Interesting Relationship We Have Here…

Remember Kate and Erik?

Yeah, well… this couple ain’t like them.

Let’s start with the bio:

I’m Jennifer. Age 29, mother of two small children and wife for 9 years to my atheist husband… Sadly as a teenager and young adult I walked away from first love, Jesus. It was only by His extraordinary mercy and love that on March 15, 2006 light pierced darkness and I heard His call once again and became reborn in Him. My life has never been the same since. My husband is an atheist and told me he would divorce me if I attended church.

He would divorce you if what?!

That’s solid foundation for a relationship right there: telling your spouse the things you’ll divorce her over.

Apparently, it’s more words than action:

My atheist husband almost divorced me over attending church, no way would he allow me to give money to church. Instead I’ve given my time, helping with the Ladies Bible study. Teaching Sunday school.

Key word: Almost.

Anyway, Jennifer prayed for money so that she could give to the church.

A week later my husband, a stock broker mentioned he made a little bit of money in a trade and I replied “well that doesn’t surprise me, because I prayed God would give us some money.”

I *really* want to know what the husband was thinking at this point.

Thursday morning my husband walked into the kitchen grinning ear to ear and said “Your prayers are working! I’ve just made a decent amount of money on one single trade.”

That’s not what I had in mind.

Neither is the following:

I told my husband I wanted him to decide on the amount to give back to God. But I told him “remember what you give will effect what you get back!” Trust God and let Him show you how He loves you!

This morning my husband wrote out a check. I won’t say the amount. That actually doesn’t matter, but it was more than I thought he’d give.

Now, I’m just confused.

Is this guy some mean atheist willing to get a divorce if his wife attends a church? Or is he just appeasing her (because he made some money, so who cares what her explanation is)? Or does he even know what an atheist is…?

It seems like the wife became super-Christian just a couple years ago. And the husband became ultra-atheist a year before that… if that’s the case, and religion wasn’t an issue pre-marriage, that’s gotta be a tough transition for a couple (with kids) to make…


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • Aj

    This woman seems completely bat shit, and I wouldn’t trust her account on anything. Perhaps because she seems to be gullible, I’m guessing the husband gave her the money as a compromise, is actually not an atheist, or has a disorder like manic depression (far less likely).

    I don’t see how someone can be an “ultra-atheist”, we all lack that certain belief equally.

  • Alexandre

    I bet she said ‘no sex for a month’. That’s gotta open any man’s wallet.

    Either let him tell his side of the story or this is just like believing in God…

  • http://www.otmatheist.com/ Siamang

    Actually, I think what’s going on is this. God is in a bidding war for the husband’s soul. How much money would it take for you to believe… a hundred? A thousand? Ten thousand?

    How can I get in on THAT DEAL??? Ka-CHING!!!

  • Miko

    To quote from her profile:

    The battle has just begun and the heavens are holding their breath and waiting. There is a spiritual battle going on… a spiritual battle for my husband’s soul. He is being woo’ed and courted by the maker while being blinded by the deceiver. Stay tuned to see how [sic] God’s love will win an atheist over!

    So I’m going to say that she’s an unreliable narrator, since she obviously wants to force reality into a very particular mold. Did he really threaten to “almost” divorce her for going to church, or does she just have the persecution complex so common among Christians? Hard to say with only her testimony, although that “almost” makes me tend to lean towards the latter explanation.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    What I gathered from reading her profile and blog post is that this is a still unfolding story. Perhaps her husband’s initial response, two years ago, was to threaten to leave her (it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve heard of something like this happening), but she talks about that in the past tense and it sounds like their relationship has gotten better since then. As she puts it, her marriage “has been restored”.

  • Miko

    I don’t see how someone can be an “ultra-atheist”, we all lack that certain belief equally.

    I’d say there’s a difference between the propositions “I don’t believe that a god or gods exist” and “I believe that no god or gods exist,” since the first is an epistemic statement while the second is metaphysical. And I’d be inclined to call the first an atheist and the second an ultra-atheist (or to use Smith’s terminology, the first is a “weak atheist” and the second is a “strong atheist”). However, I’m not convinced that any form of distinction like that is going on in this case. Do you have a source for the husband becoming ultra-atheist, Hemant? It’s not in the linked post AFAICT.

    By the way, from her post:

    Thursday morning my husband walked into the kitchen grinning ear to ear and said “Your prayers are working! I’ve just made a decent amount of money on one single trade.” Anyone see the financial news of Yahoo being bought by Microsoft? ; )

    Yeah. It was pretty good for stockholders in Yahoo, but not so good for stockholders in Microsoft. Since Microsoft is larger, more people were hurt than benefited. Truly god works in mysterious ways. ;-)

  • http://nogodsallowed.wordpress.com Chad

    There’s a difference between an informed atheist and an ignorant atheist. If what she said about her husband is true, it sounds like Cletus has the same case of “atheism” that Kirk Cameron constantly claims to have had before being converted.

    Ignoratheist? Is that a word?

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    He seems pretty quick to accept petitional prayer (the most pseudo-scientific kind). Don’t they teach atheists critical thinking skills anymore? Or am I reading too much into it?

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    I agree with Aj about the woman being batshit, which isn’t unusual (sorry Mike C) for new Christians. They often go bonkers and lose all perspective on reality and normal life. I knew a number of mixed (believer/unbeliever) couples when I was younger, and the churches did everything possible to discourage this, because the couple is “unequally yoked.” They made the unbeliever feel totally unwelcome and inferior, even though they claimed they were welcoming and loving to the unbelieving spouse, it was only because they wanted to convert the person. It’s really sad when one spouse becomes a born-again or evangelical or fundie Christian and the other doesn’t because the church will basically tear the marriage apart, by making the Christian member feel so inadequate, like she (it’s almost always the woman) is not doing the right things or her husband would come into the fold. And by treating the unbeliever like a worthless piece of shit who isn’t worthy to be married to the wonderful Christian spouse.

    If my husband went “back to the Lord,” I’d leave him in a minute. And he’d probably do the same thing if I did. Why? Because we know the bullshit that would ensue. Been there, done that. Not again, thank you very much.

  • Adrian

    I’m reminded of the literary technique of having an untrustworthy narrator, and I gotta say she’s giving off all the signals. Whether she’s lying for Jesus, exaggerating, selectively remembering events or just plain making stuff up, I don’t trust any of her descriptions of her husband. This isn’t just with the bizarre divorce ultimatum or with the even more bizarre turn-around, but with everything.

    For instance, I’m not a stock broker, but I earn my living by trading stocks, and I’ve never, ever been tempted to believe that a gain in a single stock trade was the result of anything other than randomness with some luck and skill mixed in. (If you’re really cocky, you’ll think there’s more skill, if you’re more realistic you’ll think there’s more luck.) What kind of dumbass broker thinks it’s because of Jesus? A broker! Right or wrong, these guys have made a career out of thinking that their skills can earn profits! I just don’t believe a broker and an atheistic broker at that would ever think Jesus was helping his stocks.

    I gotta wonder just how much of this story is real, ’cause it sure doesn’t look plausible to my tired, jaded old eyes.

  • ash

    from reading the previous posts it seems this womans mother has terminal cancer. she’s prayed, her church friends have prayed, they’ve even gone to a special ‘healing room’ where strangers pray. so far, she seems to have come to acceptance, with a vague hope of divine intervention. no miracles yet.

    what lessons do we take from this? that god coverts the souls of unbelievers more highly than the ones already signed up? that the soul of a seemingly greed motivated man takes precedence over one who is suffering? that god only helps them that pay the church? that god held shares in Yahoo? is god a capitalist?

    ‘it’s all about me’ believers really do my nut…

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Yeah. It was pretty good for stockholders in Yahoo, but not so good for stockholders in Microsoft. Since Microsoft is larger, more people were hurt than benefited.

    That right there should be more than enough evidence for the existence of a just God. ;)

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I agree with Aj about the woman being batshit, which isn’t unusual (sorry Mike C) for new Christians.

    What are you apologizing to me for? I’ve seen what you’ve described plenty of times myself too.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    What kind of dumbass broker thinks it’s because of Jesus?

    You don’t suppose he was just making a facetious off-hand comment to humor his wife? Kind of came across that way to me.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    MikeC, I guess I apologized because you don’t seem nuts to me, but by saying that new Christians are nuts, I was insinuating that there’s something wrong with that behavior and with the religion — Christianity — that embraces that as normal.

    I’m interested to know if newbies in the emerging church (is that the right name?) are less nutso than newbies in the kinds of churches I went to. Or is going off the deep end a common element of conversion experiences? Also, how do people in your church deal with couples that are “unequally yoked”, or is it a non-issue?

  • Adrian

    Mike,

    You don’t suppose he was just making a facetious off-hand comment to humor his wife? Kind of came across that way to me.

    Well, as I say, I don’t know what’s going on. Is he taking the piss and she’s not catching on, is he humouring her and she’s taking it seriously, is she making it up, is he really converted? All I know is that her account of events doesn’t ring true and I think it would be a mistake to jump to conclusions about what’s really going on.

    Like other works by untrustworthy narrators, the writing tells us very little about the rest of the world and instead tells us a lot about the narrator. (To that extent, this is actually kind of neat!)

  • Tim Van Haitsma

    This has christian Just-So story all over it.

  • http://www.mindonfire.com John Remy

    Context is important to consider: Hemant grabbed an excerpt from post intended for a Christian audience, and placed it on an atheist site. It’s possible that she would have told her story differently if we were the intended audience. The motives for telling the story this way may be many: possibly it’s meant to boost her own strength in her situation, to support others who are in relationships with unbelievers, and to gain some attention from her situation.

    When my agnostic dad disowned me for joining Mormonism, I was practically a martyr for the cause, and I worked it into the conversion narrative I shared.

    Now that I’m an atheist, I have new spins on old experiences. Psychology and stress, and not an external force, were responsible for my moments of epiphany, but that doesn’t make them any less beautiful. My dysfunctional family and teenage social angst made a socially stratified religion that emphasized family really attractive at the time.

    At any rate, I don’t think that this narrative demonstrates that this woman is crazy or lying. And its difficult to glean anything helpful about the complexities of someone’s marriage relationship from a 700 word blog post. I’m just saying.

  • Luis Vazquez

    I’m going to have to call bull**** on this one. I think she’s either making it up, which is more than likely. I think we all thought she might be making it up as soon as we started reading.
    Christians also don’t seem to understand what an Atheist is or what it means. A lot of born-again will claim they were atheist (like Kirk Cameron) when really they were just not religious before. They think that because they’re faith is stronger now that they must have been atheist when it was weak.
    She might have not been an atheist before, she could have been a Christian who just didn’t attend church much. Her husband might not be an atheist now.
    I still still think this story is made up though. I think we all know how this story is going to end, her husband is going to be born-again.
    There actually is a book about a husband who allegedly tried to prove to his wife that god didn’t exist and in the process went born-again and wrote a book. Again, bullsh*t. Someone told me about it back in school.

  • http://www.otmatheist.com/ Siamang

    To take a more serious point of view on this… it sounds bad. I just don’t trust anyone who writes about their spouse as if the reader is more deserving of her honest opinion than her spouse is.

    She said her first love was Jesus in a cute way to make it sound like he was her boyfriend… and that says it all to me, sadly. “Jesus” gets her unfiltered opinions, and her husband is the person she’s conspiring with Jesus about.

    If I ever wrote ANYTHING that I wanted strangers to read, but not my own wife, that would be a big signal that there was something terribly wrong with our relationship.

    I know this is probably “normal” behavior for some married couples. “Bitch about the battle-axe when you’re out with the guys” or whatever. Yuck.

    I guess I can’t really pass judgement on other people’s marriages. But if I put anyone else (including imaginary financial advisors in the sky) before my wife and my child, I think she SHOULD divorce me.

  • Richard Wade

    A week later my husband, a stock broker mentioned he made a little bit of money in a trade and I replied “well that doesn’t surprise me, because I prayed God would give us some money.”

    I *really* want to know what the husband was thinking at this point.

    Who cares about that bullshit? I *really* want to know what stock he was trading!

    This account is clearly not being reported objectively. The whole thing is suspect and sounds like it was written to promote church member donations. I think it’s mostly fiction. As a former marriage counselor I’ve learned that one spouse’s characterization of the relationship is far less than half of the truth. If there is even a shred of truth to the way both people are portrayed, then they are “equally yoked” as equally childish and self-centered, but it is impossible to actually know from this nonsense what is really going on.

    I told my husband I wanted him to decide on the amount to give back to God. But I told him “remember what you give will effect what you get back!” Trust God and let Him show you how He loves you!

    Ah there it is. Surprise, surprise. The old “The more you pay God the more He pays back” scam. The preacher will hold onto God’s money in the meantime.

  • Adrian

    Ah there it is. Surprise, surprise. The old “The more you pay God the more He pays back” scam. The preacher will hold onto God’s money in the meantime.

    I tell ya, according to this story, God made the dude rich and only then did He get paid. That’s the sort of prosperity gospel I can support!

    (J/K, I don’t think God plays stocks any more than God helps gamblers pick the winning Superbowl teams. I’m keeping my winnings! If God wants money, he can trade the market Himself.)

