This Is Probably Not the Effect Religious Conservatives Expected My New Book to Have On Kate (Or Other Readers)


I agree with the writer--it's always been the people, not the religion itself, which is the real problem.
Maybe I'm dim but I never thought Dan was ever trying to talk anyone out of their faith - certainly not me. I remain unwavering in my lapsed Catholicism.
@ 1, it's a combination. The Bible is tricky to interpret, what with the parables, allegories, and contradictions, along with a church leadership willing to let some things slide if a society just won't go along with it.

Christianity allows the beholder to find what he or she wants to find in it. So you have a hateful bigot like Seattleblues who somehow thinks his hate is perfectly compatible with the message of love and tolerance and liberalism found in the Gospels. Because there are enough things in there allowing him to pick and choose, guided by his internal beliefs and prejudices.
It's not the religion that's the problem, it's the people, the books, the history, the structure, the culture, the leaders, the scholars, the rules, and the beliefs. Once you ignore all that, it's only somewhat problematic.
She should watch some Tim Minchin videos. That'll clear that problem up.
It is the religion. It was Catholicism and it's inherently disordered view of life and the world that gave us so many holocausts. So many. And it's religion that says the earth is just an invention of some sky god when we now know how planets formed. And people didn't just pop out of the ground. They evolved. Religion perverts the mind. You can say it's the people. But it's the people that always cause the worst problems for mankind.
"With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

- Steven Weinberg
Religion is NOT the problem. I can prove this with seven words: The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

He used religion and the idea of liberation theology to guide the civil rights movement in the US. Progressives so often forget his example, focusing instead on the bad things that have been done with religion in the hands of bad people.
@7 - It does not take religion for good people to do evil things. Look at the horrible things that have been done by well-intentioned people in the name of science or national security or "progress."
@5: I sincerely hope that was tongue-in-cheek. Tim Minchin is entertaining as hell, but doesn't exactly make compelling logical arguments in his comedy songs. Except for the pope song, which was spot on.
@7 Google the Milgram experiment. I saw a recreation of it on the science channel and it made my skin crawl.

People find incredibly stupid reasons to put down/hurt/hate other people every single day.
So as far as I see it faith should be positive, life affirming, and enrich your interactions with other people. If it doesn't then you're probably not doing it right. It's also like music in the way that I don't enjoy being told what to listen to, let alone forced to listen to certain singers and styles. Therefore I respect other people's musical (and religious) tastes and expect them to respect mine. But it doesn't mean I dislike having someone share a song/moral belief with me or having a conversation about their music/religion; I might have missed or misunderstood something.
It's not ALL the religion, but a lot of it is.

That there are people who can take something like Christianity and find good in it, and be inspired to do good by it, is a testament to those peoples' ability to find good in anything.

But it requires them to ignore the bad that is there. And that's fine but I wish people would at least admit that is what they are doing.

People ignore the parts of their religions they don't like, and they focus on the parts they do like. For some Christians that may mean ignoring the parts about killing your disobedient kids and focusing on the part about loving your neighbor. But for others it is ignoring the parts about divorce being forbidden and focusing on the parts about killing gay people.

But no matter how much some folks want to ignore it that bad stuff is still in there with the good, and it is better to accept that it is there and admit that good people will ignore it, than to try to use apologetics to explain away the unexplainable and make palatable the unpalatable.

If you need religion to make your life complete, and in the process you need to ignore the bad and focus on the good then fine, go for it. But you have to accept that other people are ignoring the parts that you find good and focusing on the parts that you find bad, and you can't say they are any less right about interpreting the religion than you are, because your religion has a lot of horrid stuff in it even if you choose to ignore it.

Personally I have always felt that the problem isn't God, if he/she/it actually exists. It is religion.

Because I don't know if there is a God, but if there is then the one thing I wouldn't be able to doubt is that no one knows what God wants or thinks, and God isn't found in religion, "Holy" texts or churches. These are the creation and tools of men, not gods. If people need a God to feel OK, to be inspired to do good, or for the world to make sense to them I can understand that. What I don't understand is why people feel that in order to have faith in that God they need to have faith middle men and earthly institutions that claim to speak for God.

If you want to know God then ask God directly. If you don't get an answer from God directly what makes you think you will get an answer from God through a church or preacher? That makes no sense other than a bunch of power hungry old men have convinced people that is the case so that they can exert control over everyone.
This sounds like the "guns don't kill people, people kill people" argument.
@reverend tap listen to Thank You God…
This parallels what I've thought for years.

It's not fundamentalist belief structure (whichever it may be) that's the problem here. The real problem is people who use those belief systems as smokescreens in their efforts at grabs for power and control over others.
@10, you would be mistaken. Other songs in Tim Minchin's 'anti-religion' handbook:
-Thank You God
-The Good Book
-Ten Foot Cock and a Few Hundred Virgins
-If You Open Your Mind Too Much Your Brain Will Fall Out (Take My Wife)
-I love Jesus
-Woody Allen Jesus

Lets be quiet clear about this. The bible definitely states that homosexuals should be put to death, so the fundamentalists are quite correct. Also 612 other commandments most of which are ignored because it's easier to hate homos than follow stupid rules about food and sacrifices and giving pigeons to priests etc.

