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True unbelievers..... A magazine article from The Obsercer published by the UCC

 

I was asked to post this a new discussion thread.  It is an article from the United Church of Canada's magazine called The Observer.  A co-worker of mine is a part-time united minister and thought I would enjoy it.  Read it and let your thoughts or ideas known....

 

 

TRUE UNBELIEVERS

Organized atheism is on the rise and growing more vocal. Can believers and non-believers co-exist respectfully?

By Jocelyn Bell


What would it take for you to denounce your faith in God?” bellows a smirking man named Bruce sitting directly across from me at a banquet table. Here we go again, I think. This is my third day at the annual convention of the Atheist Alliance International in Long Beach, Calif. I’ve just introduced myself as a writer for a Canadian church magazine, and Bruce seems intent on making sport of my beliefs.

Possible answers flash through my mind: The death of a loved one? Aliens landing on Earth? The end of the world? None of these answers seems to fit. “I don’t know that I can answer that,” I say, conscious of the eight other people at the table staring at me. “Well,” Bruce says, “you think about it and get back to me. In the meantime, let me tell you something. For me to start believing, God would have to write his name — on the moon  — in Hebrew. Then, maybe.”

You might assume anyone so committed to atheism that they’d attend an atheist convention would be something like Bruce: arrogant, angry, paranoid about people of faith, reacting to a childhood spent in oppressive fundamentalism, scheming to convince “theists” to drop their destructive religions and embrace rationality and science, and every bit as fanatical as those they oppose. Certainly that’s what I assumed.

The not-believing-in-God part notwithstanding, atheists — at least those I met — are actually as diverse a group of people as you’d find anywhere. Many had come to this convention seeking a safe place to express their views without fear of condemnation and looking for a bit of moral courage in their fight for the right to be non-religious. In the post-9/11 world of radicalized religion, their movement has gained momentum and has itself radicalized.

For me, spending the weekend as the lone believer on a permanently docked 1930s ocean-liner-cum-hotel was an opportunity to throw my mainline Protestant faith and personal convictions into the ocean of hyper-rationalism to see if any of it floated. I confess that I worried at first about how I’d be received.

At the conference’s kickoff event, I meet Carlos Bertha, a 40-something philosophy professor at the United States Air Force Academy, his son, and Samantha Stein, a 22-year-old Brit who gushes, “I love Richard Dawkins!” She is starting a master’s degree in religion and anthropology so she can better understand why people form religions. I tell a panicky half-truth: that I work for a small Canadian magazine focused on social justice, ethics and lifestyle — and leave out its affiliation with a church. Bertha asks, “So, you’re an atheist then?” I stammer, “Ya, well, I don’t know.” He says, “Hey, no judgments here.”

Later, we head to an outdoor patio that offers a spectacular view of the Long Beach skyline. People tell me that they feel victimized by Christians who are turning their beliefs into laws, stopping stem cell research, outlawing abortion and excluding gays and lesbians; and by Christians who treat them as though they have no moral centre. I point out that lots of liberal Christians aren’t as bad as all that and ask, “Do you believe that even mainline Christians are preventing the world from becoming more rational?” “Yes,” they answer. “But at least they’re nice about it.”

Then one woman says: “So if you’re not an atheist, then what are you?” Someone else pipes up: “You don’t have to answer that.” I take the escape and say goodnight. Heading back to my room, I feel ashamed (like Peter, I’ve denied Jesus at least three times) and vow to come clean tomorrow.

The next day, I set out for the beach with a folder of articles that examine the atheist movement and critique its leading lights: Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel C. Dennett and Christopher Hitchens. What I learn is this: The term atheism originated as an epithet describing anyone in conflict with established religion.

For many years, non-believers identified themselves as freethinkers and scientific skeptics. Even today, atheists struggle with the term: why should they define themselves in relation to something they don’t believe? That would be like the rest of us defining ourselves as “a-unicornists.”

Canadians who described themselves as atheists, agnostics, humanists or non-religious rose to 16.2 percent in the 2001 census, up from 12.3 percent in 1991 and 7.4 percent a decade earlier. Similar patterns are found in the United States, where one study found 20 percent of 18- to 25-year-olds had no religious affiliation.

And, as succinctly stated in the Globe and Mail by John Gray, author of Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia, “According to the evangelists of unbelief, religion is a relic left over from the past that stands in the way of human progress. Once the world is rid of religion, immemorial evils such as war and tyranny can be overcome, and humanity will be able to fashion a new life for itself, better than any known in history.”

Back aboard ship, I head to a workshop led by Dr. Marlene Winell, a psychologist and author of Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion. Raised as a missionary kid in Taiwan and as a member of the Assembly of God church, Winell now counsels people recovering from religious indoctrination. Most therapists think those leaving fundamentalism should try something “a little more benign, like going to a Presbyterian church or something,” she says, getting a chuckle from the 18 people gathered. The central conflict is that the atheist needs to be authentic and have deep family connections. In too many families, “religion separates people,” she says.

Before people begin sharing their personal stories, I decide to come clean with mine. With my heart beating in my throat and my skin turning hot, I describe my purpose at the convention, taking pains to point out that The United Church of Canada is a “very liberal mainline Protestant church.” Just when I think I’ve gained the group’s confidence, a man sitting in front of me says he was raised in the United Church and declares that the denomination has some very conservative elements. Mortified, I shrink back in my chair. Being called a conservative Christian — even by association — in this crowd is like wearing a fur coat to a PETA rally.

