Once more into the breach: Why should the message of atheism be considered good news?

 

Said to have been observed once on a subway station wall near Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts

 

A few days ago, I posted a blog entry in which I asked the question why some atheists claim to consider their message of the non-existence of God really good news.  (Such atheists do exist; I hear from them fairly frequently.)

 

I’ve been mocked and ridiculed for that post, and their misreadings of what I wrote have proven to several people that I’m a shallow thinker, philosophically uninformed, writing for ignorant rubes, only restrained from murder and burglary and adultery by my fear of a mythical but vengeful “Sky Daddy,” and so forth.

 

But, for all the hand waving and the mockery, they still haven’t answered my question.  (I think that, in most if not all cases, they failed even to notice it.  They were so eager to dismiss a caricature of what I had actually written that they didn’t trouble to read my blog entry with even minimal care.  Why bother?  Overwhelmingly, these particular critics know in advance that little if anything that I do has or can have any merit.)

 

So I ask the question again.

 

Here’s a passage from something that I published a number of years ago:

 

I confess that I find those who rejoice in atheism baffling. It is not merely the thought of the atheist’s funeral: “all dressed up with nowhere to go.” I think of Beethoven, hiding down in the basement with pillows to his ears, desperately trying to save his fading sense of hearing as he was working on his majestic “Emperor” Concerto. Or, a little later, conducting the magnificent Ninth Symphony, which he never heard, having to be turned around by the concertmaster because he did not know that the audience was applauding him. I think of Mozart, feverishly trying to finish his own Requiem – dead at thirty-five and thrown into an unmarked pauper’s grave. So many lives have been cut short, leaving so many poems unwritten, so many symphonies uncomposed, so many scientific discoveries unmade.

In fact, it is hard to think of anyone who has achieved his or her full potential in this life. Tragic foreshortenings do not only happen to geniuses. A neighbor and friend was stricken with multiple sclerosis in her midtwenties and now, in her thirties, lies bedridden in a rest home. Barring some incredible medical breakthrough, this is her life. Absent hope for a life to come, this is all she will everhave to look forward to. [She actually died a couple of years after this article was published.]  My own father, for the last six years of his life, blind from an utterly unforeseen stroke suffered during routine and relatively minor surgery, was incapable of any of the activities in which he had once found satisfaction and pathetically asked me, every few weeks, whether he would ever see again. What comfort would there be in saying, “No, Dad. This is it. Nothing good is coming. And then you’ll die.”

Of course, something may be unpalatable and unpleasant yet accurate. I can certainly understand coming to the sad conclusion that this is in fact the truth about the human condition: That we live briefly, then we die and we rot. That so, too, do our children and our grandchildren. And that so, also, does everything we create — our music, our buildings, our literature, our inventions. That “all we are is dust in the wind.”

But I cannot understand those who regard this as glorious good news. . . .

Consider . . . this supremely complacent remark, offered by a vocal atheist critic of Mormonism during a 2001 Internet discussion: “If there were a God,” he reflected, “I think (s)he’d enjoy hanging out with me — perhaps sipping on a fine Merlot under the night sky while devising a grand unified theory.” Only someone very comfortably situated could be so marinated in smugness about the question of the reality of God.

But the vast majority of the world’s population is not so situated, and, for them, atheism, if true, is very bad news indeed. Most of the world’s population, historically and still today, does not live, well fed and well traveled, to a placid old age surrounded by creature comforts. Most of the world has been and is like the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, the slums of Cairo, the backward rural villages of India, the famine-ridden deserts of northeastern Africa, the war-ravaged towns of the southern Sudan and of Rwanda. If there is going to be a truly happy ending for the millions upon millions of those whose lives have been blighted by torture, starvation, disease, rape, and murder, that ending will have to come in a future life. And such a future life seems to require a God.

Yes, the problem of evil is a huge one. But to give up on God is to give evil the final say. It is to admit that child rapists and murderers dictate the final chapters in the lives of their terrified and agonized victims; that Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot really did triumph, forever, over the millions they slaughtered; that, in the rotting corpses of Darfur and Iraqi Kurdistan, we see the final, definitive chapter of thousands of lives; that there is, really, no hope for those whose health is in irreversible decline; that every human relationship ends in death, if not before.

This would not be good news, and I see no compelling reason to accept it. In fact, I see numerous persuasive reasons to reject the claim.

 

Some do, in fact, claim to find atheism a wonderful message, good news, that they can scarcely wait to share with the world.  Once again, Why?

 

 

  • Lucy Mcgee

    Richard Dawkins, during his 2013 book tour, spoke at PSU in Portland. What I found interesting, was that during his introduction, Peter Boghossian offered up several e-mail/twitter comments from Mormons. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qNcC866sm7s

    Of course Dawkins, and others have made fortunes selling atheism, and given a voice to unbelievers and continue to speak out against what they believe to be forms of religious fascism, found, they believe, among some within the Christian right and Islamic extremists.

    I’ve never given much thought to any “wonderful message,or good news” in being irreligious. Except for the past year, commenting primarily on this blog, I’ve never written anything on the subject.

    For me, it isn’t so much that that I wouldn’t want an eternity of bliss and good news for those who have suffered greatly in life, or to correct injustices or to preserve the great things we’ve created for all time, The challenge for me, is that I don’t believe any human can speak for the creative force of our universe. For me, in order to validate this thesis, I look across the landscape of religions, each promising that they are correct and hold absolute truth, based on words written by people. I’d rather deny myself a fantasy than try and navigate the faith claims of every religious organization.

    • Ray Agostini

      It turns out that Richard Dawkins doesn’t entirely disbelieve in “Intelligent Design”. He just doesn’t believe that the “Biblical God” was the Designer.

      Dawkins with Ben Stein: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9M_ZF8r5e7w

      • Lucy Mcgee

        But he definitely doesn’t believe in the “intelligent design” as peddled by the Discovery Institute and neither do the vast, vast majority of scientist both religious and irreligious.

