Tag Archives: Atheism

What they’re saying about Religion & Atheism

Eleven very recent and less recent blog posts and news feeds follow. Take your pick.

HectorAvalos

Hector Avalos

Hector Avalos, known to most of us for The End of Biblical Studies and Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence (discussed across 5 Vridar posts) has had a new article published in Ames Tribune . . .

Blaspheme or else …

Two paragraphs from the article:

Bill Maher, the atheist humorist, believes Islam is entrenched in the Middle Ages . . .  Thomas Friedman . . . believes that Islam needs the equivalent of the Protestant Reformation, while others deem Islam to be inherently incorrigible.

Many of these commentators overlook how much of the Muslim jihadist view of blasphemy derives directly or indirectly from the Bible, the foundational text of Christianity. Yvonne Sherwood’s Biblical Blaspheming: Trials of the Sacred for a Secular Age (2012) discusses some aspects of the long reach of biblical blasphemy laws in western culture.

Avalos, of course, supports efforts to repeal blasphemy laws, period.

For most secularists/pluralists, you must blaspheme — or else your freedom of expression will inevitably be hostage to one religion or another. 

Holy Jesus, I nearly forgot to cite my source for this story — h/t John Loftus on Debunking Christianity, thank God.

–o0o–

This one is not really about “religion and atheism” but it’s worth including here to get the message out the sooner – - – -  Peter Kirby has done us another favour by creating a Biblical Criticism Search Engine.

Now you can search the greater Biblical Criticism Blogosphere, a carefully curated collection of websites, blogs, books, articles, and resources containing about 30 billion web pages indexed and searchable with a Google Custom Search Engine. The search prompt can be found here:

http://bcharchive.org/

–o0o–

PZ Myers of Pharyngula alerts us to a bloggingheadsTV discussion where I find some of my own reservations re Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Chris Hitchens brought out into the open:

Jeet Heer and the New Atheism

I don’t see the point of having an atheism that is pro-status quo, pro-imperialist, and which is indifferent to issues of inequality and patriarchy. If you’re going to have that, you might as well go to church.

That the New Atheism has already become part of a doctrinaire, anti-social justice attitude is troubling, but I think it was there from the beginning. The Thinky Atheist Leaders who carved out this niche clearly didn’t think those issues were important — even while some of us who happily jumped on the New Atheist bandwagon thought they were, and were simply oblivious to the indifference of the horsemen who were galloping into the fray. Now some of us who were trotting along with the rest of the cavalry are drawing back . . . . 

It’s very uncomfortable. Maybe I’m a New Atheist in some ways, but not in other ways, and maybe I need a new banner to rally under, or maybe we need to just let the leadership blunder into the cannons while the rest of us regroup and refocus. . . . 

It’s a tough place to be, sacrificing all that momentum while we mill about and try to figure out a rational approach. But that’s what atheists should do: think.

–o0o–

But there’s hope. Also h/t Loftus, and again with Hector Avalos gaining another mention:

The Second Wave of New Atheism is Here

Dr. Hector Avalos tells me that in his forthcoming book, The Bad Jesus, he speaks of a Second Wave of New Atheism, which he defines as atheist advocates “who have more formal training in philosophy, biblical studies and theology.”. . . .

–o0o–

Many of us have probably seen Stephen Fry’s delicious account of what he would say to God at the Pearly Gates:

It’s worth repeating until learned by heart.

The point here is that Mano Singham has found the pious intellect of Giles Fraser responding sagely to Fry. In the interests of fair play and equal time here it is:

I don’t believe in the God that Stephen Fry doesn’t believe in either

–o0o–

without godGavin R or Otagosh has found one of those curious hybrids:

Another Atheist Theologian

Today I learned that this troublesome priest has outed himself as – shock, horror – an atheist.

In an interview with Religion Dispatches he talks about his new book Christianity Without God . . . and makes some memorable remarks.