Personally I think it's a bunch of crap. Some old book cobbled together by committee organised by the Catholic church, mis-translated, and clumsily put together. It's just a bunch of stories. How anyone can live their lives by this nonsense is beyond me.

Nevermind the fact that there is not one shred of evidence for this invisible friend in the sky or wherever.

"quite clear"
There is faith and there is religion. They are not the same. Faith is a one-to one relationship between a person and the Creator. Religion is a collective attempt by a group of people to create a cultural response to what they believe their faith is calling them to do. When done right, religion can do amazing good in the world. When corrupted, it can be horribly twisted. Most of the time it exists somewhere in between. But religion is created by people, and people are not perfect. The Bible is written by people, and again, is no more perfect than we are. Add thousands of years worth of cultural changes, and it can be extremely difficult to figure out what they were trying to say in the first place.

The best we can do is remember that the most important part is to love and treat others as you would want to be treated, and to remember that you are only charged with fixing your own shortcomings, not others.
Christianity is not a religion.

Presbyterianism is a religion.
Mormonism is a religion.
Lutheranism is a religion.
Episcopalianism is a religion.
Catholicism is a religion.
Southern Baptist is a religion.
Puritanism was a religion.
Eastern Orthodox is a religion.
Quakerism is a religion (or three).

What the hell is "Christianity," anyway? Different dogmas, different traditions, different worships, different interpretations. Some follow Jesus's supposed words and teachings. Some don't. Some believe in Continuing Revelation. Some don't. Some believe in the Literal Truth of the Bible. Some don't. These are too big a difference to make these pieces into any sort of related whole.

Factor in other religions, and it's clear that there isn't a very good bucket you could characterize as Christianity. For example, Jesus was against a centralized Temple with its priestly class. He taught that ordinary people could study the scriptures, teach each other, and pray together, on their own. Look at today: modern Judaism, with its emphasis on scholarly religious study, rabbis (teachers) instead of priests, minyans (it takes ten or more bar mitzvahed adults) to hold a religious service, is the direct descendant of Jesus's teachings. Meanwhile, Catholicism, with its hierarchy, great centralization, priests, and accumulated opulence, seems everything that Jesus rejected about religion in life.

What is Christianity? Just an empty rallying cry, thinly-disguised xenophobia, a conceit.
Actually, this pick-and-choose approach to theology and morality is precisely the reason that I gave up on all religion. How can you embrace and endorse any philosophy when you disagree vehemently with 3/4 of it? I'd be a fundamentalist of one religion or another, if only I could agree with even 90% of any of them.

So instead, I'm a fundamentalist of my own moral code. And if that's all any religion has ever been, then every religion has been made by human beings, not by some higher power. Religion is nothing but a primitive form of government, and history shows that in spades.
@3 is right. If you think about the evolution of today's most widespread religions, one thing they have in common is a difficult-to-understand, contradictory, quasi-mythical text. People can find multiple different understandings, and can justify a range of different opinions. It's a feature, not a bug, that allowed these religious texts to gain a great deal of acceptance and power.

Of course, liberal religionists and individuals like @8 would very much like to ignore the nasty interpretations and disturbing uses of the religious text. But if the text had just one clear meaning, it wouldn't even *be* the basis for a successful religion.
Fundamentalists and ideologues are failing at religion, not exemplifying it.

@14/16: Thank you for your advice, but I've heard them all. My point wasn't that that was his only anti-religious song, it was that his songs don't function as compelling logical arguments. Anyone convinced to let go of their faith by listening to his songs didn't really have anything worthy of calling "faith" to begin with.

Besides which, he (as with most comedians) does far and away his best work when he's not just writing straight-up diatribes and trying to make them funny. I don't pick up any indication from listening that he's able to laugh at his own atheism, which cripples his ability to write good atheist humor.
Reverend, you seem to view faith very strictly. If being confronted with the hatred, hypocrisy, bad science, contradictions, rape, pillage, torture, and murder SANCTIONED BY RELIGION is not enough to cause "real faith" to waver, what is?
can we get "like" and "dislike" buttons on the comments? so many of you say such great stuff...
@9 I think there's a fundamental difference between evil things and well-intentioned things that have inadvertent, horrible consequences. But I can see you point. Mr. Weinberg maybe should have said that religion is one of the things that make good people do evil things
@ 20, sorry. Christianity is a religion; the groups you name can either be called "denominations" or "sects," with the possible exception of Mormonism.

