New on Ebon Musings: The Great Sage's Visit

A new essay, “The Great Sage’s Visit“, has been posted on Ebon Musings. The article poses the question of how people would react if some of the moral atrocities typical of the Bible and other holy books instead appeared in the writings of a human held up as a high authority on ethics.

This is an open thread. Comments and feedback are welcome.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • andrea

    Good article, as always. I would have liked to see a footnote with the source of all the “sage’s” teachings, chapter and verse. I know where they all are (or at least most of them) but most religious types will insist that the Bible has never said such things and you have to tediously spec them out. Of course, then you’ll never hear from those types again, but that’s to be expected.

  • Philip Thomas

    Very funny. Another nail in the coffin of biblical literalism.

  • SpeirM

    Good read. I wish there were some way to make the analogy less obvious until the end, but I doubt there is. If the Christian reader could be tricked into stepping outside his faith for just a few moments and look at it the way others do, he would probably shudder in chagrin. His Bible really isn’t especially moral on the whole. His creation myths really are just as ridiculous on average as those of other religions. But these things are the air he breathes, and he just can’t see it.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Good article, as always. I would have liked to see a footnote with the source of all the “sage’s” teachings, chapter and verse. I know where they all are (or at least most of them) but most religious types will insist that the Bible has never said such things and you have to tediously spec them out.

    Excellent suggestion! I’ve added a footnote listing the verses that were paraphrased to create this article.

  • Philip Thomas

    Well, I am a Christian reader, and I already knew that the Bible contains profoundly immoral passages (probably a majority of the text by volume) and the creation myths are indeed that. The article didn’t tell me new facts, it just put them in a new way. Which is a valuable exercise, don’t get me wrong.

  • SpeirM

    And, Philip, I think you’ve had some thoughtful things to say.

    But, bear in mind that we have to use shorthands sometimes. When I say “Christian,” I’m often referring to the kind of Christian I was. (And perhaps I owed you that explanation beforehand.) To us, unless you were a literalist, Fundamentalist/Evangelical, you probably weren’t really a Christian at all. (And, besides, it’s futile to try to tailor every post I write to all 31(00) varieties of that ice cream.)

    I think that to most atheists/agnostics, Fundamentalism/Evangelicalism is really the “problem kind of Christian,” anyway. Not all here share my view, but I’d have little but technical quibbles with the Faith except for that. If Christianity poses any threat to this country (USA), the danger will probably come from that quarter.

    If you recognize the moral deficiencies in the Bible, that’s good. Our kind, though–the kind of Christian I was–were driven desperately to rationalize them. We had to. You see, the Bible doesn’t just record grievous moral lapses. Any history would do that. Instead, it also encourages, even demands, what looks like egregious moral behaviour. If we couldn’t come up with some way to explain that away, it would be a tacit admission that the Bible condones–indeed, insists upon!–injustice. That couldn’t square with our idea of a just God. (Or, at least, that the Bible issued from a just God, which would be just about as bad.) No, such a God couldn’t be just! Even we recognized that at some level. And, naturally, even going so far as to admit that our God might be unjust would knock down the central pillar of our faith.

  • Rowan

    Thanks, Adam! Nice to see something new on Ebon Musings. Are you planning to keep adding new material?

    Reading the article, I had an idea. I posted it here:
    http://ravingatheist.com/forum/viewtopic.php?pid=121737#p121737

    Anybody interested?

    It isn’t difficult, if you’re an atheist or, for that matter, a non-Christian, to find things to criticise about Christianity. Forum threads where theology is discussed are filled with questions about the nature of a God who permits and encourages such things as slavery, torture, genocide and divine wrath. There are a number of apologetic defences (how silly to think that apologists might spend their time apologising for God!) but I think one of the best ones is to say that God did it, and who are we to judge God? And even if this isn’t what the Christian says, I think this might be the attitude behind their rationalisations.

    But there’s an interesting loophole.

    God became man.

    Jesus, we are assured, was actually God coming down into mortal form. While Jesus lived here on earth, he was fully and normally human. Except that he was sinless, but that makes it even better.