        • Ray Agostini

          The video you posted was very interesting, Lucy. But I frankly don’t understand why Mormonism was put under the microscope as one of “Dawkins’ Delusions”, a smaller part of the greater “God Delusion”. I don’t see anything “rewarding” about taking people away from the faith that they cherish, which brings them meaning and comfort. And if atheists don’t believe in God or an afterlife, then why do they care so much about what others believe in that regard? Isn’t it like trying to make someone disbelieve in Santa Claus, as far as the atheist is concerned? Then why the passion about it?

          Have Mormons changed America into some kind of rigid religiosity that holds no tolerance for diversity of thought? Have they set up concentration camps? Have they murdered millions? Like Mao and Stalin and Pol Pot?

          I guess Dawkins studied Mormonism for the better part of a week, and that qualified him to make “authoritative” commentary. I disliked the derogatory comments about Mormons in the video, which became Dawkins’ focus for laughter and ridicule from his adoring audience, who wholly subscribed to his caricature of Mormonism as an important part of the “God Delusion”.

          I disagree, and I feel offended when Mormons are categoried as unthinking “sheeple”, who must bow to the “superior” wisdom of one of the world’s “most famous atheists”, who probably hasn’t read a full page of the Book of Mormon.

          • Lucy Mcgee

            People who leave religion are not taken away from it. Isn’t it obvious that they choose to leave it because they see problems? There is far more information on sites like MormonThink, or Packham’s Home page, that could sever a Mormon believer from their faith. Dawkins, as a scientist, merely helps explain the natural world. As one commenter said “thank you for reasoning me out of something I didn’t reason myself into”, or in other words, thanks for reasoning me out of the religion I was born into and didn’t choose on my own.

            Quite frankly, my feeling is that Dawkins and the rest truly fear religious extremism within the Christian right and radical Islam more than anything, which keeps children ignorant of science and oppresses women. It is unconscionable to Dawkins and many other scientists, that attempts are continuously made to remove teaching of evolutionary biology because it conflicts with Creationism.

            Personally, I don’t believe anyone should be mocked or ridiculed but belief systems should be challenged. I know Dr. Peterson has referred to atheists like Dawkins as militant, and perhaps in a way he is, but he is also kind, thoughtful and peace-loving as are Krauss, Dennett, Harris and Ayaan Hirsi Ali as well as many others writing and speaking on the subject. What they offer is a far cry from the hate, and bigotry coming from the pulpits of some within the religious right.

            Dawkins, is not asking anyone to bow to the wisdom he offers, since in his world view, there is no bowing to authority, which of course is not the case within many religions in which authority structures are common. And you are probably right that he hasn’t read the Book of Mormon.

          • Ray Agostini

            Hi Lucy,

            It’s significant that your heroes (or so it seems) lay among the skeptics and unbelievers. I don’t share your view.

            I simply can’t sit comfortably through videos where Dawkins ridicules the concept of God, and belief. It makes me feel very uncomfortable. His “darts” at Mormonism made me cringe. The lavish self-satisfaction, as he flippantly assigned Mormonism to the corridors of “delusion” and “extremism”, made me feel ill.

            Scholars like Thomas O’Dea made far more worthwhile observations of Mormonism than Dawkins ever did. They at least studied Mormonism in depth.

            Sorry, but this Dawkins video left me feeling very skeptical at Dawkins’ willingness to compare Mormonism to the lowest common denominator of “religious delusion”.

            Maybe if Dawkins took some time, he might get past some of his narrow prejudices in regard to Mormonism.

          • Stephen Smoot

            “Dawkins, as a scientist, merely helps explain the natural world.”

            Um, no. Dawkins passed the line from scientist merely explaining the natural world to agenda-driven ideologue a long time ago. If he only wrote and spoke about scientific issues, then there’d be no problem. But as soon as he wrote “The God Delusion” and started his anti-theism crusade he turned into a polemicist. Even his book “The Magic of Reality,” which purports to give a scientific explanation of natural phenomenon, is laced with anti-religious sentiment on every page. He takes shots at what he disparagingly calls the “myths” of various religions both living and dead, and wants his readers to not believe in these “myths” but instead his naturalistic explanation. Now, my point is not to say we should disregard science or what it tells us about nature, but rather that Dawkins is not, as you put it, “merely [explaining] the natural world.” He has a fairly not-too-subtle ideological agenda.

            Also, Lucy, since you’re apparently an admirer of Dawkins, do you have anything to say about this blog post I wrote some time ago?

            http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/joseph-smith-richard-dawkins-and-the-language-of-translation/

            To be frank, Dawkins has an abysmal knowledge of not just religious history in general, but Mormonism in particular. It’s both hilarious and sad at the same time to watch him pontificate on Mormonism––a subject which he knows next to nothing about save some atheist talking points he no doubt got from Google. But, because he is a celebrity who has an adoring group of unquestioning devotees, Dawkins can get away with saying practically anything he wants. Same, BTW, goes for pretty much all of the other New Atheists, save, I suppose, for Christopher Hitchens, who at least did some homework . . . by reading a 68 year old outdated and hostile biography of Joseph Smith written by Fawn Brodie (who, contrary to Hitchens, never held a PhD.)

          • Lucy Mcgee

            Dawkins is grounded in the sciences and so far as I understand, has zero belief the the supernatural and in superstition. I suspect he looks at the world much the way someone like Jared Diamond does, combining the findings within the natural scientist to try and explain the universe. He does not claim to have all the answers; far from it. He finds the world of science exciting and stimulating for just that reason. I would assume one of his major problems with religion, is the certainty they offer and in his mind, with no evidence.

            I do understand how someone deeply committed to their faith would find Dawkins’ methods and writing abrasive and strange. And yet, there are those who credit Dawkins with helping them leave their religions; his message must resonate with some.

            Were he to become a religious scholar, wouldn’t he likely gain credibility with those who demand a deep religious understanding? Would Dawkin’s arguments regarding the LDS faith be sharpened or hurt if he were to say, have the background and knowledge of someone like Richard Packham? Were he to study the Book of Mormon, would he be more or less inclined to believe its authenticity?

            You assume to know what others know. How do you do that? If you had a list of, say the 100 most influential atheists on the planet, how would you know what they understand of religion? And how much would they need to know to convince anyone religious that their arguments had any merit?

