A reasonable blog on atheism, religion, science and skepticism
Follow Patheos Atheist:
Bertrand Russell wouldn’t:
People die for their beliefs all the time, many of whom never intend to and wouldn’t if they felt they had a choice.
I think all evangelicals, including myself when I was one, used to torture themselves by asking the question, “would I deny my Jesus if faced with lions in the Colosseum like the early Christians, or like the believers in communist countries?” And I was always afraid I would be one of those cowards who would deny Jesus in a moment of crisis (and lose my salvation?).
Of course, I’ve since learned that few early Roman believers in the actually had to make that choice, and many believers did deny being Christians when pressed. And maybe I would have de-converted much earlier in my life had I seen this quote from Bertrand Russel!
There might be a few things I am willing to die for… but, I’m not sure my religious beliefs would be among them.
Indeed. A few of my beliefs (I guess you could call them core moral beliefs) I might die for. I might even kill for. My metaphysical opinions are not among them by a long shot; they are peripheral, and not worth inflicting or suffering any pain or injury to maintain. I do also have to agree with Mr. Mock below in that “dying for one’s beliefs” in a general sense is a rather grandiose and vague proposition, especially given the distance from such a circumstance when such sentiments are normally uttered. Such circumstances test the limits of any human moral experience, and have to be taken on a case-by-case basis as a consequence.
I hate to say it, but I’ve reached a point in my life where the phrase “die for your beliefs” sounds awfully vague and grandiose. Give me a specific situation, and I’ll tell you whether I’d willingly sacrifice my life under those circumstances; if you can’t be arsed to tell me exactly what sort of thing of you have in mind, then I have better directions in which to focus my thinking, thankyouverymuch.
Valid point. I have a lot of beliefs. How many would I die rather than just lie and pretend not to believe? Not many, if any.
I try not to die. Ever. Now… KILLING for my beliefs…? Nope…
These sorts of questions are from a more war-like time, I feel.
Agreed, and I think part of the problem is that the question itself evokes a ‘with us or against us’ mentality that is not really appropriate to how many of us try to do things these days. The very idea of dying for holding (and expressing) certain beliefs comes from a time when people with certain beliefs had enormous power and a vested interest in killing people who did not share them. Today, it’s just not necessary. I believe that gay marriage is entirely acceptable, but I’m not grabbing a spear or a rifle to get rid of anybody who disagrees, and I’m quite aware that if somebody were about to disembowel me for saying such a thing, I’d readily recant. What difference does it make if I don’t? I have my principles, but I’m in lots of pain then dead, and that’s one less person to do anything positive. We make our difference at the ballot box and with petitions and all that, and we also live with all sorts of people who believe all sorts of things that we don’t agree with, without feeling the need to kill them or worry that they might kill us.
Killing over ideas is, fortunately, getting to be a bit passée.
I imagine for religious folk things are somewhat different because they have celestial consequences to their decision. It is enormous pressure to be under and I do feel sorry for them. Their faith often asks the impossible of them.
I think that this certainly holds true in places where civil structures guarantee the sort of peace and base level of enforced tolerance that allow us to find these questions anachronistic and strange. So, in the US and in much of the Western World, certainly, asking these questions is sort of silly.
It is not necessarily the case in the rest of the world.
I also think that a great deal of the power of a metaphysical idea comes from it being resisted. If an idea has no stakes attached to it, it becomes an intellectual exercise at best. Ideas come to life really only when people are trying to stomp them out. So, it’s not just that a religious idea has broad existential consequences for the person who believes it, but a person so holding that idea will find it psychologically difficult to maintain a belief in those consequences when everyone else has no more reaction than mild curiosity.
As I’ve said before, the true negation of an expression is not for it to be opposed, but rather for it to be ignored.
I’ll die before denying the FSM!
