.

I did write a big reply, but I've had a couple of glasses of wine now and when I read it back it didn't even make sense to me! Anyway, suffice to say that I've really enjoyed this thread, it's come at just the right time for me, and it's been very interesting to read other people's views.

GrimmaTheNome Thu 29-Nov-12 21:08:34

Damn. No sooner do I find this thread than Holo bows out (I've never known her quit before!)

NamingOfParts Thu 29-Nov-12 21:51:11

I suppose the thing is that if you have a faith then you just do.

As an atheist I just dont. Being an atheist does not mean that I have to believe in something else instead - I dont.

I am interested in the sciences but I dont believe in them.

SolidGoldYESBROKEMYSPACEBAR Thu 29-Nov-12 23:33:25

Well I'll just share a version of one of my favourite quotes on the subject.

Religion is like a penis.
It's OK to have one
It's OK to be proud of it.
There's no need to get it out and wave it about in public.
And other people don't want it shoved down their throats.

Redbindy Thu 29-Nov-12 23:37:07

SGY
Re your last; I do occasionally. But that's a Friday night topic!

GrimmaTheNome Thu 29-Nov-12 23:43:47

Shouldn't there be something about 'only between consenting adults' in there too?

Holo, in case you're still about, your many attempts to explain wer much appreciated by me. I think you made some really good points and argued well. Thank you.

I am a christian, who attends a CofE church. I've been thinking about the whole 'intolerance' thing a lot lately, as you might imagine. If I continue to go to a CofE, am I tacitly agreeing that women are inferior? I've concluded that I am not agreeing with that, tacitly or otherwise. I am acutely aware of the issues and am not ignoring them. It's just that the style of worship at my particular church, together with the teaching, is the 'best-fit' model for me at the moment. Plus I feel that the Anglican church is but one piddling little branch of Christianity - there's a whole world of believers out there and they're humans, which makes some of them, sadly, intolerant, homophobic, racist, narrow-minded, whereas others are kind, gentle, peacemaking, intelligent, thoughtful types - much like the general population, really. Being a Christian does not make one perfect, not does it make one above reproach.

The notion that merely by professing a christian faith or attending an Anglican church makes me intolerant is, to be honest, not one I'm going to entertain. Other people can claim that about me if they wish and I'm OK with them mocking my beliefs too. I'd think them rude if they did it to my face, but I don't have a problem with the principle that religion is not above questioning, doubt and mockery. My own faith requires, I think, an element of doubt. Otherwise it's gone beyond faith and into the realms of certainty. Maybe it's certainty I have a problem with. Maybe that's what led to this whole thread. Hmm...interesting... <scratches chin, looks thoughtful.>

Again, for all your thoughts and replies, thank you.

sieglinde Fri 30-Nov-12 10:58:13

technodad, you wrote: I don't want to be bloody well blessed thank you very much (especially if god just killed my mate that I have just buried - if god exists, he can get fucked!).

I have huge sympathy with this, despite being a Catholic - or because of it. grin You may hate me saying this, but you are knowingly or not in tune with some of the psalms and the lamentations of Jeremiah. I kinda assume any god worth the name can take some abuse from time to time.

technodad Fri 30-Nov-12 11:47:21

Sieglinde

I don't hate you saying it, but it doesn't mean I believe in god because of it. Far from it in fact.

The idea that it is OK to be angry with god because bad things happen, is just another effort to emotionally control people who have been brainwashed, to stop them from having doubts.

It is far more logical to conclude (not least because of the enormous amounts of evidence) that bad things happen because of random chance in the universe, than it is to naively believe another crap excuse about "it being gods way".

sieglinde Fri 30-Nov-12 12:27:09

Isn't it more comforting to tell him (Him) to fuck off, though? You can't tell random chance to fuck off - or it's not as much fun, anyway. I always think the most rational idea of god would be a god who is not benevolent - a god who likes watching us quiver and squirm. I think the moments last century where observant Jews eventually said 'there is no god' are the most cogent refutation of religion ever.

However, and back on topic, I do wish you wouldn't say brainwashed. I don't believe in brainwashing. I think I'm responsible for my choices and my ideas, thanks very much. I don't think I'm under any emotional control, either. Go on, prove it; prove that I am. To save time, I won't accept as proof the idea that I have religious beliefs; there could be many reasons for those.

Himalaya Fri 30-Nov-12 12:50:30

Sieglinde - (hi!) - Have you read Thinking Fast and Slow?

There is pretty good evidence that a of our thinking, choices and beliefs are not got to rationally, but by intuitive and emotional guesswork.

This applies not just to questions of religion, but pretty much everything.

We all feel we are responsible for our ideas in a rational way, but if you really were that would make you unique amongst human beings!

GrimmaTheNome Fri 30-Nov-12 12:51:11

>Isn't it more comforting to tell him (Him) to fuck off, though?
I don't find it so. I'd much rather have a universe that just is what it is, than the idea of a God who either doesn't about suffering, actually causes suffering or has some inscrutable plan which means he built a world of suffering and can't intervene.
The rest of your first para is pretty much spot on.

'Brainwash' is rarely the appropriate term ( it implies coercion and a change of belief). However, everyone's 'choices' are against the context of their nurture. In many cases (I do not mean you!), people don't really get exposed to other options in a balanced way so they really don't have a valid choice. In those circumstances, 'indoctrinate' might be apt.

Himalaya Fri 30-Nov-12 12:52:41

Hope no one's telling me to fuck off grin

"I've been thinking about the whole 'intolerance' thing a lot lately, as you might imagine. If I continue to go to a CofE, am I tacitly agreeing that women are inferior? I've concluded that I am not agreeing with that, tacitly or otherwise."

That makes sense. However from an outside perspective by not actively disassociating yourself from an organisation that is actively involved in intolerant behaviour it does come across as condoning their behaviour. Or at least allowing it to continue unchecked.

technodad Fri 30-Nov-12 13:07:50

Isn't it more comforting to tell him (Him) to fuck off, though? You can't tell random chance to fuck off - or it's not as much fun, anyway. I always think the most rational idea of god would be a god who is not benevolent - a god who likes watching us quiver and squirm.

Why would being angry at a childish image of a white man with a beard sitting on a cloud make me feel any better about a friend dying? How ridiculous.

The world is full of random events, and the randomness of someone’s genetic code is part of that universe. I can be angry all I want, but it achieves nothing. Maybe I should just channel my energy to grieving personal loss, supporting their loved-ones, and remembering the good times. I know this concept is not very Christian, but it the way I prefer to live my life.

I do wish you wouldn't say brainwashed

My brainwashing comments refer to the fact that children are indoctrinated into religion by schools at an early age, and that this doesn’t allow them to make a choice. Teaching a 4 year old that god made the world and telling them they must pray, is not education, it is a form of brainwashing – fact! GTN, I am happy with the term indoctrination, but brainwashing is more apt for a young child. A huge amount of many religions (Irish Catholic as an example) are founded on fear and brainwashing.

Himalaya, not yet smile

sieglinde Fri 30-Nov-12 13:09:44

Hi! (Waves enthusiastically to Himalaya) Hima, totally agree that humans are not always rational, and in fact are mostly anything but, but this is not the same as saying people are 'brainwashed', which just seems to me a weasel word.

I think few religions are able to control people enough to prevent exposure to alternatives in the modern world; in the 19th century, perhaps. Even then, intelligent people could still think of questions for themselves.

GrimmaTheNome Fri 30-Nov-12 13:11:48

I don't think you have to 'actively disassociate' - but to avoid being accused of condoning intolerance you then have to actively oppose it from within. Which is of course exactly what many members of the CofE will do now.

sieglinde Fri 30-Nov-12 13:16:09

Sorry, techno, crossposted with you. How you grieve is your business, but anger is part of most grief - it's a stage, even, in grieving, and I did not intend to imply that it was the only stage. It does actually achieve something to recognise and express the feelings associated with each stage; that's how we move on.

You still haven't defined 'brainwashing', except to imply that it consists of an imperative enforced by fear. But that isn't really what the term means. It's true that guilt is a big part of it, but so too is the destruction of the sense of a self. It's also only a theory, and quite a paranoid conspiratorial theory at that, from the Cold War era.

GrimmaTheNome Fri 30-Nov-12 13:16:41

seiglinde - I said: exposed to other options in a balanced way - that's the point.

sieglinde Fri 30-Nov-12 13:21:47

Yeah, but Grimma, isn't it all but impossible really to be balanced when it comes to our children and our opinions? I hope my children know that my opinions are just that...

GrimmaTheNome Fri 30-Nov-12 14:34:26

I doubt anyone can be totally balanced but some parents are ' This Is The Truth'. Children of Jehovah's Witnesses who are excluded from RE; children from fundamentalist Christian or Muslim families who've been taught from day one that the Bible or the Koran is the supreme authority and anything science says which contradicts (their interpretation of it) is wrong. There seem to be quite a few of the latter nowadays, unfortunately.

niminypiminy Fri 30-Nov-12 17:43:38

And some parents are categorical the other way, telling their children there is no god but that some people have an imaginary friend, etc etc' that 'god has been disproved by science, that religion is all about sex' and so on. If that leaves no room for the child to explore his or her own spirituality that is indoctrination too. And it is actively encouraging children to be disdainful of other people who have faith.

As far as I can see, people of faith do not have sole property of 'this is the truth': quite the reverse.

SolidGoldYESBROKEMYSPACEBAR Fri 30-Nov-12 18:53:51

It's just that it's kind of difficult, if you are a rational person wishing to teach your child to get along in the world and be happy, to say with a straight face 'Well, some people have this imaginary friend that insists that women are inferior to men and that gay people should be executed, but we're not supposed to tell them this is a crock of shit in case it upsets them. And because nobody knows if it's true or not.'

niminypiminy Fri 30-Nov-12 19:17:35

Certainly if you say that to them you will not be teaching them to have good manners, either by precept or example.

DioneTheDiabolist Fri 30-Nov-12 19:37:25

The problem with being offensive is the arguments for removal of religious privilege disappear. It stops being a discussion about what is most desirable for society and becomes a personal attack.

Minds are not changed instantly, but discussion provides food for thought. However if the discussion ends with one person calling the other a fuckwit that is what will be remembered. The rational arguments get lost. The example given about calling a neo-nazi a fuckwit says a fair bit about the ego of the person who expects another to instantly ditch a deeply held belief because they think you should.

GrimmaTheNome Fri 30-Nov-12 19:57:40

Fortunately, a lot of rational people manage to frame their discussions with their children in rather different terms. More often than not I seem to have to play the role of - how to put it - the gods advocate grin ...which ususally gets me this hmm look .... the point is that whatever DD ends up believing (or more likely, not, on current form) I want it to be a thought-out considered position. Not one arrived at by being dismissive of large sections of the population most of whose versions of god don't want gays executed or women oppressed and who didn't create the world in 6 days.

"The example given about calling a neo-nazi a fuckwit says a fair bit about the ego of the person who expects another to instantly ditch a deeply held belief because they think you should."

Who said anything about changing someone's mind? It was more about stating the facts.

mathanxiety Sat 01-Dec-12 01:56:42

I agree with that post of yours Grimma

mathanxiety Sat 01-Dec-12 01:59:35

Himalaya -- yes there is nothing new under the sun

nooka Sat 01-Dec-12 02:06:56

I think that calling a neo-nazi a fuckwit is pretty tame really. Sure it's sweary slang but essentially it is the same as saying that they are a stupid idiot. It has little in this case to do with the ego of the non neo-nazi who is probably well aware that the person they are talking to has absolutely zero intention of ever ditching their opinion because they are in fact a truly nasty piece of work and genuinely believe that they are intrinsically superior to other people who they consider should not be considered as human by nature of their ethnicity.

People with beliefs like this don't change their mind as a result of conversations with the well meaning. They live in a warped reality.

This is a bit of a side conversation, although it does slightly remind me a little bit of the individuals who have tried to persuade me that really and truly I am just waiting for the right moment to 'find god' and that they are the ones to take me by the hand and lead me down that path. I guess to the religious atheists also live in a warped reality because of their lack of faith, whereas to atheists the religious appear fundamentally to be delusional. It certainly doesn't make for easy conversations!

mathanxiety Sat 01-Dec-12 02:07:25

Niminypiminy -- My youngest DD has a friend who is openly dismissive of religion and has been since age 4, thanks to the oft expressed pinions of her dad. It's nothing but rudeness imo to bring up a child to think there are no holds barred when it comes to matters of belief, to call Christmas 'Fishmas' when you see someone else's nativity scene set out, but write a long list for Santa.

I feel that when a young child parrots strident opinions of that sort there is some sort of conflict going on, some upset in the child.

Same child attends a steiner school and the parents are quite ok with the concept of gnomes (apologies Grimma) to teach maths, and the whole anthroposphy (sp?) thang that underpins steiner schools and is woven through the curriculum structure and content. Family puts up a Fish Christmas tree...

sieglinde Sat 01-Dec-12 09:10:17

yes, math, and yy niminy. My point is that people banging on about pink unicorns can be just as foot-down definite as any Jehovah's Witness. I know liberal, enquiring, curious people of all faiths and of no faith, and I don't like dogmatism in any form.

I'd rather simply tell my dcs that yes, this is my faith, and these are my views, clear and straight, but also tell them that this is not an insistence that it be their faith too. I would in all truth be entirely happy for them to find God in their own way/s. That might include making a god of empiricism, though I do wish the current empiricists were less dogmatic, and also a bit less stupid about the human animal and its needs and desires. Perhaps I might hope that the next generation might be more liberal and tolerant atheists than some - not all - of the current stars. I especially dislike the feeble cultural history of memes that Dawkins and his sect offer; it explains nothing at all, and maddens me not as a Catholic but as a historian.