            One of the first books I read having to do with Mormon history was “Waiting for World’s End; the Diaries of Wilford Woodruff”, followed by “No Man Knows My History”. I can’t speak for anyone else of course, but I found, especially in the writings of Woodruff, an
            undercurrent of superstition and the supernatural. You might agree that for those who do not believe in such things, the Book of Mormon, or other religious writings would hold no meaning in terms of predicting the planet’s future because they rely on faith, not science.

          • DanielPeterson

            You found an undercurrent of the supernatural in Wilford Woodruff’s writings?

            Color me astonished!

          • Lucy Mcgee

            And also superstition.

          • DanielPeterson

            “Superstition,” in my view, is a pejorative term, not an objective one.

            I have no reason to believe that you and I would use it the same way.

          • Stephen Smoot

            Lucy: “I would assume one of his major problems with religion, is the certainty they offer and in his mind, with no evidence.”

            But that’s just it. Dawkins hasn’t even deigned to take the time to consider any of the evidence for what he (and you) sniff away as “superstition.”

            Take the Book of Mormon, for example. If Dawkins ever bothers to come around and look at the question of whether the Book of Mormon is an authentic ancient record with an open mind, he’ll see that LDS defenders have been offering abundant evidence for the Book of Mormon’s antiquity. Whether you accept this evidence as compelling or not is a different question, but evidence has been offered.

            Dawkins and his buddies, however, won’t even bother to look at the evidence, let alone weigh it carefully and thoughtfully. In that regard, he’s very much like those close-minded religious crazies he keeps attacking.

            Lucy: “I do understand how someone deeply committed to their faith would find Dawkins’ methods and writing abrasive and strange.”

            It’s not just religious people. I’ve heard plenty of atheists, both in personal conversations as well as in various media outlets, complain that Dawkins makes other atheists look bad because of how bombastic, contentious, and mean-spirited he is.

            Also, I do not find Dawkins abrasive because he threatens my faith (he doesn’t), but because he is abrasive. And blatantly so. I defy you or anyone else to deny that “The God Delusion,” his signature anti-theistic work, is not deeply abrasive, contentious, mean-spirited, and polemical (not to mention egregiously condescending).

            Lucy: “Were he to become a religious scholar, wouldn’t he likely gain credibility with those who demand a deep religious understanding? Would Dawkin’s arguments regarding the LDS faith be sharpened or hurt if he were to say, have the background and knowledge of someone like Richard Packham?”

            Neither. You can be a Mormon, a non-Mormon, an ex-Mormon, or an anti-Mormon, and still have deeply flawed arguments. Dawkins’ background is irrelevant to the quality of his arguments against Mormonism.

            Lucy: “You assume to know what others know. How do you do that? If you had a list of, say the 100 most influential atheists on the planet, how would you know what they understand of religion?”

            What on earth are you talking about?

            Lucy: “And how much would they need to know to convince anyone religious that their arguments had any merit?”

            Well, I am something of an idealist, but hopefully they’d demonstrate at least a basic understanding of the religion they were attacking. Like Christopher Hitchens, for example. I don’t care that he’s an atheist attacking the Bible. I do care that he betrays a very superficial understanding of not only the Bible, but also current scholarship on the Bible. If he is going to convince me that his arguments have validity, he first needs to show he understands the Bible (including the underlying languages the Bible was written in, and what the Bible actually does and doesn’t say) and also that he understands what current scholarship says about the history of the Bible.

            Also, Lucy, you haven’t commented on my blog post responding to Dawkins’ rather poor argument against the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. Do you have anything to say in defense of Dawkins’ blunders? If not, that’s fine. I won’t hold it against you. If you do, I’d love to hear them. Thanks.

          • RaymondSwenson

            Lucy, Wilford Woodruff is known to have had some singular experiences involving communication from spiritual beings. One of them involved direction to go to a certain place to carry out his proselyting, which led to the mass conversion of hundreds of members of the United Brethren church in England, a result that concretely confirmed the nature of his inspiration. Those spiritual, revelatory experiences were very real and concrete to him, and similar experiences have been in the lives of many Latter-day Saints.

            You may not have had such experiences yourself, but I am sure there are lots of other experiences you have never had, but others have. For example, I have lived and worked in Japan. I would assume that you would respectfully hold judgment in abeyance if I told you something about Japan that was outsde your experience. I suggest you withhold judgment on the reported experiences of people who attest to spiritual experiences.

          • Lucy Mcgee

            Humans have claimed spiritual experiences of one kind or another throughout history and across cultures. Some become the foundations of religion. Yet, most people might agree that not all religions can be true, therefor not all such experiences can be true. And so for me, none of them are.

            Several decades ago, a family I knew in Jackson Hole fell under the spell of Elizabeth Claire Prophet, leader of the Church Universal and Triumphant, who claimed to receive spiritual information from long dead “ascended masters”. She claimed to be their messenger and offered pearls of wisdom through church publications. At their peak I think they had a membership of thousands.

            She made predictions about nuclear war. I was living in Bozeman, Montana at the time and well remember the preparations all these believers were undertaking on their large ranch in the Yellowstone valley near Gardiner, MT, building bomb shelters, stockpiling fuel, food and weapons in preparation for the cataclysm. People were giving up their life savings because they believed her prophesies. It was all very strange.

            I write all this only to say that I’m a skeptic in this area because so much of this goes on in the world.

          • Stephen Smoot

            “What they offer is a far cry from the hate, and bigotry coming from the pulpits of some within the religious right.”

            Right. Because calling yourself a “Bright,” with the implication that those who disagree with your atheistic, naturalistic world view are “dim,” certainly isn’t conceited or mean-spirited.

            Nor is Dawkins’ infamous paragraph-long caricature of the God of the Hebrew Bible in “The God Delusion”. (Incidentally, when Rabbi Jonathan Sacks called him out for his anti-Semitism, Dawkins could only respond by insisting it was all a joke to begin with, so no harm no foul. Certainly that’s what “thoughtful” people do, right Lucy?) Nor his saying that raising a child to be religious, including sending him or her to a religious school for his or her education, is tantamount to child abuse.

            Nor is Harris for claiming that “our enemy is nothing other than faith itself.” Certainly a very “thoughtful” opinion, yes Lucy? Nothing bigoted about that.