The things you cite as differences don't negate the fact that all these people believe Jesus was the son of God who died for our sins. That is the thing that makes Christianity a religion. (There are other broad things nearly all denominations agree upon - the Trinity, the Bible, the resurrection), but this is the thing that billions of people around the world all believe.
@ 20 & 28 Christianity is a group of religions, that share a common belief in Jesus as a central messianic figure. As far as that goes, all sects of christianity, judaism, and islam are abrahamic religions that share a common foundation (full disclosure, I am a recovering catholic and unapologetic atheist)
@28 That phrase, "nearly all," is not the same as "all." That dogma you cite, in fact is not held by all. I'm a Friend from the Hicksite/Quietist branch of the Religious Society of Friends (a.k.a. Quakers). We purport to follow many of the things we believe Christ stood for in life: Equality, Integrity, Peace, Community, Simplicity etc., but we don't necessarily buy the whole resurrection/Savior/Trinity thing. We're actually fairly dogma-free. As for the Bible, some of us read and discuss passages on occasion, but we believe in Continuing Revelation, seeking the Living Spirit, both individually and in our group worship, on an ongoing basis to guide us.

Seriously, if you look at the history of Christian denominations and their schisms, the animus, the bloodshed, the communities torn apart, and the continuing schisms today, there is clearly no agreement among them as to what their religion is, what God means to them, the afterlife, or even the right way to live here on Earth. How can you call such a random collection of differing beliefs "a religion?"
@ 30, you can make that case to the world's theologians professors of comparative religion, if you like, and maybe they'll go for it. If you prefer that I don't consider you to be Christian because you reject the basic belief that unifies Catholic, Orthodox, Baptist, Anglican, Methodist, Presbytetian, etc, I'm fine with that. But I'm not about to elevate denomination to the level of different religion, no matter how much blood they might shef over minor differences.

It's odd but true - sometimes people fight most vociferously with the people whom they are in most agreement, save a couple of points. Think of the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. Their differences didn't mean they weren't still socialists, never mind how little their philosophy resembled what we have in Europe today.
@23: Agreed and then some.
@29: That's how I always conceived it. BTW, is your screen name an Infinite Jest reference? Just wondering.
Ugh...Of course we argue against the Christians. I self identify as loosely pagan (KAOS!) without any major deity (I went through a major life change a couple years ago), but I was raised by Lutherans and friends with an Evangelical and a Catholic.

What people do as a group and what people do as an individual are two very different things. The very best thing you can do is encourage people to think for themselves, to explore and understand how their faith applies to them directly than to patronizingly say "Oh, you need faith to get through day to day life?! I don't! But as long as what you say/believe doesn't harm me or anyone else (besides you of course) go ahead!".

What I enjoy more than anything else is people blaming modern religions for the crimes of their ancient/medieval counterparts. It kind of reminds me of modern day Christians harping on the Jews for killing Jesus or the pagans for throwing Christians to the lions.
@32 It is. It's a little obnoxious, I know
@35: Nah, it's fine. I prefer Wallace's essays myself, but the reason I read them was because of Infinite Jest. Definitely one-of-a-kind.
This letter reminds me of Mrs Woolf's *Three Guineas*. She ties her answer to an appeal for funds to prevent war first to another appeal for funds to rebuild a college for women, going through considerations of earmarking the guinea for the formation of a new and poor college rather than the existing kind and then for the purchase of petrol, rags and matches to burn the college before deciding that the best she can do is to donate the guinea without conditions and hope that in time the old education can change.

This LW has flirted with burning down the Church (for herself, at least) and appears headed towards the goal of getting the old teachings to change while seemingly sidestepping the option of a new Church, a poor Church. I don't want to have any more thoughts beyond this point, as they would almost certainly depress me.
Bishop John Spong - watch some youtube of him speaking.
Anybody seen the movie "Religulous"? That's what convinced me that the problem is religion in general, not only people specifically.
Amen to Kate!! Great letter. Christianists don't represent all Christians.
The religion is the people who practice it.
@25: Your line of reasoning fails for the same reason that patriotism still exists. Almost none of the religious people I have personally interacted with would deny that bad people, bad ideas, and bad actions have occurred within the confines of their chosen faith (or indeed, been caused by the church of that faith as an official entity itself). Those things occur in every large grouping of human beings, religious or secular. However, religious people don't view their own faith through the monolithic, ultra-simplified lens that militant atheists prefer; they are capable of acknowledging the existence of evil within the ranks of their faith without thinking it applies to the faith as a whole. This is no different from people seeing the evil actions historically perpetrated in the name of the USA, while yet retaining their identity as Americans and retaining faith in the idea of the country.
@36 I love the essays. Infinite Jest is pretty cold and can be alienating (on purpose), and the essays are a lot more personable. But I'm still amazed by the depth, complexity, and elegance of Infinite Jest. Although, I do think that reading it from front to back can bring on a major depressive episode, if the reader is predisposed to bouts of depression anyway
@17 - Personally, I think it's all crap, too. But it's my understanding that it's only newer translations from the 1600s on that condemned homosexuality. Older translations did not. (Perhaps someone who is more versed in Biblical history can verify?)
One of the biggest problems Christians should have with fundamentalism is the premise that God no longer communicates with us except through the words of long dead prophets chosen to be included by the factions that put together the collection of stories known as the Bible.  The prophets may have spoken the word of God, but were the political hacks that chose (in particular the New Testament) finalists also so blessed?