Then, a more important thought: What’s a former United Church member doing at an American atheist convention? How radical is he? Is he a warrior or a simply fellow traveller?

“I am a man standing before you at frikkin’ war,” booms Mikey Weinstein, the keynote speaker of an evening devoted to atheists in the military. Weinstein isn’t an atheist, strictly speaking, but a Jew, an attorney and a former U.S. Air Force officer who is fighting on behalf of atheists and other non-conservative Christians in the military. “We’re a Tiger Woods putt away from being the United Fundamentalist States of America.”

The founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and author of With God on Our Side: One Man’s War Against an Evangelical Coup in America’s Military, Weinstein has sued both the Air Force and the U.S. Department of Defence for permitting proselytizing by Christian evangelicals in the military and for allowing a “pervasive and pernicious pattern and practice of unconstitutional religious rape of freedoms in our U.S. military.”

Weinstein’s most recent battle is on behalf of Jeremy Hall, a 23-year-old army specialist and an atheist. While on duty, Hall refused to pray during a Thanksgiving dinner and alleges that he subsequently endured months of harassment and was denied promotion. Threats were so severe that the military assigned him a full-time bodyguard. One day in Iraq, after surviving a firefight in which his humvee took several bullets to its protective shield, Hall’s commander asked him if he believed in God. He answered “No, but I believe in Plexiglass.”

Just when Weinstein’s account of religious discrimination in the military has won me over to his cause, he says this: “It’s intolerable and it must be fought, and fought lustily, and fought to the death.”

In need of a break, I head up to the ship’s restaurant. Rachel Ross, a friendly woman I’d met earlier, spies me sitting alone and invites me to join her. Born into a non-religious Jewish family, Ross had to attend classes to learn the basics of her faith, but her parents didn’t push it beyond that. She says she can’t respect a God who has control and doesn’t do anything. Or a God who plays with us “like little puppets in some sick game.” She says atheism has liberated her. It crystallizes the present because we only have this life. For her, there is no afterlife where we can make up for time not spent with loved ones here and now.
 

She says giving up the comfort of religion hasn’t always been easy. For example, if she was in an airplane that was bouncing with turbulence, she would close her eyes and imagine the plane surrounded by a pink cloud of love. Now, she accepts that random, chaotic things can happen and no “magic thinking” will change that.

For some reason, this anecdote stays with me for weeks afterward. While I’ve never envisioned God as a pink cloud of love, I have envisioned God as invisible sparkling dust that swirls through and around every living thing — an energy field we can tap into when we need courage or hope, the love and compassion that exists between us. And maybe in death, our souls join the sparkling dust. Written down, it seems a bit silly, more like Star Wars than the Bible. But there it is.

I eventually tell my mother, a retired diaconal minister, about Ross’s pink cloud of love. “Why does the cloud have to be pink?” she asks. Then adds: “If I was in that airplane, I would pray for the courage to face whatever was coming.” A good United Church answer. But if God has the power to grant us courage, why not the power to fix planes, smooth air currents, or remind the pilot of some long-forgotten emergency procedure? Is God’s power limited to helping us control emotional reactions? Or, are the atheists right in saying that if you found courage during a stressful moment, it wasn’t God who gave it to you, it was you finding it within yourself?

As the convention continues, I am determined to track down the former United Church guy and get his story. I go hunting and eventually find him guffawing along with others at a workshop on how to use humour to deal with dangerous religious beliefs. The leader is a comedian named Troy Conrad who was once a devout fundamentalist who sold Bibles before he “woke up.” Dressing up as Jesus is his schtick, whether he’s showing up at anti-abortion rallies and telling the Christian protesters that they’re all fired, or handing American flags to members of disgraced pastor Ted Haggard’s church as they leave the service.

If you have a thick skin, Conrad’s humour is funny, particularly when it pokes fun at interpretations of Christianity that most United Church people wouldn’t espouse anyway. Still, I can’t bring myself to participate in his workshop activities: listing the top 10 signs that God is imaginary, and making up satirical church signs. His non-comedic rhetoric is harder to stomach: “We want people to realize that they’re believing a lot of made up stuff that’s contributing to the end of our species. . . .  I think it would be wonderful to end the entire concept of Islam. But I don’t think killing everyone is how it will work.” (Someone yells out, “Actually, it would work.”)

Conrad continues: “Humour can be seen as a form of violence when it crosses the line. But that’s a much better form than anything physical. . . . Hey, the stakes are high. You made up the Sky Man, and it’s time to quit.”

Later, Conrad dons his Jesus costume and shows up at the Observation Bar. “I’m back,” he yells to the tipsy crowd. “And you were all right!” A free-for-all of sacrilege follows: “I’ve found Jesus! Save me Jesus!” people shriek, laughing. “Jesus” poses for photos with women draped over him or with his arms out as though crucified. Others mockingly bow down. It’s ugly, but I think I get it. Comedy is about exposing taboos, about catharsis, right?

His name is David Rand. The former United Church guy is 58 and lives in Montreal. He grew up on a farm outside Woodstock, Ont., and attended Brooksdale United.

