Nicholas Kristof Doesn’t Get Atheists

In yesterday’s New York Times, Nicholas Kristof tried to argue that atheists ought to have more respect for religious beliefs. He cites Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind:

… Haidt, an atheist since his teens, argues that scientists often misunderstand religion because they home in on individuals rather than on the way faith can bind a community.

Haidt cites research showing that a fear of God may make a society more ethical and harmonious. For example, one study found that people were less likely to cheat if they were first given a puzzle that prompted thoughts of God.

Another study cited by Haidt found that of 200 communes founded in the 19th century, only 6 percent of the secular communes survived two decades, compared with 39 percent of the religious ones. Those that survived longest were those that demanded sacrifices of members, like fasting, daily prayer, abstaining from alcohol or tobacco, or adopting new forms of clothing or hairstyle.

“The very ritual practices that the New Atheists dismiss as costly, inefficient and irrational turn out to be a solution to one of the hardest problems humans face: cooperation without kinship,” Haidt writes.

No one ever argued religion wasn’t powerful. Hell, if you tell kids that Santa knows whether they’re being naughty or nice, they’ll act better, too. But the “New Atheists” are right that religion is harmful and irrational. More importantly, religious beliefs are untrue. There’s no credible evidence Jesus rose from the dead, people go to heaven and hell, that your prayers get answered, or that God talks to you.

Religion may give you hope, but that hope rests on you accepting a lie. I, and many other atheists, don’t want to live that way.

I loved Geoff Berg‘s response at Partisan Gridlock:

Nobody disputes that religion, which is an organizing principle and a political philosophy, can unify people, and occasionally to the greater good. Every major religion can point to a charitable arm that passes out food, builds hospitals, and clothes the poor.

Religion also unifies the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the belief that burying adulterers to their necks and stoning them to death will spare the rest of society god’s wrath. It unifies members of al-Qaeda in the belief that flying planes into buildings is the execution of god’s will. It unifies leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army in the belief that forcing children to mutilate and murder members of their own families is a divinely ordained mission. Religious belief unifies Jewish fundamentalists in the belief that evicting families from their homes in the West Bank and taking their land is justified because the territory was deeded to them in perpetuity by the almighty.

Is it really a scientific revelation that fear forces people to act in accordance with what they believe to be the wishes of an omnipotent, jealous, and vengeful being who condemns the non-compliant to everlasting torment if they refuse (as described by his helpful earthly proxies, of course)?

Sounds a lot like a dictatorship, which as Kim Jong Un and his late father and grandfather can attest, is a great way to keep people in line.

For what it’s worth, atheist communities have grown dramatically in the past few years. Members of those groups can tell you how great it is to be part of a like-minded community, whether it’s at a college campus ever week or at a once-a-month discussion at a coffee shop.

Religion doesn’t have a monopoly on ethics, kindness, or community.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://chaoskeptic.blogspot.com Rev. Ouabache

    Another study cited by Haidt found that of 200 communes founded in the 19th century, only 6 percent of the secular communes survived two decades, compared with 39 percent of the religious ones.

    Is he really trumpeting the fact that cults last longer than secular organizations as a reason that religion is good? Something tells me that won’t be a winning strategy.

    • Anonymous

      I suspect the durability of some religious communes may have been because they received outside support, from sympathetic churches or families, which secular communes didn’t have.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      What happened to the people after the commune ‘failed’?  Do we want community structures to survive, or do we want people to thrive?  If a structure that doesn’t serve the people disbands in favor of something that works better, while another stays in place, which is the one we should count as the success?

      • Tom

        Im confused, but I think when you refer to “community structures” you’re not meaning buildings or physical things, but the condition of order.  Order is hard to achieve, but has tremendous benefits for a group.  Free riders can be punished and collective effort makes quality of life better.  Yet if order doesn’t produce results that matter (like quality of life) that version of order will not make it when in competition with other groups (group selection).

        Success is hard to define, but I think it’s easier to define failure.  Death of the entire group, or being out-competed by  another group can be more easily classified as failure.

        • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

          Basically what I’m trying to say is that it sounds like something evolving could be counted as ‘failure’ and stagnating as ‘success’.

          e.g. an abusive marriage that ends in divorce is a ‘failure’ but one that stays together (due to religious conviction) is a ‘success’.

    • Tom


      Is he really trumpeting the fact that cults last longer than secular organizations as a reason that religion is good? Something tells me that won’t be a winning strategy.”

      No.  He’s simply stating a case study that demonstrated where a religious approach was effective at developing group cohesion in a situation where without it the communities would likely have failed.  But there are secular communities that survived too, and they are deserving of mention!