Little things like Jew hating Christians forgetting their savior was and always will be Jewish, as were the disciples and followers until the founding of the Church(es)  need to be underscored.  The New Testament is a cherry picked version of the documents produced by Jewish sects, as it comes down to us.  Remember this is a document put together by a committee, not by the authors, and should be viewed as highly political within the lens of the politics within the Church(es) at the time.  And it is a good idea to look at the incidents surrounding Jesus's death as being shaped by the politics of that time as well.  

Finally, and most personally, why is the possibility of guidance from God, today, in the form of the still, small voice of conscience precluded.  To me discrimination feels wrong, as does intolerance.  To me generosity of Spirit and of my limited means feels liberating.  To me living in fear is wrong, for me, for anyone.  So much of fundamentalism seems predicated upon fear and hatred; considering the Bible should be celebrating God that last part is just sad.

I reject the "guidance from god" assertion.

As an atheist I do not need an invisible friend to tell me that raping children is wrong, that murder is wrong, that discrimination is wrong. These things are bleedingly obvious. These things are contrary to our nature as social animals.

If you want a lesson on morality, I suggest you search for Sam Harris on the subject. He can put it better than me.

If you rely on the bible, you will soon find out that slavery and ownership of women is just peachy. Don't tell me the new testament put paid to that because it did not.

"These things are bleedingly obvious."...

"Common sense is not so common".

The argument that religion is bad, because one doesn't need an "invisible friend" to behave ethically, as @46 puts it, is mostly only applicable to the Abrahamic religions. The other major faith traditions are quite comfortable with god-as-symbol. Hell even in medieval Islam the concept of God as nothing has its place.

I have never met an absolutist atheist, who condemns religion, that had any depth of knowledge about religion. When they say, "Religion is bad," they really just mean that obnoxious people abusing religion are bad.

Just as fundamentalists and ideologues are confused about what religion is, absolutists atheists [a kind of ideologue] think that the menu is the meal.

Mr Ophian - I'm inclined to agree with your conclusion, but it appears that you're requiring a pre-accepted definition of religion as full of goodness, truth and beauty. I don't see that it necessarily hurts the case if the F/Is are Doing Religion Right and the glory goes to those who subvert religion's original purpose and bring forth the goodness, truth and beauty.

Rephrased, I'm not going to spend the decades, centuries or millenia required to determine whether Religion Is Good or Religion Is Bad. Who will ever be able to generate sufficient consensus around either answer to move the multitudes? But if you can tell me how either answer helps one fight the F/Is who are doing harm more effectively, I'm willing to listen.
@ 48 - You obviously haven't met many atheists, absolutist or not. All those I know, including myself, have a much more thorough knowledge of at least one religion than any lay believer, and a more objective knowledge than officials of that church, i.e. priests, preachers, nuns, monks, etc.

I did read the bible from cover to cover, for instance, something which very few christians have done. That's when I declared myself an atheist, at the ripe old age of 11 - because even at that age, it was clear that the bible was by no means a work of divine inspiration.

I believe many studies have come out confirming what I'm saying, although I'll admit to not being able to cite any.
God bless you, Kate! (This coming from a semi-lapsed Jew.) I hope you're able to use your faith to open minds and help stem the hate.
Mr. vennominon, @49, " appears that you're requiring a pre-accepted definition of religion as full of goodness, truth and beauty."

I certainly don't mean to. I am not "religious" myself. I am a strict empiricist--by Western standards I count as an atheist--and am very familiar with the destructive faces of religion that make Torquemada look like a hobbyist.

Nevertheless, I think to argue that Religion is good or bad is like arguing that Language is good or bad. I mean, let's face it, a hell of a lot of what people say is shit, but we don't point at the inherent human capacity for language as the problem. When someone says something stupid, hurtful, destructive, we blame the speaker, not Grammar and Syntax.

Mostly I was trying to address the frequent, blanket assertions in these threads that religion is bad. That kind of absolutist declaration is as ignorant and ugly as a believer's claim that all other faiths and denominations but theirs are the work of Satan.
Ricardo, @50, I obviously have no problem with a non-belief in God, but there is a strong reactionary tendency amongst atheists, many of whom come from unpleasant experiences with religion. Proselytizing Atheists are no different than any other chauvanistic -ist.

And while it is my experience, too, that atheists are often far better versed in the Bible than believers, that is not the same thing as having a depth of knowledge about religion. Simply reading the book cover-to-cover won't even give you a good picture of Iron-Age Levantine religious practice.