His parents taught him that going to church was the moral, respectable thing to do. Rand came to view Christianity as puritanical, something people did to keep up appearances. He sat through confirmation classes thinking they were a complete waste of time. In his mid-teens he started telling himself, “I am not Christian.” He refused to go to church, caused family fights and then left home at 17 to go to university.

As he grew into adulthood, Rand realized he is gay. Despite the fact that the United Church has taken major strides to affirm sexual diversity, Rand says, “All religions are homophobic and anti-sexual. I find no reason to reform churches. Just leave. The idea of gay Christians setting up their own churches because they’ve been rejected by their original churches is pathetic.”

Today, Rand works as a software developer, and is a member of an organization that works to preserve the separation of church and state in Quebec. His most recent fight was with the public school system, which has introduced an obligatory course called Ethics and Religious Culture. “The problem is with the premise. Ethics should not be taught alongside religion,” he says. Therein lies his main beef with religion. Religious people believe they have a lock on morality, he says, and think “that you can’t be a good person without religion, or . . . that if you don’t believe in God then there’s something wrong with you.”

Fair enough. But if believing that you have a lock on the truth is wrong, atheists are themselves guilty of a sin or two. One day at lunch, a man at my table rails against those who say, I’m a humanist, but not an atheist. Or, I’m a freethinker, but I believe in God. “I’m sorry,” I say, stopping him. “I don’t follow your logic.” “Well,” he says, “if you believe in God then you’re closing down the possibility that there is no God, so how can you call yourself a freethinker?” I answer: “Actually, the possibility that there is no God is something I consider all the time. I think that shows freedom of thought. But you call yourself a freethinker, and yet you’ve closed down the possibility that there may be a God.” He mumbles: “I guess that’s why I call myself an atheist rather than a freethinker,” and gets up to leave soon after.

I’m reminded of a passage in Chris Hedges’s book I Don’t Believe in Atheists. Hedges writes: “The question is not whether God exists. It is whether we contemplate or are utterly indifferent to the transcendent, that which cannot be measured or quantified, that which lies beyond the reach of rational deduction. . . . Religion is our finite, flawed and imperfect expression of the infinite. . . . This impulse asks: What are we? Why are we here? What, if anything, are we supposed to do? What does it all mean? Science and reason, while they can illuminate these questions, can definitively answer none of them.”

Maybe the hope that believers and non-believers can co-exist respectfully lies in people like Dr. Mynga Futrell. She is a science educator and co-founder of The Brights’ Network, an international organization of ethically focused secularists. In accepting the convention’s “World of Thanks” award, she admonished atheists generally for their self-defeating habit of condescending to religious people.

“Don’t waste time trying to convince other people of the error of their world view, as though rational reasons were all it takes. How many times have I heard that religious people are stupid, insulting the very people we need? We have to be part of the body politic. We have to be pragmatic to be effective. It’s religion’s intrusion into our civic institutions — that’s what really counts. We can’t have influence if we don’t change.”

Cheers to that. But I now recognize that people of faith also have to examine their negative assumptions about atheists if we’re going to prevent further radicalization and all get along.

As for smirking Bruce, I have a partial answer for him. It’s taken weeks of thinking and conversations, and I’m bound to change my answer again in years to come. But, for today, here it is. I can no more denounce my faith in God than I can denounce my faith in love, art, nature, science, beauty or humanity. If aliens land on Earth next week, explain everything to us and then inform us that the world is ending, God will still be the best way to describe all my experiences of kindness and compassion and my inner sense that I’m connected to everything on this planet and in the universe. It’s my reason to orient my life toward good, however limited and faulty my idea of “good” may be.

And Bruce, even if the atheists are right, and what you see is what you get, I prefer to live in the hope that there’s something more. 

Sidebar: Atheist icons

Daniel C. Dennett
“Many contemporary Christians, Jews, and Muslims insist that God, or Allah, being omniscient, has no need for anything like sense organs, and being eternal, does not act in real time. This is puzzling, since many of them continue to pray to God, to hope that God will answer their prayers tomorrow.”
From Breaking the Spell (Viking Penguin)

Christopher Hitchens
“Nine times out of ten, in debate with a cleric, one will be told not of some dogma of religious certitude but of some instance of charitable or humanitarian work undertaken by a religious person. . . .
 

My own response has been to issue a challenge: name me an ethical statement made or an action performed by a believer that could not have been made or performed by a non-believer.”
From The Portable Atheist (Da Capo Press)

Richard Dawkins
“Faith is an evil precisely because it requires no justification and brooks no argument. Teaching children that unquestioned faith is a virtue primes them — given certain other ingredients that are not hard to come by — to grow up into potentially lethal weapons for future jihads or crusades.”
From The God Delusion (Houghton Mifflin Company)

Sam Harris
“The history of Christianity is principally a story of mankind’s misery and ignorance rather than of its requited love of God. While Christianity has few living inquisitors today, Islam has many.”
From The End of Faith
(W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.)

 

 

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ronny5's picture

ronny5

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“Don’t waste time trying to convince other people of the error of their world view, as though rational reasons were all it takes. How many times have I heard that religious people are stupid, insulting the very people we need? We have to be part of the body politic. We have to be pragmatic to be effective. It’s religion’s intrusion into our civic institutions — that’s what really counts. We can’t have influence if we don’t change.”