Himalaya Sat 01-Dec-12 09:31:58

Sieglinde-

It is obviously polite not to go on about pink unicorns etc...at a wedding, christening or whatever

But normally if you know something to be true beyond reasonable doubt (... unless new evidence shows up..) it is ok to say so - e.g. The earth is round, AIDS is caused by HIV, the Norse gods are ancient mythology, homeopathy works through the placebo effect, drinking bleach is dangerous etc...

It is perfectly possible to be liberal, enquiring and curious and yet to rule out some hypotheses (what is the point of being enquiring if you can never rule out any possibilities for fear of being "dogmatic").

So the question comes back to why it is deemed dogmatic to rule out the god hypothesis, but not the pink unicorn one.

Himalaya Sat 01-Dec-12 09:33:09

(Obviously, the world isn't really "round" grin)

sieglinde Sat 01-Dec-12 09:59:33

Actually, it isn't quite round, either, in the sense of spherical grin. And the idea that people ever thought it was flat is one of the most oft-repeated historical errors ever. Dante, for example, knew perfectly well that it was roughly spherical.

Also, and I almost hate to say this, there are a few pagans who identify themselves as Odinists. Not sure if I need a rant here about Himmler's efforts to revive the worship of the Germanic deities, or his scholarly institute for studying them - wackily, sickly...

So even the simple is complex, perhaps amusingly so. None of which is germane to your argument, or a refutation of your structural logic; just that atheists frequently mount claims which are actually not themselves evidentially supported, because they won't read any proper history and I find it mildly comic.

And there is also an interesting difference between your statements and those you make about god/s. What you cite as facts are cases commanding near-universal agreement. So too with pink unicorns; nobody has ever claimed to see them. But not so with god. Announcing that you want to shoehorn the latter into the former category won't make it so.

Thistledew Sat 01-Dec-12 10:58:38

As an atheist, my view is that 'God' is something that exists only in the minds (or hearts or souls if you prefer) of people that believe in God.

God is something that is defined only by the religious texts that promote God. If I say to a Christian "Don't you find it amusing to worship a God who has an elephant's head and eight arms?" they will tell me that their god does not because it says in the Bible that god made man in his image, therefore god looks like a human being. Likewise, every aspect of how and what they believe god to be is defined by their interpretation of the bible.

This creates a further problem in that there are so many ways to interpret the bible: very few people who call themselves Christians believe that every word of the bible is absolute truth. Most believe that many of the stories, particularly in the old Testament are allegorical rather that literal, and that god didn't actually go around killing the families of his most loyal supporter, setting bears on young children for teasing a bald man, or turning people into salt. There are, however, people who do believe that god did these things. The many Christian sects do not agree as to who/what god is, let alone when you take into consideration the lack of agreement between the three major Abrahamic religions who are all equally sure they have got it right when it comes to saying what god is.

There is no concrete way of defining absolutely who or what god is. Even if you sat down two people from the same sect and asked them to define god and how he behaves you would probably get two slightly different answers. This means that either only one person in the whole world is right about god (which says a lot for the concept of god itself if only one person will have the benefits of believing in the right way) or that everyone who believes in god is right.

The situation that you then arrive at with the second proposition is that there is no 'right' way to believe in god, and there is no way of telling how he has acted in the past or will act in the future. If everyone who believes in god is equally right in their beliefs, they must all be equally wrong. The only way that you can fix on a definition to say "Yes, this is god" is by taking a definition of one believer, or by believing yourself. That ability to define god only arises because people have beliefs. Those beliefs only exist in the mind of that believer and nowhere else. The concept of god does not exist other than by how god is defined. Therefore god does not exist other than in the minds of those who define god.

So, as an atheist, I am prepared to accept that people hold a genuine belief in the existence of god and that god exists for them. However, god does not have an independent reality that affects me in any way. For me, god has no existence.

What then does disturb me is that some people hold beliefs that terrible things will happen to me because I do not hold the same beliefs that they do (my DSis has recently seen fit to tell me I am going to hell). Personally, I find it troubling that someone would hold those beliefs when there is no need to, and think it is nothing more than a reflection of her psyche.

"And there is also an interesting difference between your statements and those you make about god/s. What you cite as facts are cases commanding near-universal agreement. So too with pink unicorns; nobody has ever claimed to see them. But not so with god. Announcing that you want to shoehorn the latter into the former category won't make it so."

So the amount of people who believe in something without proof is directly proportionate to how seriously you should take it? Even if the facts available still amount to exactly the same thing?

Does that work for conspiracy theories and alien abductions too? There's no proof whatsoever but people still believe in it, must we therefore give their beliefs some credit? A quick google search suggests people believe that Colonel Sanders was a member of the Klan and so KFC contains an ingredient that causes sterility in black men. Would we be being "dogmatic" to point out that is ludicrous?

Himalaya Sat 01-Dec-12 12:10:39

Sieglinde -

I thought it was the ancient Greeks who first came up with the idea that the world is (roughly) round? Is that a myth? I'm not sure what your point is about modern pagans not worshiping Odin? The Vikings presumably did think Odin was real.. There are modern day advocates of homeopathy and HIV/Aids denialists ...the point is the fact that some people, at some time in history believed something does not give it a claim to intellectual credibility as an idea (although it can be interesting to study).

Yes you are right, I am somewhat simplistically dividing the world of ideas into 3 classes - those which are coherent and supported by the evidence, those which are not and those for which the jury is still out.

Any idea about reality that is well enough specified ought to be able to fit into one of these categories. Ancient ideas of gods fall into to the second category, and have therefore largely been discarded.

As I understand it the idea of god amongst modern believers avoids this by saying that it doesn't fit into any of these classes, but is a special class of truth claim whose veracity which cannot be tested by the usual means of coherence, evidence etc...you have to have faith. Well, invisable pink unicorns fit in that class too.

sieglinde Sat 01-Dec-12 12:29:24

Well, the Greeks' idea is complex, too, but what i was refuting is the idea that medieval people believed the world was flat till Columbus disproved it; this is usually one of the factoids often cited to support the notion that medieval christendom was unscientific.

Odin - well, all I really mean, actually, is that belief or lack of belief in Odin is not altogether as done a deal as you say. Mostly, such assertions are questionable at best. I would not wish to see a widespread revival of Norse paganism, but it isn't impossible to imagine one. History doe snot operate as reliably or as evenly as Whigs want it to.

Murderofgoths - LOVE your name! - yes, actually. Part of empiricism is repeatability. In history, facts are really events that everyone agrees were the case. This does not of course mean that one cannot listen attentively to other paradigm-shifting or off-the-wall ideas, but all I really mean is that as long as a large minority believes in god/s, then the jury will remain out.

So yes, I do think it does fit your third category, Hima, in the sense of being an issue on which we have not yet arrived at a consensus, unlike with pink unicorns or fairies. You have made your call, but the human race as a whole is not yet willing to accept your view. This neither guarantees that you are wrong or proves that you are right.

NamingOfParts Sat 01-Dec-12 15:12:55

Thistledew, I agree with you that faith is a personal interpretation and an essentially private matter. The problem we have is that many faiths do encourage not just outward displays of faith but also outward practice of faith.

As an atheist I am happy for other people to hold beliefs so long as they dont expect me to participate in any way including being an audience for their displays of faith.

The problem is that many faiths demand that participants go out and spread the word. Add to that the issue that many people of faith are just so damned certain that they are right that they cant see that the offence they cause by forcing people like me to be unwilling participants in their faith.

Ok, so if enough people believe KFC is part of a major conspiracy to stop black people reproducing then we should give them airtime and not point out that the chances of it happening are slim to none, even though there is no evidence (nor is there ever likely to be) to suggest that is the case?

Belief in something without evidence doesn't make it so. You can't wish something into existence.

"I do think it does fit your third category, Hima, in the sense of being an issue on which we have not yet arrived at a consensus, unlike with pink unicorns or fairies. "

Actually plenty of people believe in fairies. Maybe I'm dogmatic in my non-belief of fairies too.

niminypiminy Sat 01-Dec-12 16:58:08

Namingofparts, some religions seek to evangelise, such as Islam and Christianity; others, such as Judaism, do not.

If you believe something is true, then you live your life - your whole life, not just the bits out of sight of other people - in the light of that. I believe that love is the most important thing I can give my children, and I believe that members of society are dependent one on another. I don't live out those beliefs solely in my own home, but in the way I live my whole life.

Now, you may say that believing that love vital to child development is different in believing in the living God. Whether that is true or not - and I do not think, philosophically speaking, that these beliefs are as different as some would have them - because faith is in practice less about whether one assents to certain propositions than about what now one lives in the light of one's beliefs, they are in practice not very different.

Just as I try to live my life putting into practice my beliefs about love and about interdependence, so I try to live my life putting into practice the message of the gospel - in short, love God with all your mind, strength and soul, and love your neighbour as yourself. That's what Christianity really boils down to in the end, and that's in the end what is important.

(There is, of course, the small matter if the historical legacy if Christian ethics. Without Christianity, we would not live in a world where love has the central place it does for us, and we would not live in a world where the respect for the individual assumed prime importance.)

"Without Christianity, we would not live in a world where love has the central place it does for us, and we would not live in a world where the respect for the individual assumed prime importance."

Seriously? hmm

niminypiminy Sat 01-Dec-12 17:17:04

Yes.

One of the reasons why Christianity was so successful in its early centuries was because it stressed the value of each life, and positively welcomed those excluded from public life, from religious cults and those on the margins of socket - such as women, the sick and needy, and slaves.

The early Christians set up hospitals, unheard of in the classical world, and fed the hungry. A large number of the early adherents were women and slaves. And whereas the Greek and Roman gods were all about favour and power, the new Christian religion put love at the centre of its belief and practice.

headinhands Sat 01-Dec-12 17:31:32

What about the millions of people who live peace loving lives without Christianity. How do they manage it?

Why didn't god just start off with Jesus rather than building on the breath taking cruelty of the old testament with all sanctions for rape and slavery etc?

niminypiminy Sat 01-Dec-12 17:39:13

Because they live within the historical legacy of Christian ethics.

That's a fatuous caricature of the Old Testament.

headinhands Sat 01-Dec-12 17:40:59

math when you say that a child expressing strident opinions is probably suffering some upset, would that be only strident opinions that differ from yours. What if that child's opinions were pro religion. Would that be okay?

headinhands Sat 01-Dec-12 17:46:21

Fatuous? Let me get his straight, you are saying it Is it silly and pointless to point out the sickening violence in the OT Could you explain how it is silly to acknowledge the wildly different character of god in the OT to the one peddled by mainstream Christians today.

niminypiminy Sat 01-Dec-12 17:59:06

Nope, I am saying it is a fatuous caricature, a silly, one-dimensional and exaggerated view.

I'm happy to discuss the OT - although I'm aware of the many times that this has been attempted and it always ends with a lot of proof-texting on the part of the atheists, while the Christians try patiently to explain their historically and textually informed view.

headinhands Sat 01-Dec-12 18:11:38

So how is it a one-dimensional caricature when we refer to the very real bloody thirsty nature of the OT god but not one- dimensional to concentrate on NT parts that promote love and patience?

headinhands Sat 01-Dec-12 18:13:26

As an ex Christian I know how the conversation goes when the violence of the OT is bought up and the best one was 'I don't understand it but god has given me peace about it'. I now realise that just means 'I don't think about it'.

"Because they live within the historical legacy of Christian ethics."

So before Christianity there were no morals/good people? Don't be daft.

Himalaya Sat 01-Dec-12 18:46:21

Sieglinde

""I do think it does fit your third category, Hima, in the sense of being an issue on which we have not yet arrived at a consensus, unlike with pink unicorns or fairies. "

When I chat to religious people the idea of god seems to slip backwards and forwards between the third and fourt class of ideas - I.e. something that we just can't be sure about yet (like the Higgs Boson particle) and something that will always be outside of the reach of human knowledge (like the Invisible Pink Unicorn) .... It reminds me of how homeopathy advocates will say "we don't know how it works yet, it needs more study" and then when studies show it doesn't work beyond placebo they say "it can't be studied with reductive methods like RCTs"

niminypiminy Sat 01-Dec-12 19:08:30

Of course there was morality before Christianity, and there were good people. But the moral systems were different, and what counted as good was different. And some of what counted as good would be unrecognisable to us as good.

Our society is shaped by Christianity in ways that go back deep into history; our system of morality is fundamentally Christian, even when we reject Christian belief.

It's history, innit.

niminypiminy Sat 01-Dec-12 19:12:59

HeadinHands, how about 'the bible is a heterogenous, complex set of texts, written over centuries by people whose ideas about God were changing and evolving, and that it reflects their changing and evolving understanding of God', and 'the OT is the story of the people of Israel's changing apprehension of their relationship with God, and of their understanding of his nature'?

Himalaya Sat 01-Dec-12 19:24:56

Niminy - it just seems so odd - that a creator god clever and powerful enough to create the universe and life (through whatever roundabout means) should be so singularly inept at communicating his true nature to the organism with which he wants to have a relationship (particularly if this relationship is actually the whole purpose of the universe he created).

It just seems much more parsimonious an explanation that "god" is just one the many weird and wonderful ideas that human beings have come up with.

niminypiminy Sat 01-Dec-12 20:09:53

It's we that are inept. We get glimmers, intimations. Sometimes we misunderstand. When we do understand we have human-sized understanding.