“I think the main passion of the conservative mind is fear… Fear makes you reach for a supernatural insurance policy.”

Unlike all too many of those who have transitioned from various forms of Christianity to godlessness, Maguire retains the ability to engage in the conversation without the smug, tone deaf invective that shuts off communication rather than opening it up.

–o0o–

Here’s another story of a religious person meeting atheism but this time finding a different outcome. It’s by self-described “God-nerd” Christian Piattread more »

Who Needs God to be Good?

Pew Research Center surveyed 40,000 people across 40 countries between 2011 and 2013 to find what proportions of populations believe it is necessary to believe in God to be moral. The results (and explanation of how they conducted the survey) are online here.

As probably expected, the more highly one is educated the less likely one is to believe that belief in God is necessary for morality.

Also depressingly as expected, the USA is the exception among affluent nations, being the only such country where a majority of the population believes one can only be a moral person if one believes in God. Atheists be damned.

Tables follow: read more »

Richard Dawkins’ Al Jazeera Interview on Religion

Professor Richard Dawkins at a book signing fo...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Richard Dawkins is confronted with all the hard questions and criticisms he has raised with his book The God Delusion in an interview on Al Jazeera — with an otherwise very intelligent interviewer who, it turns out, believes Mohammed flew to heaven on a winged horse!

The questions he faces pull no punches and I personally thought the interviewer had the better of him when it came to citing the evidence for the motivations of suicide bombers. Richard also faces all those other criticisms his book has provoked — is religion a force for good or evil, faith, science, liberal religion, atheism, what is the worst form of child abuse, facing up to the good done in the name of religion, the meaning of life . . . . .

Special Programme — Dawkins on Religion

(Unfortunately I cannot embed this video. If anyone can tell me how, do let me know. . . . )

Tim has since embedded the video in the Comments section below.

Jesus Agnosticism: Believing vs. Knowing

What we can and cannot know

Huxley at about 55, scanned & cropped slightly

Huxley at about 55, scanned & cropped slightly. Note: The photo was cropped, but the sideburns were not. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I confess I have often shown little patience for people who hide behind the label of agnosticism when asked whether they believe in God. It smacks of evasion, since it answers a question concerning belief with an assertion about the state of knowledge. That is, it redirects our attention to the axis of knowing — how much we know or can know — instead of telling us where one stands on the axis of believing.

So you can perhaps imagine how annoyed I’ve become at myself lately for describing my own position on the historicity of Jesus as “Jesus agnostic.” Have I fallen into the same trap as atheistic agnostics, too timid to answer the question that was asked, so I answer one that wasn’t?

Does agnosticism describe anything meaningful?

Most atheists are also agnostics. We lack the belief in God in the same way that we lack the belief in many things we can’t definitively disprove. However, we hold the existence of a supernatural being that fits the description of God to be so unlikely that we operate under the assumption that he does not exist.

Do we actively believe God does not exist? Actually, no. It takes no effort at all to lack a belief. For example, if you grew up as a Christian, you probably lack the belief in the transmigration of souls. Same here. People might reincarnate after they die, but I think it’s extremely unlikely. So I can truthfully say, “I don’t believe in samsara.” But I don’t spend any time thinking about it or actively disbelieving in it.

If by knowledge we mean rational knowledge based on human reason and physical evidence, a good many Christians are also agnostics. They believe without proof — “blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20:29b, KJV) They have made the “leap of faith.” Should they claim to have any knowledge at all, they will maintain they possess a knowledge of the heart, a feeling of the divine presence.