    So…if Jesus was god in human form, doesn’t that mean that, as a human, his actions could be judged? If not, then he wasn’t really human, say I. And, after all, his actions have been judged. They have been judged, by the Christian Church, to be perfect. Sinless. An exemplary moral life as a model to us all.

    If so, then why didn’t Jesus apologise to us for all the atrocities that had been committed in what could be seen as his former life? Why didn’t he admit that genocide (the Flood, the Amalekites, etc) were wrong? Why did he endorse slavery, rather than say it was wrong? Why, when saying “we should love others” did he not take the times to point out exactly which of the Old Testament rules for execution were overwritten by this – and why didn’t he say sorry for writing them in the first place, back when he was living in the sky?

    If we find the actions of the Bible God repugnant, then we can judge Jesus for them. When he stepped into human clothing, he put himself in the dock.

    Verdict?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Nice to see something new on Ebon Musings. Are you planning to keep adding new material?

    Oh yes. I have another new article about half-done, and the one after that pretty well planned out. (And a list of about a hundred other topics I eventually want to cover after that!) I’m aiming for a monthly update schedule for EM now that I’ve also got Daylight Atheism to write for; that seems to be working out pretty well so far.

    If we find the actions of the Bible God repugnant, then we can judge Jesus for them. When he stepped into human clothing, he put himself in the dock.

    Verdict?

    A very interesting idea indeed! It’s true, the question of how the incarnation should affect our moral judgment of God’s actions (at least as the Bible depicts them) isn’t something I’ve seen discussed so far. Personally I don’t think it should make a difference – either what you do is moral or it isn’t – but that’s certainly something that might give a Christian pause. It’s worth a try, at the least.

  • lpetrich

    This reminds me of an idea I once had.

    To cleverly rewrite Jesus Christ’s teachings so as to disguise their source, and present this rewrite to various sects of Xians to see how they react to those teachings. Like referring to the Mother or the Mistress rather than to the Father or the Lord.

  • http://keep-it-simple-stupid.blogspot.com/ oku

    Maybe we have it all wrong: we should not ask God for forgiveness of our sins – it is God who expects us to forgive him.

  • Philip Thomas

    SpeirM, thanks for the clarification. For what its worth, I think biblical literalism is worse than atheism, morally and factually speaking. Another impression I am getting is that most of the atheists here deconverted from some form of Protestantism. Which leaves them with certain habits of thought…

    Rowan, fair enough.

  • Interested Atheist

    Thank you for the kind remarks, everybody.
    Adam, i very much look forward to seeing new articles in Ebon Musings!
    I’d really like to see an article about gay people and religion – since E.M. seems to cover most areas of religion pretty thoroughly, it would be nice to see this one explored too.
    Oh, and for the creation section – an update on ID?
    Anyone else have any suggestions?:)

  • David

    Another impression I am getting is that most of the atheists here deconverted from some form of Protestantism.

    According to polls on IIDB, it seems that deconverts from Protestantism outnumber deconverts from Catholicism 2 to 1, which mirrors the ratio of Protestants to Catholics fairly well in English-speaking countries as a whole.

    I honestly can’t understand what it means to be a Christian if can say Bible contains many evil verses. I’m not criticizing the position; I just don’t know how to conceive the idea.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    I’d really like to see an article about gay people and religion – since E.M. seems to cover most areas of religion pretty thoroughly, it would be nice to see this one explored too.

    An article on ID is long overdue, I agree! Not being gay myself, I wouldn’t presume to speak with authority on that topic, but if there was a specific issue you had in mind I’d be glad to hear suggestions.

    Another impression I am getting is that most of the atheists here deconverted from some form of Protestantism. Which leaves them with certain habits of thought…

    Well, Protestants outnumber Catholics – at least they do in the United States, where I live and where much of this site’s traffic comes from – so I’d expect that to be the case purely on a statistical basis. There are many Catholic deconverts as well, however; I have at least two deconversion stories hosted on Ebon Musings that were written by ex-Catholics, The Joys of Christianity and Freedom, plus some others linked from external sites (such as From Believer to Atheist).

  • Philip Thomas

    I honestly can’t understand what it means to be a Christian if can say Bible contains many evil verses. I’m not criticizing the position; I just don’t know how to conceive the idea.