Doesn’t count. The existence of the Flying Spagetti Monster is an established fact. Those who claim not to believe in the Supreme Noodliness are merely in rebellion against the Noodly Appendages. They lie in hopes of escaping their inevitable punishment.
Blasphemer! The Supreme Noodliness does not punish. Those who deny the blessings of the Most Noodly live without once tasting of the Spaghetti or the Fettuccine. Thus do they punish themselves for their willful rebellion.
Did I say that? I only said that aNoodlists, in their sauceless iniquity, hope to escape their punishment – to deny their pasta and eat it, too.
They’ll get their just desserts.
I doubt that it will ever come to that.
Don’t feel like pondering this question right now, but I often use the following Bertrand Russell quote in my email sig file. I can’t recall where I found it, but it may have been on this blog a few years ago:
“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so sure of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.”
I believe I feel very uneasy about dying.
There’s that, too.
Well FO, to quote myself from another site:
Being in a job where I witness death fairly frequently (one in ten patients on my current ward), I’ve had a lot of opportunity to consider the unvarnished reality of it. I’ve thought about it for a long time, and my attitude to it has changed a lot. When I saw my first death, I was shocked and upset, because I knew the patient well. I resented death, and was frightened by the sudden intrusion of mortality into my life. Since then, one of my best friends has died, and I’ve witnessed every kind of death imaginable. And in the process, I’ve acheived a sort of sanguine peace with it. At the age of 32, I have lost my fear of death. I accept it absolutely as a normal, inevitable part of life. It’s not something to fear, it’s just a reality to acknowledge. And, like most realities, now I’ve acknowledged it, I don’t really need to think about it anymore. One day, I am going to die. I don’t know when, and I don’t know how, but it’s going to happen. And you know what? That’s okay. Without bravado or boast, I accept its innevitability and I don’t worry about it. I’m very lucky to do the job I do :-)
I do envy your serenity and acceptance, Custy.
Death should be, indeed, the last of my problems.
But I am not scared.
I am uneasy, in an entirely irrational way.
I am scared that it will come without me living, without learning how to enjoy what I have and remembering what I had.
Death should be, indeed, the last of my problems.
You’ve witnessed every death imaginable??
“Frank: A good cop – needlessly cut down by some cowardly hoodlums.
Ed: That’s no way for a man to die.
Frank: No… you’re right, Ed. A parachute not opening… that’s a way to die. Getting caught in the gears of a combine… having your nuts bit off by a Laplander, that’s the way I wanna go!”
Yep. Pesky damn Laplanders.
Got Santa and snowflakes , only in Lapland.
I’ll be honest with you. There’s not much I can tell you about Lapland.
Didn’t close my tag. Hope that’s fixed!
Fixed. Also, I <3 Weebl and Bob!
FO: “I believe I feel very uneasy about dying.”
You might be wrong about that.
I never understood the idea of dying for something.
Killing for something, I get. Putting your life at risk for something you believe in is also something I understand, and have done, but my desire to fulfill my conviction was also tied to a strong sense of not wanting to die while doing it.
I always hated this question in Sunday School. There were variations on it:
* If you woke up to discover your house was on fire, which 3 thinks would you save?
* If you were being asked to deny Christ on threat of death if you refused, what would you do?
* If you were being asked to deny Christ on threat of death of (loved one), who would you choose?
I hated how my initial reaction/ response was always the wrong one, and I always felt guilty and stupid and like a bad mormon.
* I would grab my backpack and throw as many library books into as I could, as well as some underwear and clean shirts. (Right answer would be: My Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Holy Bible! — My thinking was that I could always buy a new set of scriptures, but why make the library suffer?)
* I would probably deny Christ to save my own life. (Wrong answer, obviously, but my thinking was always that if I lived, I could convert more souls to Christ.)
* I would definitely deny Christ to save the life of a loved one. (Wrong answer, apparently. You’re supposed to choose Christ above man. I knew that intellectually, but I could never honestly answer that I would choose an abstract concept I’d never actually seen over my loved ones.)