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I’m interested to know if newbies in the emerging church (is that the right name?) are less nutso than newbies in the kinds of churches I went to. Or is going off the deep end a common element of conversion experiences? Also, how do people in your church deal with couples that are “unequally yoked”, or is it a non-issue?

    I think new “converts” to anything are bound to be pretty passionate about it right at first, though “passionate” doesn’t have to mean “nutso” or “going off the deep end”. Since the emerging church has a lot to do with shedding the negative baggage of conservative Christianity, the passion I find among “newbies” in the EC tends to be the exhilaration of new found freedom to ask questions and have doubts, to be oneself in a faith community and to not have to hide one’s flaws or feel judged, to be more inclusive of and open to differing points of view, and to be part of a community that actively practices values of compassion and justice. The common refrain in the EC is “I had always hoped faith/religion/church could be like this, but I thought I was the only one who thought this way.” There is usually a profound sense of relief to realize you’re not the only one one out there. I have found this to be true both of people who are coming from more conservative church backgrounds and from those who are coming from nominal or non-religious backgrounds (most typically of the “spiritual but not-religious” sort).

    I only personally know one actual atheist “convert” to the EC, though I don’t know if she’d call herself a “Christian” per se. She’s calls herself a post-atheist, and says that she believes in an Absolute Other (in the Derridian/Levinasian sense) but doesn’t yet see a good reason to identify that with Jesus.

    As for the “unequally yoked” thing, it hasn’t come up for us yet. Our church is pretty small (about 20 people) and all the singles in it are either still single or dating Christians. Though on a more general level we talk a lot about “belonging before believing”. In other words, we want people to feel welcome in our community without any expectations that they have to believe the same way we do. That would be just as true for any non-religious “significant others” that came to our community.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Ah there it is. Surprise, surprise. The old “The more you pay God the more He pays back” scam. The preacher will hold onto God’s money in the meantime.

    Yes, that more than anything is what disturbed me about this story. I have seen first hand the destructive effects this kind of “Prosperity Gospel” has on people’s lives. It’s a sick and twisted message. I hope her husband can avoid getting sucked into it too. Even as a Christian myself, I’d much rather someone be an atheist than get trapped by this kind of manipulative religion.

  • http://www.otmatheist.com/ Siamang

    Prosperity theology bankrupted my father. Or I should say got him so deep in debt that he nearly bankrupted his parents bailing him out 3 different times in his life.

    He SHOULD have declared bankrupcy. But old-fashioned man that my dad is, he’d rather have a co-dependent love-hate relationship with his father over who controls money and their financial future than, you know, fixing things himself.

    I’m sure he prayed about it often, and then counted on hitting the lottery or similar windfall.

    I guess I have him to thank for some of my skepticism. I saw him go though financial troubles based on his church, his pot use, his failed lazy-ass “get rich quick” schemes. Then I saw he buy into multi-level marketing, nothing-down real-estate ventures that never happened…

    PT Barnum would have something to say about my father.

  • http://www.killerisme.com James

    The church sounds like a Vegas casino the way she describes it.

    C’mon Jesus baby needs a new pair of shoes…Let it ride!

    Disgusting.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    MikeC, thanks for that answer to my question.

  • Kate

    Haha…well CLEARLY we’re better than that couple. And today, by the way, marks two wonderful years of dating. ;)

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Mike said,

    Since the emerging church has a lot to do with shedding the negative baggage of conservative Christianity, the passion I find among “newbies” in the EC tends to be the exhilaration of new found freedom to ask questions and have doubts, to be oneself in a faith community and to not have to hide one’s flaws or feel judged, to be more inclusive of and open to differing points of view, and to be part of a community that actively practices values of compassion and justice. The common refrain in the EC is “I had always hoped faith/religion/church could be like this, but I thought I was the only one who thought this way.”

    Yep. Well said and very true. A second touch…

    However, in some of the other comments, I see a bit of a double standard here. I don’t mean to get off topic, but this has been bothering me. I was criticized in previous threads when I commented that if someone claims to have converted to atheism from Christianity, I thought that they were never a true believer to begin with. I took that into consideration and worked hard to get over that mindset.

    So how is it okay for atheists to claim repeatedly that people who converted to Christianity from atheism were not really atheists? That somehow indicates to me that you don’t truly “respect” us as you claim….?? That’s that uneasy feeling that I keep having which leads me to believe that I will never be an equal to you in your eyes. It’s that same kind of thinking among Christians looking at non-believers. The hypocrisy and the facade that I ha… I mean, dislike with great intensity.

  • Darryl

    If this story is true, he’s messing around: there’s no turn-off greater than a pollianish Christian woman to a stock-trading man. She keeps this up and hubby will be working late at the office.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I see a bit of a double standard here… how is it okay for atheists to claim repeatedly that people who converted to Christianity from atheism were not really atheists?

    Yeah, I noticed that too Linda.

  • Claire

    Linda said:

    I see a bit of a double standard here. I don’t mean to get off topic, but this has been bothering me. I was criticized in previous threads when I commented that if someone claims to have converted to atheism from Christianity, I thought that they were never a true believer to begin with.

    There’s a couple of differences between the two situations you describe, or so it seems to me. If I remember correctly (and I may not) you made a blanket statement that nobody who have changed from christian to atheist was ever really a christian, which is a pretty sweeping generalization. Also, if memory serves, you were talking about people who had given first hand, personal accounts of how they changed their minds.

    On the other hand, the comments made here are (mostly) in reference to one particular guy, who hasn’t ‘converted’ (we really need a better word, how can you convert to something that isn’t a religion?) but simply seems to be behaving in ways that say he may not be what his wife, who appears to be completely unreliable in what she writes, said he is.

    So, there are the two differences: first, a generalization versus a particular case, and second, that we have an second hand account here from someone whose writing makes her sound like a complete fruitcake, and we are skeptical not so much of the man’s sincerity, but of the whole story.

    If I did misremember any part of the earlier stuff, Linda, please feel free to correct me :-)

  • http://www.otmatheist.com/ Siamang

    Linda,

    What I’m interested in is his thinking, not lables. Lables mean nothing if they aren’t indications of what someone’s thinking, what they believe and how they feel.

    We don’t know how this guy feels… what he’s thinking before vs. now.

    His wife describes him as being an atheist. Now, first off, this isn’t necessarily his self-discribing term. Christians, esp conservative ones, haul off and call people “atheist” in a negative sense. HECK, the first Christians were called atheists! Unless this guy defines what he believes, we don’t know. He might be a deist. He might believe in Spinoza’s God. He might believe in a universal consciousness-spirit. He might be a bright, but then again, he might not. He might be an agnostic-atheist. He might merely be a nontheist.

    We don’t know what his thinking was or is. It is not “disrespecting” him to wonder or speculate, provided that we’re clear that it is only speculation.

    What WOULD be disprespecting him would be if he came here and said that he used to be an agnostic-atheist materialist rationalist and changed to a Christian, and we said “no, you COULDN’T have really been one.”

    That’s seriously disrespecting a dialogue partner, and presuming a duplicitous or intellectually or ethically compromised conversant. No good way to try and create a dialogue for understanding… it does nothing but poison the well of discourse.

  • http://www.otmatheist.com/ Siamang

    Now, to speculate..

    I cannot imagine a “bright” cutting a check to a church based on the “evidence” of a stock windfall.

    But I certainly can imagine someone believing in supernatural karma cutting such a check… as well I can imagine a believer in karma being referred to as an atheist by a Christian.

    But his beliefs would be as mystical and supernatural as a Christian to most self-described atheists here.

    Unless, of course, his change of heart is based on something else he’s not sharing with his wife… too bad we don’t hear from him… that would be an interesting side to the story.

  • Aj

    Linda,

    However, in some of the other comments, I see a bit of a double standard here. I don’t mean to get off topic, but this has been bothering me. I was criticized in previous threads when I commented that if someone claims to have converted to atheism from Christianity, I thought that they were never a true believer to begin with. I took that into consideration and worked hard to get over that mindset.

    You don’t convert to atheism, you convert to religions, you lose beliefs to become an atheist.

    If you’re say that, then you’re saying a hell of a lot of people, many people here, are lying about their account of previous beliefs. It’s like you’re saying that no one ever changes beliefs, or doubts their beliefs. That’s blatently untrue. I only bring up people who were believers but are now atheists when people tell me that you can only combat “bad faith” with “good faith”. There’s plenty of Christians, even fundamentalists, who say they believed everything, that are now skeptics.

    You’ve got to consider the source of this individual case, someone who seems crazy, is talking about someone else’s actions not a first hand account of belief. Is the account plausible? I’ve only heard of sudden conversions by atheists to Christianity, from crazy Christians who believe all sorts of bullshit in the first place. It doesn’t seem plausible to me, and I’ve never heard a geniune account of it. Accept in the obvious cases of certain types of epilepsy and manic depression. I’ve never heard of a sudden loss of beliefs either.

    We seem to be constantly having dishonest Christians writing about how Darwin converted on his death bed, or reading about the manipulation of Antony Flew (which was shamelessly defended on this blog of all places).

  • Christophe Thill

    This has to call to mind Janis Joplin’s song: “Oh lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz”…

    Well usually when you win money on the stock market, it has to be lost by someone. I guess the other guy became an atheist that day. “Damn! To think I had prayed so hard…”

  • http://thatatheistguysblog.blogspot.com NYCatheist

    “Everybody lies”

  • PuckishOne

    I join in calling BS on this story.

    If it is true, then this is clearly a couple who had no business getting married in the first place. There are certain non-negotiables in a relationship, and I’ve learned that religion (or lack thereof) is one of the biggies. Either that or there is a certain amount of mental illness on the part of one or both of the parties.

  • Adam

    I suspect the whole thing is made up. But if not, I would be willing to bet she is looking for an excuse to wander. Some Christian male friend has entered the picture. I live in a Bible belt area (don’t ask), and have seen this scenario several times, where I never saw anything like it before. One friend was an atheist who’s wife got religion suddenly from some concerned neighbors who were praying for her soul. She ended up fucking the neighbor. The other was a catholic wife who jumped ship and became a Pentecostal lunatic running off with her new “real” christian boyfriend.

  • Richard Wade

    Thank you, Claire, Siamang and Aj for showing Linda that she is respected here by atheists:

    First, Linda pointed out what she saw as a double standard. She referred to an assumption that she once held that people who went from Christianity to atheism were not really Christians to begin with, a kind of “no true Scotsman” argument. She then recalled how the atheists here confronted her on that, and how she diligently worked to correct that misconception. Then she pointed out that some people were saying that the broker in the above story was probably not an atheist because of his responses to the prayer and the money.

    Then Linda said that this leads her to wonder if she and other Christians will ever be respected or treated as equals by the atheists here. That’s the part I am addressing.

    Claire responded to Linda saying that it’s not a double standard because one cannot compare a blanket assumption to a specific case where specific details of the story indicate that the person is not as described. Claire also emphasized the questionable veracity of the story, making any assumption about previous belief stances irrelevant. Claire asked for correction if she had misremembered and showed Linda respect by disagreeing with Linda’s conclusion without attacking Linda herself.

    Siamang reinforced the point that the story’s description of the broker’s process of his thoughts and feelings are second hand, lacking important details and as a whole seems fraudulent. He agreed with Linda in principle that if ever such a double standard would be used, it would spoil the dialogue and prevent respectful understanding. Siamang showed Linda respect by explaining how flaws in the story had caused Linda’s misunderstanding of the meaning of what the atheists were saying about the broker, and he did it without attacking Linda herself.

    Finally Aj started by saying that the word “convert” is incorrect, which is in agreement with Claire’s statement that we need a better term for becoming an atheist. Then Aj described the flaws in Linda’s old and now discarded assumption, (the “no true Scotsman” thing) and similarly to Claire and Siamang also questioned the veracity of the story because of the implausibility of the sudden change it described and implied. Even though Aj finished with a complaint about dishonest Christians falsely claiming conversions for others, Aj did not imply that Linda was among those dishonest Christians, and showed her respect by doing all the above without attacking Linda herself.

    So Linda, having three of the most skilled artists of argument who haunt this website take the time to disagree with your conclusion yet not at all show disrespect for you I think demonstrates that you are respected here, and even though people may disagree with an idea of yours they still consider you to be worthy of a thoughtful response.

  • Siamang

    I want to say that I absolutely respect linda, and I don’t go out of my way to speculate about this guy and his beliefs. I did it to demonstrate to Linda (and possibly others) what I see as a possible respectful way to do so without negating others rights to be listened to as they attempt to honestly portray their own feelings.

    Siamang reinforced the point that the story’s description of the broker’s process of his thoughts and feelings are second hand, lacking important details and as a whole seems fraudulent.

    I wouldn’t say fraudulent, but I would say missing key perspective details, especially if the word “atheist” in the story is taken to apply broadly to people on this website who use the word to describe themselves… we would very likely see a disconnect between him and his process and beliefs and the people here. Unless, indeed, we are not privy to a deeper internal philosophical change that is happening to him.

  • Richard Wade

    I just went over to Jennifer’s blog and read the whole post. She attributes the whole post hoc ergo proctor hoc thing about her husband getting a good trade shortly after her praying vaguely for cash to a “miracle,” a term she uses again and again. Most of the commenters are high-fiveing her for the amazing miracle she has initiated by her prayers. The profitable trade is a miracle and her husband being willing to make a donation to the church is a miracle.