    Well, I believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. I believe there was a historical figure called Jesus of Nazereth, who was born of the virgin Mary, was the Son of God, the Christ, was crucified, died, and was buried, rose again on the third day, and will come again in glory at the end of the world. Thats what I mean when I say I’m a Christian.

  • Philip Thomas

    Adam, thanks for the links. The first two went from (Catholic) biblical literalism to atheism. The third went from liberal theism to a more intense faith, and thence to atheism. Have you got any stories where the step before atheism is liberal theism? I’m just curious, it would seem a pretty natural trajectory, but all the ones I come across seem to be direct leaps from fundamentalist to atheist, so to speak.

  • andrea

    Philip, do you believe that as in one of the Timothy books, that the entire Bible was “inspired” by God, i.e. what’s in the Bible is there totally because God wanted it there? I find this always somewhat confusing when someone who claims they are a Christian *isn’t* a literalist and will pick and choose what they want to believe when the Bible pretty clearly says you can’t.

  • Rowan

    Philip, not to seem bad mannered, and I mean this question sincerely. When asked to explain your beliefs, as you have just done, do you ever feel uncomfortable about them?

  • Archi Medez

    By removing names and (ostensibly) separating itself from known traditions, to which some believers have invested considerable emotional attachment, the “Great Sage” article uses reframing to give us a slightly different perspective on a familiar problem. Inevitably, this will be humorous to non-believers, and will provoke various levels of irritation in those who believe (or are linked via guilt-by-association) to some of the moral propositions cited.

    Theists and religious believers of various kinds can of course ask: What is the alternative advocated by atheists with regard to morality? This is one area where I think atheists need to be more explicit in formulating and expressing, for the public, their beliefs. Although atheists’ beliefs, collectively, are not homogenous, I think there is a high degree of uniformity on certain issues. However, these views, to my knowledge, have not been well-articulated in a popular source. For one thing, I have not seen any popular atheist presentation which is based on a systematic study of past ethical systems, and which arrives at a coherent presentation of what atheists generally believe (in the moral sphere) and why, and how this differs from religiously-packaged moral systems. This is a large project, not to be taken lightly, and not something to be expressed at all until it is thoroughly developed. Until such a presentation is made, the general public, particularly in the U.S., will continue to associate atheism with Marxism, Stalin and Mao; ultra-hedonistic decadence, superficiality, and amorality; and anarchy and nihilism.

  • Padishah

    Archi Medez this is surely because there is no particular moral system which atheists generally believe. Views run the gamut politically, Marxism, socialism, social democracy, libertarianism, and morally, from complete hedonism to humanistic self sacrifice. You might as well ask what theists believe morally.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Adam, thanks for the links. The first two went from (Catholic) biblical literalism to atheism. The third went from liberal theism to a more intense faith, and thence to atheism. Have you got any stories where the step before atheism is liberal theism?

    Ask and ye shall receive. ;)

    http://www.secweb.org/index.aspx?action=viewAsset&id=687
    http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~slocks/tsr/tsr8.html
    http://www.positiveatheism.org/mail/eml8452.htm (several on that page)

    I’m just curious, it would seem a pretty natural trajectory, but all the ones I come across seem to be direct leaps from fundamentalist to atheist, so to speak.

    Actually, I can see why that might be. A person who leaves a fundamentalist church is more likely to have had intense experiences in their past they’d want to tell others about. It may well be that the intellectual rigidity of fundamentalism inspires more frequent and more spectacular deconversions than a less dogmatic faith.

  • Philip Thomas

    Andrea, clearly the entire Bible wasn’t “inspired” by God, at least not in the way you mean it (and probably not in any way). Now, you can point to passages in the Bible that say it is inspired by God. But, as I pointed on an earlier entry to Adam, you can’t prove a work of literature is all true (or inerrant, or ‘inspired’, or what have you) simply because it says it is! That is circular thinking with a vengeance.

    Rowan: sometimes I feel uncomfortable about my beliefs, indeed I breifly deconverted for about 3 weeks 6 years ago, and I felt uncomfortable about my beliefs while an atheist too: if one realises there are many possible belief systems and certainty is unattainable doubt is likely. But I don’t generally feel uncomfortable about my beliefs while I am affirming them (which of course I do every Sunday).