      This does not mean that secular groups can’t survive, it’s just they havn’t really demonstrated it yet.  Heck, secular communities are a very recent development in history, only now do we have truly secular societies (Norway, Finland etc.)

      Kristof is the one who is hoping you see Haidt citing this study as evidence he believes religious groups are better than secular.

      • Young Adam7

        No – Kristof, as the blog author states even – is hoping for atheists to have more respect for religious beliefs.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Leithiser/593361421 Chris Leithiser

      The Heaven’s Gate and People’s Temple  groups lasted the rest of their lives.

  • FSq

    Religious followers demonstrate, time and time again, an absence of ethics and morality.

    Atheists have the moral upper hand.

    When was the last time you read about an atheist mother drowning her kids because god told her to do it?

    • http://twitter.com/NontheistCentra Nontheist Central

      Can’t think of any really, but I CAN cite a recent believer who said that god told her to eat her baby…so she did

  • http://twitter.com/TychaBrahe TychaBrahe

    If belief in deities makes people behave better toward each other, then why are so many televangelists fleecing their flocks?  Why are so many religious people so divisive.  And why is Japan, where most people who have religion believe in one without deities so much more cohesive than the US, which is so heavily involved with Abrahamic religions?

    • Tom

      “If belief in deities makes people behave better toward each other, ”
      It doesn’t.  The study states that belonging to a group (not believing the same thing) causes in-group cohesion, which is advantageous in competition vs. other groups (think sports!).  Loyalty, in other words.

      That explains why the religious can be so divisive, as they can be so good towards members of their group while being so nasty to others outside.  And how Japan has such strong cohesion without a diety.

      Cohesion itself doesn’t necessarily make the world better (faith), but it can be a force for tremendous progress (like this secular awakening I’m awaiting here in my lifetime, so STOP BEING CATS, WE HUMANS ARE BEES!)

  • Fuzz

    I was quite disappointed to see Kristof (an otherwise intelligent journalist) fall into the usual trap of accepting the “benefits” of religion/faith without challenging or questioning them, e.g. the idea that religion drives morality. That column got a lot of comments (both on NYT and on Nick’s Facebook post) pointing out the fallacies of accepting such religious claims without question.

    • Nordog

       Yeah, it seems the easiest thing to see, imo, is that religion doesn’t necessarily make one behave well, and the lack of religion doesn’t necessarily make one behave poorly.

      • Tom

        It goes both ways, atheism doesn’t necessarily make one behave well, and the lack of atheism doesn’t necessarily make one behave poorly.  Using qualifiers like “necessarily” are absolutely crucial in being accurate with these types of statements.  There are exceptions to all sorts of perceived norms, like all republicans are not racists, yet some are, and all democrats are not abusing the welfare system, yet some are too.

        More important things in determining good behavior are values, such as humanistic values vs. fascist values

        • Demonhype

           Except atheism is not claimed to be a source of morality, much less THE source of ALL morality, just the lack of belief in gods and, often, the dogmas and doctrines associated with those gods.  It has often been claimed that not adhering to god  belief and the accompanying baggage CAN lead to better behavior (since it frees a person to analyze the situation and make a decision rather than obey the demands of another), but I haven’t heard anyone claim that it necessarily DOES.  Very much the opposite, in fact, especially with the recent arguments  in the atheist community regarding sexism and racism.  In fact, that claim of better behavior or greater morality has less to do with specific atheism and more to do with making decisions based on reason and logic–something it is commonly acknowledged does not magically happen with an adherence to atheism, and can be practiced by those with religious beliefs (to varying degrees in varying circumstances, of course, depending on those beliefs and on the individual.)

          Whereas religion is commonly cited as the sole source of moral behavior without which a person cannot hope to be anything better than a depraved raping baby-eating serial killer,  despite repeated demonstrations that it is not.  Apples and oranges.

  • Anonymous

    I found Kristof’s piece unsettling when I read it yesterday…then I remembered that he is Catholic.  He has an axe to bear in this fight as well.  If he can show that some atheists think religion is okay, perhaps he can reconcile things in his own head, or is attempting to do so in others.  I did find it interesting to note that the three people he cites are often criticized for speaking well for all “atheists” particularly and recently de Botton.  It would seem that fact escaped Kristof.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Adam-Patrick/100000027906887 Adam Patrick


    the way faith can bind a community.”

    Yeah, as long as you share the same faith as everyone else.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Leithiser/593361421 Chris Leithiser

      Or not.  Depends on who’s getting bound, and whether there’s a safeword.

    • Anonymous

      Yeah, as long as you share the same faith as everyone else.