    Hubby gets no credit at all.

    He’s a broker. He makes profitable trades more often than not or he wouldn’t be a broker. What makes the latest profit somehow unique, amazing, inexplicable, or any of the other qualities that people associate with what they call miracles? The guy has some skill and did well, but nooooo, this one is God’s doing.

    He’s a husband. If the woman’s characterization is at all fair, he took a harsh stand about her church activities but never went through with it. Now he is making some gestures of being more accommodating and conciliatory. The guy has a heart and is showing some compassion and maturity but nooooo, this one is God’s doing.

    I’d be pissed if I were him.

    Only one person over at Jennifer’s blog is trying to call her on some of her fallacies, but the miracle proclaimers are ignoring him. I”m not going try to spoil the party, what is the point?

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Wow, thank you, Richard, for your analysis.

    There’s an old Korean saying that the interpretation of a dream can be better than the actual dream itself. Your rephrasing is so much better than my original comments for sure! :)

    Please allow me to clarify what my thoughts were on this. I wasn’t just referring to this particular thread. I absolutely agree with most of the comments about Jennifer and her husband, as far as that goes. I agree it is a ridiculous story.

    My observation, which may be unfair or incorrect, comes from the overall impression I get from all of the threads combined.

    I have noticed in the past threads that it is the general feeling among atheists toward someone who became a believer that “You/he/she could not possibly have been a true atheist to begin with.” Claire, isn’t that what you said about C.S. Lewis? Similar skepticism and doubt surround any discussion that has to do with a fomer atheist turned Christian. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    And AJ, maybe I did not use the right terminology, but you’re only talking semantics. The fact remains that it seems completely acceptable and logical to you when a Christian “loses” their faith, but you find it impossible to accept that a true atheist can suddenly become a believer. That’s just how it looks from where I sit. Again, correct me if I’m wrong.

    For the record, I’ve never been outright disrespected on this blog, although I cannot say the same for some of the other Christians. You all have been very fair and respectful in your comments to me, some of them (siamang, for example) much more kind than I had ever expected.

    However, our words are not necessarily a true indicator of how we feel underneath. Please know that I am not generalizing all of you. But I can often conclude from what people say to and about others in various situations what their overall attitude is toward different issues and people. Here again, please challenge me if I’m out of line.

    With that in mind, isn’t it true that most of you believe that our faith in God is foolish and unfounded? If that is, in fact, true and since our faith happens to be a large part of who we are, would it be wrong to assume that you see us as foolish and yourselves as wise? Wouldn’t the logical conlusion be, then, that those who see themselves as wise cannot honestly look at those who they consider to be fools with a heart of respect?

    I only ask because these are the same questions I asked of myself when I was challenged (not too long ago) by some of you after I made similar comments in reverse. It made me realize that many Christians feel that way about non-believers, despite their good intentions to “respect” them.

  • http://www.otmatheist.com/ Siamang

    Linda,

    If I am indeed right, and there is no God (at least in any way I’ve heard the notion described), and that answer is as clear to everyone as it seems to be to me, then yes, belief would be unfounded.

    However there is a difference between thinking I am right, and BEING right. While I am convinced that what I believe best matches the world as it exists, I do not take my beliefs as the only possibly true answer.

    I describe my beliefs sometimes as the place where I currently am in my journey. I do not know where my journey will take me. I can only attempt to be as honest about where I am as I can.

    I think there are people in the world who are so certain of themselves that they leave no room for further evidence or experience or understanding… including the radically life-altering kind. I attempt to not be closed off to that for myself, or for others.

    Yes, from where I am now, god belief does seem false, and quite clearly to be unfounded. However I cannot say for sure about foolish, for I don’t know everything, and I quite clearly believe I never shall! Until that time, call me a fool, for that’s what I should call myself if I think I have all the answers!

  • Aj

    Linda,

    And AJ, maybe I did not use the right terminology, but you’re only talking semantics. The fact remains that it seems completely acceptable and logical to you when a Christian “loses” their faith, but you find it impossible to accept that a true atheist can suddenly become a believer. That’s just how it looks from where I sit. Again, correct me if I’m wrong.

    As a courtesy, I did add onto my statements on the subject my experience of having “never heard of a sudden loss of beliefs either”, hopefully preempting your supposition. In special circumstances, due to disorders, sudden changes in belief can happen.

    With that in mind, isn’t it true that most of you believe that our faith in God is foolish and unfounded?

    Almost certainly unfounded, completely groundless, zero evidence. Depends what the beliefs are and why they’re believed whether I would call them foolish. I would say a Deist that is compelled by design or first cause arguments to be mistaken in reasoning. Wishful beliefs, certainty of others “revelation” and the accuracy of scripture, superstitions, fit well with what I think foolish means.

    It’s also pretty clear that numerous people conspire to guide and coerce young children into beliefs protected from critical thinking. It’s harsh to call someone foolish when that’s the reality, but the beliefs are certainly foolish.

    Humans are susceptible to attaching metaphysics to imagined agency, statistical biases that aid superstitious thinking, and young children like to believe in supernatural entities.

    How do you feel about others unfounded beliefs, some of them conflicting with your own?

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    With that in mind, isnâ??t it true that most of you believe that our faith in God is foolish and unfounded?

    Yes.

    If that is, in fact, true and since our faith happens to be a large part of who we are, would it be wrong to assume that you see us as foolish and yourselves as wise?

    No.

    Not everyone is in the same place in their journey and not everyone has had the same experiences. I think the idea of god is foolish, but I didn’t always think that. And I don’t think I was a fool or an idiot when I believed. I was there for a variety of complex reasons and situations.

    Wouldnâ??t the logical conlusion be, then, that those who see themselves as wise cannot honestly look at those who they consider to be fools with a heart of respect?

    This is a leading question and it’s based on a false assumption of how we would answer question 2. I’ll answer this version instead, “Doesn’t that mean that atheists can’t respect Christians because they think we are fools?”

    No.

    Although I may think people are mistaken in believing in God, that doesn’t mean I don’t respect them as honest and intelligent individuals. There are lots of things I disagree about with people I know. Just because we disagree does not lead to the conclusion one of us must be a fool.

    Most Christians seem to be the ones, frankly, who can’t respect anyone who disagrees with them. Atheists are used to dealing with a lot of people who disagree with us all the time, and we’re also quite willing to accept “I don’t know” or “I’m not certain” as the answer to questions, wheras admitting that seems to make most Christians very uncomfortable.

    I think you are projecting the way most Christians think onto atheists. After all, it is the Bible that says, “The fool has said in his heart there is no God.”

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Siamang, I do appreciate your open mind. And I believe you, for whatever it’s worth… :)

    And AJ, I hope you don’t think that I was challenging you directly. I was just throwing my thoughts out there for everyone. When I said “you,” I meant a general and generic ‘you.’ I know you are always brutally honest with your thoughts, and I appreciate that very much, as I have stated before (more than once.)

    How do you feel about others unfounded beliefs, some of them conflicting with your own?

    That’s a good question and a difficult one to answer. It depends on who gets to decided what is considered unfounded. And it also depends on whether their beliefs threaten the safety and well-being of others. We do have to defend oursevles against threats. Other than that, I’m with siamang in that I know I don’t have all the answers. I cannot discredit what others believe just because I don’t agree with them. I’m always open to the possibility that I could be the one who’s got it wrong.

    I try to keep in mind that Christianity or the Bible is not the end-all and be-all to the truth. I believe the truth is sprinkled throughout the whole universe, even in the words (and hearts) of atheists, if that makes any sense…

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    I think you are projecting the way most Christians think onto atheists. After all, it is the Bible that says, “The fool has said in his heart there is no God.”

    Writerdd, Thank you for pointing that out. As I stated in my comment, yes, I do agree that many Christians think of atheists that way. I really had to work through it to get over it myself. I probably would be criticized by those Christians for my new mindset.

    I also know how I used to view Christians before I was a believer, especially the “born again” evangelicals. That’s why I brought it up to begin with.

    There you go…. Am I the only one who keeps catching myself being judgmental of others? Alright… I’ll just go bury my head in the sand now. ;-)

  • Adrian

    Linda,

    I hope you’re joking about burying your head!

    Everyone is prone to the same cognitive biases and it’s always good to have people looking out for them. I’m not sure I agree with you, but when you raised the point it still prompted me to go back and look at the question from a different perspective and I’d bet many others did the same. That’s a great thing to happen in a discussion like this, thanks.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    Am I the only one who keeps catching myself being judgmental of others?

    No. I do it all the time, too.

  • Richard Wade

    Linda,

    With that in mind, isn’t it true that most of you believe that our faith in God is foolish and unfounded? If that is, in fact, true and since our faith happens to be a large part of who we are, would it be wrong to assume that you see us as foolish and yourselves as wise? Wouldn’t the logical conlusion be, then, that those who see themselves as wise cannot honestly look at those who they consider to be fools with a heart of respect?

    I cannot answer for “most of us” because anyone trying to speak for most or all atheists is probably going to get dissent from the ranks. I can only speak for myself.

    For me, the term “foolish” is so laden with value judgementality that I never use it to describe a person’s thoughts or beliefs. I only use it on rare occasions to describe actions or behaviors that could have been avoided but result in human suffering or endanger human well being, be it the person’s own or that of others.

    Because the popular description of God makes it impossible to prove or disprove its existence, thoughts or beliefs about that cannot be shown to be correct or incorrect, only well founded or unfounded by acceptable evidence. From there branches off the endless debate over what is acceptable evidence. So such thoughts or beliefs I cannot call foolish or wise. Some of them may be shown to be self-contradictory or internally inconsistent, but it is only the actions or behaviors that might come from them I might call foolish or wise, and that would depend on the outcome.

    I also never consider someone a “fool.” I can describe my own or another’s actions as being foolish, but to assign “fool” to someone assumes that nothing but foolishness will ever come from them. I have worked very closely with many people, getting to know their worst secrets, their worst behaviors. Some have been appalling. A very few have made me angry. Many have made me inwardly slap my forehead and think “What the hell were you thinking?” but I have never considered any of them to be fools or in some intrinsic way to be inferior to me. I do my own foolish things often enough to know that I cannot judge them from somewhere above. I can only observe what has worked and what has not. Whether with my clients or with Christians, it is definitely with, as you call it a “heart of respect” that I do whatever I can to work with them to make situations better.

  • Claire

    Hey, Linda! First let me refer to a something from the original thread about Kate and Eric. Someone named Jen said:

    I have never heard a sane, rational person think that the Bible is a literal retelling of only literal, true events.

    My response then was:

    I have. Furthermore, the person who thinks that is an educated, intelligent woman and a good friend, whose common sense and good judgement I value in every area outside that of religion.

    So, yes on your question one and no on question two. I actually agreed with Jen that it’s borderline insane, but my friend who believes that particular thing truly is the epitome of common sense and sanity. How do I reconcile this? My explanation/rationale/personal way to get along with people is simple: everybody gets one, maybe even two. Everybody gets to have a few things they aren’t completely rational or consistent about, as long as they have enough going for them that makes me like and/or respect them for other reasons. That works for most people, although it hasn’t been tested on a flat-earther yet :-)

    Where the problem crops up is that some people can’t live with that, and yes, sorry, they are usually christians. And the irony is that it’s not that they can’t extend slack to others (some, like you, can be very tolerant) but it’s when that tolerance is directed at them – they insist that their religion is so completely central to everything they are and do that if someone doesn’t respect the religion, they can’t respect the person. I’m kinda wondering if that isn’t part of what’s happening here? Or am I off base?

    Claire, isn’t that what you said about C.S. Lewis?

    Nope, not me. I do remember the conversation, and whoever it was had taken a class on him in college and that was the theme of her paper, but I can’t remember who it was. I don’t actually know that much about him as a person.

    Similar skepticism and doubt surround any discussion that has to do with a fomer atheist turned Christian. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    What, skepticism and doubt from atheists, of all people? Who knew?

    Seriously, my memories are hazy, but what I seem to remember is this: when the conversation went in that direction, it was because the former atheist in question had actually said or written something that put it in doubt, or there was no input from the person in question, as in this posting. So, yes, give us some discrepancies and we will cast doubt. It’s what we do.

    Now, if there was somebody who said “I’m now an atheist. I used to be a christian, but I don’t worship Jesus and Moses and those guys anymore.” and you wanted to cast some serious doubts on whether that person was ever really a christian as it is generally defined, feel free. I’ll be questioning it right along with you.

  • Aj

    Linda,

    That’s a good question and a difficult one to answer. It depends on who gets to decided what is considered unfounded. And it also depends on whether their beliefs threaten the safety and well-being of others. We do have to defend oursevles against threats. Other than that, I’m with siamang in that I know I don’t have all the answers. I cannot discredit what others believe just because I don’t agree with them. I’m always open to the possibility that I could be the one who’s got it wrong.

    Lets say that if you’re a rational person, and I would think most people are who can function in human societies, we evaluate the likelihood of hypotheses on past observations, we make predictions, inferences, using logic and reason. From there we can say that there are possible systems that will reduce error, bias, and get closer to the truth.

    There’s a problem with a system that can make contradictory observations with the same authority. A system that makes no predictions, no falsifiable claims. A system that allows for no reasoned questioning despite the claims of some. A system that establishes the existence of things that not known, not understood, not defined, some claim that those things aren’t even possible.