    Padishah seems to have made my point for me, and as he is an atheist he can probably speak about that issue more accurately than I can.

    Ebon, thanks for the links (I haven’t read them yet). I was thinking along the same lines, anger at fundamentalism seems more likely than anger at liberal theism (which is like getting angry at a ball of cotton wool, ho ho)

  • Archi Medez

    Padishah,

    The question of what atheists believe is, first, empirical. One needs to do the research to find out the views, the commonalities and the differences, before making such conclusions. Secondly, the comprehensive assessment of past views of philosophers is also an empirical exercise, to be conducted prior to drawing conclusions. Third, a separate part of this task would be for an atheist thinker to articulate his/her own views, after having surveyed and studied the above (i.e., to do the prescriptive, as distinguished from the descriptive/empirical task).

    That said, I will venture to predict that there is one issue on which most atheists are agreed, and that is that it is morally wrong to condemn someone for not believing in an invisible, undetectable deity; whereas theists (and I’m thinking here of believing Christians, Muslims, and Jews) generally (though by no means uniformly) do accept the premise that it is morally acceptable to condemn someone for not believing in said deity.

  • Philip Thomas

    erm, what do you mean by condemn, Archi Medz?

  • SpeirM

    Briefly, just what do you believe, Philip? Upon what is that belief founded? If you’re going to say there is a supernatural anything, you’re going to have to have some authority. (It’s not self-evident.) What is that authority?

  • Philip Thomas

    Briefly, what I just said (in religous matters, I won’t bore you with my political or factual beliefs). My authority is the teachings of the Catholic Church. Tradition, in the jargon. Explaining why I hold that authority to be valid could take a while…

  • SpeirM

    Then let us not drift too far from the topic. Still, I have trouble imagining how the Roman Catholic Church could ever serve as the kind of authority that would cause one to radically alter one’s life–and to insist, upon pain of eternal punishment, that others do the same. The connection between its claims and what can be demonstrated as reality seem tenuous, to understate the case considerably.

  • Philip Thomas

    Ahem. Have I been insisting that anybody here radically alter their lives? Or threatened anyone with eternal punishment? I hope not…

  • SpeirM

    Never suggested you did, Philip. But the Catholic Church does, and you say you accept it as authority.

  • Philip Thomas

    I accept it as authority for the teachings I mentioned. It has been, is, and will be, wrong about many other things.

  • SpeirM

    Okay. Then it’s not the Catholic Church that’s your authority. It’s your reason that’s your authority, because the Pope’s teachings are subject to your reason. You feel free to accept or discard his teachings as your reason dictates. If you count anything infallible, it’s your reason, not the Pope.

    Am I close? If so, what’s the point of calling yourself Catholic?

    I don’t mean to be annoying, but, surely, you see how I can imagine some disconnect there.

  • Philip Thomas

    Yeah, I can see that. First, what I mean when I say that accept authority is that I believe what they tell me unless I have good reason to think otherwise .
    That applies to the scientific community as much as the Catholic Church.
    Second, Papal infallibility is a very specific doctrine. What it says is that the Pope is infallible under certain technical conditions, when he is speaking ex cathedra . Now, since the doctrine of infallibilitly was formally stated in 1870, only two papal pronouncements ex cathedra have been mind. One said that the Virgin Mary was assumed bodily into Heaven, and the other said that the Virgin Mary was free of sin in her earthly life. I accept both these pronouncements:
    It is also taught by the Church that full Church Councils have the extraordinary magisterium , that is that such of their decrees as are properly agreed on are infallible: such a council occurred at Nicea in the first millenium and it formulated the Nicene Creed, much of which I stated above. Everything else taught by the church as doctrine is what is called Ordinary Magisterium, and may be fallible. Of course, there are many things which are not taught by the church as doctrine at all, but are merely current practise, such as the convention that priests do not get married. A Catholic is not obliged to support such conventions. Being a Catholic means accepting the Nicene Creed and other core Catholic teachings, not agreeing with everything the Pope says.