      BINGO.

      Religion will never be an ultimate ‘unifier’ of mankind because that would entail everyone believing the same thing.

      Unless/until that happens, it will continue to be a divisive force.

  • Tom

    From *The Righteous Mind* (Jonathan Haidt):

    “The only thing that was reliably and powerfully associated with the moral benefits of religion was *how enmeshed people were in relationships with their co-religionists.*  It’s friendships and group activities, carried out within a moral matrix that emphasizes selflessness.  That’s what brings out the best in people.
         Putnam and Campbell reject the New Atheist emphasis on belief and reach conclusion straight out of (Emile) Durkheim: “It is religious belongingness that matters for neighborliness, not religious believing.”

    There are people who take Haidt’s writings and use it as evidence for why their side of the fight is right, when he’s really writing it takes both sides at their specific “bests” to make the right choices/policies/etc.

    Further: “Anything that binds people together into a moral matrix that glorifies the in-group while at the same time demonizing another group can lead to moralistic killing, and many religions are well suited to the task”

    “Our ability to believe in supernatural agents may well have begun as an accidental by-product of a hypersensitive agency detection device, but once early humans began believing in such agents, the groups that used them to construct moral communities were the ones that lasted and prospered.  Like those nineteenth-century religious communes (Mormons), they used their gods to elicit sacrifice and commitment from members.  Like those subjects in the cheating studies and trust games(What is the relationship between religion and trust? Tan and Vogel 2008), their gods helped them to suppress cheating and increase trustworthiness.  Only groups that can elicit commitment and suppress free riding can grow.”

    Of course I don’t believe religion is necessary any longer now that we (in this particularly community) are educated enough as individuals to understand that cheating and free ridership is detrimental to the group which includes ourselves.  Religion’s success at fostering cooperation is as undeniable as its’ successes in destroying the very progress it helped create.

  • Spanish Inquisitor

    It still all boils down to attempting to rationalize a belief in something that is patently not true, in order to continue the belief so that you can go to heaven, live forever and get to see long dead loved ones again.

    I sort of touched on this in a recent blog post. 

    Spanish Inquisitor

    • Nordog

       Patently not true?  Really?  How about for confidence’s sake you prove that there is no God.

      • chicago dyke, venomous lesbian

        you obviously don’t know where you are. let’s start with, “you can’t prove a negative assertion.” the burden’s on believers, not the other way around. i know there are no polka dotted hippos on the moon. if you think other wise, bring the proof. 

        • Nordog

          But the claim is religious belief is patently untrue.  That’s quite a universal statement, so it necessarily includes the claim that belief in God is untrue, i.e.  it is patently untrue that God exists.

          How can that which cannot be proven be so patently so?

          • Anonymous

            Well, Junior Pharisee, if your *really* want to split hairs (and you always do, since fatuous and futile speculation is your last refuge), one can argue that it’s not “patently” true that grass is green, the sky is blue and a nitrogen/oxygen mix is useful for sustaining human life. Hume and all that, you know,
            But after a while there’s no point remaining in such mental masturbation (for that’s what it becomes). It gets nothing accomplished, beyond momentarily saving a small amount of face.
            Dozens, if not hundreds, of religions have had all of human history to provide some evidence for the existence of God/a god/gods. Despite constant boastful claims, you’ve always come up short, umtimately offering nothing better than “I believe because of an internal feeling and subjective interpretations.”
            It’s time to call this one over. Mighty Casey has struck out, again and again. You can argue that perhaps the ball, in defiance of all experience, will lift itself out of the catcher’s mitt and fly over the centerfield wall, but … only your own emotional investment prompts that. Not any actual evidence.

            • 59 Norris

               You have an inordinate attraction for using “pharisee” that is exceeded only by the dearth of evidence for my being one.

              But you wouldn’t let that stop you from rambling on, would you.

              (Do rhetorical questions take question marks?)

              • Spanish Inquisitor

                 No offense, but you have an inordinate attraction to picking apart irrelevancies, while ignoring the proffered argument.

                No one really cares whether you are or are not an actual pharisee.

                • Nordog

                  That someone (many actually) speak of not being able to prove a negative while making categorical statements dependent upon having proven an negative is not an irrelevancy.

              • Anonymous

                You have an inordinate attraction for using the word “evidence” without either understanding it or providing any.

                • Nordog

                  You ARE the evidence.

                • Anonymous

                  Now that was a particularly speedy descent into incoherence.

                • Edmond

                  The existence of something is only proof of the existence of THAT THING.  Like, the universe.  The existence of the universe only proves the existence of the universe.  Its existence (or mine, or yours) does NOT automatically provide a jumping-off point for moving directly into “and a god did it!”.  There’s an entire line of reasoning that’s missing, BEFORE you can make that connection.