            The New Atheists are a lot of things–––intelligent, well-spoken, popular–––but “thoughtful” is not one of them. And, yes, my experience, overwhelmingly, is that each of them are extremely unpleasant to watch or read, as they ooze hostility and mean-spiritedness (not to mention an odious smugness).

            And it’s not just religious people that have noticed that.

          • DanielPeterson

            I strongly agree.

          • Lucy Mcgee

            If you did a little deeper, you’ll find that the vast majority of irreligious, including myself, don’t call themselves “brights”, and the term certainly does not imply that religious people are “dim”. That’s just plain silly.

            You may not like the offerings of Dawkins, or Harris or the rest but you might agree that most of us can seem thoughtless or mean spirited or smug at times. Questioning someone’s belief system is far different that the stuff you hear coming from some within the ranks of the Christian right, in my opinion.

          • Stephen Smoot

            Lucy: “If you did a little deeper, you’ll find that the vast majority of irreligious, including myself, don’t call themselves “brights”, and the term certainly does not imply that religious people are “dim”. That’s just plain silly.”

            If you re-read what I said, you’ll see that I was specifically referring to Richard Dawkins as the one who is conceited for calling himself a “Bright.” (Or, if it wasn’t clear, although I think it is, then this will clarify whom I was talking about.) And, yes, it does imply that if you aren’t a “Bright” (i.e. someone who ascribes to atheistic materialism) you are . . . well, what’s the opposite of bright, Lucy?

            Even Christopher Hitchens, of all people, thought it was a “cringe-making proposal that atheists should conceitedly nominate themselves to be called ‘brights.’” (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brights_movement#Criticism).

            Atheists, Lucy, like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett.

            Lucy: “You may not like the offerings of Dawkins, or Harris or the rest but you might agree that most of us can seem thoughtless or mean spirited or smug at times.”

            Of course. I’m sure I’ve come across as smug or mean-spirited at times.

            But there’s a difference. I can barely read or listen to anything from the New Atheists without it being consistently mean-spirited or smug. In other words, there’s a big difference in tone between Nietzsche and Freud, on the one hand, and Dawkins and Hitchens on the other. Nietzsche and Freud I can enjoyably read, even if I disagree with a lot of what they said, because I don’t feel like I’m being spoken down to like a child when I read them.

          • rockyrd

            Lucy, although I disagree with you on almost every turn, I appreciate reading your comments and how represent your own point of view. The fact that you have read about Mormonism tells me that you are willing to learn before you form an opinion. A question, however. You seem to want to lump the LDS Church into a group with all the Christian right. Is this your intent? As a long term convert, I see Mormonism as much more liberal in its world view than those who say Christianity or doomed to hell.

          • Lucy Mcgee

            There are elements within the extreme Christian right that I find truly disturbing given the proclamations of such people as Pat Robertson, the late Jerry Falwell and others who regularly appear on TBN. What they represent is clearly not Mormonism.

          • Ray Agostini

            Lucy wrote: “Quite frankly, my feeling is that Dawkins and the rest truly fear religious extremism within the Christian right and radical Islam more than anything, which keeps children ignorant of science and oppresses
            women.”

            There’s little doubt that the Taliban do this, which is why my country (Australia) has been at war with the Taliban since 2001, as a part of the Alliance.

            Dawkins has far more than “radical Islam” in his sights: http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2013/04/23/3743221.htm

            Even the reputable Peter Higgs (of Higgs boson) couldn’t find much complimentary to say about Dawkins, except that he’s an “anti-religious fundamentalist” :

            http://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/dec/26/peter-higgs-richard-dawkins-fundamentalism

          • Lucy Mcgee

            I would certainly be the last to defend everything that Dawkins says or writes. He is passionate in his cause and has made enemies. And he admits this. But the nice thing about him, and others within the New Atheist Horde, is that many are scientists who understand that being challenged is healthy. It is after all, one of the hallmarks of science.

          • RaymondSwenson

            Dawkins verbally attacked fellow evolutionary biologist Kenneth Miller for being a believing Catholic, even while writing a widely used textbook explaining evolution in a very supportive way. They were on a panel at a conference, so Dawkins was berating him to his face. Dawkins has a very different definition of kindness and tolerance than most people. Being an atheist, he defines his own morality, and judges others by it, demonstrating that atheists can be as intolerant as any religious believer. Dawkins is not a reason to hope that an atheist society would be kinder, gentler or more accommodating to diverse viewpoints.

            Again, while atheists claim that humanity would be better off if everyone agreed with them, the only attempts at actually creating atheist communities have resulted in the homicidal tyrannies of the Soviet Union and Red China and the Khmer Rouge, preceded by the bloody French Revolution. Might Dawkins and others invest their resources into creating their ideal atheist community, and demonstrate the desirabiity of their ideas? Until they conduct that experiment, I am skeptical about their prescriptions for mankind.

          • Lucy Mcgee

            Mr. Swenson, surely you realize that societies are not based on non-belief in deities, magic or the supernatural. Please see my response to kiwi57 above.

          • kiwi57

            Oh, so you’re enthusiastic about the deceitfully mis-named “MormonThink”. That explains a good deal.

            Dan previously suggested that your reading choices seem surprising in one who professes a mere casual, passing interest in Mormonism. I confess he’s not the only one who finds them surprising.

            Yes, there are some on the “religious right,” your favourite bogeyman, who say unkind things. You’re unlikely to find as much “hate” from them as is promulgated in the officially atheistic People’s Republic of China against religious believers of various types. As just one of many possible examples.

            But you do seem to have something of a blind spot to the left, don’t you?

          • Lucy Mcgee

            Actually, the words you should be using when describing oppressive regimes are fascism and totalitarianism, not atheism. The oppression of humans does not occur because people lack a belief in the God of Abraham, Allah, the monkey god Hanuman, Zeus or the other thousands of deities humans have worshiped. It does not occur because people refuse to believe in the supernatural or question belief systems which invoke magic. Oppression of humans does not occur because people believe that the natural laws of the universe are immutable and that the paranormal does not exist.

            Oppression occurs when a powerful few command mechanisms of propaganda and control, demanding submission and obedience using fear, intimidation and force. This is not atheism, deism, etc. At least get your terms correct.