So if a great many of us — theists and atheists alike — agree that we can’t know whether God exists, is the term “agnostic” all that meaningful? Well, it is if you mean it in the loose, vernacular way that the popular media often intends it, namely as a description of someone who cannot decide. Perpetual fence-sitters, they simply can’t make up their minds. read more »

Atheist and ex-Muslim — an absolutely enjoyable interview with Alom Shaha

From arthwollipot, flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/arthwollipot/6796189874/sizes/m/in/photostream/

If you are atheist, a bit worried about Muslims at the same time, like ideas like love and compassion as the glue that holds us together, might respect reading recommendations from A. C. Grayling, are curious about where and why Australians have a different take (at least from North Americans and the British) on atheism and religion in the world — how to be laid back about it all — and basically what atheism means to all of us of whatever religious background and in particular how ex-Muslims handle it all, then do yourself a well-deserved favour and listen to the interview with Alom Shaha on Australia’s national radio program  Big Ideas:

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bigideas/monday-19-march-2012/3894112

The ABC blurb is:

Atheist Alom Shaha: Imagine you live in a strict Muslim community. You’re taught not to question your religion. But you don’t actually believe any of it. Your interest lay in the world of science, ideas, and books. This is the world of atheist, Alom Shaha – a Bangladesh born science writer, film maker and teacher, who’s lived in London since he was young boy – who is in conversation with Paul Barclay.

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Atheist writers respond

English: Atheist Bus Campaign creator Ariane S...

Image via Wikipedia

Professor R Joseph Hoffmann has a reputation for his pompous diatribes against the “New Atheists”, very often written in a style so pretentious they are (probably deliberately) incomprehensible to most readers. The professor has kicked off the new year with another Re-made in America: Remembering the New Atheism (2006-2011) and this time some of his targets have responded.

PZ Myers has posted a Nice List on Pharyngula of the names Hoffmann despises and that is therefore “a rather useful guide . . . to who’s cool in the atheist movement”.

Richard Dawkins is found among the commenters responding to Myers’ list: see comments #47 and #54.

Eric MacDonald has also written a lengthier but more analytical response, Spleen, on his Choice In Dying blog. MacDonald shows how Hoffmann’s piques are so completely off the mark, missing the point and substituting his own straw men, etc. He points out that Hoffmann appears to be most upset over the fact that religion and atheism really are issues that every layperson has a right to discuss for the simple fact that religion really does do an awful lot of damage to lots of people.

The comments on these blog posts are also recommended reading.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/le-shamrock/2984121228/in/photostream/

Spleen @ La Maroquineri. Image by LeShamrock on Flickr

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I left the cult and met the enemy

My past cult experience taught me that no matter how clever and diligent one was in researching and “proving” a set of beliefs, the results of such studies were all an illusion if the whole enterprise had been built on faulty assumptions.

The teachings of Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are quite logical, quite rational, to anyone who accepts their starting assumptions.

Belief that one has been abducted and experimented upon by aliens is quite reasonable if one begins by accepting as true the requisite propositions.

(What also worries me a bit are those split brain experiments that show just how clever we are at fabricating rational tales that are in fact all bollocks.)

It was during my process of leaving the cult that I fully appreciated just how easily we can embrace faulty assumptions under certain conditions, and how of utmost importance it is to guard one’s thinking and examine every layer of one’s beliefs and every facet of new propositions before embracing any of them.

I had been so cocooned in the cult world that when I was leaving it I naïvely expected to meet a world full of people smarter than I had been. I thought, well, they didn’t fall for what I fell into, so how refreshing it will be to rub shoulders with the rest of the world who can think critically about what they hear, and examine the foundational assumptions to test the validity of any logical edifice.  read more »

The need to challenge liberal religion as well as fundamentalism

I’ve been catching up (thanks Mary) with other blog posts addressing atheism, in particular the New Atheists and their strident criticism of religion, in particular those appearing in response to R. Joseph Hoffmann’s views and posts by Stephanie L. Fisher. One that has particularly caught my attention, along with its related comments, is The Irrationality of Atheist Opposition to Atheism by Eric MacDonald. Part of my initial curiosity Eric’s post was learning that it was related to a lead post by Stephanie L. Fisher, and that Fisher’s post had subsequently been taken down. This is the second time this has happened recently — presumably on her own requests after others responded critically. (R. Joseph Hoffmann has since explained in a comment below that he removed Steph’s guest post as a matter of routine policy. I am sure Stephanie will like to repost it somewhere where it can have a more stable history.)