And as if you had to deny Christ to save your own life one day, he wouldn’t understand. You said it, he believes it, that settles it. I thought he knows what’s in your heart?
Instead they end up denying Christ to save themselves from Sunday School.
I’m always amazed how similar Communism is to Christianity.
When I was but a wee lad, living in the Old Country That Exists No More, we had a story, probably apocryphal, that the teachers always used to tell us. Back when women were women, men were men and the sheep trembled, there was a boy, 17 years of age. He lived in a kolhoz, a decade(I think) after the Revolution. One day he saw that one of their irreplaceable tractors had caught fire. He died, trying to save it, and the tractor was lost anyhow. The boy was awarded a posthumous Hero of the Soviet Union medal, and held up as a shining example of young communist behaviour. In the words of our teachers, that tractor was irreplaceable; we were not. It wasn’t until many years after I left in 1979 that I heard they no longer taught this nonsense.
As in the case of the post by Lana, above, I would’ve thought the first priority in a fire is to rescue people. Books–and tractors–can be replaced. People can’t.
I always find questions about what you would save in a fire kind of stupid anyway. You really think you will have time, well, maybe you do and maybe you don’t, but you don’t know how much time you have (unless a just-in-case evacuation). Saying to yourself, well, I have at least 5 minutes before I really have to get out of here, just get out. I’ve been in a fire I really only heard 2 smoke alarms in the hallway, I put pants on, shoes, my coat, and then there’s smoke coming under the door very fast, for something I thought was probably nothing and acted like I thought I had more time. It’s not always the case, of course, but I lost more in the move-out than I did in the fire, but I could have died if I thought I could stay and save anything.
I think the answer is blindingly obvious. You save your coffeemaking equipment so that you can face the task of rebuilding after the fire.
In this order:
1) My fiance,
2) My degu girls,
3) My self.
People who don’t have pets won’t understand 2) I’m sure, but really they’re like our children. Only quieter, less messy and generally easier to deal with.
By the time I had realized the fire was real and not just a false alarm, my cats had scrambled deep under the bed and the apartment was quickly filling with smoke. If I was able to grab them, it would have been impossible to hang onto them as I had to grab onto a parking lot attendant who ran over (fast like a superhero) and climbed up the fire escape of the adjacent building to save me and my neighbor, who came in through my kitchen window and we left out the bedroom (the only window in my apt. that faced out). I sure would rather have them, and they turned out to be fine since my half of the building only got smoke and water damage, but you have to act fast and you can’t waste time. Once the smoke starts coming in, it happens really fast.
I see it as symptomatic of the religious way of thinking, that there should be one correct answer to these questions.
While I wasn’t raised Mormon, I did have a run-in with Baptist Sunday school and I encountered this question there. I didn’t say anything at the time, besause I knew with certainty that I would absolutely deny Christ. I didn’t feel any guilt about it either, because I thought dying for a belief was stupid. Pragmatism was a virtue in our family, and I’m quite grateful for that.
I have met an Evangelical Christian who posited his willingness to die for his beliefs as evidence for the truth of them. He was not as smart as he thought.
Was this before or after 9/11?
Didn’t the apostles famously stick to the story also? I know I’ve heard the argument before that if the magical Jesus story sounds too incredible, well, the apostles died for it, so that ought to convince ya!
Which makes the Russell quote important to say, not whether you or I are willing to die for our beliefs, but it’s possible to die for beliefs that aren’t true. If people are willing to believe something is true because they are easily convinced, and would therefore die also for those beliefs, then it’s certainly possible for the apostles to be easily convinced.
Damn your friend should become Buddhist and self-immolate.
“Die for your beliefs” is a hard phrase to quantify. There are things I think of as “beliefs” that I would die for, but at thier core these are more questions of physical reality than abstract “belief.”