            What amazes me about MormonThink and other such sites, is the quantity of detailed information offered about the Mormon faith. Anyone looking at the Mormon belief system can’t help but stumble upon these sites and there is much to read. Most interesting though, is that these sites were created by practicing and former Mormons.

            I’m not exactly certain what you mean by “blind spot to the left”. My eyes work pretty well, at least according to my optometrist.

          • Stephen Smoot

            “What amazes me about MormonThink and other such sites, is the quantity of detailed information offered about the Mormon faith.”

            Quantity? Sure. But your milage may vary on the quality.

            http://en.fairmormon.org/Website_reviews/MormonThink

            http://en.fairmormon.org/Criticism_of_Mormonism/Online_documents/Letter_to_a_CES_Director

          • kiwi57

            Lucy, I have noticed that those who are making a good faith effort to discuss other people’s beliefs without trying to poison the well generally manage to avoid dropping the word “magic” and its cognates. You might want to consider that going forward.

            FYI, I once read an article that attempted to define “magic” as a meaningful descriptor for systems of thought. It proposed that “magic” locates power in things, as opposed to religion, which locates power in intelligent beings.

            If that’s the case, then the notion that lifeless matter has the power to bring forth life unaided by any outside agency, is the purest “magical” thinking. Just a thought.

            Now it may indeed be that the confluence of atheism with totalitarian political systems could just be a coincidence. But there is no doubt that modern dictators resent any competition in the realm of ideas, and set out to suppress them. A dictator can’t afford to have her underlings listening to sources of authoritative teaching that she doesn’t control, hence religion has to go.

            And it is certainly a fact that atheists with whom I have tried to discuss things frequently exhibit a certain amount of sehnsucht for the good old days of the Soviet Union, when religious believers could be declared mentally ill and committed to psychiatric institutions. Several have explicitly argued that religious belief is a sign of mental incompetence.

            And that’s not a whole lot different from your own increasingly frequent expressions of disdain for religious believers, if not of all stripes, then at least of the Mormon stripe.

            So your insistence that we all separate atheists from atheistic totalitarian regimes looks a lot like special pleading.

          • DanielPeterson

            Amen!

          • Lucy Mcgee

            When I think of magic, I’m thinking of those things which violate the laws of physics, the kinds of things James Randi has debunked: bending of spoons, dowsing, psychokinesis, etc. In the case of the Book of Mormon, I would put seer stones, Jaredite barges with their lighted stones or anything where physical objects violate natural laws, in that category.

            In the case of modern dictators, I think you may agree that there are cases where some have and do operate within religious environments and have used religion to justify the destruction of enemies. But again, this is not the fault of religious belief, or unbelief, it is the fault of oppressive regimes where propaganda, fear, and intimidation are at work.

            As for those with whom you’ve argued who feel that religious believers be declared mentally ill and committed, please get me in on that conversation anytime and I’ll back you one hundred percent.

            Please don’t think my disbelief of Mormon doctrine, or any other religious doctrine, means I have for disdain for you, Dr. Peterson, Mormons, or anyone else I’ve encountered. As you’ve mentioned, there are many extremely intelligent people of faith everywhere. I certainly don’t consider religious belief a mental illness!

            Two of my very best friends since childhood (who I love like family) are Christians and I’m always amused because I know they believe that those who aren’t “saved”, will spend eternity in hell, and yet neither have ever tried to convert me.

            What bothers me greatly, is religious fanaticism of every stripe, including the Mormon stripe.

          • DanielPeterson

            And I’m bothered by fanatical atheists. Who happen, by sheer coincidence, to have killed scores of millions of people over the past century.

          • Lucy Mcgee

            So am I!

          • DanielPeterson

            It’s pure coincidence that Stalin’s Soviet Union, and Mao’s China, and Castro’s Cuba, and Pol Pot’s Cambodia, and the Kims’ Korea, and Enver Hoxha’s Albania have been officially atheistic, and that Hitler’s Third Reich was, at best, anti-Christian (if not, arguably, atheistic), and that the Terror of revolutionary France was overtly hostile to Christianity.

          • Lucy Mcgee

            So explain why atheists, living in Scandinavia aren’t looking to create fascist regimes. Humor me.

          • DanielPeterson

            Has anybody here argued that atheism invariably leads to fascism?

            If so, let that person step forward and give Ms. McGee the explanation she demands!

          • Lucy Mcgee

            What do you believe atheism, deism, etc. lead to in free and open societies, if anything?

        • DanielPeterson

          To my disappointment, I’ve met very few scientists, including religious ones, who’ve given “intelligent design” any serious attention.

          There are exceptions, but most of those with whom I’ve spoken criticize caricatures and straw men rather than the actual arguments made by people like William Dembski and Stephen Meyer.

          I genuinely regret this, because I would like to see substantive discussion of the issues.

          • Jon Perry

            Go to the Biologos website and search for Dembski or Meyer’s names. You’ll read in-depth evaluations of their claims. Biologos is an evangelical group promoting scientific literacy among Bible based Christians.

            I’d say the main flaw in ID is that they are trying to find evidence for God through science. It reminds me of the tower of babel.

            That said, evolution says nothing about God, it just explains how biology works. The science vs religion war centered around evolution shouldn’t even exists. I feel the battle is founded on trumped up charges.

  • Tyson Wood

    Perhaps in claiming atheism as good news, we declare that mankind is not only the cause, but also the solution, for our problems. Without the promise of just resolutions in the next life, perhaps atheism encourages urgency in minimizing suffering, where possible, now. Perhaps.

    • http://kgbudge.com kgbudge

      I see no good reason to regard mankind as either the cause or the solution to the human tragedy, until you bring in a religious context.

      If mankind is a chemical accident in a purposeless universe, then there is no reason whatsoever to believe that our problems are either avoidable or soluble. Why should there be a cure for cancer? Why should there be any way to take the tribal instinct out of the human heart? Why should a purposeless, uncaring universe care whether we nuke ourselves out of existence?

      I find it astonishing that modern atheists don’t get this. Earlier ones did, as Dan has pointed out.

      • Tyson Wood

        Can an atheist not create meaning and purpose? Belief in God isn’t required to create a meaningful and purposeful life. Is the purpose of life to minimize suffering and maximize well-being? Not necessarily, but it can be of I’d like it to be. No stories/religious belief needed. While those beliefs and stories can be helpful, it does not make them necessary.