I wouldn't have the gall to say that the God's purpose in creating the universe is to have a relationship with humans. His purposes are much bigger and more profound than I could ever fathom, even if I was the most profound person ever.

Thistledew Sat 01-Dec-12 20:34:20

I wonder how many people of faith are prepared to accept that it is likely that a significant portion of their belief about their god is probably wrong, and that there is a risk that as a result they may go to the hell they believe in? Or is it only the non-believers and false believers that are running the risk of going to hell.

niminypiminy Sat 01-Dec-12 20:49:49

I don't know, personally, of any Christians who think that if you believe wrong things about God you will go to hell.

NamingOfParts Sat 01-Dec-12 21:10:38

niminypiminy, how you choose to live your life is for you to decide. However, if you come to my door to proclaim your faith then you will get short shrift from me. I do you the courtesy of not coming to your door to proclaim the absence of a god/gods and I expect the same courtesy in return.

Religions are absolutely fascinating (in a behavioural and cultural sense) i just dont feel the need to have one of my own.

Thistledew Sat 01-Dec-12 21:11:13

Unfortunately, I have come across several people who profess themselves to be Christian who believe all Muslims will go to hell, and that people from other Christian sects such as JWs will do so also.

Himalaya Sat 01-Dec-12 21:15:04

Nimimy - but isn't dubbing him 'the God of Love' pretty much saying that his purpose is to do with creatures capable of feeling love (which if not being downright anthropomorphic at least narrows it down somewhat ), otherwise he could be something like 'the God of vast empty spaces punctuated with bits of space dust and the stars'.

All this we are not worthy, we are inept business does not make sense to me at all, in the context of religions which do seem to suggest a particular relationship between the creator of the universe and one particular organism (after all god didn't incarnate his son as a mushroom...).

How can a lesser being (humans) be 'inept' at understanding the nature of a vastly superior being (god) who knows exactly the capabilities of the lesser being but nevertheless chooses to communicate with them through faint 'glimmers' that he knows they will misunderstand. That is not ineptness on the part of the lesser being but cruelty on the part of the greater power.

....It is like we sent our kids to nursery and the teachers insisted in speaking to them only in Latin, giving them faint and inconsistent glimmers of what they want them to understand, letting them believe that it might please the teacher to sacrifice each other, cut off parts of their body etc... It doesn't sound very loving to me.

niminypiminy Sat 01-Dec-12 21:31:58

Naming, you won't find me coming to your door to try and convert you. It's embarrassing, unpleasant and counterproductive.

Thistledew, I bow to your experience; however these cannot be terribly well-informed people if they believe Jehovah's Witnesses to be Christians, since they are not. (I don't think they, or Muslims are going to he'll, just to confirm.)

Himalaya, can't God be 'the God of the vast spaces of the universe' and the God of Love? Because he's so much more than we can comprehend, doubtless he has purposes that don't relate to us at all. There may be, as far as I know, other incarnations in other places and times. But Jesus is the one we know about, the event through which God communicated with us as clearly as he could.

You misunderstood me. God is probably communicating his being and purposes and mind and love on full beam all the time. It's us who get the glimmers, because amazing as our brains are, they are much smaller than God. But what glimmers we get! When you have one, it's an experience that it is worth all of life to have.

Himalaya Sat 01-Dec-12 22:04:27

Niminy - well sure I guess god can be anything you want. But it just seems a bit incoherent to me.

I mean when humans first got to know god (or invented him, depending on what your worldview) they thought the sun went round the earth and that stars were pinpricks of light and that humans and animals were fundamentally different kinds of things. So the gods they perceived/invented were particularly concerned with humans, our feelings and wishes, what they did with their lives etc... It made a certain amount of sense given what they knew.

Now we know that we are just another evolved creature on a small rock orbiting a small star somewhere in a vast universe, this idea of god seems a bit parochial. So you say of course he can be the god of Love and vast tracts of nothingness, he may have special spiritual with otherr organisms on earth or elsewhere, there may be a dolphin messiah etc.... It just seems to be packing a lot into the concept of god. It stretches credibility to think this is the same god who glimmered sent Jesus down to atone for man's sins. It just seems so much more likely that this, and all the other varied supernatural mythologies arose out of human culture

Himalaya Sat 01-Dec-12 22:08:37

Are Jehovah's Witnesses not Christians??

niminypiminy Sat 01-Dec-12 22:16:56

Don't you think it's natural for our understanding of God to have changed as our knowledge has grown? God's big enough to have all our concepts in him.

God didn't send Jesus primarily to atone for our sins. He sent him to be God in human form.

JWs can't be Christians: they don't believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ.

Himalaya Sat 01-Dec-12 22:38:20

Niminy -

No, I think a more parsimonious explanation of all the different versions of gods is that they are the creation of the human mind.

JWs say they are Christians (and Wikipedia says they are Christians....). How can the concept go god be so stretchy as to accommodate almost anything, but the concept of Christianity be so tightly defined as to be able to rule some people out for the wrong kind of belief?

How can you say one hand that gods purpose is so profound and beyond human understanding, and on the other hand know for sure what gods primary and secondary motivations were for sending Jesus?

I find the whole thing so slippery - on one hand if there are difficult questions you can always say its profound, mysterious, we are only humans and cannot know.....but when regions want to they can come up with some very specific ideas of what god is, what he wants people to do, and how he relates to human beings.

Kewcumber Sat 01-Dec-12 23:08:56

"our system of morality is fundamentally Christian"

Society evolves, at different paces in different places, there is an ebb and flow. Some societies are more enlightened than others.

Arguably countries with true communist manifestos are way more advanced than our hierarchical "christian" society.

But I hope your post wasn't really suggesting that Christianity has some kind of morally superior system than anyone else - because there's a shit load of people in the world who aren't christian with perfectly decent morals and in fact with no christian history either.

I 100% believe there is no god, I think the evidence of this is probably 99%. But I'm happy if someone wants to call it a believe or an opinion - I accept that everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I am equally entitled to consider how well informed I think their opinions are.

If there really was a god I am sure the world would be a very different place.

sieglinde Sun 02-Dec-12 08:58:15

Things have moved on, but yes, murderofgoths, plenty of people do believe in fairies, but probably numerically far fewer than in the judaeoxtian god. And yes, if a majority of people believe something then it does seem better to debate with them openly than to try to silence them. However, as as far as I know, no such perverse belief as the one you cite is at all widespread. Again, minimal compared to the JX god.

Kewcumber, dropping in on this posting, but in one respect, and only one, Christianity is different from any other religion known to me. Most world religions have an idea of self-abnegation, up to and including pacifism, but christianity does have this especial charism of the despised and the outcast as especially good and blessed - compare the untouchables in Hinduism, or the Buddhist idea that those who suffer are being punished/learning from some past transgression. While many other religions advocate almsgiving, only xtians actually advocate embracing a leper as a loved brother. If anyone can correct me, I will accept it.

Not sure what you mean by 'true communism', but that idea comes arguably from the early church, as much as anything. Bernard Shaw said something like 'Christianity is a wonderful idea, which nobody has yet tried to practice.' The hierarchy you identify is not intrinsic to it, but came to it from the Roman Empire in which it grew up and the chaos which followed its collapse.

Himalaya Sun 02-Dec-12 10:04:35

Sieglinde -

I think you are confusing not giving intellectual credence to beliefs without evidence with trying to trying to silence those who hold such beliefs.

One is a question of freedom of speech and association the other is about the social conventions around polite speech, where supernatural beliefs which have the stamp of approval of organised religion are considered out of bounds for the usual scepticism about extraordinary claims.

Of course people should be free to worship and talk about whatever they like (as long as its not hurting anyone).

But others should be free to say "that is silly" particularly if they bring supernatural beliefs into the public domain of policy, ethics, education, medicine etc....and expect other people to lend special weight to their revelatory "knowledge" (e.g. By reserving seats of political power for leaders of religious interest groups).

when it comes to debates about policy and ethics etc... everyone should have equal rights to hold and voice their views. No one should be silenced.

At present I think the whole education system around RE is designed to make sure that people have strong "internal censors" to silence public criticism of religion. comments on here telling people it's rude, adolescent, fundamentalist, disrespectful etc... to say that religion is a product of the human mind are part of the same silencing mechanism IMO.

Snorbs Sun 02-Dec-12 10:57:32

God didn't send Jesus primarily to atone for our sins. He sent him to be God in human form.
To what purpose?

JWs can't be Christians
I think you misspelled "According to some people's definition of what a Christian is, JWs don't qualify although, of course, there is no consensus view of what counts as Christianity and what doesn't." HTH!

SolidGoldYESBROKEMYSPACEBAR Sun 02-Dec-12 11:05:06

I do wonder why so many people have an imaginary friend that doesn't like them very much. Your imaginary friend won't talk to you, does wierd shit to you, hides away, makes demands - and yet you're still bleating at other people about how wonderful it is.

headinhands Sun 02-Dec-12 11:54:38

The reason non theists use the fairy/big foot analogy is that there is just as much evidence for those beliefs as there are for the main religions. Like it or not there is as much credibility to a belief in werewolves as there is in someone believing in Yahweh. Amount of followers is not evidence in favour of a religion, neither is personal testimony of divine revelation or a momentary glimmer of understanding as someone upthread put it.

I'd describe myself as an agnostic atheist, I can't be 100% sure that god(s) don't exist but based on the complete lack of evidence I don't believe they do exist. It's also not my responsibility to prove that god(s) doesn't exist, I can't prove a negative, the onus is on the theists making the positive claim that one does exist to prove it.

I'd also add that there are no less than ten religious books that claim they are the 'revealed' word of the 'one true god'; the Jewish Torah, the Christian Gospels, the Qur'an of Islam, Kitab-i-Aqdas of Bahá'u'lláh, the Hindu Vedas, the Avestas of Zarathustra, the Adi-Granth of the Sikhs, the Bhagavad-Gita of the Mahabarata, The Book of Mormon and the Urantia Book. So which one should I put my faith in? The most logical position for me to take is that they are all wrong and none of them are true.

'I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours' - Stephen Roberts.

sieglinde Sun 02-Dec-12 14:47:34

Can't see where i do this, Hima.

As you know, I'm for disestablishment - I'm not C of E, and if I were to get feisty I would say they have the blood of my people on their hands, and that they also stole our buildings and wealth. I'm also against faith schools and against other manifestations of theocracy, including abortion laws which restrict access, though I myself think abortion is always wrong.

However, on abortion we now have a consensus, though it's not one I support morally. So I am applying my own precept here; I'm willing to discuss abortion with anyone, and try to persuade them to change their minds, but NOT to campaign for its illegality, a campaign which has wrought obvious injustice everywhere it has touched.

It's not because religion is 'organised' that it's out of bounds, Hima. (and ffs, it's not that organised grin). It's because it commands a large slice of human history, opinion, loyalty and identity. Disagree all you like, but don't dismiss.

SG, why do you say 'imaginary friend' as though that's dreadful? I mean, what's wrong with imaginary friends? Have you seen Harvey, with James Stewart? See it! More seriously, though only a bit - part of the experience of god is the experience of absence, the dark night of the soul. Most people with religious beliefs have that experience, and perhaps you do too - a childlike sense of abandonment and desolation. Why do I say this? Because you write as if religion is about false happiness... Another argument adduced above suggests that people of religion are afraid of death - within norms, I'm really not, to the extent where I find it hard to sympathise with those who are.

GrimmaTheNome Sun 02-Dec-12 14:51:38

Haven't caught up with all the thread but just like to point out that whatever Niminy thinks, JWs themselves state that they are Christians. Whatever your brand of Christianity, there's sure to be some other brand who'll say that you aren't a proper one. Remember the story of the men on the bridge ??grin

StNickHasHisXmasTeakozyOn Sun 02-Dec-12 15:23:43

That joke's funny and true Grimma. grin

headinhands Sun 02-Dec-12 15:39:08

Imaginary friends are all fun and good but not good when your imaginary friend tells you what laws to make/overturn when you are in a position of power. That's the crux. Your imaginary friend should stay in your head and not get to decide what other people can and can't do.

GrimmaTheNome Sun 02-Dec-12 16:09:38

I don't find the term 'imaginary friend' fits well as an analogy for deities because the former is the product of a child's own imagination whereas the latter is an idea which initially comes in from the outside (though everyone then customises their own version). When I lost faith, I didn't ever think in terms of having left behind an 'imaginary friend' - the word I ascribed to my formed self was 'deluded'.

mathanxiety Sun 02-Dec-12 16:18:01

Sieglinde, I agree with disestablishment and would like to see faith schools separated from state educational provision as in the US (the separation of church and state works very well imo). Ditto wrt abortion and my approach I have to say.

I also agree that when discussion of religion comes up there are lots of misapprehensions and mischaracterisations thrown about -- almost to the point of being straw men.

sieglinde Sun 02-Dec-12 16:37:05

Yes, but I still think an alternative phrase is needed, though actually my childhood imaginary friends came from books, especially since I agree as said about the idea that god should not be a god who tells me what laws to make. he could be one who tells me what laws would fit with moral laws, but then I would need to persuade those who don't believe in him by reason.