I certainly don't know what other investigations and experiences you have had on the matter, but to look at Christianity, read the Bible and decide that Religion is bunk is a bit like eating an egg salad sandwich that has gone off, and then deciding that things should not be put inside of bread.
Mr O - Fair enough. I thought you were more involved in whether the F/Is were Doing Religion Wrong (or Non-Religion, for that matter) than in whether they were doing harm, but the point seems satisfactorily explained.
@ 53 - That's a ridiculous argument.

Deducing that an organization must not be trusted because it bases its supposedly god-given authority on a huge set of contradictory positions and propositions - while still claiming that a perfect being is the source of these contradictions - is certainly not an instance of jumping to conclusions. It's an instance of using one's brain the way it should be used. (And let's not mention the sheer absurdity and/or horror of most of the bible's content, which should make anyone doubtful of its usefulness, veracity and, most of all, divine origin).

Anyway, I had read enough about ancient mythologies at that point to recognize bible-based religions for what they are: the superstitions of primitive tribes. My later studies of history and of how the catholic church became such a widespread and powerful institution confirmed that it all had to do with earthly, not divine, power. And although I was only somewhat familiar with judaism, protestantism and islam, it didn't take much of an effort to see that they were all made of the same cloth, since they are all abrahamic religions - and that myth alone is enough to make anyone with a brain doubt their value. And at any rate, the mere existence of several conflicting religions on Earth is evidence that they are man-made, and not inspired by a divine authority. A perfect being wouldn't contradict itself, would it? And if it did to spite us, then it wouldn't be such a perfect being, would it? This is very basic logic, not beyond the grasp of an 11-year old.

Besides, have YOU read the bible? It's got an awful lot of pages to make its case, and it fails miserably. So no, it's not like eating a rotten egg salad sandwich. It's like observing a thousand people eat a thousand sandwiches whose contents have gone off, then vomit, and drawing the conclusion that when a sandwich stinks, or its insides have turned blue-green, you shouldn't eat it. I think that's a reasonable deduction, don't you?

I've since had 36 more years to deepen my analysis of the situation, which I've done with a substantial amount of reading, but also an interest in the ways the real world works (i.e. science), and I still haven't come across a convincing argument in favour of the existence of god and/or the value of religions, quite the contrary. I haven't met one believer who was able to defend his/her beliefs with more than platitudes when confronted with very basic logical arguments; platitudes such as "the lord moves in mysterious ways", for instance - as if that answered anything.

So yes, I may be a militant atheist, but I'm far from uninformed on the subject. I know more than any believer I've ever met, for the simple reason that people believe in religion out of fear of what they cannot explain, i.e., out of ignorance.

And in the sense that religion favours ignorance - or else it would soon be out of business - yes, one can accurately claim that religion is bad in itself. And no, you can't compare it to language, because language is an innate function of the brain, whereas religion is merely a relic of a less enlightened time.
@52 I think your comparison between religion and language is a bit misleading. I think that the proselytizing atheist's primary argument is that the good that derives from religion (morals, community, virtue, etc.) could be achieved in other ways, without the harm that religion causes. That argument seems plausible with regards to religion. I don't think that the same could currently be said for language.

That said, atheists do tend to be defensive and strident, at least the ones I know. Of course, some of that probably comes from being treated like crazy people or monsters by a surprisingly large number of people.

I think you and I may be on the same page, to the extent that I'm less concerned about the cost-benefit analysis of religion, and more concerned that there is no empirical evidence to support any belief in God, and that every well-reasoned argument that I've heard or formulated operates in favor of the conclusion that there is no God. I guess my question here is, should we be talking about whether or not religion is good, or whether or not it is correct?
@ 56 - Thank you for saying this so elegantly. If I wasn't so strident and defensive, I wish I could have written your comment myself.
@55: You utterly fell into exactly the same logic hole that Ophian was talking about. Looking at the inconsistencies and wrongs within Christianity and deciding, based upon that, that all religion is bunk, is not even remotely good reasoning. Even looking at all the Abrahamic faiths only encompasses a tiny sliver of the extraordinary range of beliefs that fall under the category of "religion" (particularly if, as most atheists do, you accept as genuine only the most fundamentalist, literalist interpretation of the faith possible, ignoring the fact that it is usually an exceedingly modern one). Yes, the vast majority of atheists in this country know quite a bit about ONE religion, but their arguments tend to come from an underlying assumption that the terms "religion" and "Christianity" (or, on a rare occasion, "the Abrahamic faiths") are interchangeable. They are not.
@57 Sarcasm? I honestly can't tell (which might be a sign that you are definitely being sarcastic and I have way too high an opinion of myself).

@58 What I'm talking about is a rejection of the belief in a deity, based upon a lack of empirical evidence or logical argument that supports the existence of a deity. This doesn't really require as broad a knowledge of world religions as you suggest. To the extent that there are groups that could be described as religious that do not rely on the belief in a deity, an atheist could conceivably embrace those religions. Although, the ones with which I'm familiar rely on concepts like life after death or supernatural powers, which also seem to fail the basic rationality test.
I once caught a debate between C. Hitchens & D. D'Souza. While I think that Hitch was the better thinker/arguer, I found the whole thing kind of pointless. They were mostly talking about two totally different things.