        • DanielPeterson

          Once can always create meaning. A guy with terminal cancer can still take pleasure, while he’s able, in going to the gym. A political prisoner slated for execution can spend his remaining hours memorizing Goethe’s lyric poetry.

          But both enterprises seem rather pathetic.

    • DanielPeterson

      But atheism doesn’t actually seem to encourage such urgency to minimize suffering. Scores of studies have demonstrated that religious people contribute more to charity, including non-religious charity, than do secularists.

      • Tyson Wood

        Agreed. Religion does a much better job of building community and organizing that community in times of need. Alain de Botton makes a great case for what religion is currently doing much better than secularists.

  • rockyrd

    The so called good news or happiness of atheism is that there is no commitment required. I would be the last to label atheists as a group as intellectually dishonest or without altruism. The point is that if they choose to serve their fellow human beings, they do it on their own terms. No one calls them to help at a soup kitchen or to help a neighbor move. Atheists may do that, but at their own convenience. They have no obligation or commitment to do so. Christian, Jews, Muslims and others have a covenant obligation to serve their fellow beings. Atheists are not willingly committed to attend weekly meetings, contribute to the good of another or to look beyond themselves. They may do as they wish on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday. The “happiness” of many of those who embrace atheism after being committed to a religion is the release from that commitment they’ve made.

    If atheists like Dawkins would spend their time trying to serve others more (no debate that the need is there) instead of berating the sacred beliefs of other, the world would be a better place. That is likely true of people like me who answer atheists’ posts on a blog!

    Happy holidays to all!

  • Jon Perry

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    You’ve made a fairly strong case for religion/faith in God in this post but you’ve done so by cherry picking your data. In so doing you are being dishonest with yourself and your readers.

    It is true that one of the fruits of religion is a hope that all wrongs will one day be made right. I agree with you that this is an emotionally valuable fruit. It helps us cope with despair. If this were the sole fruit of religion, I think everyone would agree that the tree is good. Unfortunately it’s not the sole fruit of religion/faith. There are also many toxic fruits which grow from it’s branches. To keep things brief I’ll give you one example from Mormonism:

    As a Mormon I was taught from childhood that all creeds which did not align with Mormon creeds are “an abomination”. I took this concept literally (because it was taught to me literally) and in so doing I concluded that any idea or philosophy which challenged or contradicted church doctrine, must be rejected. This belief was absolutely toxic to my young and curios mind.

    The best day of my life was the day I realized, after over 20 years of holding to this closed-minded doctrine, that I could let it go. For the first time in my life I began to sincerely enjoy and explore the ideas and philosophies of others. I was able to appreciate and love my neighbors in a way I never imagined possible. It was exquisitely liberating. To me, it was the best news I had ever received.

    One of the many consequences of leaving the church however, was having to give up my easy cure for despair. I have yet to find myself in a truly hopeless situation so I can not say with certainty how I will respond. I hope I will respond by expressing gratitude for the joy and opportunities I had when things were good.

    Life might only be temporary. It is certainly marbled with pain and uncertainty, but I also find life, even from an atheist’s perspective, to be indescribably beautiful.

    Jon

    • DanielPeterson

      I wasn’t making a “case.” (I’m baffled that so many people apparently find this so difficult to understand.) I made no argument, so I can’t have made a weak argument. I asked a question. For the second time.

      In any event, your experience in Mormonism was quite different from mine. I find the Gospel absolutely exhilarating, and, largely as a result of my personal faith, have spent much of my life sympathetically studying, teaching about, and writing about other religions and other world views.

      One of the things that I like about my theistic viewpoint is that I’m not obligated to believe that the most significant religious claims, worldwide, are all delusional and false.

      In any event, I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving.

      • Jon Perry

        “I wasn’t making a “case” (I’m baffled that so many people apparently find this so difficult to understand.)”

        …um, did you even read your own post Mr Peterson?

        In it you go on for several paragraphs presenting case studies designed to back the following argument in your conclusion: “This [atheism] would not be good news, and I see no compelling reason to accept it. In fact, I see numerous persuasive reasons to reject the claim.”

        Not only have you cherry picked your case studies to trick yourself and your readers into thinking your argument is sound, you also made sure to toss in as many insults as you could. The post image for starters, suggest that God likes to make sarcastic remarks when atheists die. You continue mocking the dead by saying that atheists get “all dressed up with nowhere to go”. At one point in your post you even resorted to name calling “Only someone very comfortably situated could be so marinated in smugness about the question of the reality of God”

        You say that from your theistic viewpoint you are not “obligated to believe that the most significant religious claims, worldwide, are all delusional and false.”

        Right… instead you are obligated to believe that the religious claims of others are all “abominations” unless they match the claims made by Joseph Smith and his predecessors.

        Your dismissive response to my comment above suggests to me that you are not sincerely interested in understanding my point of view.

        • DanielPeterson

          JP: “…um, did you even read your own post Mr Peterson?”

          Yes. And I recommend, if you’re intending to comment upon it, that you do so again — as many times as you require in order to understand it accurately.

          JP: “In it you go on for several paragraphs making the following case: ‘This [atheism] would not be good news, and I see no compelling reason to accept it. In fact, I see numerous persuasive reasons to reject the claim.’”

          Not quite.

          If I make any “case,” it’s that certain seeming entailments of atheism appear to offer rather bad news. I don’t actually make an argument to that effect; I simply lay out specimens. That they represent bad news seems to me intuitively obvious, and, while you may be disposed to think otherwise, I have every reason to believe that most people would agree with me.

          You’re entirely welcome to make an argument for their being good news, or, at least, not bad news. That is, in fact, what I’ve invited atheists to do in both this post and its predecessor.

          You may, alternatively, grant that the things I’ve mentioned are indeed bad news, but want to argue that some other entailment or entailments of atheism are such very good news that they outweigh the specimens I supply.

          You’re entirely welcome to make an argument for that. In doing so, you would also be responding to the request that I made.

          I mentioned “compelling . . . persuasive reasons” to reject atheism, but I offered none of them. I chose not to make that case here.