Generally atheists here and elsewhere seem to see god as more dictatorial than I do.

headinhands Sun 02-Dec-12 17:00:09

So sieg how dictatorial is god? And how do you explain the fact that if you had a chart and asked all 'Christians' to plot how much they think God tells them what they should do, the spread would be very wide with some thinking he was chilled out and some saying he was all pure and hated sin?

headinhands Sun 02-Dec-12 17:17:16

If god isn't dictatorial why does he dictate so much in the OT? I assume that displays his character as much as anything in the NT? I ask but I already know what I would have said when I was in your shoes.

headinhands Sun 02-Dec-12 17:24:18

Apols if you're not referring to Yahweh in your reference to god

sieglinde Mon 03-Dec-12 08:49:30

Whoah. Headinhands, so many questions.. all important.

Yahweh, if that's how you want to refer to him (though I don't), is love. In the OT his love is interpreted as law. Why? Because the people doing the interpreting are childlike. Not sure about your dcs, but mine when young would interpret even the kindest remark in very absolute terms; even now, anything mildly critical is often reported as 'daddy/Mummy doesn't like X'. But we make rules for our dcs and enforce them because dcs will stumble into the fire if we don't. Later, we begin to let go. So it is with humanity; god began as law, as we do with dcs, but then lets go of our hands a little, in the person of Jesus, who actually busted up and spifflicated a lot of petty laws.

The one clear rule for him was love, endless, unstoppable love. So it can be for us. Because if you love someone, there doesn't have to be law; you just want what they want. The best kind of rule is the rule of love; me last, you first.

You do this every single day with your dcs - parenthood is incredibly evolved and spiritual. So when you think of what's best for them, that's not always going to be the same as what they at this moment want. Hence the conflicts.

Any clearer now? If we just went around acting as though we loved one another, that would be the best kind of law; you don't have to have bubbling feelings of love, more the wish to just stop on your way to the shops and smile and help the old lady across the road.

headinhands Mon 03-Dec-12 10:55:02

Thanks for your reply. I still don't see how you can compare parenting with god's actions in the OT. I couldn't imagine drowning my children or setting bears on them or sending people to kill them for me (apart from the young women sad)

GrimmaTheNome Mon 03-Dec-12 11:03:47

>If we just went around acting as though we loved one another, that would be the best kind of law

Yes indeed. More or less the second of Jesus' two commandments.

Its his first commandment - and the first several of the OT's 10 - which obviously atheists can't agree with. It struck me reading your post that while parents do lovingly lay down rules for their children, I've never heard any of them say 'The most important rule of all is that you love me'. Because true parental love is unconditional. If there was a God who was a loving Father why would he need to put in the stuff about loving him and being a jealous god?

sieglinde Mon 03-Dec-12 12:04:09

well, headinhands, we weren't talking about god's way of enforcing his laws, but about the laws themselves, and that was what I meant in using the metaphor of a parent and a child. Personally, I have never set bears on my children - glad to hear you haven't either. grin But while the bear story is horrible, as is the flood, all of us also enforce the rules we make for our children - don't we? If only by critical glares, in our kindly middling way..?

That said, I also see the bears and even the flood as like a folktale, about the terrible and real danger of loss of love and life in trivia, including the trivia of personal abuse (the bear story). Not a literal death, then, but the loss of the best self...

Grimma, I see exactly what you mean about the need to love god seeming alien to the need to love. I often feel that myself, and struggle with it. The best defence I can offer is that we need to love god, not vice versa. It can be and ought to be the beginning and the end of all love.

The NT challenges us with the question of how we can love those who may not be very lovable, who are rude, or ungrateful, or sullen. A thing that's distinctive about Jesus is that he said it's easy to love the people who are your friends; it gets tough when you love your enemies, the surly taxi driver and the neighbour who always parks across your driveway. One way to that might be - for some people - to think of them as friends of a friend, to remind yourself that they are infinitely precious to god.

Thistledew Mon 03-Dec-12 12:25:02

It is rather disingenuous to define god simply as 'love' or even as the instruction to love. My own philosophical and spiritual beliefs include showing compassion or love to everyone, but I don't hold any belief in any sort of deity. Most people would say that I am not a Christian (or of any other religion). Most religious beliefs are not about general ideas of how we should behave, but are based on very select ideas taken from a particular religious text. What fascinates me is that people who hold religious beliefs can be so sure that what they believe is the 'right' thing to believe, yet people who don't believe what they do have it all wrong. Yet at the same time that it doesn't matter for them if they have got it slightly wrong, but it matters terribly if someone else has not got it right.

GrimmaTheNome Mon 03-Dec-12 12:31:43

>The best defence I can offer is that we need to love god, not vice versa. It can be and ought to be the beginning and the end of all love.

That of course is a viewpoint which we'll have to agree to differ on, since I don't believe there is a god any more and its made no difference in my capacity for love.

Treating people 'lovingly' can be done simply by remembering that each life is precious of itself. The golden (or platinum) rule is of course not unique to christianity or other theistic religions.

CoteDAzur Mon 03-Dec-12 12:48:30

"I also see the bears and even the flood as like a folktale, about the terrible and real danger of loss of love and life in trivia, including the trivia of personal abuse (the bear story). Not a literal death, then, but the loss of the best self."

And I see ^ as clutching at straws.

Sending bears to tear children into bloody bits just because they have made fun of the bald head of a guy God likes... It is a shocking story, with no morals that could possibly pass as "good" in this day and age.

"Real danger of loss of love and life in trivia" but surely inexcusable when the party dealing out this loss is your God. How can you possibly reconcile your "love" for this possibly imaginary deity, knowing that He ordered and executed bloody murder of little children? (Does it even matter that it's "over trivia"?)

CoteDAzur Mon 03-Dec-12 12:52:15

"If we just went around acting as though we loved one another, that would be the best kind of law"

God could have created us that way. Instead, he created humans selfish, looking out for themselves and those nearest to them at the probable expense of everyone else.

These are all paradoxes that are quite impossible to reconcile with the standard Christian party line of love, love, and more love flowing down from God to his children, and from the faithful to each other etc. The contrived stories of "Bible said that but it actually means" etc that people use to make sense of it all are quite fascinating examples of cognitive dissonance.

headinhands Mon 03-Dec-12 13:22:56

See sieg I'm relieved you see fit to denounce the flood and bear incident and other wanton brutality as folktales. It shows you are bringing your own independent morality to bear when reading the bible, and thank god for that! I'm not much different from you in that I think all of it is exaggerated folktales, not just the gruesome stuff. I've let go of the need to make it fit and applied the same logic for the whole shebang, not just the bits I don't like. I don't need to use terms such as context to squish yahweh into a less abhorrent character where the vile stuff needs to go through some sort of contextual laundry system. But the bits that seem nice are just taken at face value. how does that seem logical?

I appreciate that we all discipline our kids but drowning and raping are never the actions of a parent acting in a good way are they? Why would such a loving god be happy for his character to be so denigrated and vilified?

If you asked me to write an autobiography of your life so far wouldn't you be angry if I included several lengthy chapters on how some people mistakenly think you used to go around killing babies and setting packs of vicious dogs on small children if they upset you? You wouldn't think to get that bit taken out? Why would you be happy for that to be included?

ilovetermtime Mon 03-Dec-12 13:27:05

thistledew, I'd like that explained too.

mathanxiety Tue 04-Dec-12 04:19:44

It is important 'to love God and love thy neighbour as thyself' because while love is important the existence of a being bigger or greater than oneself is even moreso. This is to counterbalance the idea that the individual is the be all and end all of everything. The idea of God here encompasses all the law and all the hope offered by Christianity. The idea of the individual does not because individuals all have 'independent morality' and the result is not always pleasant, or a world where any sort of morality gets a word in edgeways.

mathanxiety Tue 04-Dec-12 04:20:57

Again, lots of straw men making an appearance in the last few posts I see.

mathanxiety Tue 04-Dec-12 04:22:31

Headinhands, read Sieglinde's post again, She did not say what you said she said.

headinhands Tue 04-Dec-12 05:03:20

What about the large swathes of humanity who live wonderfully moral lives outside of Christianity? What about those inside whose morals are lacking? How are we to explain that data if Christiany has something supernaturall about it?

You'll have to point out the strawmen to me? I think some of my points are extrapolations of common Christian logic rather than a point by point critique of Sieg's post if that helps. Maybe you could address the points raised in the post?

nooka Tue 04-Dec-12 05:40:02

If all the 'bad' bits in the Bible are just people getting things wrong, then isn't it as likely that the 'good' bits are just as wrong? On the one hand many Christians often talk about a direct experience of god talking to them, which should be taken as real and genuine and on the other hand they talk about other people getting so very much wrong. It just fundamentally doesn't hang together for me.

Half of my family is very religious, with several who have been 'born again'. I love them very much, but to me they appear sadly deluded. Of course they see me as rejecting Christianity which no doubt makes them a great deal more sad than my total puzzlement about their beliefs makes me. The two viewpoints are just incompatible in my experience, so we do our best not to talk about it at all.

I have no real problem with the idea that we all approach the world from our own point of view, placing self and then family first, then community and then possibly some greater community after that if we are wired that way. Evidence suggests that is how people work, I can't see that adding religious belief makes very much difference, in general people with faith (or perhaps more accurately people who belong to organized religions) behave no differently toward their fellows than those without.

Himalaya Tue 04-Dec-12 07:57:10

"Treating people 'lovingly' can be done simply by remembering that each life is precious of itself. The golden (or platinum) rule is of course not unique to christianity or other theistic religions."

Exactly Grimma.

I think the idea of loving everyone is a bit odd. Acting well towards people surely means treating people you don't love (or even like, or perhaps dont know...) with decency, respect and fairness. Why do you need to summon up some kind of cod emotion for them in order to treat them well?

I don't think most Christians do this - they just treat people well in the normal way. I tend to give who do go round indiscriminately loving everyone a wide berth. It is either fake, or a bit bonkers.

GrimmaTheNome Tue 04-Dec-12 08:12:59

>I think the idea of loving everyone is a bit odd. Acting well towards people surely means treating people you don't love (or even like, or perhaps dont know...) with decency, respect and fairness.Why do you need to summon up some kind of cod emotion for them in order to treat them well?

'Loving' in the sense I meant, and I'm sure Sieglinde also meant isn't about emotion at all. Its about what you do for someone, not how you feel about them. Its well illustrated by the parable of the Good Samaritan - I may not believe too much else of the Bible nowadays but that one is a keeper. It demonstrates the difference between false religiousity and true humanity.

GrimmaTheNome Tue 04-Dec-12 08:14:51

(Of course I don't mean by the last sentence that all religious people are false, just to clarify!)

sieglinde Tue 04-Dec-12 08:44:13

Sorry for my absence - busy times. grin Grimma, and Hima, of course you can think of each life as precious in itself, and of course that can work - and of course it's also the case that people of every faith can fail to act lovingly towards one another. However, a religion of love is part of the history of loving kindness to one another. Think: the Romans had shedloads of slaves, who were often routinely slaughtered when their lord died. This is unimaginable in a xtian world, though of course keeping slaves did happen in some places but NEVER without criticism - by itself paganism didn't and couldn't come up with a cogent critique of slavery itself.

Yes, Grimma - I specifically said love in this sense is not an emotion at all. Love is an act, not a feeling. The whole point of making it a law is that you have to behave lovingly to people whether or not you feel affection, and no way would I express that by producing boak-inducing displays of faux-feelings over some stranger. \part of kindness/love is tact. grin

In exactly the same way, when people say they love god, they don't mean that they well up for him as if he was a cute cuddly lamb. Yes, exactly Grimma - the good samaritan is def. a keeper, whether or not you buy anything else in the NT - you love god BY loving each other. If we really try to do this, I honestly can't see how it can be harmful, and if I'm deluded, ok - I can't prove I'm not, though of course I don't think I am, but if it does a few old ladies crossing roads some good, ok.

Btw, headinhands, I'm not trying to defend every single individual OR xty collectively - just explaining my own pov.

Now to the curly qn of the truth of scripture... it just seems to me that there is a big generic difference between the OT and most of the NT. The NT is so much more, well, realist, largely involving believable conversations and only a sprinkling of supernatural events, almost all of them kindnesses - healing, feeding. By contrast, the OT seems laden with narratives that work - if they do work - like folklore - containing some wisdom, but often using narratives very alien to the way we see the world now, after Rome, after humanism. That's why I don't think we need to chuck out the 'good' bits of the NT with the bears. But some parts of the OT are absolutely rich and resonant too - try the Song of Songs... marriage and sex and the longing for god.

Snorbs Tue 04-Dec-12 09:30:31

mathanxiety, your point regarding morality is interesting. An objective reading of the Bible shows a God whose morality is dubious at best and downright abhorrent at worst (perpetrating huge massacres, promoting slavery, insisting that a raped woman be married to her rapist, punishing people for what their ancestors did etc). As an example of morality, the OT at least downright sucks.

But, of course, many modern-day Christians will say that those passages are allegorical or mistranslated or otherwise not to be understood as they are actually presented. And many modern-day Christians will choose to play down some parts of what the Bible says (eg, the don't eat shellfish bits, or the sell all your stuff and give it to the poor bits) while choosing to concentrate other parts (eg, the love your neighbour bits, and the marriage is between a man and a woman bits). And then there are the people who largely ignore the Bible's teachings and, instead, work on making their own personal relationship with God.

That's all well and good. But it does seem quite a lot at odds with the idea that there is a single, overriding morality. It seems to me that every Christian has their own unique take on their religious obligations and beliefs and so each will have their own unique personal morality. Just like the non-religious do. So what's the difference?

sieglinde Tue 04-Dec-12 09:49:48

snorbs, speaking as a xtian, though not sure about the modern day, smile I do understand what you mean about the pick n'mix feel some of it has.