Mr. Ven, @54 "...whether they were doing harm..."

IMO, if you are doing harm, you are doing religion wrong...or at least you should stop.

Ricardo, @55, and Pemulis, @56, I have little interest, one way or another, in arguments for the existence of God. For present purposes it is beside the point. Religion ≠ Belief-in-God. [see The Right Honourable Reverend Tap, @58]

As far as criticisms of the Abrahamic religions, I'm sure we would be largely in agreement. A literal, anthropomorphic deity who hands down a single divine text for all time is a non-starter for me [let others believe as they will]. But again, that does not address the broader issue of religion. That is what I meant by one--or many--bad sandwich[s] not invalidating the deliciousness of sandwiches [but I will take responsibility for my weak analogy].

I will, however, stand by my comparison to language. Our species is unique in its use of language. We are--as far as we know, as good empiricists--unique in our experience of awe, of the numinous, of the wonder at the mystery of existence. What one does with that is another question.

To say that Religion is bad because common expressions of the Abrahamic faiths have become incompatible with modernity, is not logically complete. To hold Fundamentalism [a modern reactionary development that does not represent the, arguably, millions of years of human awe and yearning for meaning] up as the exemplar of religion is a straw-man.

To Reject Religion is to expurgate and gut the magnificent thing that is the on-going conversation of our species. It is to embrace an ignorance of intrinsically human experience. [Do you find no wisdom in Ecclesiastes?] There are plenty of voices who know what they are talking about, are quite critical of religions, but speak deeply about Religion [e.g. J. Campbell, E. Pagles, K. Armstrong].

Finally I say that the dichotomy between "Religion" and its "Opposition" [Science?, Rationality?, Fact?], is false. Some write in prose and poetry. If R. Feynman can seriously posit that the Universe is but one particle moving backwards and forwards in time, why is it unserious to contemplate the image that all that is, was or will be is but Visnu's dreaming?
Oh, and Ricardo, @55, one more rebuttal:

"...when [something] stinks, or its insides have turned blue-green, you shouldn't eat it."

@60 I agree with this second comparison between language and religion, which is very different from your first comparison. Language and religion are, as best we have been able to observe, uniquely human, and they relate to the way that we organize our relatively complex brains. I once read a study by a neurologist, I forget his name, who theorized that our tendency toward religion is necessary to organize the otherwise irreconcilable functions and imperatives of our various brain parts, or something.

And beyond that, I agree that language is necessary for and religion is indelibly linked with experiences like awe, transcendence, grace, and what have you. I'm not against those things. I'm not against people's sincerely held religious beliefs, either, except when they are harmful. And religion is responsible for some beautiful, moving poetry.

I would like a true believer to convince me that their religious or spiritual beliefs are not illogical, or explain why they can't. In the absence of that conversation, I'm stuck with the thought that my feelings of joy, transcendence, love, exaltation or whatever are just biological functions that have developed as a result of our species' adaptation to environmental pressures over millions of years. Since I like to feel such things, but am unable to logically attach them to some divine or spiritual reality, I am stuck with the cognitive dissonance of thinking, on some level, that they are just by-products of how my internal chemistry is behaving on a given day, meant to cause me to react to the world in a certain fashion.
pemulis, @62, "I would like a true believer to convince me that their religious or spiritual beliefs are not illogical..."

Well there's yer problem.

You are making an error similar to that off the Fundies: mixing up Mythos and Logos. Treating metaphorical ways of pointing toward true aspects of human experience--concepts that cannot be didactically imparted--as Fact is to mistake the menu for the meal. [Trust me, laminated card-stock is not good to eat.]

Linear and analytical thinking is fantastic for some of what we humans do. But the associative and intuitive is an equal half of what we are.

"I am stuck with the cognitive dissonance of thinking, on some level, that [my feelings] are just by-products of how my internal chemistry is behaving on a given day..." [emphasis added]

"On some level" that is true, but "just" is a needless qualifier. A useful concept in one framework may be ill-fit for another valid perspective. When a loved one passes it isn't particularly useful to think, "Well, that is going to totally fuck up my serotonin levels."

To pick apart the math of a chord progression does not invalidate the experience of a Bach prelude.


"...I think to argue that Religion is good or bad is like arguing that Language is good or bad."

"Our species is unique in its use of language. We are...unique in our experience of awe, of the numinous, of the wonder at the mystery of existence. What one does with that is another question. "

"I mean, let's face it, a hell of a lot of what people say is shit, but we don't point at the inherent human capacity for language as the problem. When someone says something stupid, hurtful, destructive, we blame the speaker, not Grammar and Syntax."

[From @52 and @60, edited for concision, not content.]

I'll stand by that. ;)

@63 I fervently hope that I'm not making an error similar to that of the Fundies.