                  The universe did not come with a gigantic tag hanging from it which reads “Made in Heaven”.  My body is not stamped with “Inspected by Angel #5704″.  You can’t simply ASSUME that “the supernatural” is where everything comes from.

                  Everything in our world operates under natural laws.  This gives us every reason to expect that our universe does, too, and that its origin follows natural laws as well.  Before we can jump to conclusions about supernatural origins, we need evidence of THAT.  Physical existence doesn’t simply GIVE us supernatural cause.  Physical existence suggests physical cause.  You STILL need evidence OF the supernatural, in order to POSIT the supernatural.  Just because the physical exists, it doesn’t automatically follow that the supernatural exists, too.  That’s too big a jump.

                • Nordog

                   Edmond, be that as it may, my comment about evidence was not in regard to any of that of which you write.  Rather it was in reference to Lucilius’ behavior.

                • Edmond

                  My mistake, it looked like you were saying that his own existence was evidence that god created him.  These threads can be difficult to follow, especially when they grow so narrow.

                • Nordog

                   Agreed.

          • Spanish Inquisitor

             You make a valid point, albeit semantic, as noted. In the process you did a nice job deflecting discussion from my main point which was that the belief in an unsupportable god is mere rationalization of the desire to live forever, in total bliss, after you die.

            That is patently obvious, to me.

            • Nordog

              What you call a semantic note I call a logical consistency.

              To your main point however, id est, “the belief in an unsupportable god is mere rationalization of the desire to live forever, in total bliss, after you die” let me say this.
              ..
              If you had qualified the statment with “many”, or even “most”, I would have no problem with it.

              But categorically speaking it is, to borrow a word, unsupportable.  Many (most?) come to faith for other reasons that have nothing at all to do with eternal life desires, total bliss, etc.

              I for one find the notion of death as an eternal sleep particularly appealing, but I seek truth on its own terms, not on the basis of whether I find it pleasing.  Whether I am right or wrong regarding that which I hold by faith, it is a fact that my having arrived at it had nothing to do with what you describe.

              Perhaps my observation in this regard is indeed a semantic, or rhetorical, complaint and you in fact did not mean to include everyone who believes in God in category you described.

              • 59 Norris

                “I for one find the notion of death as an eternal sleep particularly appealing, but I seek truth on its own terms, not on the basis of whether I find it pleasing. ”

                What I meant here was that the idea of choosing Heaven over simply no longer being as a type of eternal sleep is not something I am inclined to do.  I really like to sleep.  Again, I didn’t choose to beleive in God so that I could go to Heaven.  Back in the day when I didn’t believe in God, I didn’t believe in Heaven either.

      • NewEnglandBob

        The burden of proof is on those who have belief with no evidence. Otherwise one has to prove Apollo, Thor, Mohammed, FSM, etc. do not exist.

        • Nordog

          Well, yes, of course.  But yours is a separate point isn’t it.  It really doesn’t address the problematic nature of claiming something to be both patently obvious yet unprovable.

        • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

          Although I don’t agree with Nordog theologically, I do agree in this case semantically.  To say God is ‘patently’ not true is a gnostic atheist stance, and I think logically inconsistent.

          I think it’s patently true that the vast majority of people believe in some kind of gods, therefor it is not patently true that no gods exist, or else there would be more atheists.  It’s obvious to ‘us’ that no gods exist, but for whatever reason, it’s not that obvious to most people.

          • Nordog

             Thanks Rich, but watch out.  You risk becoming a Junior Pharisee (whatever that means).

            “It’s obvious to ‘us’ that no gods exist, but for whatever reason, it’s not that obvious to most people.”

            Exactly.  Likewise, it is obvious to most people that God exists, it’s not that obvious to some people.

            My only real objection in this whole discussion is the hubris often found here in which the claim of “no-god(s)” is presented as if it were demonstrably so, and indeed had at some point been demonstrated.

            It is a case in which the famous skepticism found in abundance among atheists had somehow completely evaporated on this particular point.

            In its stead is often found the contradictory claims that one cannot prove a negative but it is a fact that there is no god or gods.

            • Coyotenose

              We aren’t obligated to qualify all our statements on this matter. The evidence that no specific god of any religion exists is overwhelming, and we generally aren’t speaking to those ignorant of how that is so. It is understood in context that we are not actually speaking in absolutes.

              We also don’t usually explain while mentioning that dragons aren’t real that “we don’t know that for sure”. If a theist comes back with a “Nuh uh, you can’t disprove God!” THEN we invest some time in it.