    I hope that makes some kind of sense…

  • SpeirM

    Not really. I was just reading through “Infallibility” in the Catholic Encyclopedia. (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07790a.htm) Dang, what a convoluted mess! Basically, the Pope is infallible when he’s infallible and he’s not infallible when he’s not infallible. For all the words the article uses, that’s really what it seems to boil down to.

    But I can see that, once again, I’m trying to get a grip on wet mud: the more I squeeze, the less I have. (I don’t mean “mud” as an analogy for your faith, just that all this is something that can’t be nailed down well enough to test. Whatever test one might apply, it would be a simple matter to object that a technicality wasn’t met which invalidated the whole thing. That could be done ad infinitum.) It mystifies me how you can buy into that stuff, but I guess that’s your business.

  • Padishah

    That said, I will venture to predict that there is one issue on which most atheists are agreed, and that is that it is morally wrong to condemn someone for not believing in an invisible, undetectable deity; whereas theists (and I’m thinking here of believing Christians, Muslims, and Jews) generally (though by no means uniformly) do accept the premise that it is morally acceptable to condemn someone for not believing in said deity.

    I doubt most do. Most Christians/Jews are not fundamentalists. Islam may be another matter, but it holy text purports to be the literal words of God, and it is principally prevalent in the 3rd world. You will get plenty of people, theists or otherwise, who believe it is acceptable to condemn people for their honest beliefs. I imagine most of us would condemn racists for instance.

    Not to but in, but sensible theists of any bent don’t tend to be overly concerned with doctrinal technicalities.

  • Philip Thomas

    Not quite sure where you are going with the last sentence, Dave. I try to concern myself with all matters of doctrine, technical or otherwise. But maybe I’m not all that sensible…

    SpeirM, the conditions for Papal infallibility are objective criteria. Its true you can argue about them (most notably, the doctrine of infallibility doesn’t meet its own criteria according to some theologians, thus invalidating the whole concept). But there is widespread agreement that the two instances I cited count.

  • Padishah

    Sorry, I didnt mean to imply you would disregard the Churchs teaching based purely on complexity. What I mean is, do you believe things purely because there is a rule saying that they are such as decided by a certain council, or because they seem likely based on the examination of evidence? The former approach being of course the basis of legalism, the approach taken by Judaism, strict Islam and (generally) those Christian denominations which focus greatly on the OT.

  • SpeirM

    Philip, read the criteria for Papal infallibility at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07790a.htm. There you will see “it must be clear” over and over. And yet we’re never really told what makes it clear.

    I’m sorry, but I just can’t escape the inference that the Pope is infallible when the Pope says he’s infallible. Can you give me an objective way to test for whether he’s telling the truth about that? In the end, aren’t we just supposed to take his word for it? Why should I?

  • Philip Thomas

    Well, where something is claimed by an Authority I recognise in their own field (theology for the Church, science for scientists) , I take that as evidence in and of itself, but I am open to examining any other evidence going, whether empirical, the light of reason, or some other Authority’s claims.

  • SpeirM

    And that gets to what I’m driving at. There’s a big difference between scientific consensus and religious authority. One relies upon the empirically demonstrable, while the latter has nothing more than the word of some religious “authority” to go on. Indeed, religion flourishes largely because it deals with the unprovable.

    Your point isn’t entirely missed. I, myself, on this site have said that the assertions of science become matters of faith for most of us. I can’t prove such things as evolution or even that the Earth goes around the Sun.

    But there’s still a big difference. On the one side of the scales I have the words of thousands of people who have studied and practiced their subjects for years and have built upon the learning of others. More compelling is that they deal with the physical world–something I know exists by my own experience. On the other side I have the claims of thousands-years-old documents by men (?) whose names we often don’t even know for sure. That and the traditions of men–founded upon those documents–who have demonstrated time and again that they have religious axes to grind, often not to the good of humanity as a whole. Worst of all, they deal with things that are anything but objectively provable. I DON’T know the spirit world exists. Thus, as far as I’m concerned, the burden of proof is on those who insist it does. Why shouldn’t I expect better evidence that somebody’s word before I believe in it?