    It’s not as if the value of claims can not be involved in the ethics. If beliefs threaten the safety and well-being of others, it’s because you don’t take them as true. However, if the beliefs were founded in something, evidence, then the consequential actions of such beliefs would be justified, would not threaten the safety and well being of others. It matters whether it’s true or not.

    You should discredit what others believe if they don’t supply you evidence and reason, even more so if they say they don’t need to supply those things. That’s not to say what they say isn’t true, you can still always be open to the possibility that the claims are true, but await a reasonable presentation to persuade you. You don’t have to accept, you morally shouldn’t accept, groundless claims.

    I try to keep in mind that Christianity or the Bible is not the end-all and be-all to the truth. I believe the truth is sprinkled throughout the whole universe, even in the words (and hearts) of atheists, if that makes any sense…

    No, not really.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    I hope you’re joking about burying your head!

    Adrian, of course I’m joking! :)

    And thank you. As you will note, I’m not afraid to throw questions out there even if I end up making a fool out of myself or being proven wrong. Ah, there’s that word again… “fool.”

    Trust me, I’m not done thinking about this… ;-) It didn’t start on this thread, and I’m sure it will not end here either.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Claire,

    You are right. You are always fair and open-minded. I respect and admire that more than you know. Sorry about misquoting you regarding C.S. Lewis.

    Where the problem crops up is that some people can’t live with that, and yes, sorry, they are usually christians.

    I agree with you. As Writerdd pointed out, even the term “fool” used in conjunction with a lack of belief came from the Bible. I’m still not sure who actually are the fools, though. The Christians call everyone fools that do not believe what they believe, but the belief is not the same even among the Christians reading the same scripture. So they can end up calling each other fools, and they often do. Hmm…

    some, like you, can be very tolerant

    I don’t know if tolerant is the right word to use in my case. If that’s all I aimed for, I would have never come here in the first place and/or would have left a long time ago.

    Claire, you also said,

    - they insist that their religion is so completely central to everything they are and do that if someone doesn’t respect the religion, they can’t respect the person. I’m kinda wondering if that isn’t part of what’s happening here? Or am I off base?

    And when I said,

    I believe the truth is sprinkled throughout the whole universe, even in the words (and hearts) of atheists, if that makes any sense…

    AJ, you said,

    No, not really.

    First of all, I do not subscribe to religion, so it most definitely is not central to everything I am. Christian is something that I AM, not something that I do or hang onto. As Richard said, I cannot speak for anyone else but myself. We are all individuals.

    To use another example, let’s say that I’m a Martian in a human body. I came and told you that’s what I am. You then tell me that it’s an illusion and there’s no such thing because it’s scientifically impossible. You keep insisting that I have to prove it to you for you to believe me. But I can’t. All I can do is tell you that’s what I am. I didn’t choose it. It just happened to me.

    And then I see some other Martians behaving in some radical ways that I do not agree with. You have some bad encounters with them. Whenever you speak to me, you keep referring back to your own experiences and draw unfair conclusions about Martians in general. I know in my heart that those behaviors are unnecessary to be a true Martian, and some of those Martians are not really Martians anyway.

    I don’t see how someone who has the wrong conclusions about Martians can look at any Martian and take them seriously in a respectful way… ??? When I see a group of people making fun of Martians in general (as it often happens here), and I’m doing my best to love them because I love humans as well as the Martians (maybe more so), I get really confused about my own Martian-ness. I laugh along with you because some of it is really funny. And humans have so much more fun than Martians.

    But every once in a while, I realize that we are all laughing at Martians, which is my identity. It suddenly becomes clear to me that you will allow me play with you. You do and will “tolerate” me, to use Claire’s word. But I wonder if you will ever see me as one of you. After all, tolerance and politeness is much different than love and respect. Then I remember that’s how most Martians think of humans. I become disillusioned, and I am overcome with sadness at the reality of the situation. The big picture sometimes does not look so pretty to me.

    Yes, this is just a blog. It’s not real life in any real sense. The relationships here are not what you would consider real. But it’s real to me, because many of us are more honest here than we have the guts to be out in real life. So if we cannot cross the barriers here… if we cannot love each other here, then what chances do we have out there? Am I just being “foolish?”

  • Aj

    Linda,

    I don’t think talk of martians is going to be productive, I don’t know any martians, or anything about them.

    You then tell me that it’s an illusion and there’s no such thing because it’s scientifically impossible.

    I wouldn’t say there’s no such thing, or that it’s scientifically impossible, which is an oxymoron.

    And then I see some other Martians [Christians] behaving in some radical ways that I do not agree with. You have some bad encounters with them. Whenever you speak to me, you keep referring back to your own experiences and draw unfair conclusions about Martians [Christians] in general.

    I don’t think that’s a fair portrayal of my comments. I certainly don’t think all Christians are harmful. I’ve made it clear numerous times that I accept that some beliefs are more harmful than others. Those that do believe in belief provide legitimacy and protection to those with harmful beliefs, while arguing for their beliefs that are equally groundless.

    I know in my heart that those behaviors are unnecessary to be a true Martian [Christian], and some of those Martians [Christians] are not really Martians [Christians] anyway.

    What is a true Christian? I don’t really care what you call yourselves, although if you’re going to use the term to describe yourself you’re going to have to define it. Being a Christian does not give your position any legitimacy. I don’t care what you consider true Christianity, or who are “not really” Christian. When I use the term Christianity, I am basing that on self-identified Christians, the history and evolution of the commonly referred to “Christian” religions.

    I’m sorry, but I’m not going to accept what’s in your “heart” on the matter. I don’t care what your theology is, how you interpret the Bible. You think your beliefs are right, and the “not really” Christians are wrong, I have no reason to think any of you are right.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    First of all, I do not subscribe to religion, so it most definitely is not central to everything I am. Christian is something that I AM, not something that I do or hang onto

    Sorry, but that “I’m not religious, I just love the Lord” line is tired already. It was already tired in the late 70s. I can’t believe people are still using that line and thinking that it says something.

    It is nothing but a delusion for you to claim that you are not religious.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    However there is a difference between thinking I am right, and BEING right. While I am convinced that what I believe best matches the world as it exists, I do not take my beliefs as the only possibly true answer.

    I describe my beliefs sometimes as the place where I currently am in my journey. I do not know where my journey will take me. I can only attempt to be as honest about where I am as I can.

    Well said Siamang. I wish more atheists and more Christians were willing to say the same thing. A humble epistemology is something that all of need more of IMO.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Ah, finally! I get the real dose of AJ! Yay! :)

    AJ, it’s obvious you do not understand me or my language. First of all, I was not defending Christianity, my beliefs or anyone else’s. I was not talking about who’s more right or who’s more valid. I was just pointing to the fact that people here seem to associate certain behaviors with a label. It seemed to me that some of you make assumptions based on what you think you know. (Maybe I’m also guilty of that, who knows? But isn’t that why we’re talking?)

    And let me emphasize again that I was not addressing YOU specifically. Gosh, you’re tough!

    if you’re going to use the term to describe yourself you’re going to have to define it.

    I’ve been trying to define what it means to me in as many ways as I could, but you don’t seem to be listening. Nothing is good enough for you.

    Being a Christian does not give your position any legitimacy.

    I didn’t say it did. Maybe I should stop referring to myself as a Christian? I just want to help people see perspectives other than just their own. Would it kill you to be nice to someone (say, a Christian?) for once and give them half a chance to like you?

    When I use the term Christianity, I am basing that on self-identified Christians, the history and evolution of the commonly referred to “Christian” religions.

    Yes, that’s exactly it. People like Mike C. and other Christians here are trying to show you something different. But you have your wall up based on what you already know.

    I’m sorry, but I’m not going to accept what’s in your “heart” on the matter.

    I don’t know how to respond to that. If you can’t accept my honesty and my genuine efforts, I don’t know what else I can give you.

    This whole conversation started (which I almost regret) because I thought I noticed a double standard and a conditional “friendliness.” I was not addressing you, AJ, anyway. You are definitely NOT one of the friendly atheists and you never claimed or pretended to be. So good for you! If nothing else, I admire you for your unpretentiousness. I always know what to expect with you. No guessing games. And that’s good.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Writerdd,

    It is nothing but a delusion for you to claim that you are not religious.

    I am the one who lives with me. I am the one who knows me. I don’t remember you being around to observe my life or how “religious” I am. Have you been following me? Are you in that unmarked car parked across the street? ;-)

  • Karen

    I actually agreed with Jen that it’s borderline insane, but my friend who believes that particular thing truly is the epitome of common sense and sanity. How do I reconcile this?

    It’s not really difficult to reconcile if one understands the idea of compartmentalization. This is where we put certain cherished ideas and beliefs aside in our minds and give them special treatment.

    So, for instance, I’m a natural skeptic. I’ve never fallen for a financial scam or a metaphysical “jump on the bandwagon” idea (like The Secret) or a New Age health idea that hasn’t been tested. My “skep-dar” kicks right in when someone starts talking to me about the wonders of alternative medicine or the plausibility of ghosts and UFOs and I want to see the proof: Give me some studies, or a consensus or some good evidence. Otherwise, I’m not buying in.

    However, for 30 years religion was “off limits” from my natural skepticism. Because of many complicated factors (early indoctrination, family loyalties, my social life exclusively in the church, strong taboos on questioning and doubt), I simply never applied logic and skepticism to my Christian beliefs. I felt they were so elemental to me as a human being that they were beyond scrutiny.

    It took a huge, huge mental breakthrough for me to realize that I was using poor evidence (stuff like personal spiritual experience and biased anecdotes) to prop up my Christianity. Once I did realize that, the beliefs collapsed quite quickly – though it took some years to come to terms with that.

    This is why we see rational, intelligent people living their lives based on religion that is unprovable at best and blatantly illogical at worst. They’re not fools, they’re just compartmentalizers, like I was.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    I said: It is nothing but a delusion for you to claim that you are not religious.

    Linda said: I am the one who lives with me. I am the one who knows me. I don’t remember you being around to observe my life or how “religious” I am. Have you been following me? Are you in that unmarked car parked across the street?

    Linda, you claim to be a Christian. I trust that you believe in God and the divinity of Jesus, go to church, read the Bible, and pray, or do at least some of these things.

    These are the kinds of things that make a person religious.

    Here’s what Webster says about it:

    1: relating to or manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity 2: of, relating to, or devoted to religious beliefs or observances 3 a: scrupulously and conscientiously faithful

    Sorry if you don’t like it but words have definitions and you are religous whether you like it or not. You don’t get to make up what you want words to mean.

    When we atheists talk about religious people, that includes you.

    This “I’m not religous” thing that Christians try to pull is just the biggest load of crap. How do I know? Because I used to say the same thing. Christian=religious.

  • Claire

    Linda – ok, sorry, my use of the words ‘religion’ and ‘tolerant’ apparently derailed what I was trying to say, so let me restate it:

    Where the problem crops up is that some people can’t live with that. And the irony is that it’s not that they can’t extend slack to others (some, like you, can be very accepting) but it’s when that acceptance is directed at them – they insist that their belief is so completely central to everything they are and do that if someone doesn’t respect the belief, they can’t respect the person.

    I changed tolerance to acceptance when I rewrote that, does that help? And is that revised version what’s happening here?

    As usual, the words are getting in the way. I’m sorry you think of ‘tolerance’ as something cold and unfriendly, because that’s not how I see it. I see it as a giving people space to be themselves. And the way you and some other people use ‘love’ as something that should be extended to all people indiscriminately seems overwrought and weird. I’m just not going to love someone I don’t know, ever.

    It suddenly becomes clear to me that you will allow me play with you. You do and will “tolerate” me, to use Claire’s word. But I wonder if you will ever see me as one of you. After all, tolerance and politeness is much different than love and respect.

    I don’t know exactly what you mean by seeing you as “one of us”. In the narrowest sense, of course, you aren’t because you aren’t an atheist, but I think you mean it in a wider sense, but I don’t know exactly what.

    You can have, from me, acceptance, politeness, and respect – which is all I give to anybody here, and not all of them get all three (or even one, on occasion). None of them get love (see above for why not). I’m not sure what more you want from me, or any of us.

  • Claire

    Karen said:

    It’s not really difficult to reconcile if one understands the idea of compartmentalization. This is where we put certain cherished ideas and beliefs aside in our minds and give them special treatment.

    I didn’t go any farther above, but yes, that’s it, and my friend does exactly that. She even told me she was doing it, and was happy with that double standard. It’s not unconcious in her case, she chose to think that way and only apply her reason and intelligence to things outside the bible. I hope some day she gets beyond that, but that’s up to her.

  • Karen

    She even told me she was doing it, and was happy with that double standard. It’s not unconcious in her case, she chose to think that way and only apply her reason and intelligence to things outside the bible. I hope some day she gets beyond that, but that’s up to her.

    Yeah, I’m unfortunately all too familiar with that mindset. In the kinds of churches I attended, that lack of independent thinking is actually blatantly encouraged and seen as a kind of badge of honor. You’re a “true faith warrior” or something like that.

    It’s like your religious beliefs are sacred, holy, and beyond any kind of base, “human” scrutiny. God’s ways are far above ours, and we shouldn’t try to understand him on a human level because that’s what prideful doubters and scoffers do, and we don’t want to be like them.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    This is why we see rational, intelligent people living their lives based on religion that is unprovable at best and blatantly illogical at worst. They’re not fools, they’re just compartmentalizers, like I was.