 

This is  the part of the article that stood out the most to me.

spockis53's picture

spockis53

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Interesting article and excerpt.

 

Can a self proclaimed non-believing atheist ever become prime minister of Canada or president of the USA?

 

If no, why not?  I'd really like to hear from WC christians on this point.

Northwind's picture

Northwind

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I read that article in the Observer and enjoyed it.

 

I think that it would be easier for a avowed atheist to become PM than President. We don't seem to care as much about our leaders' religious views as they do in the US. I suspect someone COULD become president if they had strong other characteristics. Someone as well liked and articulate as Obama might be able to pull it off.

 

 

Kinst's picture

Kinst

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I really like this article. I think we of liberal church are really compelled to calm everyone down. I wouldn't go as far as Jocelyn, but it's also very important to me to show that christians aren't all conservative, evil or war-mongery.

 

I think an atheist could be PM. Probably not president, although Jefferson was a Unitarian.

Birthstone's picture

Birthstone

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I liked it too. 

And I agree that an atheist has a much better chance of becoming PM than President anytime soon. 

 

The part of the article that left me feeling sad, like someone needed some more support & caring was:

"As he grew into adulthood, Rand realized he is gay. Despite the fact that the United Church has taken major strides to affirm sexual diversity, Rand says, “All religions are homophobic and anti-sexual. I find no reason to reform churches. Just leave. The idea of gay Christians setting up their own churches because they’ve been rejected by their original churches is pathetic.”

Not that I think Rand must change his mind and find a church, but it was the broad paintbrush that was used, and how that mindset has been used for many topics & struggles.  It makes me very defensive, rather than finding a way to be just a person offering a caring ear.

The Liberal's picture

The Liberal

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Thanks for posting this, RonVB. 

 

I think the quote at the end is really important, coming from someone who is "on the other side", so to speak... I think the terms we use when we talk about the on-going tensions between religions needs to be broadened to include "life philosophies" rather than just religions.  The tensions between secularism and religion, and the tensions between New Age philosophies and religion, and others, are all part of our modern day society...  So, the quote points to a different kind of inter-"faith" dialogue.  I'm not arguing that non-theistic philosophies are examples of "faith", just borrowing the  term to address what I think is needed here. 

 

I think that her points that rational reasons are NOT all it takes to convert a person from their religious perspective... and that calling people who are religious idiots most certainly does not help to foster relationships, are both very true.  It's crazy to think that people may have thought otherwise!  Naturally, the same can be said of Christians who believe that they can convert non-believers by threatening them with hell and so on... or by throwing Bible passages at them...  The whole conversion thing, to me at least, is a mystery... 

 

But here is what I'm not sure of: say that atheists, secularists and humanists and so on are able to have decent and respectful talks with believing religionists...  What exactly would they talk about?  Could they learn something from each other?  What would that be?  How in the world woudl they each restrain themselves from trying to convince the other of their "folly"??? 

 

The last point that speaker made was "It’s religion’s intrusion into our civic institutions — that’s what really counts. We can’t have influence if we don’t change."

Would this be the point of that dialogue?  To get the religionists to give up whatever power they have in the civic realm?  How would that be different from conversion? 

 

And she said, "we can't have influence if we don't change". I'm curious about this.  Where in Canada's civic institutions is religion's influence more powerful than secular points of view?  I'm honestly asking because it seems to me that Canada is pretty secular...

 

 

 

LBmuskoka's picture

LBmuskoka

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spockis53 wrote:

Interesting article and excerpt.

 

Can a self proclaimed non-believing atheist ever become prime minister of Canada or president of the USA?

 

If no, why not?  I'd really like to hear from WC christians on this point.

 

In such a question all I can do is provide an explanation from my perspective and while I am a member of the UCC and, therefore by default identifiable as a Christian, I can not claim to be representative of others.  That's my disclaimer and I'm sticking to it.

 

Would I vote for an atheist?  Yes, if said atheist's political platform represented my political beliefs. 

 

I firmly believe in the separation of Church and State, neither should interfere with the other.  This means that the State can not impose itself on the various denominations anymore than any one denomination can impose itself on the State.  

 

To be honest I tend to get cranky whenever any one group tries to impose its beliefs, opinions, etc. upon another group.

 

I do not possess the naivety that as individuals we are not motivated by our personal beliefs and experiences, but I do believe that there are among us people capable of applying those beliefs, whatever they are, to everyone equally.  These are the politicians that I vote for, the ones who not only talk about equal justice but who have a track record of acting on the issues.

 

Religious affiliation does not enter the equation.  It is the position the person has taken on issues that matter, the environment, health care, social justice and equality.  The candidate could call herself a rabbit named Harvey and I would vote for her if I thought she would fight for the things I believe to be important.

 

 

LB


The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket, nor breaks my leg.     Thomas Jefferson

seeler's picture

seeler

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Could an athiest become prime minister of Canada?  I don't see why not.  I don't remember ever questioning a candidate's religion when I decided how to vote - except for Harper.  And then it was to vote against his particular brand of religion and his whole philosophy.