    When I weigh the evidence like that, the choice is easy.

    Christianity, Protestant and Catholic, has had a long time to tweak things such that its worldview has achieved a degree of internal consistency. (At least, rationalizations have been formulated to explain away the inconsistencies.) To me, that’s all but meaningless. Objectivity, to me, is a lot more than “Does our doctrine square with our own doctrine?” It has to square with objective reality. The question isn’t, “Is the Pope or the Church infallible (any time or ever) according to what we believe to be true?” It’s more like, “Can they be demonstrated to be infallible to those who aren’t already biased in their favor?” What evidence do you have that make your conclusions inescapable? If you don’t have any, what’s the point of your own faith? Why do you hold it?

    Building empirical systems on faith is kind of like soaring in a hot air balloon. It looks pretty and it flies high, but eventually it’s going to have to come down, because, well, it’s just hot air. (It’ll either come down or it’ll wind up being altered so that its lift comes of something more material. Christianity has taken that latter route a lot.) That’s all that’s holding you up. Or, if there is something more substantial, you can’t demonstrate that there is. Not in any way that would compel others to agree with you. God, if he exists at all, must surely realize the evidence isn’t compelling. (He wouldn’t be omniscient otherwise.) Consequently, he couldn’t seriously expect our faith.

  • Philip Thomas

    mmm, you know theologians have also studied and practised their subject for years and build upon the learning of others. I grasp that there is a difference there, but I don’t consider it an important one.

    I don’t know the physical world exists, but I choose to assume it. The choice is a product of my reasoning and the apparent evidence of my senses, which is all I have. Same for the spiritual world.

    By “objective criteria”, I meant that a non-Catholic can tell when the Pope makes a pronouncement that falls within the critieria for infallibility. For example, the Pope must say he is doing so.

    I have no evidence that makes my conclusions inescapable, on this or any other subject (I have toyed with the idea that I necessarily exist, but even this is dubious).

    Well, if you like to compare knowledge to a hot air balloon you can do so. I’m not quite sure where you’re going, but then I guess balloons are carried by the wind rather than directed.

    I can’t demonstrate anything unless we assume some axioms. As a liberal I would be horrified to imagine I was compelling anyone to agree with me. I imagine God does realise that no evidence can be compelling. Whether a being outside time can be said to expect anything is rather problematic, but I think He makes allowance for such matters…

  • SpeirM

    Oh, come on, Philip. You’re getting less believable all the time. You sound like those Descartes chided, who “doubt that they may doubt.”

    Really, you don’t find some things inescapable? Is the sky blue or the grass green? Will you quibble and say, “Not always?” just to avoid having to concede a point?

    “I grasp that there is a difference there, but I don’t consider it an important one.”

    But how has anything in the spirit world ever been proved to you the way things in the physical world have? By what sense has it come to you? It wasn’t sight, touch, smell, taste, or hearing. And yet, we all make mistakes with those all the time–even though we spend our whole lives honing our skills with them in the physical world. The spirit world, if there is such a place, is largely veiled to us. Exactly what sense is it that so reliably tells you it even exists, much less what its attributes are? It’s not your experience you’re relying on? Then whose? That of Moses or Paul or Jesus or some Pope? You’ve only removed the problem one step and added another. You still have to explain what sense of theirs was so reliable. Then you have to explain why you trust in that sense secondhand.

    No, there’s nothing that can be proven to 100% certainty, not even our own existence. But what’s the sense in denying it? If we do, then let us lay down our swords–nothing is knowable! Why retreat to such a position, especially since nothing you’ve said is meaningful in the slightest unless you claim to be able to know? Again, what makes your knowledge of the spiritual more reliable than your knowledge of the physical?

  • Philip Thomas

    Descartes himself assumed God in order to deduce reality.

    Of course I accept that the sky is blue and the grass is green. I believe in the external reality I percieve.

    “how has anything in the spirit world ever been proved to you in the ways that things in the physical world have?”