For instance, I have no doubt that I would die to save one of my children from death or injury. In a sense this could be seen as a “belief” that my kids’ lives are more valuable than my own. It could also be seen as an innate parental trait. More an issue of biology than a belief system. Plus we are talking about threat of physical harm.
I might die for the abstract concept of freedom. Defense of my freedom and those I love from oppression. But it would have to be a very extreme example. Facists invading from the sky, that kind of thing. And again, really this could be seen more as a statement that I will defend myself and my family than that I am willing to die for my “belief” in freedom.
I would never have died for religious beliefs. Even when I was a believer I believed in a god who understood human frailty and our innate desire to stay alive.
I always wondered about the flipside. Say a post christian uprising (not too far fetched I think) and you’re captured and told to accept christ on pain of death. Do you fake it and escape or make a stand even tho you’ll be martyred. The answer that inevitably makes sense is to fake it and fight from within, but there’s a part of me that hopes someone would respect you standing up for your beliefs. . . or lack thereof.
I don’t owe anything to someone who’s trying to kill me.
And I belong to a non-group that does not value martyrdom as a form of advertisement.
They would respect you in their time-honoured manner of burning you at the stake.
A lot of people won’t admit to being atheists on pain of lesser things than death. I think the religious side of it is that people want to show their faith outwardly at most costs, but maybe not all costs. They want people to know and don’t act afraid because they can always say they’re being persecuted for their beliefs. I think the persecution thing and, you know, it’s generally safe in America to especially be Christian, but I think they must be taught that being of faith eventuates persecution for those beliefs, and to use that experience to strengthen their beliefs, not to question them or hide them. They expect persecution and think it is great. Atheists expect a lot of bullshit that it’s not generally worth losing what you have to express yourself, well, some are open and vocal – and have to deal with a lot of bullshit! Would I die for my atheism? Would I start a fight with my sister the day before her wedding when I found out what lines were in my script for my atheism? Nope. I probably should have, since something else I did later that was totally not worth it made her mad enough to storm out of the house in a tornadic fit. I just can’t win with that bitch!
Now we want the full story… ^_^
Oh, I can’t even remember what it was. I had to say the first line and the best man had to say the second line, and my line was “Before god and this community,” which, well, I knew she was getting married in a Catholic church and I never stood up for anyone before so I wasn’t really expecting to have to say anything until the rehearsal. My favorite memory from the rehearsal was when the bishop goes over some of the promises or about love and patience or whatever, and I’m listening and then I look over and the groom hears it too and looks at me, so we had a secret laugh right behind her back, literally. I was supposed to go with her that evening and meet with all the groom and his cousins for beers and fireworks, but I said something wrong and she flipped out and slammed the door behind her. She is always a hair away from it, and I’m always getting lectured on “keeping the peace” by never making any subtle comments that one could marginally interpret as a criticism, which means I don’t get to be myself, but she can be the calm, fun version of herself until the lid blows off over nothing. NOTHING!
I mean, if I really told her how I felt, she would know it. When I get too relaxed because we are actually having a good time, I’m liable to say something that a sane person would have to examine under an electron microscope to find the insult. I don’t know, it’s a weird emotional abuse about my dysfunctional family, that I feel especially singled out to have to be rigid and intentionally non-confrontational, because it’s my fault if they can’t handle my rather pleasant company. That’s probably not the whole story you were hoping for, but that’s all it is. I guess what makes it worse is I do tend to be a little bitter that everyone with an anger issue gets their say in that house but me, ’cause I’d like to air some grievances like everyone else does.
That’s a shitty situation.
Did you resist so far without flipping out and singing back at them? oO
Still, if they react so violently rather than just laughing you away, it means that they feel threatened.
(I may have done a similar thing recently. Yes, I feel that scientific understanding is being undermined by arrogant ignoramuses).