 

As far as I remember, and I'm older than most Cafe members, I don't know of any except Harper who have made religion an issue.  I presum that St. Laurent, Trudeau and Cretien were RC.  I believe that Tommy Douglas was a Baptist minister.  I don't know about the others, and I don't really care.  I support the person or party that most closely reflects my political beliefs and who I think is the best person for the job. 

 

spockis53's picture

spockis53

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Interesting  responses.  So, can we good without god? Can an atheist politician make sound ethical choices without god's moral guidance?

cjms's picture

cjms

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spockis53 wrote:

Interesting  responses.  So, can we good without god? Can an atheist politician make sound ethical choices without god's moral guidance?

 

I certainly believe so...cms

Northwind's picture

Northwind

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spockis53 wrote:

Interesting  responses.  So, can we good without god? Can an atheist politician make sound ethical choices without god's moral guidance?

 

Why not? You know, that makes me remember my philosophy prof at university. He was a Catholic Priest. He always drew a line on the blackboard, and said that this side was god and this side was philosophy, not  that he had anything against god. He even said this in Moral Philosophy. I think a person can make a good ethical decision without god. Heck, there are many good "christians" who seem to make some very unethical (in my view anyway) decisions.

seeler's picture

seeler

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Spockis - So we can good without god?  Can an athiest politician make sound ethical choices without God's moral guidance?

 

Well, of course.  Why would you think otherwise?

ronny5's picture

ronny5

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First off, yes to an atheist PM and no to an atheist president.  The USA is too crazy about religion, and they have laws in certain states that prevent atheists from holding any political office.

Secondly, I am a good person, and I live totally god free.  So could an atheist Prime Minister.  Everyone has a moral code even if it means you lack morals.  I know I don't need to believe in god or the 10 commandments to not kill or steal or rape and pillage.

The Liberal's picture

The Liberal

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Hey Ron, your line "I live totally god free" made me think of a t-shirt slogan...

 

I wonder where Spock is going with his questions... I thought that argument  (you don't need religion or God to have morals) has already been covered...  and this thread was about how folks who call themselves atheists can co-exist with religious folks, or something like that... at least that's what I gathered from the quote Ron posted under the main one.

 

Where in Canada does religion intrude in civic institutions?

 

 

Arminius's picture

Arminius

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After the next election, Canada will have an atheist PM!

 

(Isn't Ignatieff an atheist? :-)

LumbyLad's picture

LumbyLad

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I read this article in The Observer last week and thought it was well written. Most of all, I was very glad that a magazine representing my church's views could do this.

 

Can we be good without God? Well sorry folks, I believe that when the Creator set off evolution, It placed a "god chip" in each one of us. We are all partly human and partly divine. We are born with both intuitions - for destruction and construction (somewhat Freudian, I know), and our destiny depends somewhat on our environment, but a great deal on our propensities. We inherit a propensity towards alcoholism, and to cancer, etc. We also (I believe) come with an intuitive sense of goodness (and lack of goodness). As we grow, we go through developmental stages that are influenced by many many factors. One of them that is always ignored by the developmental psychologists is our connection to our spiritual selves. This is the part of us that is intuitively creative, indeed constantly co-creating with what we now call "God". We feel good when we behave in a creative way, be it by creating and raising a family or planting a good crop. These are experiences that help us grow and progress up the developmental ladder.

 

So what happens when the opposite happens? When our environment dumps on us and circumstance sucks, we still have this constructive intuitive self that can be used, but it is more likely we will not choose it and move towards a destructive mode of existance. This does not mean we are without "God". We still have the "god chip", but we are not using it. It is not rare for career criminals and drug addicts, etc. to suddenly "find God". I am always rather cynical about this, but I think I understand it. They tripped over a chip and tasted a creation. I know it sounds silly, but I do believe there is no such person as one without God (in response to Seeler's question). This is NOT the God of the New Testament or the Koran or the Torah. This is a God that has evolved as we have evolved and is reflected differently in different cultures. This is a God that has no existance separate from Its creation, which includes the cosmos itself as well as us (human ants). We do the best we can to express this "Spirit" that we feel is more that Mind (behavior) or Body (feelings). Agnostics simply fear anything they don't understand; agnostics sit on the fence; and the faithful simply fear anything they don't understand.

 

So we are mainly all in this together. It's the agnostics we have to stamp out. Then we can hire a negotiator and do some serious talking and agree on one slogan: " War is hell; Hate is out; Love conquors all; and Pardox Forever. "  By the way (as a friend of mine always says), "I made this up as I went along". It's called creative free association.

larrykueneman's picture

larrykueneman

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I feel I must apologize for the  sophomoric way you were treated in Long Beach.  Not believing in God for most who share this view today, seems to be an attempt at rebelion rather than a level of understanding reached.  For me, I am aware that evidence exists that Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad each worked hard to better the life of their own people (Jews and Muslims).  The main thing that they had in common was that in keeping with a growing number of people at their time, they each believed in one God over multiple gods, a belief that was becoming popular.  The Jews finally settled on one God around the year 70.  Christians did so between 325 (Council of Nicea) and 385 (final version of the New Testement), and The Muslims in the seventh century.

Early man recognized the violence of nature and absent any concept of science, could only ask (and only in thought, since he had no spoken language) "Who caused that?" Which would have evolved into "What super-being caused that."  This would have been the origin of gods.  Multiple gods were consolidated by later societies into a single God.