I'm def. in the last class of people you name - making my own relationship with god - and for me the overriding law is love, which is why I think people who condemn same-sex marriage aren't on the same page as me.

Because love is the only law I respect, I think a basically Kantian ethical system makes sense. But then, I also think it follows that love IS an overriding law, and for all of us, all the time. I'm not a fundamentalist, but to me it's very plain in the gospels. I am delighted to note that many humanists agree that love is the law (not mushy feeling love, but love in practice).

headinhands Tue 04-Dec-12 09:50:42

I admit I find it fascinating that one can acknowledge the OT as a wonderfully diverse and rich piece of folklore, which I agree with, while still holding the belief that the NT is largely an honest account. Most works of fiction contain believable conversations but it's not evidence for its veracity. It's likely that the person writing those conversations like any author would have a fair idea how to manufacture a believable piece of dialogue?

If you maintain that the OT is folklore I'm intriqued as to what what your views on creation are? Jesus refers to the OT himself and doesn't seem to allude to it being a type of wisdom via folklore He seemed to think the flood was a real event.

sieglinde Tue 04-Dec-12 10:04:24

hh, the NT is very very unlike the dialogues produced in most of the ancient world. compare it to Plato and you will see what I mean. Or to Lucian. So the idea of how to manufacture dialogue, which must be generic, actually attests to the NT's realism/truth in that the men who wrote it weren't very well versed in how to do it. Matthew's Greek is a bit ropey, for instance, like my German. IYSWIM.

On the NT's take on the OT, yy there are times when the OT is reported as fact in the NT. This basically raises the problem of how much of divine knowledge Jesus experienced when he was incarnate. My sense, which probably isn't v. orthodox, is that to be fully a man he has to share in our doubt and uncertainty - hence - eli, eli - and like most of us his knowledge of history was confined to what his culture knew collectively and what he could work out intellectually. That said, he clearly had illuminating flashes/mystical revelations, which again like most of us he may have struggled to put into the all-too-human language he spoke.

Additionally, though, those who wrote down his story were very much men of their culture/times. So they reported in the discourse into which they were born, especially Mark. You can see that Luke is a bit different, and John different again.

Yy, I see Genesis as a myth, and a v. near eastern myth too, very predictable - read Gilgamesh. On the other hand, I love Bertrand Russell, but there's an endearing moment in Why I am Not a christian where he says that we now know no evidence that the universe ever had a beginning. Just 2 years later, Hubble created the Big Bang theory. Cosmologists now say that nothing we see is real, only an image of a far vaster reality we can't see directly. So I say, we now know that the earth is not 6000 years old, but we don't know enough about the universe to be sure there is NO truth in a first cause.

NB - to me folklore and myth are not dirty words for ideas that should have been superseded; they are what we are/do. You can't altogether drive them out.

Himalaya Tue 04-Dec-12 12:05:47

Sieglinde -

Did Romans really routinely slaughter slaves when their master died, rather than inherit them? That seems a bit odd (not because they didn't love their slaves like the Christian slave owners presumably did hmm, but because they saw them as economic assets).

I don't really understand how you can say 'slavery' is unimaginable in a xtian world. Plenty of slave owners thought of themselves as Christians in Europe and the Americas. They had no problem imagining that slavery was morally right within a Christian framework.

Every slave who ever ran away or fought back must have had a cogent critique of slavery. Something along the lines of 'I am a human being, I don't want to be a slave'. That sounds cogent enough for me. Are you really implying that all slaves were happy with their lot until Christianity came along?

----

When you say 'Love is an act, not a feeling' I think you are playing fast and loose with words and their meanings (not you personally, it seems to be the way with religious talk: words can mean whatever you want them to and then slip effortlessly into meaning something else altogether).

If 'behave lovingly' = be nice to people/treat them fairly/with compassion (right?)

Then God = the god of being nice to people/treating them fairly/with compassion.

Except we know he isn't. If he exists he could equally say he is the God of injustice, cruelty and randomness.

I get the feeling that when people talk about god's love they are talking about something emotional - some kind of feeling of connectedness, ecstasy and mental and spiritual tingling and aliveness, that you get when you are in love, at a really good rock concert, or (i imagine...) having a religious experience. I am sure this is a real feeling and a nice one and for a while you want to grininanely, hug everyone and love them.

That feeling of 'spiritual togetherness' can be a good way of getting people to want to do good, but it can also motivate people against others.

sieglinde Tue 04-Dec-12 12:17:26

1. Yes, they did quite often do this, and nobody thought much of it. I can give references if you would like. Yes, it was silly economically, but it was also a big showoff sign that you could afford it. Bit like the czars throwing crystal glasses into the fireplace after drinking from it.

2. No of course I don't mean that SLAVERY is unimaginable in a xtian world, only that KILLING all the slaves at the master's death is.

3. But while Spartacus's rebellion and the slave revolt under the Abbasid caliphate are signs that slaves got it, they have NO effect on political thinking. Rome sought to wipe out Spartacus as if he'd never existed.

4. Behave lovingly means putting them first, yes. I don't equate that with the tingly feelings you describe, though of course I have them - for god, for the Ring, for Green Day... I think the rest of your point might be the argument from evil again, that an ominipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient god is incompatible with evil in the world? Just checking that this is what you mean.

sieglinde Tue 04-Dec-12 12:18:07

'drinking from THEM.' sad

SolidGoldYESBROKEMYSPACEBAR Tue 04-Dec-12 12:28:30

THe Egyptians used to kill off the slaves when the master died for religious reasons: the slaves were to follow the master into the next world. Some Christians think it's a good thing for women to die in childbirth because they'll go to heaven - there certainly has been a strand of Christian belief to the effect that any form of pain releif in labour was a sin, because women were meant to suffer in childbirth because of the Sin Of Eve.

Himalaya Tue 04-Dec-12 12:36:02

... I was actually thinking of Greenday when I was writing that smile. Our Xmas outing this year is to see American Idiot - I hope it will be transcendent grin

GrimmaTheNome Tue 04-Dec-12 12:39:55

And conversely, the non-theistic Buddha said that you shouldn't trade living beings and laid down guideliness for humane treatment of servants (who may or may not have been slaves). It doesn't require a 'loving god' to know that owning and killing people is wrong.

Christians (eg Wilberforce) were prime movers in getting the slave trade outlawed in Britain; they were opposed by, among others, the Lords Spiritual of their time.

On the pain relief issue, it was fortunate that the possibility of analgesia during childbirth coincided with a fertile, female monarch!

headinhands Tue 04-Dec-12 13:37:17

sieg you mention the ropey language of the NT and how that somehow attests to the truth of it. So following that logic I could sit and write an account of how I was abducted by aliens on my way to Asda yesterday morning. And because I have included some everyday information about shops and so on amongst the wild claims, and that it's obviously not been written by a trained writer, that that is somehow evidence to back up my claim??

Thistledew Tue 04-Dec-12 14:55:01

It is fair to say that the illegalisation of Slavery came from the Christian abolitionist movement, but again this seems to be further evidence of the bible and god meaning only what you want it to believe, rather than it having an independent meaning and reality. Biblical references were used by the abolitionists to call for the end to the slave trade, but quite often the same passages of text (even from the New Testament) were used to justify its continuance.

Christianity is also not the only religion that calls for decent treatment of slaves: the Torah also forbids the killing of slaves and even some branches of Islam (particularly Sunni and more so Sufi) advocate treating slaves as equal human beings (apart from those tricky things such as payment for work and freedom of course).

Christianity has also been used to justify all sorts of atrocities, such as some of the most brutal colonial practices in Africa, and the snatching of Aboriginal children from their families in Australia. It is also frequently used by people who traffic women for sexual exploitation from Africa to Europe in the present day.

Again, to me, it is further evidence that the idea of god, and how god wants you to behave, is wholly subjective dependent on the 'believer's' personal ethics, rather than there being any evidence at all for an independent reality of god.

mathanxiety Tue 04-Dec-12 15:07:45

Snorbs, yes, every individual is unique and everyone's take on what constitutes morality is unique. That is why an organised religion (my own experience is with the RC church) sets forth precepts about how to live, or dogma, or some organised system of belief.

mathanxiety Tue 04-Dec-12 15:10:02

Thistledew, that doesn't mean the religion should be scrapped. It means that the people doing wrong need to stop.

There are laws about driving and parking that are routinely flouted (a lot of the time by people who are perfectly sincere in their belief that they have some good reason to ignore them) but that doesn't mean the whole edifice is rotten.

Thistledew Tue 04-Dec-12 15:34:42

I don't necessarily think that religions need to be scrapped. I just think that society and civilisation would move forward significantly if it was universally accepted that everyone has a complete freedom of choice in what they believe in, and that if you (generic you) believe that gays shouldn't marry, abortions should be outlawed, other people will be subject to eternal torment for not performing certain rituals etc that this is your belief and is not dictated to you by any outside force or entity.

I am sure that there will still be people who choose to believe negative things about their fellow human beings, and who choose to try to control them, but I also like to think that it would make people examine their beliefs a bit more honestly, and take ownership for the harmful bits, rather than just being able to say "It's what I have to believe".

If following a religion helps you be a better, kinder, more beneficial person, then by all means knock yourself out and believe what you like. Just don't assume a justification for the not so nice bits.

mathanxiety Tue 04-Dec-12 15:40:42

Don't assume that because you believe there are bits that are not so nice that those bits are not nice.

GrimmaTheNome Tue 04-Dec-12 15:52:23

>every individual is unique and everyone's take on what constitutes morality is unique. That is why an organised religion (my own experience is with the RC church) sets forth precepts about how to live, or dogma, or some organised system of belief.

or then again, you can have a good legal system. It doesn't require anything supernatural.

Thistledew Tue 04-Dec-12 15:57:29

I'm not sure I follow you there math. My point is that beliefs and even morality to some extent is subjective, rather than having an objective truth. However, my own ethical code tells me that, for example, believing that other people are going to be subject to eternal torment because they do not believe the same as I do and do not carry out the same rituals that I do is 'not nice'. I believe that such a view would lead me to devalue the other person's opinions and to view myself as being in a preferential situation to them. Taking away the justification of "I believe this because my imaginary friend tells me it is the right thing to believe" would make it harder for people to justify holding such beliefs.

mathanxiety Tue 04-Dec-12 16:13:52

Grimma, A legal system usually has some system of morality underpinning it, or at least a hierarchy of values. The OT was such a legal system (in part).

Thistledew, yet you seem to look down your nose at people who have what is in your view a skewed morality system, or a system of morality that comes from the religious authority they subscribe to -- you yourself actually seem to devalue other people's opinions and even to view your personal value system as being preferential. You seem to expect others to come up with some sort of justification for the values they hold and the views they hold beyond their 'imaginary friend' (a condescending term) 'dictating' them.

Do you expect others to justify themselves to you?

Thistledew Tue 04-Dec-12 16:48:46

Yes, I do expect justification when I have people telling me that I am leading my life wrong because I don't hold certain beliefs and that I will be in eternal torment because I don't perform certain rituals. I expect justification when those beliefs that people hold mean that women are not allowed abortions, and that my gay friend cannot marry in the church he attends. I expect justification when I am told that my children must perform a daily ritual to a deity that I have no belief in.

I do think it is preferential to have a value system that you can defend logically and that you have reached through your own reasoning, not because you believe that someone or something is telling you to believe it. I will listen to your views if they conflict with mine, even if you cannot explain the logic behind them, but I will be quick to dismiss them if I cannot see that they are based on logic and reason. And I will resent you if you try to tell me how I should live my life if your only reasoning is "because it says so in this book".

It is also a fallacy to say that a legal system not based on a religious belief is not based on a moral code. Of course most (all?) legal systems are. It is simply not necessary to have a deity imposing the moral code in order to follow one.

sieglinde Tue 04-Dec-12 16:49:52

SG, I don't think even the most rabid RC would see a (pregnant) woman as a slave to be slaughtered. sad I also doubt that many would say that her life doesn't matter because she is going to heaven anyway. I think this is a case of making yourself a big bogey in order to jump on it.

While agreeing that most religions desiderate the fair treatment of slaves, xtians were the first to argue against them tout court, and - this is the key thing - they convinced virtually all other xtians who didn't have an immediate monetary interest in not being convinced. By contrast, Islam serenely kept thousands of slaves in the indisputably great years of the Abbasid Caliphate. Not sure what happened after its collapse - must find out, but it was in other respects a dazzlingly enlightened regime of classical learning and science.

While I agree that Xtians perpetrated some terrible atrocities in all colonial spheres, and in fact I can think of much more obvious examples of religious horrors than those you cite, in what way did the people you cite use xtian teachings to justify them? I grew up in oz myself and have v. strong views on the stolen generation, but it was mostly justified by entirely secular arguments about human evolution and the supposed elimination of a people who could not 'adapt' or 'become civilized' and were thus a waste product; in fact it's because of this that I dislike Dawkins so much, though of course it's not his fault personally any more than it's mine personally that the Rc chruch does and is some terrible things. You can see these ideas at work in history books of the era, I'm afraid.

Grimma, I fear history doesn't bear out your confidence about a good legal system. Far from it. Think: you are an Austrian and it is Silvester 1938, New Year's eve, and you are happy and you are a citizen of three generations' standing whose father fought in the Great War in Austrian uniform. You are, let's say, a doictor, and your son is a lawyer. Your daughter too is at university. Only you are jewish, and in a few short months you will lose every single one of your rights and every single one of the laws that protect you will be smashed, and all your property will be confiscated. Laws are worth nothing if people don't uphold the law of love.