    Some are. And others (like myself) go through the same process of deconstruction that you describe and yet emerge with their faith both intact (more or less) and de-compartmentalized.

  • Siamang

    Some are. And others (like myself) go through the same process of deconstruction that you describe and yet emerge with their faith both intact (more or less) and de-compartmentalized.

    Without jumping on you and telling you what you supposedly feel…

    Maybe you aren’t as skeptical a person as Karen describes herself. I mean for her, she was a powerhouse skeptic… except in her religious life. So she had to put a firewall between the two.

    It’s possible that you aren’t built the same way… so no firewall needed. The whole “show me state” “prove it or shove it” skeptic deal isn’t maybe your deal.

  • Karen

    Some are. And others (like myself) go through the same process of deconstruction that you describe and yet emerge with their faith both intact (more or less) and de-compartmentalized.

    Yes, I can see that you have done that. But I think you’re a pretty rare case, in that you’re thinking through these issues in minute detail and with a background in philosophy. Even those of moderate and liberal faith rarely put their theism to that kind of scrutiny and skepticism. They just “know in their hearts” that god is there – which is fine, I have no problem with that – but it’s not logical.

    You’ve found a way to reconcile logic with theism in your own mind, but it seems to me that you have to use very convoluted explanations (sorry, not meaning to be offensive) to do that, and most people wouldn’t be able to follow that.

  • Karen

    Maybe you aren’t as skeptical a person as Karen describes herself. I mean for her, she was a powerhouse skeptic… except in her religious life. So she had to put a firewall between the two.

    Exactly. Which is what led to the mother of all midlife crises, which resulted in a meltdown of that firewall and the demolition of what my therapist called a “split-self personality.”

    It wasn’t much fun. I don’t wish it on anyone else!

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Maybe you aren’t as skeptical a person as Karen describes herself. I mean for her, she was a powerhouse skeptic… except in her religious life. So she had to put a firewall between the two.

    It’s possible that you aren’t built the same way… so no firewall needed. The whole “show me state” “prove it or shove it” skeptic deal isn’t maybe your deal.

    Well, I can’t speak to Karen’s level of skepticism. I certainly haven’t had her intensity of experiences regarding all this.

    However, I do think that I am pretty skeptical. In fact, as I was reflecting on it, I think one of the key factors in my case is that I have been skeptical not just of my religion, but of everything else as well, including my own rationality. That is, I have been skeptical even of my own skepticism. This is what I mean by having a humbled epistemology – which is one of my descriptions of what it means to be “postmodern”. It’s because I’ve ultimately come to see that all of my beliefs are in essentially the same boat as my religious beliefs, that I haven’t felt quite as compelled to jettison my religious beliefs. We live in a world of possibilities, not of certainties, and I’m just fine with that.

  • Darryl

    It’s because I’ve ultimately come to see that all of my beliefs are in essentially the same boat as my religious beliefs, that I haven’t felt quite as compelled to jettison my religious beliefs. We live in a world of possibilities, not of certainties, and I’m just fine with that.

    To subordinate the facticity of “all of [your] beliefs” in order to match “[your] religious beliefs” in order to salvage them may make sense to an idealist, but not to someone who treats facts. The gap is too great between stubborn facts that can reach out and bite you and beliefs that can be blasphemed all day long without repercussion. This is the chasm that you cannot bridge without faith. You have chosen, as far as I can tell, for no good reason, to believe. This is a matter of will not knowledge. No modern person can ignore the facts that force themselves through any epistemology. There’s too much corroborating evidence for that. Crediting epistemology is either a rationalization post facto, or a simple blunder.

  • Aj

    Linda,

    I’ve been trying to define what it means to me in as many ways as I could, but you don’t seem to be listening. Nothing is good enough for you.

    Here’s my problem, your sentences carry no meaning, the grammar is correct, but the words are being used in ways I don’t understand.

    I believe the truth is sprinkled throughout the whole universe, even in the words (and hearts) of atheists

    This should demonstrate what I mean, a challenge. Name me one instance where you found a truth “sprinkle” in the universe?

    The second part is just… lets start with the heart, it’s a muscle, is the truth also in my liver? How do you know that an atheist has ever said something true?

    I didn’t say it did. Maybe I should stop referring to myself as a Christian?

    Why do you talk about true Christians, and “not really a” Christian?

    Yes, that’s exactly it. People like Mike C. and other Christians here are trying to show you something different. But you have your wall up based on what you already know.

    You presume incorrectly about my knowledge and experience. I knew about the farce that is post modernism before coming here. I have experience with very moderate religion. Complete nonsense that it is, using words disingenuously.

    I am a Christian, I believe in literal truths, and those literal truths come from the Bible and the Christian tradition, I believe in lots of things without justification. No wait, I am a skeptic about everything, I am an extreme skeptic, I subscribe to solipsism, my mind is the only thing I know exists, I believe in nothing but that, a complete 180 degrees turn. No wait, I’m a Christian again (what a coincidence), because if I can’t be sure of knowledge about anything, then every belief must be of equal value, so I can believe in anything. Sorry, I didn’t explain why I’m a Christian, because I can’t, because I’m not basing it on anything, this is post modernism after all.

    While I say I’m pro-science, that can’t be true because I just said that it was of equal value to other beliefs like say creationism. Oh wait, actually I’ve changed my mind for this conversation, it’s not of equal value as soon as science has discovered something. So if science points to a conclusion, that conclusion is the one I’m going to take, but if it gets falsified, I’ll believe in whatever I want about it again. Gaps of knowledge are my kingdom!

  • Adrian

    MikeC,

    That is, I have been skeptical even of my own skepticism. This is what I mean by having a humbled epistemology – which is one of my descriptions of what it means to be “postmodern”.

    Before I leap to conclusions, can you tell me what it could possibly mean to be skeptical about skepticism? I can’t begin to imagine what that might look like, I wonder if you must be using some new definition of the words.

    When you write that, I read it as you saying that you’ve placed so many checks to eliminate biases and errors that you’ve reached the conclusion that the best way to understand reality is to just make stuff up.

    I mean, “sceptical about scepticism” sounds zingy, and has the aura of extreme scepticism, but it doesn’t parse at all. Not in any way I understand. I hope I’m missing something.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Writerdd said,

    When we atheists talk about religious people, that includes you.

    This “I’m not religous” thing that Christians try to pull is just the biggest load of crap. How do I know? Because I used to say the same thing. Christian=religious.

    Is this another example of “only what I see from my own perspective is valid” argument? That’s okay. If that’s what’s true for you, then we’ll have to agree to disagree.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Claire said,

    I changed tolerance to acceptance when I rewrote that, does that help? And is that revised version what’s happening here?

    Why is it so hard to respect the person AND their beliefs? I really don’t think you can separate my beliefs from who I am, because I am who I am largely because of my beliefs. I found myself not able to respect an atheist (at least not to my own satisfaction) until I could completely accept and respect the fact that they were a non-believer. And as I’ve stated, I worked through it.

    As usual, the words are getting in the way. I’m sorry you think of ‘tolerance’ as something cold and unfriendly, because that’s not how I see it. I see it as a giving people space to be themselves. And the way you and some other people use ‘love’ as something that should be extended to all people indiscriminately seems overwrought and weird. I’m just not going to love someone I don’t know, ever.

    It’s not that I find the word ‘tolerance” cold and unfriendly. The efforts required by that word just does not seem enough to me. Not enough if I want to make a change… make a difference. No, love is not something that I extend indiscriminately. But when I do extend it, it’s real and genuine. And anyway, I don’t think we’re speaking of the same kind of love.

    I don’t know exactly what you mean by seeing you as “one of us”. In the narrowest sense, of course, you aren’t because you aren’t an atheist, but I think you mean it in a wider sense, but I don’t know exactly what.

    I mean not being treated as a label. Being thought of as just someone who may have different beliefs but still a fellow skeptic who can use logic and reasoning to draw conclusions. And you were not who I was addressing. I don’t know why we are having this debate.

    I’m not sure what more you want from me, or any of us.

    Absolutely nothing. Not even respect. Love and respect are given, not asked for, expected, or demanded.

    I was just observing, thinking out loud, and throwing questions out there that I asked myself recently. I was not accusing anyone, nor was I asking for a change…

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Mike said,

    Some are. And others (like myself) go through the same process of deconstruction that you describe and yet emerge with their faith both intact (more or less) and de-compartmentalized.

    Me too. I have not been a Chrsitian as long as Karen or Mike, though. It’s only been four years for me. Two of those I spent as a “religious” person, thinking that’s what I had to do. I, too, have been a die-hard skeptic all of my life, so those two years were pure hell for me. It took another 1 1/2 years to “deconstruct,” as Karen and Mike put it, and I have only recently found who it is that I am today.

    In order for me to do that, I had to let go of every single thought I had of religion… get rid of everything that I thought were true and start with a clean slate. It was excruciatingly difficult, but here I am. I found a way to have complete freedom in Christ, which is what Christianity should be about, IMO. And my beliefs are continually evolving still. I am constantly standing on the edge of the cliff, always keeping my skeptical eye on religion. I’m ready to jump at any moment with the slightest push. But I know being in Christ is totally separate from being in religion. Even if I jump, I will still remain who I am. That’s why I’m extremely sensitive to the word “religious.”

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Before I leap to conclusions, can you tell me what it could possibly mean to be skeptical about skepticism? I can’t begin to imagine what that might look like, I wonder if you must be using some new definition of the words.

    I just mean that I try not to have too high opinion of my own cognitive abilities. I know how often I am prone to error, bias, and simple limitation. I can reason my way into or out of just about anything, which leads me to believe that reason itself is not always the most reliable tool. That’s not to say I can’t know anything, but what I do think I know I hold tentatively and provisionally, always open to the possibility that I could be wrong. As a skeptic I question everything, but then I also take another step back and ask whether those skeptical questions are themselves the right kinds of questions, or whether perhaps they themselves are being skewed by some unseen bias or limitation or false assumption.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    AJ,

    This should demonstrate what I mean, a challenge. Name me one instance where you found a truth “sprinkle” in the universe?

    umm… you? I can’t figure out for the life of me why I still like you, despite all of your verbal attacks. (but you do go easy on me. why?) There’s your “sprinkle” of truth. ;-)

    How do you know that an atheist has ever said something true?

    There have been many things that various atheists have said since I’ve been coming here which prompted me to either re-evaluate my beliefs or change them. That is because I saw truth in what they said. Some of them may have come from you, who knows?

    Why do you talk about true Christians, and “not really a” Christian?

    I know I do that. I don’t know why, exactly. I just feel that some Christians do not understand Christ at all. But that’s being judgmental again, I suppose. Thank you for calling me on it.

    And call me crazy, but I don’t see that much wrong with your description of moderate Christians. It sounds to me like a whole spectrum of different levels of belief. Why does belief in God have to be one absolute? As there are no two human beings alike, there are no two Christians alike. And as we are continually learning and “renewing our minds,” we often contradict what we have stated previously. That’s just a process called growing, don’t you think?

  • Jen

    I am days late to the party, but I think I will jump in- why not? I have already been quoted despite my complete absence from this thread.

    Why is it so hard to respect the person AND their beliefs? I really don’t think you can separate my beliefs from who I am, because I am who I am largely because of my beliefs.

    I think this kind of goes back to the discussion on that German pig book the other day, where the debate ended up being in part about if respect should be earned or assumed. I think I was raised to respect certain people on principle: the old, for outliving all their friends; the deeply religious, for shunning the material world; those in power, for earning their higher-up positions in the world, and teachers, because teachers had a vested interest in convincing us to respect them. In retrospect, I am not sure that was the best thing for me, because it wasn’t until I reached a certain place in my development that it occurred to me to question authority. Maybe that is something that everyone goes through, and maybe a psychologist would say it is better to set certain people on pedestals only to knock them down later.

    I do think respect is something that has to be earned- I suppose I am using the definition of respect that goes like this: “esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal quality or ability, or something I have great respect for her judgmentconsidered as a manifestation of a personal quality or ability: ”

    So I believe I can esteem you, Linda, for having the ability to come here day after day and communicate with atheists without preaching. However, I may esteem you for your abilities in one area (say, communication and politeness) instead of another (say, your ability to reason in a way that I agree with and your skills at Scrabble.)

    I may be approaching this from a different angle than you. Perhaps you think faith is a virtue, and I think it is a flaw in your character. I can still like someone who isn’t perfect, and I can even esteem them while realizing that they are simply human. This is fantastic for me, because most of my friends are religious in some way, and I can still have respect for them, or not have respect for them but enjoy their company anyway.

  • Claire

    Linda said

    Why is it so hard to respect the person AND their beliefs?

    Because some really nice, really good, really intelligent people have some absolutely crappy beliefs. Stupid, ridiculous, insane, beyond-belief beliefs. Beliefs that I could not extend even the tiniest scintilla of respect to without completely losing my self-respect.

    I would prefer to respect both, but I don’t always have that option.

    I really don’t think you can separate my beliefs from who I am, because I am who I am largely because of my beliefs.