Now back to the three mentioned in the first paragraph.  While the evidence for them is sufficient for me to believe they did exist, I simply find no evidence for the factual existence of either gods or God.

Arminius's picture

Arminius

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Yes, Larry, I agree. Moses, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed and other big name prophets worked hard to improve the lot of their people, but they also were mystics who felt inspired to do what they did by their mystical visions.

 

What they experienced in their visions was subjective, and open to interpretation, but it was some kind of transcendental reality which they called "God." If we want to judge their experiences and what motivated them, then we should try for such experiences ourselves.

ronny5's picture

ronny5

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Agnieszka wrote:

Hey Ron, your line "I live totally god free" made me think of a t-shirt slogan...

 

I wonder where Spock is going with his questions... I thought that argument  (you don't need religion or God to have morals) has already been covered...  and this thread was about how folks who call themselves atheists can co-exist with religious folks, or something like that... at least that's what I gathered from the quote Ron posted under the main one.

 

Where in Canada does religion intrude in civic institutions?

 

 

 

well for one in the catholic school board.  You can go to catholic school if your not catholic, that is how they got public funding.  But EVERYONE has to take religion class, and the religion class that is part of the ciriculum.  Someone said on another thread that it is a balanced religious education, but it isn't.  It is slanted towards being catholic.  Also in the national anthem.  I don't believe in god so why should I ask god to keep my land glorious and free when if I so choose to sing the anthem? 

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LumbyLad wrote:

Can we be good without God? Well sorry folks, I believe that when the Creator set off evolution, It placed a "god chip" in each one of us. We are all partly human and partly divine.

 

...and I "believe" that you are wrong. Unless of course, you can identify and show me your 'god chip', in which case I will get down on my knees and pray to the lord, almighty right along side of you.

 

I 'believe' that I am good. And I 'believe' that I am living without god or a theistic pov. But my 'beliefs' are substantiated.

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spockis53 wrote:

I 'believe' that I am good. And I 'believe' that I am living without god or a theistic pov. But my 'beliefs' are substantiated.

 

Really?  Prove that you are "good".  Start by defining the framework that defines "good".  Then prove that there is no god.  The theistic pov is, as you say, a pov, and I think you have already proven that one.  But feel free to start in on the other two.

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ronny5 wrote:

well for one in the catholic school board.  You can go to catholic school if your not catholic, that is how they got public funding.  But EVERYONE has to take religion class, and the religion class that is part of the ciriculum.  Someone said on another thread that it is a balanced religious education, but it isn't.  It is slanted towards being catholic.  Also in the national anthem.  I don't believe in god so why should I ask god to keep my land glorious and free when if I so choose to sing the anthem? 

 

To start, I have long opposed the Catholic school system in Ontario, so I'm on the same general page as you are.  But you've got at least two problems in your post here.

 

1) The Catholic system only exists in Ontario, I think.  Maybe one other province.  All the others joined the 1900s some time ago.  Maybe one day we will, too.

 

2) Yes, religion classes are required, BUT no one is required to go to a Catholic school.  If you don't want the religion classes, don't go there.  There are lots of good reasons to oppose having a Catholic school system, but this isn't one of them.

 

As for national anthem - I agree.  Ideally, we should rewrite it completely, and take out the sexism while we are at it, but at a minimum, we should go back to the original words, which don't mention God.

sen.parl.gc.ca/vpoy/english/Special_Interests/speeches/National_Anthem_pr_feb02.htm

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RevMatt wrote:

spockis53 wrote:

I 'believe' that I am good. And I 'believe' that I am living without god or a theistic pov. But my 'beliefs' are substantiated.

 

Really?  Prove that you are "good".  Start by defining the framework that defines "good".  Then prove that there is no god.  The theistic pov is, as you say, a pov, and I think you have already proven that one.  But feel free to start in on the other two.

 

sure...  good = taking actions that increase the chance of survival of (in order of importance) i) my children ii) my relatives iii) my community of friends iv) the rest of humanity.

 

and... proofs are absolute and limited to the realm of mathematics. I 'believe' there is no god is a less rigorous test. Scientifically, there is no evidence for 'god(s)'. There is also no hypothetical reason for the existence of god(s). And what was once attributed to the necessity of god(s) has since, scientifically and with substantial evidence, been shown to be the result of natural explanations.

 

On the basis of what I observe, I therefore do not 'believe' in god.

 

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spockis53 wrote:

sure...  good = takin actions that increase the chance of survival of (in order of importance) i) my children ii) my relatives iii) my community of friends iv) the rest of humanity.

 

I like that definition.  It's not one I would use, but I can see it's usefulness.  And I'm more than willing to take you at your word that you live up to it :)  I am curious that nothing other than humanity registers on your list.  How do you understand your obligation to the rest of the natural world?  Without it, all of humanity ceases to exist, after all.  As a concrete example, and one that I am currently troubled by:

 

My daughter requires significant medical intervention to continue to live.  Unfortunately, the medical industry is based on the principle that it is easier to throw something out than to clean it, so the waste generated by her care is enormous.  How do I strike a balance between needing to help her to grow and live, and, at the same time, recognising that I am damning her future health in the process?  Using your definition of "good", where is the "good" in this?