          • Anonymous

            Although I don’t agree with Nordog theologically, I do agree in this case semantically.

            Ditto.

            There’s no need for any atheist to make assertions, like “there is no god” or “it’s obvious no god exists”…….

            Something that hasn’t been proven doesn’t need to be disproven.  It’s as simple as that ~ so why make assertions about the non-existence of god(s) when a) there’s no need to, and b) you can’t support it?

            Keep the burden of proof where it already is.

          • Coyotenose

             He wasn’t making an argument from semantics, but an assertion of truth phrased as a question.

            • Coyotenose

               Scratch that comment, my mistake.

      • Spanish Inquisitor

          Well, you got me on the semantics. Tried to type this while rushing to get to an appointment.

        But, considering that there’s no evidence, and frankly it fairly
        doubtful that there will ever be any evidence, for the existence of god,
        it’s about as patently untrue as one can get without absolute
        certainty. Far more untrue than many other things we take as a given.

        Like teapots orbiting around the sun. At least we know that teapots exist. ;)

        • Tom

          Thank you for admitting your semantic error.  This was getting ugly.

          • Spanish Inquisitor

             Yes. Always good to admit when I’m wrong. It’s good for the sou…er… character.

  • NewEnglandBob

    Telling someone to do what I want them to do or I will blow their head off might also be effective in modifying behavior, but it is still unethical just like religions that try to scare people into observing their dogmatic practices.

  • Troy Truchon

    What I don’t get is that if Christians are so much more charitable and community focused than why, in the developed world, are they always fighting for government funds, and special privileges to keep their communities under control? Its very easy to be charitable when you’re giving away someone else’s money. 

  • Kevin

    “Haidt cites research showing that a fear
    of God may make a society more ethical and harmonious. For example, one
    study found that people were less likely to cheat if they were first
    given a puzzle that prompted thoughts of God.”

    If I recall correctly, the amount of cheating was independent of the religiosity of the participants.  They asked them to recite the ten commandments, those who knew more were no more ethical than those who knew none.  If this says anything, it says that atheists are just as ethical as theists, not the other way around.  They should actually read the experiment before using it to prop up their agenda.

    Also, the same benefit was achieved by asking the participants to sign a fraudulent honor code
    (one made up for the purpose of the study).  Based on this, there is no
    reason to believe that a society that fears God would be more ethical
    than one who doesn’t.  We would just need a sign that says “Be nice” to achieve the same effect.  The take home lesson should be that having someone think about ethics makes them more ethical immediately thereafter, not that we need more religion.

  • Scarlett

    Yes, religon unifies, in good and bad ways, and yes, that is no proof as to wether or not it is true.
    But, as a protestant christian (who read the bible in a liberal way, if you can say so…) I’d like to point out some things:
    1 Fundamentalist/extremists are misguided and take their point of view too far, regardless of wether they ar religous or not
    2 Unproven theories, wether they be religous or scientifical are just that, unproven, that does not make them false by default. For example, big bang & evolution being the way we came to be doesn’t exclude a divinity to make the pea explode (however unlikely from a scientifical poin of view)
    3 A lot of religous folks are perfectly happy with letting others choose what to believe in (although I know that, sadly, a majority seems not to be), so please, when referring to religous views against atheism, please do not attribute those to the whole community

    Lastly, I just want to point out that here in Sweden, where I live, it seems (to me) noncontroversial wether one has a faith or not (but extremist views are frowned upon), and I hope that will be the case for you as well.

    Oh, and one more thing, I am bisexual, and that is ok for my church, even though some individuals seem not so suppporting, but not every apple in the tree can be good, right?
    What I want to say with this is that not all churches are dogmaticly discriminative (if you could say it that way), even though I know far to well that sadly a lot of religous “branches” are only “for the good few” (as they see it)

    So, keep up the good works on policing the bad view towards “our next”, but please stop equating unproven with untrue!

  • chicago dyke, venomous lesbian

    if i were to list all the examples of religious leaders involved in crimes, this year alone, it would take the rest of this day just to shorthand link them. contrast this to atheist examples. 

    i won’t type “crickets,” but it’s pretty clear to me that when it comes to cheating, it is very hard to top the religious example. theft, child rape, murder, terrorism…. come on believers. fess up to the fact that a lot of crimes are committed in the name of your gawd(s). 

    • Scarlett

      Yupp, there are a lot of crimes commited by people “in the name of *insert diety*”.

      But if the priest of my church does something wrong, does that make me a bad person? Or does it make the religon bad by default?