Thistledew, I'm in some sympathy with your views on hellfire, but I would like to point out that it doesn't occupy a lot of space in the NT. I never think about it much, and most of my religion don't either. I would never presume to say that you or anybody else is going there because you don't perform certain rituals - how absurd! Nor can there be IMO ANY justification in religion for being unkind or intolerant or aggressive.

But careful, because that's a pretty dogmatic statement.. but is that dogma all right? To me it is. Love is the law.

Finally, Hima - I always knew we were akin! Yes, yes, YES Green Day. I love them. Especially American Idiot. I have tickets for their 2013 tour - yes, already. Hope Billy Joe is back on his feet by then. From which you will gather that I'm not one to be put off by vehement antixtian polemic.

GrimmaTheNome Tue 04-Dec-12 16:50:18

>Grimma, A legal system usually has some system of morality underpinning it, or at least a hierarchy of values

To be sure. That doesn't require a deity. Its also something which can and is amended as society evolves. Religions usually seem to be a few steps behind.

headinhands Tue 04-Dec-12 17:15:50

You dislike Richard Dawkins because of the actions of the Australian government decades ago? Eh?

mathanxiety Tue 04-Dec-12 17:20:51

Thistledew -- have people told you that a lot or is this an imaginary enemy you are talking about here?

A gay person who attends a church that frowns on gay marriage is doing a massive amount of cognitive dissonance surely? I'm not trying to be flippant here -- but what on earth is a gay person getting out of a church that sees things that way?

'It is also a fallacy to say that a legal system not based on a religious belief is not based on a moral code.'
Who said that? If you are trying to quote me then you need to reread what I posted.

Grimma -- Legal systems are rarely amended in their entirety/scrapped. Details are tweaked but the fundamentals generally remain the same.

mathanxiety Tue 04-Dec-12 17:26:02

Thistledew, Sieglinde's point about secular ideas giving rise to some egregious injustices and horrors of history is one you should consider in light of your espousal of logic.

sieglinde Tue 04-Dec-12 17:35:05

HH, because of his assumption that Darwinism is an efficacious moral discourse; I've known it egregiously misused, that's all. I don't think dislike is quite the right word; perhaps it's more accurate to say it's a way I find his writings too, let's say, cocksure. grin I'm perfectly willing to admit that the RC church has perpetrated its share of horrors, and I'm just keen for others to agree that the same may be said for Darwinism and also for some other militant secular codes.

Grimma, and mathanxiety, my point was that whole legal systems have vanished overnight. They aren't guarantees of anything.

GrimmaTheNome Tue 04-Dec-12 17:39:10

>Grimma -- Legal systems are rarely amended in their entirety/scrapped. Details are tweaked but the fundamentals generally remain the same.

That's because there are a lot of basic ethical principles which don't change. They aren't religion-specific.

Seig... exactly why I specified a good legal system.

GrimmaTheNome Tue 04-Dec-12 17:51:18

'Darwinism' isn't a code of any sort. That some people misinterpreted the theory of evolution by natural selection to arrive at eugenics is a tragedy of the past, don't see how it relates to practitioners of current evolutionary biology who thoroughly repudiate it. (As one does, I wandered off to look at eugenics in the USA - astonishing what sort of institutions supported it in the early 20th C. )

headinhands Tue 04-Dec-12 17:59:24

So you'd prefer it if, every few sentences, he sad something like 'well what do I know, I've probably got it all wrong' or something? grin

PoppyAmex Tue 04-Dec-12 18:16:08

Holo your first post is really thought provoking.

I would be interested to understand how someone can simultaneously claim they don't "believe in anything they can't experience", but yet believe in the concept of empiricism. Isn't that a paradox?

SolidGoldYESBROKEMYSPACEBAR Tue 04-Dec-12 18:35:57

Trouble begins when people whose justification for stopping such things as gay couples marrying and women having access to contraception and abortion is that their imaginary friend wouldn't like it then insist that their delusions take priority over the views, wishes and human rights of those without imaginary friends. Sure, a gay man attending a church that hates gay people must suffer a lot of cognitive dissonance that could be fixed, not just by binning the superstition wholesale but by hunting up a branch of it that is not homophobic. There are plenty of gay Christian movements, plenty of gay vicars, and TBH a selective reading of the new testament could give you a reasonable amount of poetic/mythological 'evidence' that Jesus was a puddle-jumper.

Thistledew Tue 04-Dec-12 19:31:01

I fully accept that secular ideas have given rise to atrocities and I don't claim that secular beliefs are any better or worse than religious beliefs. That is kind of the point. There is no difference. They are both just the beliefs of people. Where they differ is that a harmful secular idea can at least be challenged with logic and reason but there is no real way of challenging someone who maintains they believe something because a big invisible being will be cross of they don't, and moreover their belief should be protected for that reason.

Sadly, I am not creating 'invisible enemies' with my examples but am currently dealing with a near relative who has recently told me that I will be going to hell. Even more sadly, she is spending dwindling time with an elderly relative telling him the same rather than paying any attention to the views and experiences he could share with her. Who knows, maybe she would be just as selfish and self absorbed even if she did recognise that she was choosing this belief for herself, but I like to think that her thinking would be a little less skewed if she was not receiving the message that this is what she has to believe.

My gay friend does attend a church that would be happy to marry him and his partner, it is the wider church that influences the laws in this country to prevent him from living according to his beliefs.

As for the abortion and school worship examples- my Irish relatives are very much affected by the latter, and all children in the UK by the latter.

sieglinde Tue 04-Dec-12 19:37:25

But Grimma, Vienna had a very good, very modern, very enlightened and tolerant legal system before the anschluss. It just proved frangible in the event.

And yes, of course modern evolutionary biologists aren't eugenicists, but the Stolen Generation wasn't very long ago. Less time ago than, say, the RC church's Crusade or involvement in wars in general, and that's cited often. I'm not condemning them especially; I'm saying all movements are apt to have murky pasts, without necessarily being invalidated by that.

SG, we're in agreement here; not all xtians are homophobic. Freely confess grin I found it pretty funny at the end of the dreadful Da Vinci Code, when they get to the last Supper, and John the Evangelist leaning on Jesus was misdescribed as a woman. (The picture might contain a secret about Jesus, but Brown picked the wrong one.) NB - this does not make any difference to my views about Christ. Whyever should it? He always seems strikingly tolerant about sexual matters, and not especially interested in them.

Leonardo was almost certainly gay... so too was Christopher Marlowe, who said that Christ loved St John 'as the sinners of Sodoma'. Not a novel idea, then...

Thistledew Tue 04-Dec-12 19:47:33

Sieg - as a non-Aus, it does seem to me that the church had a great deal to do with the Stolen Generation, given that missionaries were one of the primary actors in taking and housing the children. Also the process of baptising children and giving them a Christian name was a deliberate ploy to divorce them from their families and cultural identities.

GrimmaTheNome Tue 04-Dec-12 20:02:52

> Vienna had a very good, very modern, very enlightened and tolerant legal system before the anschluss.
And it wasn't exactly devoid of religion either. If that was less frangible perhaps it was because (from what I've read) there were Catholic and protestant leaders who initially welcomed the Germans. So I wouldn't put my faith in religion either as a garantor of ethical behaviour.

mathanxiety Tue 04-Dec-12 20:24:38

The same thing was done to Native American children in the US, but by the Bureau of Indian Affairs acting without surrogates of any kind, based on the Carlisle Indian Industrial school model. There were Christian boarding school on reservations that had largely disappeared by the time the BIA started the wholesale forcible re-education/'assimilation' of Native American youth.

My grandfather and grandmother remembered being forced to recite a prayer of thanks in National School (state primary school) in Ireland at the turn of the 20th century:
'I thank the goodness and the grace,
That on my birth have smiled,
And made me in this Christian day,
A happy English child.'
They had not one drop of English blood in them and lived in the south east of Ireland. They were not taught Irish in their schools despite living within walking distance of one of Leinster's last surviving Irish speaking areas. This was because the Irish language had been deliberately driven to the far corners of Ireland as part of colonial policy. They grew up in an Ireland where their families were forced to pay tithes for the maintenance of the established Church of Ireland. The fact that there was a language they were interested in learning (they attended classes outside of school) and the fact that they were not interested in paying for the upkeep of the local vicar were not considered important. They were told in every way possible that their culture and religion were not valued as they went through school and as they lived out their lives on the farms they called home (paying rent to the local landlord for land their families had lived on since the days of the Normans, in stone cottages with three feet thick walls, among hedgerows and stone walls just like the Normandy model they were copied from back in the 1200s when they were first established.)

Thistledew, you can be frustrated at the pace of change (speaking as an Irish citizen here) but the fact remains that the democratic process is the only reasonable way to try to effect change.

nooka Wed 05-Dec-12 06:24:58

Here in Canada the residential schools were run by Christian groups and funded by the government so they were both complicit although the actual abuse was carried out at the schools, so I think that the Churches that ran the schools carry a higher degree of culpability. It was an act of cultural imperialism, and a key part of that was the view that Christianity was superior to the beliefs of the First Nations.

As with other abuse carried out by religious groups or individuals I think that it is particularly egregious when those who profess themselves to have moral authority behave in ways that verge on evil because recourse for the victims is particularly difficult.

I don't think that in general people of faith are any worse (or better) than those without, just that us humans have the capacity to do terrible as well as fantastic things. However religion can (and has) both driven or justified some pretty cruel and callous actions which have been very very far away from 'love'.

sieglinde Wed 05-Dec-12 10:11:41

Yes, nooka, my point exactly. I agree that not all people of faith, in any place beginning with Aus, are guilt-free, and the record of my church in the Anschluss makes particularly grim reading. I can give you some better weapons against me if you'd like them!

But all I wanted to flag is that it's not ONLY religion that has been used to justify the dreadful racist acts we are discussing; they have also been justified by secular political ideologies and by the commands of 'science'. As mathanxiety says, nationalism and sectarianism have pulled the same stuff from the knapsack of evil.

So neither NOT being religious NOR being religious are in themselves guarantees of good behaviour.

Martin Luther King speaks of the moral duty to be intelligent, to pick and choose, to think as well as pray. UNintelligent love can be ridiculously controlling and possessive and tactless and even cruel and heartless, whether it comes from soviets or catholics.

Himalaya Thu 06-Dec-12 00:26:47

Sieglinde <excited about our spiritual common ground> are you going to see them at at the Emirates Stadium? We saw them this summer in Paris and on the 21st Century Breakdown tour. Loved the child sacrifice thing they did for a East Jesus Nowhere grin. I hope Billy Joe gets it together.

GrimmaTheNome Thu 06-Dec-12 07:52:42

sieg - quite so. Human nature is human nature - an evolved mix of altruism and selfishness. As I believe religions are, like political systems, purely the product of the human mind, its not suprising to me that the outcomes - for good or ill - when they hold power and influence are similar. The question for religious people is why if religions were anything other than human constructs, aren't any of them way better than the non-religious alternatives?

Also, there are no 'commands of science'. Science gives knowledge, it doesn't say what you should do with that knowledge. That requires ethics.

sieglinde Thu 06-Dec-12 10:14:25

Hima, yes, excited too. smile Erm, yes some football ground in London... [vague]. I had tickets for the 21st Century Breakdown concert at Wembley, and I fucking broke my fucking leg 24 hours before. The dcs went, and tried hard to beam it to me in hospital over their phones. It was worse than the pain to miss it... I know I'm unusual, but I LOVED 21st century breakdown.. still do. IMHO Billy Joe is not usually what we might call together, and from thence comes his utter brilliance. I get why the green days - clearly he absolutely needs to go slower than is normal for him, or his head would explode. I used the child sacrifice vid teaching a class on the Holy Innocents and Macbeth and Medea and Rene Girard...

Grimma, I as an RC absolutely see no reason why religions should be 'better' than other human institutions, in that they are full of sinful humans. I would go further and say that religious life offers stupendously tough temptations - to looking down on others, for instance, of which there's a LOT in the Gospels, and which Jesus is constantly rebuking. People who say, in effect, 'Lord, I thank thee that I am not as this man' abound in every religion and none. Jesus said he came NOT to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance - which means, I take it, not a lot of self-hatred, but the real sense that my actions can hurt somebody else. What then is the point of religions, you ask.. well, to me the point is NOT that they offer the only way to be 'saved'. god alone sufficeth for that, and yes, I think that all people of goodwill will find their way to him somehow, and he to them, NOT necessarily in the same way as me or in any way I can foresee or dictate. It's that they (religions) offer some help and support in the quest for love. Maybe some people are strong enough not to need them; that's none of my business, really. Personally, I'm weak as piss, and I need plenty of help.

NB - just like religion/s, science can translate itself falsely into rigid commandments - say, sterilization of the eugenically undesirable, or elimination of 'subject races', or 'removal of the socially undesirable', and it has. This isn't intrinsic to it, but it has happened quite a lot.