    On the contrary, I can completely separate them, because I’m doing it from the outside. I can’t see inside another person, so even if their belief has completely shaped who they are, I can’t see that. If I meet a person who is kind and thoughtful, I can recognize that about them without knowing anything about their beliefs. If that person tells me that he or she is kind because if they aren’t, they will come back as a feeder goldfish in their next lifetime, I will still consider them as a nice person, just one with a stupid belief. Even if that person is passionately convinced that the only reason they are nice has to do with feeder goldfish, that doesn’t change anything for me, only for them. The view is different from the outside.

    It’s not that I find the word ‘tolerance” cold and unfriendly. The efforts required by that word just does not seem enough to me.

    Really? Because sometimes it’s all I can do not to beat some people to death with shovel. And considering the number of people out there who can’t even achieve that minimum, tolerance is not an unworthy goal.

    I mean not being treated as a label.

    Step one is to stop labelling yourself. Seriously, it helps. If you constantly identify yourself with a label, people will see you as that first and as you second.

  • Richard Wade

    Mike: That is, I have been skeptical even of my own skepticism.

    Adrian: Before I leap to conclusions, can you tell me what it could possibly mean to be skeptical about skepticism? I can’t begin to imagine what that might look like…”

    Mike: I just mean that I try not to have too high opinion of my own cognitive abilities.

    That opening part was reassuring, Mike but then you finished with this:

    As a skeptic I question everything, but then I also take another step back and ask whether those skeptical questions are themselves the right kinds of questions, or whether perhaps they themselves are being skewed by some unseen bias or limitation or false assumption.

    I don’t want to alarm you, Mike but even though you probably are simply a very vigilant and diligent observer of your own thought processes, you might have a developing case of Cognitive Cul-de-sac Disorder, formerly known as Carosello’s Autoreflection Syndrome. The disorder usually reaches its critical stage with a thought process something like this:

    “I say I’m a skeptic, but am I really a skeptic? What evidence do I have that I am a skeptic? I should not just take my own word for it. Wait, my wanting to find evidence for my being a skeptic before I believe it seems to be a pretty skeptical thing to do. But oh wait, that’s sounds circular, and skeptics really hate circular thinking. After all, if I say, ‘I know for certain I’m a skeptic because I have my doubts about it and need evidence’ that is self-contradictory. I can’t be certain and have my doubts at the same time. Hang on a sec, if it’s self-contradictory it can’t be circular. Dammit, neither work. How about if I was once skeptical about being a skeptic but now I’m not? But if I’m now sure, am I still a skeptic? Hmmm. Maybe I could ask other people who know me if I’m a skeptic. Naw, testimonials aren’t very good evidence either. I remember somebody once said I was a skeptic but I didn’t just automatically believe him. I asked him for evidence but he just looked at me funny and slowly backed away. Is there a skepticometer I could hook myself up to? But then how does one calibrate a skepticometer without…….”

    After several days of this the victim collapses from lack of food and sleep and is hospitalized, given heavy doses of Haldol and put on a regimen of intense psychotherapy and training in tightrope walking with the aid of a parasol, augmented by lessons in shadow boxing and mime. After several months most patients are able to return to society and live a basically normal, productive life with the exception of having a morbid fear of amusement parks or fun houses that feature a hall of mirrors.

    It’s probably nothing, Mike but just to be on the safe side you might have that looked at. ;)

  • Aj

    Linda,

    umm… you? I can’t figure out for the life of me why I still like you, despite all of your verbal attacks. (but you do go easy on me. why?) There’s your “sprinkle” of truth.

    Flattery will get you everywhere, however you already know that I’ll consider your answer a complete evasion of the question.

    There have been many things that various atheists have said since I’ve been coming here which prompted me to either re-evaluate my beliefs or change them. That is because I saw truth in what they said. Some of them may have come from you, who knows?

    That’s experience that suggests that you believed what they were saying. That seems rather circular to why you think an atheist has said something true, because you have believed a few atheists. “It’s true because I believe it”, either suggests belief and assumed truth aren’t related, or it’s a cart before horse problem.

    I know I do that. I don’t know why, exactly. I just feel that some Christians do not understand Christ at all. But that’s being judgmental again, I suppose. Thank you for calling me on it.

    Being judgemental isn’t the problem, it’s what you’re basing it on. Is it because you have reason to believe it so, or is it because you’d prefer it to be the case?

    And call me crazy, but I don’t see that much wrong with your description of moderate Christians.

    You’re crazy. It’s completely disingenuous, switching between contradictory positions when it suites them, and doesn’t actually address belief in Christianity at all. Its goal is to obscure, to protect beliefs, it adds nothing to understanding.

  • Adrian

    Mike,

    I just mean that I try not to have too high opinion of my own cognitive abilities. I know how often I am prone to error, bias, and simple limitation.

    I agree with Richard, that’s a great start. If you truly understand just how deeply we are all prone to error and bias then I don’t see how you cannot adopt scepticism.

    Then you say:

    I can reason my way into or out of just about anything, which leads me to believe that reason itself is not always the most reliable tool.

    Whoah, whoah, hold on there. Is this another instance where you’re using “reason” to mean something like maybe “convince” or “persuade”? If so, I do wish you’d use a better word because if you apply the sceptical principles your first two sentences require, then reason can’t drive you to any conclusion. If not, then I don’t think you understand scepticism because if you use reason in conjunction with basic sceptical principles, then no, you cannot reach any conclusion. That’s the point. Something must be missing here, am I just not getting something?

    That’s not to say I can’t know anything, but what I do think I know I hold tentatively and provisionally, always open to the possibility that I could be wrong. As a skeptic I question everything, but then I also take another step back and ask whether those skeptical questions are themselves the right kinds of questions, or whether perhaps they themselves are being skewed by some unseen bias or limitation or false assumption.

    This is what I simply don’t understand.

    Sceptical questions are things like “do I have sufficient evidence for this?”, “have I eliminated all the biases I can?”, and “what other possible explanations can fit observations and what can I do to eliminate them?” These are all a part of the process of eliminating biases. Yes, it’s possible to ask them and still have some biases remain, but you paint this story as if you’ve become so extremely sceptical that you doubt whether it’s valuable to ask these questions.

    How can that be? While they may not be complete, surely they must form a part of any system of honest inquiry by someone aware of our innate human biases.

    Can you give an example of some of these sceptical precautions that you, in your extreme scepticism, don’t think apply?

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Sceptical questions are things like “do I have sufficient evidence for this?”, “have I eliminated all the biases I can?”, and “what other possible explanations can fit observations and what can I do to eliminate them?” These are all a part of the process of eliminating biases. Yes, it’s possible to ask them and still have some biases remain, but you paint this story as if you’ve become so extremely sceptical that you doubt whether it’s valuable to ask these questions.

    No, asking those questions is still valuable, so valuable in fact that we need to continue to apply those questions even to the results that previous rounds of questioning have produced. The task of deconstruction is never finished.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    It’s probably nothing, Mike but just to be on the safe side you might have that looked at. ;)

    Thanks Richard. I’ll take that into advisement.

  • Adrian

    Mike,

    No, asking those questions is still valuable, so valuable in fact that we need to continue to apply those questions even to the results that previous rounds of questioning have produced. The task of deconstruction is never finished.

    Yes, we must continue to eliminate biases and cognitive errors.

    Which brings me back to my original question: what could it mean to be sceptical about scepticism?

    Are you saying that hyper-vigilant sceptics find occasions where sceptical principles no longer apply? If not that, just what are you saying?

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Are you saying that hyper-vigilant sceptics find occasions where sceptical principles no longer apply? If not that, just what are you saying?

    No Adrian, that’s not what I’m saying. I thought I’ve made that clear. I’m not sure how else to put it so that you’ll understand.

    I guess in it’s simplest form all I’m saying is that we don’t know as much as we think we know and we’re not as smart as we think we are.

  • Adrian

    Mike,

    Pardon the questions. It’s strange, but I have a very difficult time understanding exactly what it is you’re saying. I’ve tried to explain why that is and how the different meanings appear to arise, but I guess I’ve done an equally bad job at that. Since it was a tangent anyway, it’s probably worth dropping.

    I do agreeing with you that we aren’t as smart as we think we are.

    Maybe sometime in the future, you could write a post explaining how you apply these principles and these beliefs to Christianity and your faith in general. Thanks.

  • Richard Wade

    Mike and Adrian,
    I won’t belabor this any longer, but I think perhaps the confusion about Mike’s statements about his skepticism and his reasoning and rationality is coming from a slight difference between his and our use of the word “skepticism.” To me at least, skepticism simply means demanding a high standard for evidence before believing in something. What one does with that evidence once one has it is an entirely different matter. A person may use logic or reason or rational thinking about it, he may ignore or discount it, guess, fantasize, intuit or whatever. The point is that I (and maybe Adrian) don’t think of skepticism as a specific thought process such as for example logic is. Skepticism is just holding to a level of standard for evidence.

    Mike seems to use the word skepticism more broadly to include the thought processes such as logic, reason, etc. along with the stringent requiring of evidence. So in that way he could be narrowly “skeptical” (being humble, avoiding over confidence, being circumspect) about his broader “skepticism” (applying logic, reason, rationality, etc.) to questions about life and the world around him.

    I hope that helps rather than muddling it worse. Otherwise as Adrian says let’s drop it at least for now. Sorry, Mike if I’m way off.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Let me try one last time:

    What I’m saying is that sometimes, even when I apply things like “logic, reason, etc.”, I still get it wrong. I find that occasionally my rational faculties have led me down the wrong path. Thus I have learned to be “skeptical” (i.e. “being humble, avoiding over confidence, being circumspect”) of my own rational abilities. I don’t trust that they necessarily always lead me to truth. I have learned that whenever I think I know something, I need to take some time to look at it from a different angle, through a different set of lenses, with a new set of deconstructive questions, etc. But then, once I’ve done that, I need to also question the answers given by those new angles, lenses, etc. as well with the help of other lenses, angles, etc. – hence, being “skeptical of my skepticism”.

    It’s sort of like being out to sea on a raft that is coming apart at the seams. You can’t take the whole raft apart all at once to fix it, because you have to still stand somewhere. So you stand on one portion of it while you fix another section, but then you shift over to stand somewhere else to fix where you had just been standing… and so on.

  • Adrian

    Thus I have learned to be “skeptical” (i.e. “being humble, avoiding over confidence, being circumspect”) of my own rational abilities.

    Okay, thanks for the definition. Like your use of “reason”, it sounds like you are using a colloquial meaning of “skeptical” and not the philosophical one. Considering our conversation, I naturally assumed the latter, and not the former. Instead of talking about the philosophical system of seeking evidence and reason for belief, you’re almost treating “skepticism” as merely a synonym of doubt.

    This is especially apparent when you say:

    But then, once I’ve done that, I need to also question the answers given by those new angles, lenses, etc. as well with the help of other lenses, angles, etc. – hence, being “skeptical of my skepticism”.

    Here, you can only be talking about “doubt”, not about philosophical skepticism. Still, as long as we’re on the same page.

    I think you’re trying to say is that you must continually scrutinize any conclusions you reach. That’s cool.

    I don’t see you being skeptical of skepticism itself, and in your elaboration you don’t even hint at this. On the contrary, you seem to want more skepticism, not less. You’re definitely not skeptical about skepticism, you’re just applying skepticism to skeptical conclusions, a very different thing.

    You should know that most people who say they’re “skeptical about skepticism” are in fact saying that they doubt that (are skeptical of) a system of scrupulously gathering evidence and accounting for human biases (skepticism) can lead them to the truth. They say this, as far as I can tell, because skepticism leads people away from their pre-selected conclusions and so are looking for plausible-sounding reasons to say faith is an alternate means of knowing. By using their phrases, you’ll end up conveying their meaning which may not be what you want!

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I don’t see you being skeptical of skepticism itself, and in your elaboration you don’t even hint at this. On the contrary, you seem to want more skepticism, not less. You’re definitely not skeptical about skepticism, you’re just applying skepticism to skeptical conclusions, a very different thing.

    That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you this whole time! I’m sorry I was so unclear. Yes, I was using the term more “colloquially”. I think you were just over-analyzing it.

    You should know that most people who say they’re “skeptical about skepticism” are in fact saying that they doubt that (are skeptical of) a system of scrupulously gathering evidence and accounting for human biases (skepticism) can lead them to the truth.

    I’m sorry, I didn’t realize anyone else had ever used that phrase. I’d never heard it before I coined it for my own use with my own meaning. If you have heard other people use it differently I can understand why you’d be confused at how I was using it.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    AJ,

    Flattery will get you everywhere, however you already know that I’ll consider your answer a complete evasion of the question.

    It wasn’t flattery at all. I meant it. And yes, I did know that you would think that… Let me try again to answer your questions without being evasive, although you may end up thinking I’m crazier than you thought. :)

    That’s experience that suggests that you believed what they were saying. That seems rather circular to why you think an atheist has said something true, because you have believed a few atheists.

    I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to come to an agreement. I look at everything from outside in (or do I mean from inside out? i’m confused. :-( ..) Anyway, as I don’t put much value in material things or objects (although I find them fascinating), I take a piece of information and look within for answers. In the same way that we advance in science, history, law, or anything else in life, we can only base our conclusions regarding spirituality on what we have already seen, heard, touched, or experienced. Basically what we already “know.” Outside of that, we continue our search or wait for what’s still to come.