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RevMatt wrote:

ronny5 wrote:

well for one in the catholic school board.  You can go to catholic school if your not catholic, that is how they got public funding.  But EVERYONE has to take religion class, and the religion class that is part of the ciriculum.  Someone said on another thread that it is a balanced religious education, but it isn't.  It is slanted towards being catholic.  Also in the national anthem.  I don't believe in god so why should I ask god to keep my land glorious and free when if I so choose to sing the anthem? 

 

To start, I have long opposed the Catholic school system in Ontario, so I'm on the same general page as you are.  But you've got at least two problems in your post here.

 

1) The Catholic system only exists in Ontario, I think.  Maybe one other province.  All the others joined the 1900s some time ago.  Maybe one day we will, too.

 

2) Yes, religion classes are required, BUT no one is required to go to a Catholic school.  If you don't want the religion classes, don't go there.  There are lots of good reasons to oppose having a Catholic school system, but this isn't one of them.

 

As for national anthem - I agree.  Ideally, we should rewrite it completely, and take out the sexism while we are at it, but at a minimum, we should go back to the original words, which don't mention God.

sen.parl.gc.ca/vpoy/english/Special_Interests/speeches/National_Anthem_pr_feb02.htm

 

I would like to point out a flaw in your second point...  parents make their kids go to catholic school.  As was the case with me.  I wanted to go to the public elementary school in our nighbourhood where all my friends went but I had to go to catholic school.  Then when we got to high school and all my friends went to a public high school I was sent to a catholic high school.  Why?  Because in the eyes of the law I was not considered old enough to make such a decision for myself.  I had to have my parents consent to make that decision.  By 14 I was done totally with religion in general, but my mom thought I was stupid for not believing in god, so she kept me in catholic school. 

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ronny5 wrote:

RevMatt wrote:

ronny5 wrote:

well for one in the catholic school board.  You can go to catholic school if your not catholic, that is how they got public funding.  But EVERYONE has to take religion class, and the religion class that is part of the ciriculum.  Someone said on another thread that it is a balanced religious education, but it isn't.  It is slanted towards being catholic.  Also in the national anthem.  I don't believe in god so why should I ask god to keep my land glorious and free when if I so choose to sing the anthem? 

 

To start, I have long opposed the Catholic school system in Ontario, so I'm on the same general page as you are.  But you've got at least two problems in your post here.

 

1) The Catholic system only exists in Ontario, I think.  Maybe one other province.  All the others joined the 1900s some time ago.  Maybe one day we will, too.

 

2) Yes, religion classes are required, BUT no one is required to go to a Catholic school.  If you don't want the religion classes, don't go there.  There are lots of good reasons to oppose having a Catholic school system, but this isn't one of them.

 

As for national anthem - I agree.  Ideally, we should rewrite it completely, and take out the sexism while we are at it, but at a minimum, we should go back to the original words, which don't mention God.

sen.parl.gc.ca/vpoy/english/Special_Interests/speeches/National_Anthem_pr_feb02.htm

 

I would like to point out a flaw in your second point...  parents make their kids go to catholic school.  As was the case with me.  I wanted to go to the public elementary school in our nighbourhood where all my friends went but I had to go to catholic school.  Then when we got to high school and all my friends went to a public high school I was sent to a catholic high school.  Why?  Because in the eyes of the law I was not considered old enough to make such a decision for myself.  I had to have my parents consent to make that decision.  By 14 I was done totally with religion in general, but my mom thought I was stupid for not believing in god, so she kept me in catholic school. 

 

I read the original national anthem and I think it is much better than the one we use today,  No mention of god.... or sexism. 

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ronny5 wrote:

I would like to point out a flaw in your second point...  parents make their kids go to catholic school.  As was the case with me.  I wanted to go to the public elementary school in our nighbourhood where all my friends went but I had to go to catholic school.  Then when we got to high school and all my friends went to a public high school I was sent to a catholic high school.  Why?  Because in the eyes of the law I was not considered old enough to make such a decision for myself.  I had to have my parents consent to make that decision.  By 14 I was done totally with religion in general, but my mom thought I was stupid for not believing in god, so she kept me in catholic school. 

 

Fair point.  I'm a little embarassed I didn't think of it, in fact.

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By extension, what is good for the natural world is good for our collective survival. I am an environmental advocate (personally), so I took that as a given.

 

I am assuming the personal story about your daughter is true and not an example, so I'm hesitant out of respect, RevMatt.  But in general...

 

Instinctively, we humans will sacrifice a lot to preserve the lives of our children. It is a well reasoned and heavily selected-for survival trait. If I equate your example with something more 'prehistoric' and less personal...

 

You're on an island, with a limited food supply. You're physically able to gather food for your family, at the expense of other families on the island. You sacrifice the future of others to feed your family and survive. Its a hard-wired trait.

 

Natural selection rationalises this in that, your inherent abilities make you more suitable to survive the environment. Subsequently, your children 'deserve' to survive and carry on.

 

I'm speculating here but in the case of your daughter, the downside of the environmental impact of helping her live has upside benefits to the larger community through medical knowledge gained from her/your/medicine's experience.   Medical science looks to turn chronic problems into cures/prevention.  There are are many examples of diseases that once filled wards for many years (and demanded huge resources) that were subsequently overcome by better medical knowledge.