GrimmaTheNome Thu 06-Dec-12 10:30:17

sieg - you forestalled my obvious question grin

>science can translate itself falsely into rigid commandments

No, really, science can't translate itself into anything. The facts learned by the scientific method can be misinterpreted (eugenics) and misapplied (nuclear bombs) but that's down to perverted ethical thinking or politics (sometimes allied to religion). Science says you can release energy if you split an atom - period. It does not say what you should or shouldn't do with that knowledge.

sieglinde Thu 06-Dec-12 10:45:26

I think though that the word 'science' can and has functioned to authorise such misinterpretations and misapplications, just as 'religion' has and does. It's not a coincidence that the Manhattan Project scientists thought the Los Alamos detonation might just destroy the universe, but they were so interested to find out if it would that they went ahead anyway. In this manner, 'science' can act in place of ethics, can obviate ethics though its very reluctance to acknowledge the possible ethical implications of its own acts - see also animal experimentation.

mathanxiety Thu 06-Dec-12 15:52:23

The question for religious people is why if religions were anything other than human constructs, aren't any of them way better than the non-religious alternatives?

Since Christianity starts with the notion that people are sinful, fallen, imperfect, etc., that brand of religion at least has realism going for it. The tendency to arrogance that Sieglinde refers to was anticipated for thousands of years, possibly because human nature in the raw does not evolve.

GrimmaTheNome Thu 06-Dec-12 16:03:20

>possibly because human nature in the raw does not evolve.
why not? It has in the past ... give it long enough... of course how it evolves is an open question.

Some people are raised without any kind of God/religion. I don't know there should be an expectation on them to prove something doesn't exist. The expectation shold be on those who do believe to prove it, if they are the ones who are convinced.

mathanxiety Thu 06-Dec-12 16:13:59

How has it evolved?

GrimmaTheNome Thu 06-Dec-12 16:25:02

>How has it evolved?
Not a question anyone can answer exactly of course - but do you really think it hasn't evolved along the continuum from homo habilis to where we are now? Do you think there was a sudden step change in 'human nature' to the point we're at now?

If not, then there's no reason to suppose that human nature as it is now is immutable.

I was looking for an image to go with this, here is one I like grin

mathanxiety Thu 06-Dec-12 17:20:59

There is a difference between physical evolution and evolution of our nature.

Claiming we are somehow more 'evolved' or further along in our nature than previous generations were smacks of hubris. I don't see any continuum either, more of a revolving, endless repetition of evidence that our nature does not evolve. What changes is the capacity to inflict massive damage on our fellow humans -- that has been amply demonstrated, and the scale of destruction has increased exponentially as technology has improved. What does not change is our inability to resist the temptation to injure, kill, destroy. I don't see whatever improvement you see.

GrimmaTheNome Thu 06-Dec-12 17:50:06

>There is a difference between physical evolution and evolution of our nature.

Is there? I doubt it. Our nature is to a large degree a product of our physical self.

>Claiming we are somehow more 'evolved' or further along in our nature than previous generations were smacks of hubris

I didn't claim anything of the sort - I said 'of course how it evolves is an open question.'

You're falling into a common misunderstanding of the word 'evolved'. It doesn't mean 'better' in any sense except better able to survive in whatever conditions we are in.

I think you must be thinking on a different timescale to me- hundreds or a few thousand years. I'm thinking in hundreds of thousands -millions of years. Do you think human nature is exactly the same now as the first in the line of humans? There's no reason to suppose there won't be further changes.

What may be unique about us is that we have some control over our environment - physical and more interestingly societal. If we could develop societies in which 'good' people prosper and 'bad' people don't, there would be a selective pressure which might ( just might) lead to a greater proportion of 'good' people.

mathanxiety Thu 06-Dec-12 18:51:22

No matter how you define it, our nature has not and can not evolve.

Do you read much history? Really, all that can be reasonably concluded from even a simple survey of world history is that we have got better at wiping each other out, not more concerned about the possibility of it. If we were evolving all the time then we wouldn't need ethics. Or laws.

There is no such thing as a good person or a bad person -- there are people who feel constrained by law or ethics and people who do not. When you divide people into good or bad or other categories, and when you hold out hope of perfecting human nature by some means, you stray into the sort of wasteland where utopian ideas can look attractive.

You would obviously consider yourself one of the 'good' ones, the ones entitled to control the environment, or you wouldn't be suggesting that nature can be improved or encouraged or nurtured or nudged in the 'right' direction through control. That is hubris.

GrimmaTheNome Thu 06-Dec-12 20:08:51

>No matter how you define it, our nature has not and can not evolve.

I really don't know what you base that assertion on. As you refer to 'history', as I thought we're thinking on different timescales. And you're also inferring more from what I said than I ever meant to imply. I said nothing about hoping to perfect human nature, or that I (or anyone else) was entitled to try to do so. Just that contrary to what you assert, human nature isn't immutable for all time.

mathanxiety Thu 06-Dec-12 21:35:24

You are asserting that human nature isn't immutable for all time without presenting any evidence of improvement or regression. All we have to go on to back up assertions about our nature is what we know of history (references to anything else is guesswork) so I mentioned history...

GrimmaTheNome Thu 06-Dec-12 22:09:42

Firstly, the words 'improvement' and 'regression' are yours - I merely said 'change'.

Beyond that - assuming you're not a creationist - do you think that 'human nature' was suddenly bestowed complete on the offspring of a parent which was distinctly non-human with a non-human nature? If not then what alternative is there but to accept there has been a continuum of change from the not-human predecessors to the recognisably human[sonfused]. If that is so, there is no logical reason to suppose our nature is now immutable.

mathanxiety Thu 06-Dec-12 22:21:56

OK, so you said nothing whatsoever to do with evolution or change and I am talking through my hat?

You are mixing up nature with other things -- intellectual and physical development. For physical evolution there is plenty of evidence (no I am not a creationist). There is scant evidence for intellect so it's a challenge to draw a conclusion. And there is no evidence whatsoever for your assertion that nature (the swirl of emotion and psychology for want of a better way to define it) has changed.

GrimmaTheNome Thu 06-Dec-12 23:20:48

>OK, so you said nothing whatsoever to do with evolution or change and I am talking through my hat?

sorry, I'm not clear what you mean by that (I can read it in a couple of ways with different meanings). Blame it on the hour.

>There is scant evidence for intellect so it's a challenge to draw a conclusion. And there is no evidence whatsoever for your assertion that nature (the swirl of emotion and psychology for want of a better way to define it) has changed.

There's also no evidence it hasn't changed (remember I was thinking of pre-historic timescales). As to intellect...suppose we take our thought experiment back to the last common ancestors of humans and chimpanzees. Do you think it probable they had the same intellect as us? The same 'nature'? Do you think nothing has changed since then? Our brains have changed, I'd be fairly sure many of our hormones will have mutated to various degrees - these are physical developments which surely have a profound effect on our psychology and emotions. So, at what point do you think that process of change stopped forever?

I'm puzzled, I really didn't think I was saying anything controversial when questioned your statement that 'human nature in the raw does not evolve'.

If we think about different species where we have meddled with the normal course of events (an I am not implying that we should do anything of the sort with humans!) - do you think the nature of a domesticated dog is totally unchanged from that of a wolf?

Himalaya Fri 07-Dec-12 00:35:46

mathanxiety -

I think you are looking at this on a completely different timescale than Grimma. No human nature probably hasn't evolved much in the past 100s of years or even 1000s, but clearly human nature evolved. That how it got to be human nature and not primate ancestor nature.

mathanxiety Fri 07-Dec-12 01:32:48

Dogs are not wolves. There are many similarities (98.8% DNA in common) but there are enough differences to make them distinct. We have tried to domesticate them but failed because they do not relate to humans as dogs do. Wolf-dog hybrids tend to have innate wolf behavioural traits that make them unsuitable companion animals.

The point where modern (thinking and feeling) humans and pre humans of whatever sort and parted company has not yet been ascertained and the factors that go into making a 'human' as opposed to a pre human of whatever kind have not yet been identified. There is a major debate among anthropologists over the issue of whether modern behaviour developed in a single event or developed gradually over millenia.

No matter what, there is a difference between cultural development (arising from environmental factors, factors related to intellect, economy, demographic structure, access to resources, etc.,) and basic human nature/capacity for behaviour of different kinds from altruism to cruelty. If nothing else, the 20th c demonstrated that cultural development and the ability to function well in a complex society can mask much that is negative.

mathanxiety Fri 07-Dec-12 01:38:54

I think I'm looking pretty far back Himalaya.

How do you identify the difference between human nature and primitive ancestor nature? I am not talking about cultural development here or ability to live in societies together or communicate. When did we stop killing each other or stealing or raping?

Himalaya Fri 07-Dec-12 07:46:16

Mathanxiety

I didn't say primitive, I said primate ancestors.

Humans didn't "part company" with pre-humans, they are our direct ancestors.

Our direct ancestors did part company with the direct ancestors of chimps and orangs at some point, just as the direct ancestors of dogs parted company with the direct ancestors of wolves. Wolves did not stop evolving at that point.

You seem to be misinterpreting evolution as being a process of progress (a ladder) that goes from simple/primitive to "more evolved" with species ceasing to evolve once they part company with those you see as "lower down on the ladder".

This is a complete misunderstanding of evolution. Or maybe a confusion between the everyday meaning of the word as = change over time, and the process in nature.

Everything that is currently alive is equally evolved a - it has all been evolving for the same amount of time since our very first common ancestors. You could perhaps argue that bacteria are more evolved, as they get more generations in. "More evolved" is fairly meaningless really. I am one generation more evolved than my parents, my children are one generation more evolved than me, but the process is so slow and takes place across populations.

It is really non-controversial that human nature evolved.

Our direct ancestors didn't have complex language, reflexive thought (he thinks that I think that he thinks), a sense of justice, a love of ideas, pride, jealousy what have you....all these aspects of human nature evolved. if not evolution how do you think they developed? Of they evolved, what made them break the laws of nature and stop evolving?

GrimmaTheNome Fri 07-Dec-12 08:54:07

>We have tried to domesticate them but failed because they do not relate to humans as dogs do.

Exactly! Canis lupus familiaris has a significantly different nature from Canis lupus, which arose over a relatively short period of time. (How short may be suggested by the silver fox studies)

If canine nature can change in response to selective pressure, it would be strange to suppose that the same doesn't apply to other species, humans included. What those pressures were/will be and what the changes were/may be we don't know -just that changes do happen. That's really all I was saying - I think you read far more into a few original words than I meant to imply.

Thistledew Fri 07-Dec-12 09:27:39

I think it depends on how you define evolution and whether you are looking for changes on a general or macro scale.

If you define evolution as changes to adapt to environment then I do think you can point to examples of changes in societal attitudes that do amount to a change in nature.

In days when infant mortality was high, children were treated far more as 'things' than people: for example, not being named until their first birthday, having as many children as possible rather than investing resources in just a couple, doctors not being called to treat very young, sickly children. Yes, children who died young were grieved for but I doubt to the extent they are now. It was just a fact of life.

This gradually changed, but even in the Victorian times children were not seen as having full personhood: 'be seen and not heard' 'spare the rod and spoil the child', children were seen as chattels. This was a markedly different attitude from today, when the protection of the best interests of the child is a principle enshrined in law. The decline in child mortality and the increased availability of resources means that we are able to be more confident in our ability to raise a child to maturity so the nature of our attitude to them has changed. This is a major factor in the lower birth rate.

Now, a woman having multiple children, investing little in their care, and having yet more children if the first are taken from her is seen as getting it wrong and having a poor attitude to parenthood. Yet if you took a woman from medieval times and earlier and transported her to the current day she would probably see our 'feckless' woman as being sensible and prudent, and the rest of us as being unnaturally attached to our children.

Whether she would 'evolve' in her nature after a year or so of realising the resources we have available to raise our children is debatable. Certainly, our nature has the capacity to evolve far more quickly than physical changes, but there do seem to be people such as our 'feckless' mother or men who still appear to see their wives as chattels who seem incapable of or at least extremely resistant to evolving in their attitudes to fit in with what is now accepted as mainstream attitudes and nature. We simply don't know enough at the moment about the effects of nature vs nurture.

sieglinde Fri 07-Dec-12 10:31:17

Thistledew, et al, I simply have to butt in here; it is a hardy historical lie that in the past children were less loved and treated more like things than is the case now. Children were at NO time seen merely as chattels. You are downloading the work of Philippe Aries, which has been called into serious question by virtually everyone else.

The result is that you are crediting to the Enlightenment childcare practices that arose far earlier in response to organised religion. For instance, in xtian countries all children were named at baptism, which took place a month or less after the birth.

Not meaning to flame, but this is exactly the kind of problem I tend to have with the antireligious rhetoric of now; it's so deeply unhistorical in its premises and examples.

I have no idea what thistle's points have to do with primates, either; the infancy of other primates is typically longer than human childhood, in that most breastfeed for 5 years or thereabouts.

GrimmaTheNome Fri 07-Dec-12 12:10:35

Thistle - I was thinking more on the level of genetic change than the sort of societal 'evolution' you're talking about.

Sieg - while I've no idea whether Thistle's example was historical or not but it wasn't 'antireligious rhetoric' - it had nothing to do with religion. confused
Getting things wrong is something we all do on both sides of any debate ... historical and scientific misapprehensions abound, I will assume usually innocent mistakes which one tries to correct.

MostlyLovingLurchers Fri 07-Dec-12 12:17:45

For instance, in xtian countries all children were named at baptism, which took place a month or less after the birth.

This has certainly not always been true. If you have ever done any genealogy you will know that it is not uncommon for families to have had two or three of their children baptised at the same time, obviously at different ages. The evidence is there in countless parish registers.

sieglinde Fri 07-Dec-12 14:02:05

It's true that some very badly off families in the industrial cities struggled to get their children to church - I come from such a family myself. here the bad guy is usually the employer, not religion.