    When we stumble upon new information, we hold it up to everything that we know already and draw our conclusions based on what makes sense or what works. As no two minds are alike, we may end up with discrepancies. Add on top of that the fact we are using different parts of our brain to look at things (what I mean by different angles), we end up misunderstood, frustrated, or just plain annoyed.

    You seem to look at everything externally when I want to look at everything internally. There’s no right or wrong. I have a very hard time communicating what it is that I want to say, as what comes out never seems to meet my satisfaction. With that in mind, let me bounce off my thoughts at the risk of sounding judgmental, and/or completely off my rockers…

    I don’t believe there are too many truly free thinkers. Just because someone claims that they think freely does not make them free. In my opinion, a truly free and genuine thought requires that thought to be thought with everything (all pre-existing knowledge) and nothing (a blank canvas) at the same time. I find that many people have a difficult time with the nothing part.

    Remember the phrase that I referred to before on another thread? RES IPSA LOQVITVR. I adopted it as my motto a few months ago. I cannot give you an evidence… ‘the thing that speaks for itself’… All I can do is try to BE it and present myself as the thing that speaks for itself. So shall I call myself an “enigma” instead of a Christian? If you are looking for consistency, I cannot give that to you. That “nothing” part keeps transforming me into something else. Bits of new information that came from atheists on this blog contributed to my transformation process and became a part of the big blob of truth in my mind.

    Why do you talk about true Christians, and “not really a” Christian?…

    …Is it because you have reason to believe it so, or is it because you’d prefer it to be the case?

    In my mind, I have reason to believe so. I am either all or nothing with everything. You accuse people of picking and choosing what they want to believe according to what’s convenient or what others are saying to them. I am in constant battle with that. I know my freedom (in thought) comes from Christ. Only when I understood that freedom was I able to reject religion as it was taught to me.

    To me, freedom with boundaries and rules is not freedom at all. Grace that requires works is not grace at all. Unconditional love with the condition of belief is not truly unconditional. The hypocrisy in Christianity makes me want to jump off of that cliff into atheism.

    My confusion is when I feel like I’m the only one. How can I hold onto my freedom to think freely when I am constantly bombarded with what everyone else thinks, especially those who have all the education and the credentials? I end up wondering if I’m the one who’s wrong or… crazy.

    I’m here talking to people and peeking over the edge of that cliff, and I don’t see much freedom there either. Different words are used, and maybe even more elevated ones, but the hypocrisy and the lack of “nothing” exist there as much as the Christian camp. So I basically am between a rock and a hard place. I end up choosing the lesser (or free-er) of two evils to hang out with. There’s so much more fun in freedom. :)

    AJ, from what I’ve seen, you are not afraid to be different. You don’t follow the “rules” of engagement. Speaking your mind honestly is more important to you than being accepted for what (or how) you say. I admire that because I am often not that brave. I was not being disingenuous. I don’t “flatter” people just for the sake of flattery.

  • Aj

    Linda,

    When we stumble upon new information, we hold it up to everything that we know already and draw our conclusions based on what makes sense or what works.

    Yes, this is what I call thought.

    As no two minds are alike, we may end up with discrepancies. Add on top of that the fact we are using different parts of our brain to look at things (what I mean by different angles), we end up misunderstood, frustrated, or just plain annoyed.

    I don’t think that’s a fact at all. It’s unlikely that two minds are the same, but as for alike, I would say they are alike. I would also take issue with the point, generally we use the same part of our brain for the same operations.

    I don’t believe there are too many truly free thinkers. Just because someone claims that they think freely does not make them free. In my opinion, a truly free and genuine thought requires that thought to be thought with everything (all pre-existing knowledge) and nothing (a blank canvas) at the same time. I find that many people have a difficult time with the nothing part.

    That seems to me as getting something from nothing. Thought requires experience, that’s not to discount thought experiment, but they’re not going to happen without experience in the past. The process of thought as I understand it requires experience, a component of it is experience. What’s your understanding of what thought is?

    That “nothing” part keeps transforming me into something else. Bits of new information that came from atheists on this blog contributed to my transformation process and became a part of the big blob of truth in my mind.

    Can you explain to people without any previous ideas of it, what you mean by the “nothing” part? Can you do the same for the “transformation process”, and the “big blob of truth” in your mind?

    I know my freedom (in thought) comes from Christ.

    How do you know this? The whole statement is meaningless to me. You write things like they’re blatently obvious, but I don’t know what you mean by freedom of though, or how it comes from “Christ”.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Jen,

    Thank you for your eloquent thoughts. I never looked at faith as a character flaw… interesting. I guess it’s one way to look at it.

    Claire, you said,

    Step one is to stop labelling yourself. Seriously, it helps. If you constantly identify yourself with a label, people will see you as that first and as you second.

    Exactly. That’s what I was trying to say on the thread about atheist t-shirts, for which everyone jumped on me. And what’s the deal with the scarlet letter A? Don’t answer that. I know we’ve been down that road before. I’m agreeing with you. The fact remains, though, that eveyrone desires to identify with something, be a part of something, or be a member of a larger group. I don’t know if we can ever live without the labels. *sigh* :-?

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    AJ,

    It’s unlikely that two minds are the same, but as for alike, I would say they are alike. I would also take issue with the point, generally we use the same part of our brain for the same operations

    Okay, I can agree with you on both points. However, isn’t it possible that the same stimulus may trigger different operations in the brain for different people? I’m not at all familiar with neurology, but isn’t the critical thinking part different than the creative part of the brain? So if we both encounter a new experience and you end up writing an in-depth analysis and I end up writing a symphony from the same piece of information, are we using the same part of the brain?

    The process of thought as I understand it requires experience, a component of it is experience. What’s your understanding of what thought is?

    I said I have to use everything AND nothing at the same time to process the new information. If I only rely on what I already know, then I can only see things within those limits. Stepping outside of the box with a thought requires a blank canvas. You have to be willing to jump into the unknown. The pre-existing knowledge can be the tools with which you can think, but the blank canvas is the nothing that holds all the possibilities of a brand new thought. If you are always painting by numbers, that is not free thinking.

    Can you explain to people without any previous ideas of it, what you mean by the “nothing” part? Can you do the same for the “transformation process”, and the “big blob of truth” in your mind?

    Of course you also have to use your previous experiences and pre-existing knowledge, as I said above. Otherwise, the new evolved thought has no basis. There is a fine line between a free thought and an irrational thought, although you may disagree with me on where that line is.

    You write things like they’re blatently obvious, but I don’t know what you mean by freedom of thought, or how it comes from “Christ”.

    Oh no… here we go. This is the part where others may cringe, but you asked…

    To me, Jesus is someone who single-handedly challenged and stood up to a system of belief that had existed since the beginning of religious history. I really believe he wanted people to follow his example and think for themselves. When he said “follow me,” I don’t think he meant “be my robot,” or “make me your religion.” I cannot speculate on the literal resurrection and ascension, as I have no basis on which to insist that it’s true.

    However, what I do know to be the truth is this: something happened to me recently. It may be when I had my “aha” moment about who Jesus actually is to me. The freedom that I felt in that moment of revelation is something that cannot be described. The sudden realization that I can reject religion in every sense was more liberating than anything else I have known. This freedom tells me that I don’t have to live my life trying to please God all the time. I can be who I want to be and I can love who I want to love without hoping to make them into believers. And yet I’m not denying Christ, because he’s the one who told me to be free. Imagine that!

    In my opinion, the real sin is in trying to deny who you were born to be and constantly striving to become something that you’re not.

    It’s all so very simple and yet so hard to explain. I did my best. Am I still not making sense to you? Your questions are tough, but I like how they make me think. :)

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    accidentally double posted.

  • Aj

    Linda,

    Okay, I can agree with you on both points. However, isn’t it possible that the same stimulus may trigger different operations in the brain for different people? I’m not at all familiar with neurology, but isn’t the critical thinking part different than the creative part of the brain? So if we both encounter a new experience and you end up writing an in-depth analysis and I end up writing a symphony from the same piece of information, are we using the same part of the brain?

    Yes, different operations usually means different parts of the brain, although complex tasks will involve many parts. It would be the same for both of us, we could do both things. I would argue that we’re probably using both parts of the brain, but to different degrees.

    I said I have to use everything AND nothing at the same time to process the new information. If I only rely on what I already know, then I can only see things within those limits. Stepping outside of the box with a thought requires a blank canvas. You have to be willing to jump into the unknown. The pre-existing knowledge can be the tools with which you can think, but the blank canvas is the nothing that holds all the possibilities of a brand new thought. If you are always painting by numbers, that is not free thinking.

    We our limited by our experience, but that doesn’t mean we are limited to our experience. Thinking of unknown, new concepts, uses past experience. Thought experiment, requires past experience. Even if it appropriates something unrelated.

    Of course you also have to use your previous experiences and pre-existing knowledge, as I said above. Otherwise, the new evolved thought has no basis. There is a fine line between a free thought and an irrational thought, although you may disagree with me on where that line is.

    I’m going to have to have some examples of what you have come to through that, what sort of reasoning. You’re going to have to explain the thought not using previous experience. I have nothing to go on, you haven’t explained it at all.

    Free thought, and free thinking, are terms that will be familiar in another context to many atheists.

    Oh no… here we go. This is the part where others may cringe, but you asked…

    It’s all so very simple and yet so hard to explain. I did my best. Am I still not making sense to you? Your questions are tough, but I like how they make me think.

    Read your paragraphs between these two quotes and tell me what you think of them, whether they give an explanation of why you hold the positions, or if they answered my question.

    You can give your opinion on Jesus, I understood that most of it was your opinion, and what you felt about coming to that opinion. You said that you didn’t want to speculate about other things you have no basis for. That suggests you have basis for your opinion on Jesus. Surely that’s a key component of the answer to my quesiton.

    Why do you believe the Bible? Why do you believe Jesus wanted this? Describe what the system of belief was like before Jesus, and what Jesus advocated.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    AJ,

    Why do you believe the Bible? Why do you believe Jesus wanted this? Describe what the system of belief was like before Jesus, and what Jesus advocated.

    Wow… that’s a challenge. I purposely try not to memorize or quote scripture as much as I can, because I believe in the ideas contained therein instead of the words. Besides, I’m not a theologian or a scholar. But since we came this far and I don’t want to give up now, I’ll try my best to answer those questions:

    Please keep in mind this is how it looks and makes sense to me. But I’m only one person. One thing I do not do is listen to someone else’s word and follow it as if it were my own. As we discussed before, we hold up all new information to the knowledge base that already exists and process them in a logical and practical way. But I have to first clean out all of the unnecessary or incorrect data that may affect the new piece of information. If any part of the pre-existing data base is from a second-hand knowledge, and more information is added because of and on top of that knowledge, it could throw off the whole system. There is so much information out there that are referenced to what someone else has said, as if referencing someone who claims to know or who has the credentials somehow makes that information true beyond doubt. I want to keep an open mind about everything. I take the words of experts with a grain of salt. I want it to make perfect sense to me before I make it part of my database.

    (I suddenly have a new thought about my everything and nothing theory. But I’ll have to process it first. I’ll get back to you.)

    The problem arises when what makes sense to me and what makes sense to you are two different things. There are people who claim that Jesus the man never even existed. What do I do with that?

    What makes sense to me is this:

    The system of belief before Jesus was everything you read in the OT. People were controlled by religious leaders who strictly adhered to the rules written in the scripture. i.e. The Ten Commandments. It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out as social animals what we like and dislike, what works and does not work in order to co-exist together. I now believe that the moral code and the written “rules” came as a result of many years of trial and error by humans living together in tribal settings. (I have an ongoing thought project about morals – but that’s another subject.) As we progressed through history, human nature to seek power over others produced religion and religious leaders. Did religion exist before the religious leaders or the other way around? Hmmm… There are leaders and there are followers. The followers need instructions and guidelines in order to follow. The leaders need rules, rewards, and punishments in order to control.

    I can keep going, but I don’t know if this is what you’re looking for. And I’m thinking as I’m going along. I like this homework, but I can do it somewhere else if you want me to stop. I have a feeling it won’t be short and sweet… (or maybe it will end up to be simpler than I thought, who knows?) But I don’t want to waste your time if you think it’s off target.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Okay, AJ, here’s the rest of my thoughts on the last question, since I decided I didn’t want to leave it unfished:

    That’s the way religion controlled the masses for many years until Jesus came into the picture and started speaking out against the leaders. Jesus challenged the religious leaders again and again (i.e. Matthew 23). He tried to tell everyone that they should just be who they were meant to be and not try to be something they are not. He referred to nature, the animals and the plants behaving just the way they were meant to and not worrying about becoming something they are not (Matthew 6). He wanted everyone to be free from the religious law. He said that he came into the world to testify to the truth.

    The message of truth that he shared over and over again comprise of three things, the way I understand the scripture: Love-Grace-Freedom. No more. No less. He wanted nothing to do with religion outside of those three things. For me, that’s the concept that resonates throughout the New Testament. Jesus died for the sake of that truth. Religion cannot afford to grant people freedom, because when people are free, religion becomes obsolete. That’s why Jesus had to be killed. Religion had to kill him in order for it to survive. Then shortly thereafter, following Christ became a religion called Christianity.