      A pedophile is a pedophile regardless of wether that person is religous or not, right.
      But ofcourse, if that person is in a powerfull seat, it makes it worse, because that person are in a position that can be taken advantage of, in a bad way, but it is equally bad if the person is a priest or a politician…
      But I guess that it is more common for clergymen to be revealed as a pedophile that it is for politicians…

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Leithiser/593361421 Chris Leithiser

        It makes the religion bad by default if they cover for the priest.

        • Scarlett

          Good point!

  • Mark Panzarino

    Sometimes, Hemant, you get it so fucking royally wrong, I want to stuff a sock in your mouth.

    • Coyotenose

       Is there an actual argument you’d like to use, or do you just “know” he’s wrong with that special Know Sense that God gave you?

      Hmm. That might actually be the worst superpower I’ve ever heard of outside of “Super Slo-Mo Running”.

      • Mark Panzarino

        I’m not a theist, you moron.  Do a search of my name on Hemant’s blog and you’d find that out.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      What’d I do?

      • Mark Panzarino

        Well, to start with, you’re criticizing Kristof for reporting on Haidt’s findings of a research study.   Wanna let that fact sink in for a minute?

  • Coyotenose

    First, Kristof seems to be blind to the fact that he’s describing overtly cultish behavior in a positive light.

    Second, he and Haidt seem to be misusing that list of communities. The new religious communities would have almost all been religious groups branching off or heading for new pastures. Of course they’re tightly knit. They’re families that already grew up together. That also means that what he describes as “sacrifices” were only norms transplanted to the new location. To compare, would it be a “sacrifice” to require Hemant to not eat meat in order to move into a much larger house for the same payments? (FYI to new readers: He’s a vegetarian.)

    I’ll bet real money that most of the “new secular communities” were formed for profit, e.g. to take advantage of a natural resource. But I don’t know the study, so I could be wrong.

    And were there really only 200 communes formed in the U.S. in the 19th century, with all that open space? That sounds a little low, which suggests possible cherry-picking. But again, I could be wrong, and am fine with that.

    • Coyotenose

       Not sure where those useless HTML marks came from. Odd.

    • Tom

      “Haidt found that *of 200 communes founded in the 19th century*…”
      Does not purport that only 200 communes existed, he is stating his sample size.  Your criticism is really unfair, but am I wasting my time as you’re “fine with that”?

      The abstract of the study should clarify the motives of the researchers.  Everyone seems verrrry suspicious of the cited research at the moment, but it’s all available to read!!  Decide for yourself, don’t let Kristof’s misuse of these studies turn you off: http://www.anth.uconn.edu/faculty/sosis/publications/SosiscommunesCCR2000.pdf

      • Coyotenose

         I’m very sorry that your entire argument relies on ignoring the phrase “cherry-picking”. If significantly more than 200 communities existed and are still known of today, then they DID cherry-pick. This isn’t a goddamn poll.

        I’m also sorry that your reading comprehension is such that you’re unable to grasp that “I’m fine with that” =/= “I don’t want to know better”. Please try harder so I don’t have to waste my time explaining these things.

        • Tom

          I was initially interested in reading your post, but I didn’t get past your first sentence.  Your sarcasm is really a turn off.  It doesn’t seem like you are really interested from hearing from me anyways.

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    The suggestion that any beliefs are unarguably deserving of respect is a fallacy of the highest order. However, in reading the referenced article, I don’t see any indication that Kristof is arguing “that atheists ought to have more respect for religious beliefs”, as Hemant states. What Kristoff says is that some atheists have taken a more respectful position, or have admitted some sort of admiration for certain aspects of religion, and he considers that to have had positive effects. There are many opinions stated that either atheists or theists might disagree with, but they are properly stated as opinions.

    I read the article as a reasonably well stated argument for why atheists should consider respecting some aspects of religion, not anything telling atheists what they “ought” to do. I’m not convinced that Kristof doesn’t understand atheists.

  • Curt Cameron

    I don’t know what 19th century communities Haidt cited, but it made me think of the German freethinkers who settled in central Texas in the mid-19th century. These towns had libraries but no churches, and public discussions of philosophy.

    It turns out they didn’t quite survive two decades, because the US Civil War came along, and without a religious dogma, the freethinkers were of course opposed to slavery, and were therefore killed or driven into hiding by the “righteous” religious Texans.

    • Tom

      Interesting, a group vs. group situation where a secular people were “outcompeted” by the religious.  Numbers were probably heavily in the religious’ favor, and we could stop there and say the secular community had no chance.  Yet, when religious groups in England were on the brink of destruction (Puritans.  I don’t blame then for wanting them out!), they utilized their strong coherence to execute an escape to the New World, where they continued to survive (despite TERRIBLE living conditions).