    Well, I consider consciousness as part of the spirit world, so I have more direct experience of it than of the physical world external to me. Generally speaking the sense that I seemed to percieve God through was that of hearing. I now think that experience was largey delusional, but just because one has delusions doesn’t mean the real thing doesn’t exist.
    Now, if consciousness lies within the spritual world, its existence is fairly apparent. As for reliance on others, that is how we learn about most of the physical world.

    There is no sense in denying reality. For me, that means there is no sense in denying God. For you, perhaps it has a different meaning. My knowledge of the spiritual world is not more reliable than my knowledge of the physical, I wasn’t claiming that.

  • Archi Medez

    You will get plenty of people, theists or otherwise, who believe it is acceptable to condemn people for their honest beliefs. I imagine most of us would condemn racists for instance.

    Not to but in, but sensible theists of any bent don’t tend to be overly concerned with doctrinal technicalities.

    Comment by: Padishah | June 16, 2006, 8:23 pm

    My (empirical) prediction as to what most atheists and theists believe, specifically with regard to condemning someone for not believing in an invisible, undetectable deity, may or may not hold up. I wasn’t referring to all beliefs! Until I’ve seen some research results on this particular issue, I’m not drawing any firm conclusions about it. (I focussed on that particular issue in my example only because I think it is a major weakness in the theologies of the three main religions, i.e., it is not a trivial issue).

    Re Jews and Christians, I’m not all that concerned or worried about them (i.e., they don’t pose a significant threat to me or anyone else in my neck of the woods. I am concerned about Christian fundamentalism in the U.S, as well as the impact generally of religious beliefs in the third world, and the impact on non-religious dogmas in places like North Korea and China. However, my chief focus is Islam, because I think, globally, it presents (and will continue to present) the biggest problem among the ideologies that tend to cause problems.

    I drew attention to this point because this issue, specifically the belief in metaphysical punishment (or, at minimum, belief in the idea that it is wrong morally to disbelieve in said invisible undetectable deity) is a basic aspect of the three main religions cited. This is both a popular belief among the general public and a technical matter for theologians. (Personally, I’m not interested all that much in the theological arguments, except insofar as they can be made socially-relevant in more popular discussions). The level of popularity of the belief that non-believers should be condemned is an empirical question.

  • Archi Medez

    Philip,

    Sorry for the late response. I meant condemn in the most general sense of the word, realizing that there are some differences between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in exactly what condemnation entails within each. (I do not yet know enough about Hinduism to comment on that). At minimum, and most generally, I meant condemn as “judge to be morally bad or morally inferior.” I also want to reiterate, for clarity, that I was referring exclusively to the condemnation of someone for not believing in an invisible, undetectable deity.

  • SpeirM

    Okay, Philip. I think I’ve got a better handle on your thinking.

    Hey, are you a father? Happy Father’s Day, if so.

    In fact, Happy Father’s Day to everybody who qualifies.

  • Philip Thomas

    Thankyou SpeirM, I am not a father, and my father disapproves of Father’s Day. I will strive to be happy still, however.

    Archi Medz, fair enough. For what its worth, I do not think atheists are (by virtue of being atheists) morally bad or morally inferior to theists. But then I’m pretty eccentric, as SpeirM has discovered.

  • Jim Speiser

    Theists and religious believers of various kinds can of course ask: What is the alternative advocated by atheists with regard to morality? This is one area where I think atheists need to be more explicit in formulating and expressing, for the public, their beliefs. Although atheists’ beliefs, collectively, are not homogenous, I think there is a high degree of uniformity on certain issues. However, these views, to my knowledge, have not been well-articulated in a popular source. For one thing, I have not seen any popular atheist presentation which is based on a systematic study of past ethical systems, and which arrives at a coherent presentation of what atheists generally believe (in the moral sphere) and why, and how this differs from religiously-packaged moral systems. This is a large project, not to be taken lightly, and not something to be expressed at all until it is thoroughly developed. Until such a presentation is made, the general public, particularly in the U.S., will continue to associate atheism with Marxism, Stalin and Mao; ultra-hedonistic decadence, superficiality, and amorality; and anarchy and nihilism.

    May I point you to Ebonmuse’s essay, The Ineffable Carrot and the Infinite Stick, which appears to lay some exellent groundwork for such a project.

  • Archi Medez

    Thanks Jim.


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