I was really thinking of the Middle Ages. Thistle's original implication was that people had evolved an interest in their children over time, while actually something close to the opposite happened.

MostlyLovingLurchers Fri 07-Dec-12 14:23:37

I agree early baptism was the norm esp for rc and cofe - i was thinking specifically about non conformists. Of course there were folk who didn't think it was important and more who couldn't be bothered. There are quite a few cases of children not being baptised until they were 7 or 8, and some though rare of old folk being baptised on their deathbeds. Anyway, a bit of a digression - just wanted to make the point that it didn't always happen.

mathanxiety Fri 07-Dec-12 14:51:46

If you define evolution as changes to adapt to environment then I do think you can point to examples of changes in societal attitudes that do amount to a change in nature.

I completely disagree. If that were the case you could claim to know what people would or would not participate in a crime such as 'ethnic cleansing'. Or participate in wielding power in an oppressive regime. You could look at a rubric of 'societal attitudes' and predict the future.

Of course every species continues to evolve -- as I said upthread I am not a creationist. But there is no evidence whatsoever for your claim that human nature evolves any more than there is evidence that wolf nature evolves.

It is really non-controversial that human nature evolved. Our direct ancestors didn't have complex language, reflexive thought (he thinks that I think that he thinks), a sense of justice, a love of ideas, pride, jealousy what have you....all these aspects of human nature evolved. if not evolution how do you think they developed? Of they evolved, what made them break the laws of nature and stop evolving?
It is actually a massive controversy; the controversy lies in how and when modern human behaviour began, whether it was a quick burgeoning or a very slow and gradual development. You have absolutely no evidence for your claim that any of the elements of human nature you mention have evolved. Complex language perhaps, but is that in our nature or more of a neuro-biological trait? Reflexive thought -- evidence to support your claim that we didn't always have that trait? Sense of justice? -- What exactly is a sense of justice? Pride and jealousy? -- here we stray into the territory of 'fallen mankind'.. If you are able to prove that there are physical or biological foundations to 'human nature' then you will be able to prove that evolution affects human nature as well as human physical development. But you will also open the door to categorising humans according to evolution of their nature, which has already been tried, with disastrous results.

If canine nature can change in response to selective pressure, it would be strange to suppose that the same doesn't apply to other species, humans included. What those pressures were/will be and what the changes were/may be we don't know -just that changes do happen.
And again, I disagree. You have no evidence for any change over time in response to selective pressure or any other factor in basic human nature. Humans have become more domesticated. We have developed complex social structures and technology. But we still need codes of ethics. We still need laws; interestingly, though values have changed over the millenia, the problems that ancient codes tried to deal with (according to the values of ancient societies) still tend to crop up today. While much of Thistledew's post was not as respectful of historical fact as it could have been, she is right to point out that the nature vs nurture debate rolls on with no conclusion in sight.

MostlyLovingLurchers -- if you were looking at Catholic registers you would see baptisms taking place within 6 weeks of birth.

mathanxiety Fri 07-Dec-12 14:52:19

** you would more likely see baptisms..

MostlyLovingLurchers Fri 07-Dec-12 15:24:55

Yes, i did say early baptisim was the norm for rc. I suspect that might have something to do with the church teaching that unbaptised infants would not make it to heaven. I realise this is no longer rc doctrine btw.

nooka Fri 07-Dec-12 15:51:31

The nature of domesticated animals has certainly evolved though, and dogs are a particularly good example of that because they did evolve from wolves, a process that started about 15,000 years ago. and yet they are now a separate species with very different behaviours to their wild cousins.

Now dog life spans are much much shorter than ours, so the evolutionary process is much faster (many more generations) and of course man has been actively involved, so it's not a particularly natural process, but essentially everything changes over time.

GrimmaTheNome Fri 07-Dec-12 16:01:22

>but is that in our nature or more of a neuro-biological trait?

what on earth do you think constitutes 'our nature' except 'neuro-biological traits' and the interplay of physical factors? Do you think there's a ghost in the machine? I'm at a loss to understand where you're coming from on this.

>If you are able to prove that there are physical or biological foundations to 'human nature' ...

eh? what the heck else is there? Start with the amygdala maybe, consider the effects of hormones (testosterone, oxytocin, etc etc)... possible genetic markers are being found for psychological variations ... we may not like what people could do with knowledge about some of the factors which form human nature but that is completely irrelevant to whether those factors exist. (its the neutrality of science and the necessity for ethics thing again)

Himalaya Fri 07-Dec-12 23:03:19

Mathanxiety -

You've lost me again.

Human nature evolved, just as worm nature evolved and bat nature evolved. I really don't see what is controversial about this.

Yes there are questions about how and how quickly characteristics evolved, but quick or slow it was, but it was still evolution.

What are you suggesting shaped the nature of human behavior?

You have absolutely no evidence for your claim that any of the elements of human nature you mention have evolved

confused

I'm not sure what you are suggesting as an alternative.

evidence to support your claim that we didn't always have that trait?

Because if you trace our ancestors back far enough you get to pre-human primates, if you go back further the family tree is made up of small mammals etc...we. None of these creatures could write poetry (or whatever uniquely human characteristics you like). I'm not sure what it could possibly mean to say "our ancestors always had" a sense of injustice, reflexive thought or whatever. That can only be true if you draw an artificial line as to how far back you want to go.

If you are able to prove that there are physical or biological foundations to 'human nature' then you will be able to prove that evolution affects human nature as well as human physical development.

As opposed to what?

you will also open the door to categorising humans according to evolution of their nature

Again you seem to be reading something that is not there.

mathanxiety Sat 08-Dec-12 06:45:31

The RC church still requires baptism at the earliest possible opportunity though I can't see a priest giving anyone a hard time if they turned up years after the birth.

Himalaya -- if you're going to expand your definition of 'human' to include small mammals then this discussion is going to get really ridiculous. A line has to be drawn somewhere and I don't think it should be drawn to include lesser spotted gerbils.

Grimma -- if neuro-biological traits is all there is to human nature then why do we bother with ethics? Are ethical systems redundant and futile? Or do we have a gene that makes us need to construct a god/a system of ethics and is that something essential to a definition of humanity?

Himalaya Sat 08-Dec-12 08:00:24

Mathanxiety -

As I am sure you know human beings did not evolve from lesser spotted gerbils, but at some point in our history we do share a common ancestor with them.

Of course the traits that amount to being human evolved later than that but it is doubtless they evolved. Nature doesn't "draw lines" - whether it happened relatively fast or slow, there will have been many individuals who were slightly more like humans and slightly less like their non-human ancestors (not to mention the poor old Neanderthals)

Basically what you are saying is that you draw some artificial line after the basic features of modern humans have evolved and then say "we were always like that", "there is no evidence that those features evovlved".

You can do this with any trait - there is no evidence that the human eye evolves if you define the human eye as only something that existed after it had evolved into its current state!!

I wonder if you are thinking this way because you are trying to place the idea of a non material human soul into a natural history framework? Are you placing the "event" of ensoulment at the human soul at the Great Leap Forward? Is it the "soul" which you are arguing couldn't have evolved?

Himalaya Sat 08-Dec-12 08:15:34

MathAnxiety -

"if neuro-biological systems are all there is why do we need ethics" WTF? If you saw someone kicking the crap out of a dog and they said "don't worry his pain is just a neuro-biological system" would you say "oh, ok then"

We need ethics because otherwise there would be rule by the strongest.

I don't think humans are anything other than particularly smart, sociable, adaptable animals, but this doesn't change the experience of being human . I wouldn't be ok with someone kicking the crap out of someone else just because their pain is a neuro- biological symptom.

I think you have the gene part of this backward. Because humans had the genetic traits which enabled them to go beyond close kin collaboration they were able to expand massively in numbers, living closely together and depending on many strangers and ever bigger social systems. The ability to construct and enforce ethical rules (sometimes with the help of religious ideas) is what enabled human expansion. Now with over 6bn people on the planet we need ethical systems more than ever before.

MostlyLovingLurchers Sat 08-Dec-12 10:45:23

The RC church still requires baptism at the earliest possible opportunity though I can't see a priest giving anyone a hard time if they turned up years after the birth.

Yes, but what they no longer do is tell you that your baby won't go to heaven unless a priest has dribbled some water on it's head.

mathanxiety Sat 08-Dec-12 14:05:35

"if neuro-biological systems are all there is why do we need ethics" WTF? If you saw someone kicking the crap out of a dog and they said "don't worry his pain is just a neuro-biological system" would you say "oh, ok then"

We need ethics because otherwise there would be rule by the strongest'.

And what is wrong with that - or why is that not ok? After all, we are creatures whose nature is founded in neuro biology and neuro biology alone. Why do we bother deciding behaviour is 'wrong' or 'right' if what we do or think is determined by our genes, our neuro-biology?

'I think you have the gene part of this backward. Because humans had the genetic traits which enabled them to go beyond close kin collaboration they were able to expand massively in numbers, living closely together and depending on many strangers and ever bigger social systems. The ability to construct and enforce ethical rules (sometimes with the help of religious ideas) is what enabled human expansion. Now with over 6bn people on the planet we need ethical systems more than ever before.'
I think you misread me if you didn't think that was what I was hinting at. It was 'nearly always' (if not 'always') with the help of religion that humans developed their ethics systems though. Not 'sometimes'.
How ironic that what may have brought us thus far in our evolution could be something anti-religious posters sniff derisively at.

Himalaya Sat 08-Dec-12 16:06:16

Mathanxiety -

You seem to be trying to read biology as a moral system with a purpose ('bringing us thus far in our evolution') rather than as a purposeless process that has given rise to a group of organisms capable of thinking in moral terms.

I guess that is a direct analogy from religion where the creative force and the source of morality are seen as the same.

Biology shows how evolution is behind the "creative source" but it doesn't mean that evolution can be read as a moral process.

You ask: Why shouldn't we kill, hurt or steal from other people (...generally)? Really, do you need to ask??

because they don't want us to, because they feel pain, fear, anguish, because they value their own life. Seriously do you think that if it turns out that human consciousness is 'just' a consequence of genes and neuro-biology that there would be nothing wrong with murdering other people?

Himalaya Sat 08-Dec-12 16:17:49

Mathanxiety

What is your point?

That religion played an important role in building and communicating ethical systems in time gone by? Doubtless this is true.

That religion is still at the core of ethics? I don't think so.

That we shouldn't "sniff derisively" at it because of its important historical role? OK up to a point. But nationalist and racist chauvinism, unequal sex roles, class deference and unquestioning loyalty to leaders have also been part of the social fabric of human society. Arguably an egalitarian society wouldn't have fared so well in competing for survival. Nevertheless we can still sniff derisively at suggestions that sexism (for example) is a good thing because it helped to get us this far in evolution.

mathanxiety Sat 08-Dec-12 16:50:17

'You seem to be trying to read biology as a moral system with a purpose ('bringing us thus far in our evolution') rather than as a purposeless process that has given rise to a group of organisms capable of thinking in moral terms.'

You now appear to be tying yourself up in knots trying to back away from the implications of the constant human preoccupation with ethical systems. What I have suggested is that the human need for god (or an ethical system if you prefer to call it that) may well be what makes us the successful human species. It may well be an innate part of our nature, and in fact one of the adaptations that has served us really, really well as we have evolved.

(I would go further actually, and suggest that the success of any given society depends on the appropriateness of its ethical system in the conditions in which that society exists, and that ethical systems that are not robust or do not address conditions in which that society functions will generally collapse and bring down the societies that adhere to them).

Biology is not and never has been a moral system with a purpose (and I doubt I ever said it was). However, since we choose to live ethically (in general) and since our intellect tells us that living ethically means we live longer and more successfully together, colonise the planet, harness its resources wisely, where living without ethics or with faulty ones means death and/or destruction of our society or the societies of others, and where adherence to the ethics of our society can often be against what we might see as our own individual self interest in many situations, can our evolution be said to be purposeful? You mention the 6bn world population, and maybe you are concerned with us collectively finding some way to keep our species going? Could it be that that our ability to be purposeful about our survival and our recognition that ethical systems are what ensure that goal can be achieved (as you state) represent a purpose-driven evolution of our species, and evolution/continued life on earth is not all random and a matter of chance where humans are concerned?

I ask why we bother designating 'right' and 'wrong' because if biology is all there is to human development then we might as well just admit that, accept the brutal things we do to each other just as we accept them in animals and forget about complicating our lives with thoughts of morality.

mathanxiety Sat 08-Dec-12 17:21:55

But nationalist and racist chauvinism, unequal sex roles, class deference and unquestioning loyalty to leaders have also been part of the social fabric of human society. Arguably an egalitarian society wouldn't have fared so well in competing for survival. Nevertheless we can still sniff derisively at suggestions that sexism (for example) is a good thing because it helped to get us this far in evolution.

I think we x posted and you can look at my post of 16:50:17 to see if there is anything there that can answer your point. Ethical systems that prove insufficient to the task of ensuring their society's survival collapse. The Judeo-Christian-based ethical system seems to be standing up pretty well against the competition right now. It has adapted to accommodate the claims of women and other previously oppressed groups within the societies it upholds -- obviously it is still a work in progress and there is a long way to go, but I would put my money on its chances of survival against other ethical systems based on past performance.

Clearly, you and I have not been adversely affected by nationalism, racist chauvinism, class deference, sexism and all the other isms that have been a part of human society; if we had been we would not exist. Whatever conditions may have been for our thousands of generations of ancestors they obviously adapted well enough to survive and that is the name of the game.