But I understand, and dig, this line of thought. It's kind of an empowered nihilism. The things that make my blood burn, make the whole world go quiet, or break my heart are true and meaningful because I decide that they are, and they connect me to the rest of humanity. Without reference to an objective spiritual reality. It reminds me of Jeanette Winterson's book The Passion. "Trust me, I'm telling you stories."
@64 And I stand by the proposition that we could at least potentially discard religion without discarding our "experience of awe, of the numinous, of the wonder at the mystery of existence." But we couldn't discard language without losing those things. But it seems like quibbling at this point. I've enjoyed our conversation, and agree with you on the important points.
@65, I find that voices as disparate as Sartre and Rumi both speak beautifully and consolingly about the struggle of confronting sheer being, whether as man's existential responsibility, or as the longing for connection to the divine as a lover longs for the beloved.

It's a great conversation.

@67 and here I'd heard that civility was dead, in the age of the Internet. It's been a real pleasure.
@68, likewise. Cheers.
@52 - I think that it is the rare individual who can't see that religion is a mix of good and bad.


That doesn't preclude coming to a rational conclusion that if you look at the sum total of good and bad introduced to the world through religion that a person can tally up their ledger and decide that religions' sum total leans to the positive or negative column.

On top of that you can also conclude that both the good and bad in religion exist in other institutions and situations, meaning that religion isn't the only creator of good or evil in the world.

That being the case it is very reasonable for an individual to conclude that religion has had a sum total negative effect, and that the positive it has had could be introduced through other means, making religion an overall negative institution.

On top of that is the issue that many (perhaps not all but a vast number) are rather lacking in morality due to their morality being accepted arbitrarily. Even if there are some rational used in the original formation of that moral code, the acceptance of that moral code by the followers of the religion based not on the rationality of the code, or it's applicability during changing times, means that the code does not evolve to adapt to those changes, and the rational for that code becomes outdated and no longer valid.

Yet because followers adhere to it simply due to it being "divinely given" rather than based on its applicability to contemporary times and rational assessments of the moral needs of the people, the morality of religion is inherently problematic. Even if it is a religion that seems to address current times in a rational matter.

For instance I personally agree with a large portion of the moral code of the main branches of Buddhism (not all of it, but compared to most religions I find Buddhist moral philosophy the most palatable of the options I am familiar with). Yet the simple nature of the application of that moral code is still a problem. What happens 100 years from now when the moral needs of society have changed but Buddhist leaders and people are still trying to apply the same moral code?

So even at its best religion poses real moral problems that range from inconstancies to outright dangerous.

Looking at this my conclusion is that the good of religion is not worth the bad of it, and that the good of it could be found elsewhere. And so the world would most likely be a much better place without it.

I was raised a Catholic and was, until my mid teens, an avid believer until I could not reconcile what I knew to be false with what I was supposed to believe about the religion in order to be a good believer. But I didn't abandon religion. I started to look for answers in other religions. I looked at all the religions available to me, from Judaism to Wicca, Buddhism to Baha’i. After years and years of searching I finally decided that religion was not worth it.

However I still believed in God. One of the issues I have with religion is the idea that most religious people equate their religion with God. You can see this in the argument that many Christians use against atheists that an atheist only claims to not believe in God because they had bad experiences with Christianity (or pick the religion, it really doesn't matter).

They neglect that a person can still believe in God and not believe in a religion. That's what I did for a very long time. I don't believe in God because of my experience with religion, or because I was mad at God. Just the opposite. I hung onto the idea of God for so long because I loved the idea of there being a God even if I thought religion was an overall negative thing.

But I finally had to admit that I only believed in a God because it COULD be, and I liked that idea. But not because I had an actual reason to believe. Once I accepted that I did not have any real reason to believe I found myself unable to even though I wanted to.

I would love to believe in a God. But I look at the reasons to and find none, and so I cannot.

I do, however, still have that awe of the universe that others speak of. And I don't find it any less awe inspiring for lack of a supernatural rational for it. On the contrary, when you remove "Magic" as the cause it becomes even more awe inspiring. Trying to explain it away with magic only cheapens it in my opinion.

@ 58 - I'll admit I don't know much about most other religions, but I have known a lot of actual buddhists (not idealistic Western converts), and it's quite obvious that their religion (yes, it IS a religion in the way they practice it, i.e. all ritual and no spiritual) holds the same place in their life and history as abrahamic religions do in the life of those who practice them.

Globally, religions were created as a way to explain what people didn't understand - a role which now belongs to science - but, unfortunately, used as a way to control them. Distilled to their essence, what remains if you remove the funny bits (cosmology etc.) is a set of rules and rituals. If you say "rules", you say "control" (I'm not talking about what religions could be, I'm talking about how they are applied in the real world). A specific form of control might be good in itself, but generally, I think it can safely be said that any form of control which involves a supposedly god-given power -therefore absolute, as the control extends into a hypothetical afterlife - is not particularly good for humankind generally (although it's absolutely wonderful for those who wield it). And any form of control which advocates ignorance as a virtue and strict obedience to authority (whether that authority is a priest or a book), or which impedes criticism, is absolutely wrong for humankind, as it goes against our nature - we wouldn't have evolved much (mentally) without critical sense.