          JP: “You also made sure to toss in as many insults as you could”

          Hardly.

          You seem, by the way, to be somewhat oversensitive. I can’t tell whether your oversensitivity is genuine or a pretense.

          JP: “including the post image which suggest that God likes make sarcastic remarks when atheist die.”

          Good grief. It’s an old joke, and, I think, rather a funny one. I’m quite fond of Nietzsche, by the way. I’ve read virtually everything he ever published, in both English translation and the German original, and have even gone out of my way to pay my respects at his Swiss childhood home in Sils Maria.

          JP: “At one point in your post you even resorted to name calling ‘Only someone very comfortably situated could be so marinated in smugness about the question of the reality of God.’”

          That wasn’t name calling. I really do find that person’s statement remarkably complacent.

          JP: “Your dismissive and (as I’ve shown here) blatantly dishonest response to my comment makes it very clear that you are not sincerely interested in understanding your neighbor’s point of view.”

          This last paragraph makes your claimed sensitivity to insults seem even less convincing than it was at first glance.

          • Jon Perry

            I’m not offended by your insults, I just think it’s odd that a grown man and professional apologist would resort to such juvenile behavior when defending his faith in God against atheism.

          • DanielPeterson

            There’ve been no insults, Mr. Perry, so it’s no wonder that you’re not offended.

            For the record, though, I’m not a “professional apologist.” I’m not paid for apologetics now, and I never have been.

          • Jon Perry

            Here’s a list of the good and the bad news I find in Atheism, we’ll start with the bad to get it out of the way:

            THE BAD NEWS OF ATHEISM

            1. I have to admit that I will probably not survive death
            2. When someone screws me over, I just get screwed over, no supernatural being will one day make it right.
            3. If I pray and nobody is in the room to listen, I’m probably just talking to myself.
            4. Nobody (except maybe my mom since I’m lucky to have a good one) actually loves me unconditionally.
            5. Though I CAN still try to imagine and believe in perfect love, charity, justice and mercy; I no longer feel okay about personifying those traits into the image of an all knowing father figure.

            THE GOOD NEWS OF ATHEISM

            1. My neighbors are not abominations! They are just people like me, each with their own unique perspectives on life!
            2. Dark skin is not a curse from God! It is not an indication of wickedness or laziness in this life or the pre-mortal existence! Instead it is the manifestation of a handful of genetic alleles which are passed from parent to child through sexual reproduction!
            3. I don’t have to condone polygamy in fear of being cursed for speaking ill of “the Lords Anointed”!
            4. I don’t have to give 10% of my income to a church that buy’s temples, shopping malls, and salamander documents! Instead I can do what ever I want with it, in my case, I use it to create educational YouTube videos which teach college grade biology and genetics at a middle school comprehension level!
            5. I don’t have to cherry pick the facts when confronted with evidence of things which contradict my religion! I don’t even have a religion!
            6. I don’t have to waste my time worrying or studying about angles and demons! This is great because I have personally found that most other things are far more interesting to explore!
            7. I can vote on laws I feel are best for the well-being of myself and others in the community without having to worry about God’s opinion on sexual orientation!

            I’m sure there are many more in both categories but that’s all that comes to mind at the moment.

            Shout it on the rooftops!

          • DanielPeterson

            Thank you for actually making an attempt to respond to my actual question.

  • Kevin Winters

    Some further comments, beyond what I provided in the other discussion.

    On the issue of happiness, I’m highly skeptical of seeing happiness as an external condition, meaning that certain criteria have to be met in order for someone to be happy. You speak of the “smug” atheist and compared his being “very comfortably situated” with those who “[do] not live, well fed and well traveled, to a placid old age surrounded by creature comforts” or who “have been blighted by torture, starvation, disease, rape, and murder.” You also speak of the supposed “triumph” of Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot if, in some future time, they did not get their just deserts by being punished for their crimes. There is a lot to be sympathetic about in that comment and those comparisons and my heart breaks when I consider those who live in such destitute and violence-ridden situations.

    At the same time, I look at my own experience: when I am hard hearted against otheres, when I hold grudges, allow myself to get angry, or when I use others as mere tools for my gain, that is painful. It hurts to use and abuse others: there is both physical and mental tightness, pain, and the ever-present “hedonic treadmill” (persistent unsatisfactoriness as new pleasures become old hat) that is the inevitable result, whether I get what I want or not. It is painful to be an abuser, to be an objectifier, to dehumanize others.

    In the other thread I brought up the topic of the psychology of violence: even when one feels justified in the act, taking the life of another person causes universal psychological harm. Because of this, the army (among other institutions and entities) have specific training to help their soldiers dehumanize the other (we see this is the Nazi mindset where the Jews were “rats” or “vermin”, the American hatred for “commies”, etc.). Yet even in its most successful accounts, these techniques can never fully mitigate the psychologcial harm that comes from violence. If you think that Hitler’s work was a “triumph” or that he somehow comes off scot-free if he’s not punished by some divine being at some future date, then you are missing a huge point. If you think that any child molester who isn’t caught is somehow free from pain in relation to his acts, then you are sorely mistaken (with the sociopath being the only possible exception, though even then I would be skeptical). The belief that those who abuse are “let off the hook” if they aren’t punished at some future date by an external entity is based on a limited grasp of human psychology, of the intense self-hatred, -doubt, and pain that those who inflict pain on others feel (imagine the times when you’ve taken out your frustrations on others and multiply it many times over in correlation with the severity of the violence committed).