 

Perhaps your daughter is a step towards that outcome.

 

 

 

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RevMatt wrote:

ronny5 wrote:

I would like to point out a flaw in your second point...  parents make their kids go to catholic school.  As was the case with me.  I wanted to go to the public elementary school in our nighbourhood where all my friends went but I had to go to catholic school.  Then when we got to high school and all my friends went to a public high school I was sent to a catholic high school.  Why?  Because in the eyes of the law I was not considered old enough to make such a decision for myself.  I had to have my parents consent to make that decision.  By 14 I was done totally with religion in general, but my mom thought I was stupid for not believing in god, so she kept me in catholic school. 

 

Fair point.  I'm a little embarassed I didn't think of it, in fact.

 

that's why we're all here right?  To talk and learn more.  That Rev. in front of your name doesn't make you any more/less knowledgeable than the rest of us.  

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ronny5 wrote:

that's why we're all here right?  To talk and learn more.  That Rev. in front of your name doesn't make you any more/less knowledgeable than the rest of us.  

 

No, but my history and desire to be an advocate for young people means I shoulda thought of it.  :)

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spockis53 wrote:

By extension, what is good for the natural world is good for our collective survival. I am an environmental advocate (personally), so I took that as a given.

 

I am assuming the personal story about your daughter is true and not an example, so I'm hesitant out of respect, RevMatt.  But in general...

 

I wouldn't have made the example if I wasn't willing to hear criticism.  Fear not :)  And yes, it is true.

 

 

spockis53 wrote:

Instinctively, we humans will sacrifice a lot to preserve the lives of our children. It is a well reasoned and heavily selected-for survival trait. If I equate your example with something more 'prehistoric' and less personal...

 

You're on an island, with a limited food supply. You're physically able to gather food for your family, at the expense of other families on the island. You sacrifice the future of others to feed your family and survive. Its a hard-wired trait.

 

True, but not quite an equivalence.  There are ways for me to provide what she needs in less damaging way, by buying different kinds of equipment.  The problem is, that the Ministry of Health won't pay for those options, only the cheaper, disposable ones (cheaper here is relative - I can't afford either on my own).  So, should I sell my house, live vastly more cheaply, in order to be able to purchase on my own the equipment necessary?  At what point do the sacrifices that would be necessary become unfair or even punative to my older daughter?

 

spockis53 wrote:

I'm speculating here but in the case of your daughter, the downside of the environmental impact of helping her live has upside benefits to the larger community through medical knowledge gained from her/your/medicine's experience.   Medical science looks to turn chronic problems into cures/prevention.  There are are many examples of diseases that once filled wards for many years (and demanded huge resources) that were subsequently overcome by better medical knowledge.

 

Perhaps your daughter is a step towards that outcome.

 

There is no new knowledge being gleaned from her care at the moment, but I suppose that might be in her future.  She's only 6 months old, so she has lots of potential ahead of her :)  Similarly, it is still very unclear what, if any, intellectual capacity she will have.  She may be completely unharmed in that way, or severly harmed.  We don't know.  So she may grow up to be a physically disabled, but significant contributor to society, which would certainly make fighting for her survival now justifiable.  But what if she isn't?

 

None of which approaches the issue of non-tangible benefits.  Where do those fit into the equation?  My 5 year old is insanely happy to have her sister, and head over heels in love with her.  That has no value in a strictly evolutionary sense.  Most of us would say that there is value nonetheless.  But how does that fit into a hierarchy based in priority of survival?

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Somebody wrote to spockis: "Prove that you are good."

 

Well, spockis meditates. ( A meditative atheist—imagine that! :-) Although this is no proof for goodness, it is conducive to goodness. If meditation, meditative prayer or other meditative or contemplative practice were practiced regularly by everyone, then we'd probably be a much better society—with or without God.

 

I consider Zen Buddhism the smartest religion in the world. Although there are some teachings in Zen, Zen is pure practice: meditative practice. The philosophy of Zen is not Zen. Buddhism in general and Zen in partricular are so called non-theistic or atheistic religions because they don't believe in God. If, however, one regards "God" as a metaphor for the cosmic divine, then every religion believes, perceives or experiences "God."

 

To me, religion is an experience of the divine, fostered by some kind of meditative or contemplative practice, and what we say about our experience of the divine is metaphorical and/or speculative—unless and until we have some scientfic proof for a transcendental power at work at the heart of the universe. 

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RevMatt wrote:

None of which approaches the issue of non-tangible benefits.  Where do those fit into the equation?  My 5 year old is insanely happy to have her sister, and head over heels in love with her.  That has no value in a strictly evolutionary sense.  Most of us would say that there is value nonetheless.  But how does that fit into a hierarchy based in priority of survival?

All I can think to say (carefully) after reading your posts is, the measure of what is good from a natural slection perspective is not always as simple as 'strong versus weak'.  The qualities being expressed by the people surrounding your new daughter's situation are valuable qualities(traits) to survival of the larger community. That includes the various aspects of love.

 

I'd like to think that love is a high value trait for survival, in the right circumstances

 

 

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I like that answer, thank you.  It needs some mulling :)

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