I’m not going to lie and say my reactions are the best, but it’s a lot of stress to be on high vigil whenever we are together. I would not be a dick and purposely ruin her wedding, even if I said, “well, I can’t say that and I won’t,” it’s just not the time or place, even if she wouldn’t get as upset as she does. I don’t get the feeling she is particularly religious, but she was getting married where her fiance preferred by a bishop who is also a family friend of theirs. Last time I saw her, something I said made her feel like a bad mother because I bragged about something I did myself (with no reference to her at all), and she took offense. I had seen her do a few rotten things earlier, including yell at our grandmother, and I just blew and left, drove all the way back home. I sort of resent a lot of things I have to do, I’m so tired of having to prove myself worthy of being in such a shitty family, and be fake, and a lot of what’s wrong with it has to do with my sister’s ex-husband’s mother being a presumptuous jerkass herself. Things she does always seem to directly affect my plans, and I am obligated to show up and pretend that I don’t mind. Even now, I don’t talk to my mother all that much, but she always makes me talk to the baby. He screams in my ear. I don’t like this very much. Yes, my sister is threatened when someone else gets more attention than she does, or any, or can do something better than her, or implies that they can, or can’t read her mind, or embarrasses her by being a human being, or she can find some way to infer any or all of those things from a general statement. It’s difficult. I know I’m not perfect. Everyone knows it.
If you try to constantly walk on eggshells when you’re around your sister (or in any other relationship), it will serve no purpose. She sounds like one of those people who will have a hissy fit over something no matter what you do or say. So do or say what you want (without being a jerk about it), and put the burden of acting like an adult human being back where it belongs, on her. Don’t take on the thankless and frankly impossible job of not setting her off.
There will be blowups. These are her problem.
I tend to take these bargains on the faith that everyone in the bargain has taken the tast to themselves to not set me off as well. This is why they don’t call me. One thing we all never learned was a) not to listen to our mother as the authority on all this bullshit, but b) if you can’t say anything nice, you’ll end up with a very detached relationship with all of your siblings at the altar of peace. Which sucks. I think they are probably cool people to know if they weren’t all programmed to be so sensitive or expect me to be so sensitive. I feel like it’s my fault. My mother runs interference on the front end. If my brother is in town, she stocks beer he likes and doesn’t quarrel with my father…. or else he will flee. When our grandmother turned 90, nobody told me to start my goodbyes, so when 3 of them were out by the car, I was stupid for not reading cues and continuing to socialize with other relatives; they were getting bitten by mosquitoes and martyring themselves, then my sister obscenely perceived that I meant to kill her over an incident that happened almost 30 years earlier and cried over the phone to her boyfriend (the one she kept moving away from until she succumbed to marriage) that if anything happened to her that night, it was probably me, and slept in the questionably more vulnerable family room than co-room with me, thus spoiling a great party for my grandmother on whole ride home on the premise that I, being unable to read minds, had subject them to bug bites.
OH MY GOD.
god is not GREAT – Christopher Hitchens.
Well, if my beliefs (that is, the propositions I use as a basis for my logical reasoning) are wrong, then logic would dictate that there is really no reason to live. So I would die for my beliefs. Or rather, continue to live, because of them. No point to living in a misery WITHOUT an end which is good. I mean past the end of everything.
How about, you know, not living in misery ?
Apparently that would be illogical somehow.
Dying for your beliefs is something that must be drummed into the believers. The alternative, to realize there is nothing to die for, is something quite harsh. I tend to think, given the few days this thread has been racking my brain, that dying for one’s beliefs is another one of those religious qualities that atheists need not abide. If a believer thinks they will die for Christ as Christ died for them, well hell. If a believer thinks they will die for bizarre homeopathic medicines… they don’t really die for them, they just speak for them on talk shows. Some atheists are willing to speak up if it won’t kill them, but I think dying for your imaginary friend is a queer loyalty that atheists just don’t have.
Enter your email address:
Delivered by FeedBurner
Follow Patheos on
Copyright 2008-2013, Patheos. All rights reserved.