    I find this statement to be quite interesting: “Yes, the problem of evil is a huge one. But to give up on God is to give evil the final say.” I’m not so sure of this. One of the takeaways from the work on the psychology of violence is that, at bottom, we all see each other as human beings, not as objects. The completely unfoudned notion of the so-called “selfish gene” (no such entity has been found to exist; it is, at best, a philosophical assumption, not a scientific finding) and the (mis-)understanding of man as somehow self-contained and individualistic (man is, at heart, a necessarily social being with primordial emotional and relational bonds to those he comes in contact with) are the assumptions that make your statement plausible. But since they are on all accounts false (logically contradictory, biologically impossible, psychologically damaging when acted on, etc.), I would say that the basic heart of mankind is good, wholesome, sensitive, with strongs needs for contact and communication between others and the world. It is that we deny these facts, that we try to create a self and world that is solid and stable, that we try to manufacture conditions which will “finally make us happy”, but which ultimately pass away and leave us unsatisfied, that we desperately hold on to a self-identity that we then feel we need to build up and defend, and that we try to create an environment where pleasure is maximized and pain is minimized (which we can never actually do), that leads to violence, clan mentality, greed, and dehumanization. We don’t want to be vulnerable, we don’t want to be dependent, we don’t want to share, we want to own our things and the fruits of our actions (“we did build that”), and so we behave in an “evil” way becuase we think achieving those illusory aims will make us happy, while they only multiply our misery.
    I’ll repeat what I said in the other thread: my meaning and joy in this life comes most authentically and powerfully when I’ve helped another human being, without any felt need to gain some future reward from some external entity to make it less “pathetic” and more meaningful. In fact, personally speaking, I don’t see what said future divinely given pat on the back adds of significance: I have relieved some of the suffering of another human being and brought some joy into their life, which is in and of itself, without need for further elaboration, an act worthy of both admiration and joy. Yes, someday I’ll die and my act, as well as the person I acted towards, will fade from memory and ultimately be forgotten…but for one brief moment, I lightened the load of a fellow sentient being, which is quite incredible and meaningful. I don’t know why there is a correlation between selfishness and suffering and selfless service and happiness, but I do know that the “reward” for each is immediate, even inherent in the acts themselves and the states of mind that make them possible. I don’t need any other reason than examining my own experience and becoming familiar with my own mind.
    My apologies that I have gone long, but I was able to reply on a computer rather than my tablet (which is what I did last time) and there were things that I wanted to say that added to my already excessive verbosity. Even then, there’s a lot that is unsaid, so I’m more than open to debate and discussion.

    • DanielPeterson

      KW: “I’m highly skeptical of seeing happiness as an external condition, meaning that certain criteria have to be met in order for someone to be happy.”

      Certain external factors seem necessary, although not sufficient, for happiness in ordinary people. Plenty of food doesn’t guarantee happiness but, for most humans, starvation causes unhappiness. Lack of pain doesn’t guarantee felicity, but intense pain interferes with bliss.

      KW: “You also speak of the supposed “triumph” of Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot if, in some future time, they did not get their just deserts by being punished for their crimes.”

      I said nothing about punishment for their crimes. I was talking about their apparently having had the final word on the fate and condition of their victims.

      KW: “If you think that Hitler’s work was a “triumph” or that he somehow comes off scot-free if he’s not punished by some divine being at some future date, then you are missing a huge point.”

      Such a thought played no role in what I wrote.

      KW: “The belief that those who abuse are “let off the hook” if they aren’t punished at some future date by an external entity is based on a limited grasp of human psychology.”

      Obviously.

      KW: “I don’t see what said future divinely given pat on the back adds of significance.”

      And, of course, I said nothing whatever about any such “divinely given pat on the back.”

    • Jonathan

      Kevin Winters: “The completely unfounded notion of the so-called “selfish gene” (no such entity has been found to exist; it is, at best, a philosophical assumption, not a scientific finding)”

      I doubt any biologist describes the “selfish gene” as an entity. Briefly, the Selfish Gene Theory proposes that genes can reproduce at the expense of the organism carrying them. This would make genes, not organisms, the evolutionary unit. The theory views organisms as vessels for the evolution and propagation of genes.

      It’s certainly not perfect, nor complete, but the theory does have good explanatory value for things like altruism, parenting behaviors, sibling competition, cancer, and the continued (even increasing!) retention and transmission of useless and deleterious genes. Though it’s details continue to be debated, the basics of the theory are very widely accepted.

      Ironically (at least for this discussion), the theory was first proposed by one Richard Dawkins, in his book “The Selfish Gene”. The title is unfortunate, as some have taken it to mean “a gene that makes organisms selfish”, when the book actually discusses how genes as a class behave selfishly.

      I suspect Mr. Dawkins would by surprised to see his work cited as a defense of theism, even as a misunderstanding.

  • jafnhar

    Well, I think I made some pretty good points in the original thread about why the lack of god’s existence might not be such a bad thing. I’ll go ahead and repeat myself too. It really depends on perspective. Imagine you’re gay, and you’ve been raised to believe that god hates homosexuals. One day you finally realize that you don’t have to believe in god, and thus don’t have to hate yourself anymore… well, that’s a pretty happy day, isn’t it? It’s possible too that you conclude that god doesn’t hate homosexuals at all, but it’s just as likely that the idea of god has been so totally poisoned by your upbringing that you’re just as happy to forget the whole thing. As I pointed out in the earlier thread: god isn’t all harps and angels. God might hate you. God might not care about you. God might just be torturing you until he’s done with you and moves on to the next victim.

    And that gets at the crux of the problem with your post: you’re packing a lot of ideas into the concept “god”. Actually, you’re being downright imprecise. After all, the arguments you make for why belief in god is a good thing don’t have anything to do with god per se: belief in eternal or recurrent life and belief in a higher purpose. It’s entirely possible that god could have made humans with a spiritual expiration date and it’s entirely possible that god made humans for no reason at all. (I would add here that whatever reasons god might have for making humans would, in any case, probably be incomprehensible to mortals). Conversely, it’s possible to believe in eternal or recurrent life and a higher purpose without god.

    But I’ll stick with my liberation idea. When someone is raised with a belief in god, it’s not just “god” that he or she is raised with, it’s particular beliefs about god and a whole set of concepts about what that god wants and how that person is failing to live up to those ideals. When that person grows up,maybe he or she finds that it’s easier to just jettison the whole concept than trying to invent a new god. It’s nice for you that you don’t seem to have experienced that conflict, but that says nothing about the experience of others.

    • DanielPeterson

      Thanks for actually responding to my actual question.

      I don’t altogether agree with you, and may yet respond — although I’m scheduled pretty solidly now through Sunday afternoon — but I do appreciate your engaging the question.

      • Jon Perry

        I engaged directly in the first comment as well. Just not in list form and I only gave one pro and one con.

        • DanielPeterson

          I wasn’t really asking for Mormon-specific or personal autobiographical responses. But thanks anyway.


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