I enjoyed Eric’s post enough, and many of the related comments to it, and was incensed enough over assertions by some who like to be called humanists but object to being called atheists (even though they apparently do not believe in god/s), to join the fray with my own thoughts on the importance of atheists publicly challenging religious belief systems. My own thoughts are amateurish and inchoate compared with those expressed by Eric. But one has to start somewhere. Perhaps feedback can help me sort out with a bit more depth and rationality my own ideas. So here goes. read more »

Survey Results of the Deconverted into Atheism, Skepticism and Agnosticism

The survey results are now online at Rick Dean’s website: http://teologye.com/survey-results

Great to see there were over 500 respondents.

For those in the dark, an initial post — here — invited readers to participate in Rick Dean’s questionnaire that he intends to incorporate into a forthcoming book.

Survey questions include:

  • Prior religious affiliation
  • Do you miss your former faith?
  • What initiated your loss of faith”
  • What arguments for the existence of God did you find particularly powerful?
  • What arguments against the positive existence of God do you find the most persuasive?
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Atheist Christmas

Incarnation of Vishnu/Krishna
Image by ellenm1 via Flickr

I was going to keep this a Christmas-free zone but the quiet here today is screaming at me to say something. I can understand atheists in Western countries who feel uncomfortable with Christmas. There it is closely tied up with religious associations.

The strength of these religious trappings varies, I am sure, with each cultural locale. There are many who can and do love Christmas without giving a thought to its religious origins.

While living in Asia I could not resist asking some Chinese whom I knew were either Buddhists or Taoists, if anything, why they were wearing Santa hats and wishing all and sundry Merry Christmas. Their answer: “It’s Christmas. Everyone loves Christmas.”

I even saw a Moslem girl happily wearing a Santa cap over her head-scarf.

But seeing Christmas being celebrated alongside the Chinese New Year alongside Deepavali alongside Hari Raya and a half dozen others it drove home to me that it just one of many social rituals that would have to be invented if it did not exist from time immemorial. Humans are social creatures and rituals are important to us as social creatures and that’s that. There’s always room for the odd individual to bow out for a time, shorter or longer.

The fact that it has religious associations probably has more to do with the centrality of religion in the lives of people than with the festival itself, if that makes sense.

Here are a couple of other views: read more »

Would the world really be better without religion?

tamas_pataki2

Tamas Pataki

And it gets better. This is the link to the second part of Tamas Pataki’s address: http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2010/08/13/2981969.htm

I was moved by humanity expressed in Pataki’s 2007 book, and it is refreshing to find this expounded once again from a secular humanist viewpoint. read more »

Giving atheism a bad name (On Atheism, Religion, Humanism)

There is a wonderful article by Tamas Pataki at http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2010/08/10/2979163.htm

Tamas Pataki is honorary senior fellow at the University of Melbourne and honorary fellow of Deakin University. His most recent book is Against Religion (Scribe, 2007). This is the first part of an edited version of the address he delivered at the 2010 Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne, on 12 April 2010.

I have discussed his book Against Religion a few times on this blog — collated in the Pataki archive.

The whole article should be read for his nuanced views on atheism, religion and humanism.

I’ve tried to bottle a few of the passages that struck a chord with me below, but more for my own record. Read the full article at the above link. read more »

The right side of politics Down Under: Muslims good; atheists bad

Black-eyed Sue and Sweet Poll of Plymouth taking leave of their lovers who are going to Botany BayNo sooner do we read of one Liberal Party’s candidate being dumped by his party leader for suggesting that there is no place for Muslims in the Australian parliament, than we read of another Liberal Party candidate attacking the “ungodly” Labor leader and PM for being an atheist — and getting away with it! (The Liberal Party in Australia, to oversimplify somewhat, correlates with the Conservatives in the UK and the Republicans in the US.)