      Could these German freethinkers have had a better outcome if they “herded the cats” of their community and utilized their coherence to make their own escape?

    • Evidential Truth

      This is false. I live in Central Texas and have German heritage from here and know the immigration stories to here. They were escaping atheistic, Marxist world views that were ever growing. They built church buildings here that reminded them of home. I would like to see more evidence that atheists have a moral upper hand, because relativism causes atheists to need not discuss morals, because they accept everyone’s morals as opinion.

      • Demonhype

         This is false.  Get your facts straight.  Atheists do have plenty of reason to discuss morals (and frequently do) and do not accept everyone’s morals as opinion.  Atheists possibly have more reason than theists to discuss morals, as they do not  believe morals or ethics are bestowed on humanity from some supernatural source whose word is law that must never be questioned nor denied.  This does not mean that atheists have no morals or have no basis for morality or have no idea what morals should be based on.

        And I can’t remember when I’ve heard an atheist claim that “everyone’s opinions are equally valid”, except perhaps out of the mouth of faitheist accommodationists who are always eager to pretend to justify or ignore the ugly side of religion so they can get a crumb thrown to them by the theists.  They are not commonly well-regarded by anyone but the theists themselves.

      • Coyotenose

        The Bible’s “Because God Said So” is the ultimate in subjective morality. Thanks for playing, here’s your blender.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JBAMPHNDKNSKDNVTY3VRYGWMYQ Jack

    “…Those that survived longest were those that demanded sacrifices of members…”

    Am I the only one seeing the creepy similarity?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lottery

  • Anonymous

    Aside from the variable  effects of faith, I think the notion that what we are talking about is “faith” is itself questionable. Religious themes are most effective in promoting community cohesion under circumstances when their truth remains unquestioned. The themes of faith emerge in the spotlight when that becomes less and less possible. So, the question for most modern nations is not whether or not it would be better if we all believed; it is whether or not the deeply compromised beliefs should still dominate public life.

  • Anonymous

    I wonder if Kristof was ever a church president or served as board member or held any other position. Really participating in the workings of a church is much different then sitting in a pew and throwing a few bucks in the basket. Running a church is just like any other organization. Politics, battles, hard feelings, nutty member requests etc, will sour your opinion of how great these so called caring organizations are.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Margaret-Whitestone/100001682409207 Margaret Whitestone

    “Haidt cites research showing that a fear of God may make a society more ethical and harmonious.”And belief in Santa can cause children to behave better.  Does that mean we should encourage belief in mythical figures to control people? 

  • CG

    The “New Atheists” are wrong that religion is harmful and irrational. More importantly, atheist beliefs are untrue. There’s no credible evidence that faith is bad, that Jesus is a lie, or that your prayers go unanswered.

    Atheism may give you something to identify with, but that false comfort rests on you accepting a lie. I, and many other religious people, don’t want to live that way.

    • Curt Cameron

      This is a joke, right? It’s just too perfectly ironic to actually be sincere.

      • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

        No.  About 5 minutes of digging reveal it to be either true, or very very deep Poe.

    • Anonymous-Sam

      There’s plenty of credible evidence proving that prayers go unanswered. Pray for an amputee to be healed. Observe the results.

  • http://www.facebook.com/roccim Marlo Rocci

    “A celestial North Korea”.  Hitch had it right.  we can do without Kim Jung Yaweh.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RPPWVLMFKJ7QCHLEVQAR5GSL5M momma J

    Can you prove that you are right? Can you prove that Christianity is not true or that God does NOT exist? Didn’t think so. 

    Just because this is what you think, or because He does not conform to how you think God should look/act like does not disprove His existence. 

    I guess sooner or later we will both know. For me, I’d rather find out I was wrong. If I’m wrong I’m only out the 80 years or so that I lived on the earth, which actually my life following religion has been quite fantastic! If you are wrong though then what you are risking is eternal punishment…which does not sound fantastic at all to me. Man, I wouldn’t play around with that if I were you!

    • Piet Puk

       Tired old non-argument. Please try better.

    • Coyotenose

       I’m sorry, but this is simply ignorant to the point of stupidity. Your Pascal’s Wager was refuted CENTURIES ago, because it never made any sense. Why are Creationists always so far behind?

      Can you prove that Zeus is not true? Didn’t think so. Therefore I win.

      See how that works?

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      If you’re right you get to sing his praises!  Forever! Yipeee…?

      As Hitchens said, at least you can leave North Korea by dying.  There’s no escape from Heaven.