    What I strongly believe is that whoever can jump out of the box of “religion” and be free has the spirit of Christ. For the last two thousand years, Christianity as a religion has gone through many transformations, but it still remains a religion. To me, the religion of Christianity is the anti-Christ that has permeated the lives of the religious people and robbed them of their freedom. But what I’m finding lately is that most people do not want to be free. Because freedom comes with a price. The price of rejection or persecution. The price of ridicule. The price of being called crazy. The price of loneliness.

    I believe the practice of rejecting religion can also be a religion in itself. Darwinism can be a religion. Striving for success can be a religion. Environmentalism can be a religion. Patriotism can be a religion. Supporting a political party can be a religion. Fighting for a cause can be a religion. Whenever someone is chasing the shell of the thing rather than the essence of it, then it becomes meaningless and what I classify as religion. Anytime someone only looks at what is superficial (what seems obvious) and accepts or rejects something/someone without a closer and deeper examination, then they are not thinking freely.

    I know that many people, atheists and theists alike, probably will not accept much of the above statements as anything other than just my own opinion.

    They will never see it the way I see it. They will never accept it. That’s the fact. But that’s okay.

    Do you ever hear the harmony to a song? The melody is what most people hear. But if you listen carefully, you can find (and almost hear) the harmony and you can sing it. It takes skill and practice, but the more you do it, the easier you can find it. But if you are not paying attention, you can quickly lose it and go back to only hearing the melody. The notes are not obvious, but they are there. They exist, waiting to be sung into reality…

  • http://thatatheistguysblog.blogspot.com NYCatheist

    Linda,

    I have to jump in here to make a few comments in regard to your definition of religion. First how I classify things as religions; they usually have three parts:

    1. Belief in some kind of supernatural entity or force.
    2. Revealed knowledge or sacred truths.
    3. Some kind of ritualistic behavior.
    I think most religions (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, etc.) hit each of those parts in some way. Most flavors of Buddhism do too, but some like Zen lack part 1 so that might not be a religion. I suspect your version of Christianity also hits all three parts. 1 and 2 might be easy to see, but do you have a 3? If you’re going to church and praying I think so.

    From what you have written I think the thing you are criticizing is not “religion” but “organized religion”. If you disagree with my definition of religion, I’d like to hear how you define it. You do write, “Whenever someone is chasing the shell of the thing rather than the essence of it, then it becomes meaningless and what I classify as religion.” but I’m not sure I understand it.

    You also say things like Darwinism, Environmentalism, and Patriotism can be religions. By my definition, I have to disagree, since those things lack the most important part 1, belief in some supernatural entity or force. Can you give an example of a “religious Darwinist”? I’m not even sure “Darwinists” exist anymore since Darwin’s theory of evolution has been modified and extended. Just like there aren’t any “Newtonists” anymore since Newton’s theory of gravitation has been superseded by Einstein’s.

    Now some case might be made that some people, for example the Social Darwinists, did make a religion out of Darwin’s theory. They thought that Darwin was prescribing how life should be lived instead of just describing how life has changed. But, even in that case I claim those people are following an ideology, not a religion because they lack part 1, and don’t seem to do much part 3 either.

    So I think “ideology” is a better word for those fanatic patriots, environmentalists and so on. Sure some people might say “baseball is my religion” but they mean that in a figurative sense. Until they start praying to a shrine built to Babe Ruth that is. ;-)

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    NYCatheist,

    My definition of religion has three parts also.

    1. Belief in something according to the masses (not by one’s own conclusion)
    2. Mindset that A+B will always equal C, as subscribed to by the group of people
    3. Some sort of ritualistic behavior(s).

    I don’t believe that most religious people actually believe in a god. I think it’s more likely that they hope for a god. Therefore, number 1 from your list does not really compute with me.

    Having faith in a higher power/being/energy/whatever beyond ourselves in itself is not a religion, IMO. Religion requires more than one person.

    I suspect your version of Christianity also hits all three parts. 1 and 2 might be easy to see, but do you have a 3? If you’re going to church and praying I think so.

    Perhaps I have 1 and 2 according to your definition, but not according to mine. And I do attend church, but not as a ritual. I don’t go there to pray, nor do I go there to get approval from God or anyone else. I go there to see friends and to get encouragement. It’s not a ritual as much as it is a way to get recharged when I feel I need the interaction.

    Also, praying is not a ritual for me. I don’t believe in praying for results, and I don’t believe in praying for mercy or forgiveness. That’s just silly. I don’t close my eyes, clasp my hands, or get on my knees any more than what I would do during times of deep thought. I do, however, take deep breaths and try to get my mind to focus on what I believe to be the reality during times of confusion or crisis. When others want to pray, I oblige out of politeness and my respect for them, and I cannot consider that ritualistic on my part. Prayer for me is a time of cleaning out what clutters the mind and getting it back in focus.

    When I referred to the other things as religion, I meant they “CAN” become a religion for some people who are not willing to think for themselves. If one blindly believes a piece of information and starts following the ways of another just because someone else said so, it becomes a religion. They are not actually thinking things through for themselves.

    For example, let’s say someone reads in a forwarded email that “the experts say that drinking a glass of water mixed with vinegar every morning will give you more energy and prolong your life by ten years.” This person starts to drink the vinegar water every morning and believes that it’s making a difference. He tells everyone in his office about how great he feels and gets everyone else to do the same. Soon, everyone is religiously drinking the vinegar water every morning, but no one really questions it. Eventually, that glass of water becomes so important to them that without it, their days become meaningless.

    Does that sound like religion? It’s not the vinegar water. It’s the people who get together and start to worship it that make it a religion.

  • http://thatatheistguysblog.blogspot.com NYCatheist

    I’m not sure I understand your three parts completely:

    1. What if you did reach your beliefs on your own, and you happen to be in a mass of people who also reached their beliefs on their own. It seems like you can’t help believing what the masses do. And sometimes the masses are right. About 80% of Americans believe the Earth goes around the sun (sigh), and hey, that majority is right!

    2. The A + B = C idea is kind of vague to me. Doesn’t that overlap with your part 1?

    3. Well, we agree on that one!

    Originally you said things like Environmentalism and Darwinism could be religions. What are the ritualistic behaviors there?

    I don’t believe that most religious people actually believe in a god. I think it’s more likely that they hope for a god.

    You could be right, but I can’t read people’s minds so I take their word for it when 90 or so percent of Americans say they do believe in God.

    Having faith in a higher power/being/energy/whatever beyond ourselves in itself is not a religion

    Right, that would only hit part 1 of my definition. But very few people stop there. Most think they know the nature of this higher power and what it wants (part 2) and then do something about it regularly (part 3).

    Religion requires more than one person.

    Imagine there is one last worshiper of Zeus out there. He visits his temple regularly and prays to the Greek Gods. I would still say he is religious.

    Prayer for me is a time of cleaning out what clutters the mind and getting it back in focus.

    That sounds like a ritual to me. Atheists can do rituals too, such as if I meditate regularly, but without parts 1 and 2 of my definition that won’t be a religion.

    I still claim that if your definition of religion includes things like environmentalism or Darwinism then it isn’t a very useful definition. Of course you are free to define words as you want, but it may impede your ability to communicate with others. If you talk to a random person on the street and say “Bob is very religious” I don’t think any one will think “Gee, maybe Bob is a fanatic environmentalist”.

    The word “ideology” is perfectly suited to the task, and I think your real beef is with organized religion.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    1. What if you did reach your beliefs on your own, and you happen to be in a mass of people who also reached their beliefs on their own. It seems like you can’t help believing what the masses do. And sometimes the masses are right.

    Of course, that often happens, as we do think and act similarly as humans. However, there’s a difference between agreeing with the masses because of your own conclusions and blindly following the masses because you’re too lazy to think for yourself. Every thinking person has unique thoughts. Some of those thoughts overlap in many places with others. It becomes a problem when some people end up relying on others to think for them.

    2. The A + B = C idea is kind of vague to me. Doesn’t that overlap with your part 1?

    No, not necessarily. Part 1 merely points to the laziness of the person to think for themselves. Part 2 points to the belief that certain actions (i.e. prayer, sacrifice) will bring expected results, such as health and prosperity. Then Part 3 points to the actions of actually doing the rituals, judgments of imperfection, and the never-ending demands. They all go hand-in-hand. Maybe we’re basically saying the same thing.

    Originally you said things like Environmentalism and Darwinism could be religions. What are the ritualistic behaviors there?

    Many people recycle out of habit without knowing exactly how it will help the environment. Some people do it just because everyone else is. Or because they think it’s the “right thing to do.” That’s not thinking freely for themselves.

    “Darwin Day” is my case in point. There probably will be people who will start to make it a ritual and send out “Darwin Day” cards, have gatherings in honor of Darwin, hang the “Evolution” flag on their front lawn, and make ape-shaped cookies to pass out to neighbors. They will most likely be the people who don’t have much knowledge about Darwinism to begin with.

    You can make a religion out of anything. As a matter of fact, the way the American calendar revolves around holidays in itself is a religion, don’t you think?

    Imagine there is one last worshiper of Zeus out there. He visits his temple regularly and prays to the Greek Gods. I would still say he is religious.

    Yes, but the fact remains that it started with more than one person. It takes more than one to become a religion.

    That sounds like a ritual to me. Atheists can do rituals too, such as if I meditate regularly, but without parts 1 and 2 of my definition that won’t be a religion.

    I disagree. It’s not a ritual if I don’t do it on a regular basis. Brushing my teeth, eating breakfast, and even checking my emails can be rituals for me, but prayer definitely is not. I make a conscious effort not to let it become a ritual. Wait…. is the act of constantly trying not to let it become a ritual in itself a ritual? Now, you’re confusing me. :-(

    The word “ideology” is perfectly suited to the task, and I think your real beef is with organized religion.

    Yes, I suppose you’re right. But I believe that even if organized religion as how most people view religion disappeared from our society, there still will be many people who will not be able to think freely. There still will be people who go through life like zombies and just blindly follow others, never knowing what freedom truly feels like. That’s what I find sad.

  • http://thatatheistguysblog.blogspot.com NYCatheist

    OK, thanks for the clarification on your points 1 and 2. But I think there are Christians, for example, who don’t follow the herd, or expect A + B = C, but are obviously religious.

    Regarding your recycling and Darwin Day examples, I think those fall under the categories of “habits” and “customs”. We could get into a semantics debate on the overlap and differences (maybe draw some Venn diagrams too!) between habits, customs and rituals, but I think the typical person on the street has a general idea of what they mean. Gathering to pray, signing worship songs, meditation, burning incense at an alter, crossing yourself, etc etc are all rituals in my book. Brushing your teeth, jogging, and blogging are habits.

    You can make a religion out of anything.

    I agree to some extent, but not every custom, habit or ideology is a religion in my view. The word just loses all meaning. I don’t think Elvis worship is a religion yet, and any celebration of Darwin is still a million miles below that.

    As a matter of fact, the way the American calendar revolves around holidays in itself is a religion, don’t you think?

    As you might expect, I don’t. ;-)

    Yes, but the fact remains that it started with more than one person. It takes more than one to become a religion.

    I have to disagree there. Why can’t it start with one person? If I suddenly had a revelation from a god that no one has heard of, and I start praying and communing with this new god all by myself I think it is perfectly reasonable to call what I am doing religious.

    Sure we can call things like flossing to be my morning ritual, but I think that is speaking figuratively not literally. People also say, “He watches American Idol religiously”, but it’s just a metaphor! The guy isn’t literally praying to Simon.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    NYCatheist,

    Maybe I didn’t use the right examples. In my opinion, anything can become a (religious) ritual, when the person starts to feel fear, guilt, and/or shame associated with the acts. The fear of possible consequences, guilt of letting self or another down, and shame/embarrassment of coming up short.

    I’m not speaking of the way the word ‘religious’ is used in figurative ways. Words are just words. I’m speaking of the concept of something, a force, a mindset, an attitude… Whatever/whoever it may be… If that idea/thing/person/organization has power over us and prevents us from being a free agent, that is religion to me.

    And why would something have so much power over us? What is the fear?

    And if religion and God is such a ridiculous concept… if religion is as clearly defined and easy to describe as you have intimated, then why are we constantly discussing it and fascinated by it? Why are there still no answers after endless scientific and philosophical research and debates? And why is it that when we speak of God, religion always follows? Do they really have to go hand in hand? Is it possible to reject religion altogether and still have God?

    I believe with all my heart that there’s something that we’re just not getting. There’s something that is so much deeper than what meets the eye.

    Sometimes, I have no idea what I’m trying to say or how to say it. Therein lies my constant state of frustration.

  • http://thatatheistguysblog.blogspot.com NYCatheist

    Linda, I get what your saying so we’ll just have to agree to disagree on the semantics.

    I don’t think my definition is clear (there are always grey areas of course!), and it certainly doesn’t stop discussion. Example: gravity seems easy to define, yet the world’s smartest physicists are still trying to figure out how gravity works in the quantum world. Besides all definitions break down into circular references. (Are there words in dictionary definitions that aren’t in the dictionary? Is that why they put pictures sometimes? Haha)

    As for God spawning religion, my guess is that it’s human nature. One person tells another about their revelation, and soon enough a whole oppressive bureaucracy is born. That happens with other human affairs as well, not just religion.

    Is it possible to reject religion altogether and still have God?

    Sure, but you can’t tell anyone about it! ;-)


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