So what’s the lesson here? It’s politically correct at election time to be seen as tolerant towards Muslims; but as for being an atheist. . . ? Who cares?

Actually I don’t mind this approach to criticism of atheists. Let it all hang out. Let everyone see where everyone stands. It’s no big deal. It’s kind of funny to have politicians get up and rave about Australia being built on Christian values and how they always expect a “godly” leader. Australia? Founded on convicts, lashings, prostitution, petty tyrants among the good ‘uns, rum rebellion, — oh, and an Anglican pastor to keep it all in check? What’s the ratio of church goers to non-practicing Christians and “others” in Australia?

I suspect the Liberal Party leader’s decision to ignore the atheist jibe was quite healthy and a “true blue” Aussie response. I’d hate to see political correctness go mad and send to the guillotine anyone who raves about not believing in god and decrying how a godless prime minister simply cannot be a “godly ruler” etc. All a bit of a laugh for most in the audience.

It is the season, however, to be prudent with respect to Muslims. Hate crimes and bigotry and all that are all too real — it goes without saying. (Whoever planted a bomb outside an atheist’s convention in Australia?)

It is still real enough for a Liberal candidate to be quoted as saying that just one Muslim in Parliament must be seen as a march towards the day when Parliament will be all-Muslim! But of course, the mere fact that the sight of one of them in the “wrong place” leaves him down the slippery slope into nightmares of a taliban takeover of Australia, does not mean he has anything against Muslims personally.

Which leaves me in a delicate position at times. When I was once arranging for a leading State Muslim to conduct a public presentation to a general audience, I found myself being offered a copy of the Koran. As a gesture of good-will I accepted it, but later I had the misfortune to read it. It left the taste in my mouth of being just as mind-controlling and fear and authority obsessed as the Jewish and Christian books, only more blunt and obvious about it. So there I was, finding myself in a situation where I was seeking to foster community tolerance among two religious groups, Christians and Muslims, yet ironically having no personal sympathy or time for either of them!

As far as their beliefs were concerned, I saw (still do see) both as potentially harmful psychologically to individuals who took them too seriously. When I see some humanist scholars advocate a humanism that embraces the religiously minded as well, I do feel some revulsion. What has the anti-intellectualism at the heart of Christianity and Islam (and Judaism) to do with humanistic values? Why on earth does “spirituality” or the sense of the poetic and mystery and awe of life have to be tied exclusively to religion of any kind? But I also find myself recoiling from a few of the anti-Muslim statements of some such as Harris and Hitchens. Sure I have no time for the Muslim religion either, but these authors do seem to be unable to tease out the geo-political issues from the more universal religious concepts.

So I decided to focus entirely on the project I had got myself mixed up with as an entirely “social enterprise”. Strictly a civil service.

We’ll probably be stuck with religion as long as we will be stuck with astrology, witchcraft and the occult. If one can’t beat them, the least one can do, I guess, is to support any endeavour that promotes mutual understanding and respect.

Australia Day - Muslim Style

Image by gxdoyle via Flic

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Atheist Group Breaks Blasphemy Law

Atheist Ireland, a group representing atheists in the Irish Republic, has defied a new blasphemy law by publishing a series of quotes by writers Mark Twain and Salman Rushdie, Jesus Christ, the Prophet Mohammed and Pope Benedict.

Check out more details on the BBC news site: Irish Atheists Challenge Blasphemy Law.

Atheists Ireland says:

From today, 1 January 2010, the new Irish blasphemy law becomes operational, and we begin our campaign to have it repealed. Blasphemy is now a crime punishable by a €25,000 fine.

In response, we have published a list of 25 blasphemous quotes, which have previously been published by or uttered by or attributed to Jesus Christ, Muhammad, Mark Twain, . . . . . Rev Ian Paisley, . . . . Pope Benedict XVI, . . . . .

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