    • Gary

       momma J, you might want to start following other religions too so you have all your bases covered.  If you’re wrong about Christianity, it might mean Islam is right.  Sounds risky.  Also, you might want to start thinking about how honest you are being with yourself if your best argument for believing in something is that you are afraid of the consequences of not believing it.  Maybe you don’t really believe it.  If you are right, what if your God sees through that insincerity and punishes you for it?  And what if your God rewards the sincere, no matter what they believe?

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/FDGYHBEWVNGUG763L5X4TON3JQ Nazani14

    “The very ritual practices that the New Atheists dismiss as
    costly, inefficient and irrational turn out to be a solution to one of
    the hardest problems humans face: cooperation without kinship,”Ritual practices don’t have to be irrational, etc.  Annual riverbank cleanups and science fairs, anyone?

  • SR

    My good atheist friends, just because we humans understand how the world works, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a greater reality. Richard Dawkins himself once said life could have come from an alien planet. However awkward it may seem, looks like he too have realized that life can only be bought or be derived from an already ‘living’ source. Because no chemical reaction however miraculous it is cannot sprout life into non-living. Its reasonable to assume the difference between the living and non-living is black and white. From an objective stand point, what difference does it make from believing God created life or aliens made sperm war on earth? The answer is, you nor I do not know! To be an agnostic theist or theist  is reasonable than mindlessly stating God is untrue.

    My only concern if atheism took over is that, MAJORITY could win over what is RIGHT! Because what is right (or wrong) doesn’t make sense to science. You can fairly understand how you are born and the process to it but science cannot tell you why you are here and your purpose i.e. science cannot make out a ‘sense’ for you being born, setting virtually no moral or ethical limits. And hence, sex within one’s own family, murder, lies, cheating etc can be made  credible with science itself  as its sole argument of life cycle is to ‘survive’ & ‘replicate’, which does NOT make SENSE.

    Can somebody explain why this point of view is not correct? I’d appreciate.

    • Edmond

      Most atheists agree with you that we don’t know if there’s a god. I don’t know if there is. You don’t know. And your pastor doesn’t know, either. The pope doesn’t know. NO ONE knows. And atheists believe that the people who insist that their scripture is true should admit that they don’t actually know, either. There COULD BE some “greater reality”, but we don’t yet have any evidence of one, so there isn’t any reason to believe in one, or to tell stories about one, or to give all your money to men who claim to know. They don’t.

      We don’t state this “mindlessly”. We inspect the claims of religion closely. But we demand some evidence for the remarkable claims of religion. There are so many religions in the world. Are they all true? Only some? Which ones? How can we tell? How can we find out? These are good questions.

      Atheists don’t want to “take over”. We support freedom of religion in everyone’s personal lives. But when it comes to government, we want everything to remain SECULAR, which just means “religion-neutral”. The parts of our society that are supposed to be equally available to everyone should NOT favor any religion. It’s supposed to be like that ANYWAY, but it’s not always respected. If it seems like we are trying to take over, we are just trying to keep things fair for people who might have a different religion from you, or no religion at all.

      Science may not tell us why we are here, but neither does religion, really. What does religion tell us? That we are here to glorify god? Why? Does his ego need that? And should the people who don’t be burned for all eternity? Why? If he can see the future, couldn’t he see that some would be atheists? Wouldn’t it better to just not create them, rather than create them to be burned for all eternity? Does this make much sense? Doesn’t it seem kind of terrible and immoral? Should we believe things that don’t make sense, seem immoral, and have no evidence at all?

      We can tell what is immoral by living in a cooperative society. Some things hurt society, because they hurt others. Like your list of “sex within one’s own family, murder, lies, cheating etc”. These things have terrible consequences, so we understand why they should be avoided. We don’t need a god to tell us why. We can find out by living in a society. It takes time, but people figure it out. It isn’t a miracle. It’s progress and development.These things have terrible consequences, so we understand why they should be avoided. We don’t need a god to tell us why. We can find out by living in a society. It takes time, but people figure it out. It isn’t a miracle. It’s progress and development.

      Which is how life developed from non-life. Life IS a chemical reaction, all the time. Every heartbeat, every firing synapse, every dividing cell, is chemistry at work. It’s not so unbelievable that life could develop from chemicals. We are all made of carbon, hydrogen, calcium, etc. Those are just chemicals. That’s what life is.

      You don’t need gods for any of that. It’s all just nature. Sure, there COULD be a god of some kind behind it all, but no one truly has any evidence of one. If they say they do, they’re lying to you. Atheists can’t say that no gods exist. They just don’t believe anybody else’s stories yet either, until they can provide some evidence.


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