@ 59 - A bit of self-deprecating humor, but for once, absolutely no sarcasm.

@ 61 - I prefer Gorgonzola myself, but it did take a lot of convincing for me to eat it the first time, due to the outstanding evidence concerning food that has turned blue-green. So it's merely the exception that proves the rule, not a rebuttal.
@70 and @71, the distinction between religions and Religion is key here. If you are trying to say that the forms of religions you have encountered are flawed [Catholic Church: helps the poor v. hurts the poor?] get out your ledger sheets and red pens and have a blast. Again, I would probably agree with the basic findings.

However if you are going to presume to weigh Religion as a net good or bad you are making at least one categorical mistake. The spiritual dimension of the hominid experience has, arguably, existed since before our species. It is intrinsic to what we are. You can judge it all you want, but go ahead and try to get the wetness out of water.

When you talk about Religion being a belief in a god or the supernatural, or require ignorance and being about control, or being in opposition to critical thinking and independant thought...if you really think that that is what Religion IS, then you are looking at a limited sampling of bad forms of religion and mistaking that for the whole story.

You are more than welcome to hold ignorance as information and fight your perceived enemy, but then you are doing the same thing as those you condemn.

The rest of us, religious and irreligious alike, would prefer that you keep the noise down.
@ 72 - I am not "mistaking that for the whole story". I am talking about religion as a phenomenon using as examples its manifestations in individual religions, which, as I've clearly stated, are of the same cloth. You, on the other hand, seem to fail to understand that the forest is made of trees.

The religious impulse arose everywhere for the same purpose, to fulfill the same need. My basic position is that we no longer have that need, and we can move beyond that now. Religion as a phenomenon might have been useful at one point, but it most definitely no longer is, and all that remains of it is an obstacle to our attainment of a truly humanistic philosophy which would be relevant for everyone. Without the pseudo-spiritual crap, which was always either a disguise for more material intentions or a manifestation of some psychological disorder.

And if you want to keep the noise down, you could start by shutting up. I am being sarcastic now - I am, after all, a fierce advocate of freedom of speech - but that line of yours is even more disrespectful than the attitude of those you criticize. As we all know, trying to silence those who disagree with you is almost always a proof of a lack of valid arguments... and I don't think I'll give you the benefit of the doubt on that one.
@72, no, you are just being very presumptuous. If we don't agree with you then that simply means we don't understand. Which is something I hear from religious people a lot.

But I probably understand far better than you.

I have probably experienced and sampled far more religions than you. I have visited monasteries in Tibet, shrines in Bali, Mosques in Egypt, Synagogues in many countries, participated in Pagan rituals, been blessed by monks, Brahmins, and priests of many stripes. I've seen religions at their best, and I have seen the beauty in them.

And in all that experience I still have walked away thinking they are more a hindrance than a boon.

You can discount my experiences if you wish, but if you are trying to argue me out of the relevance of my own experiences you should know better.

I went in to detail about what I see as the inherent moral problem of religion, but rather than even attempt to address those arguments you just dismiss me and my arguments as being ignorant because... well because I don't agree with you.

And you claim I am the one doing what the people I condemn do? No, you ARE one of the people I condemn, religious or not, because of that very tactic. It is that very thinking that is the problem. As I said, these problems aren't the sole purview of religion, and your post is clear proof of that.

You want me to shut up? Give me a reason to shut up. When I stop seeing religion doing more harm than good I will be happy to shut up. When I see the moral problem of religion resolved I will gladly shut up. I won't have reason to chatter on about it at that point. At that point, even if I don't believe and still think that religion is a waste of time, I would be more than content to let people wallow in their delusions in peace.

But there is no peace, and that breaking of the peace is due to the actions of religions, not the unbelievers. The unbelievers you rail against are simply pushing back. I know, we should shut up and take it. Accept the bad that religion heaps on the world and call it beautiful.

But some of us just can't, sorry to disappoint you.

As for religion being inherent to human existence, once so was dying from simple infections. We learned to overcome that and we can learn to overcome the drive to religion as well. The more we learn about the world the less we need religion to explain things that it never really explained in the first place. Just like we no longer need Zeus to explain lighting so one day we won't need religion to try to explain to us why things are the way they are, and why we exist. And we will be better off for it because religion never has actually told us these things. Religion has always just claimed to do so, and in doing so has hindered the real progress humanity could have been making towards finding those answers.
I think of religion (not any specific one, the general concept and practice thereof) as an excuse people use for destructive behavior and myopic perspective, not the cause of said behavior and perspective. I think that's the kernel of what Ophian is saying, though I could be wrong. That is definitely what I'm saying.
@73 Oh, yeah. Nothing condescending about telling people that if they believe in a religion they have a psychological disorder.
@74 Have you seen the South Park episode where Stan becomes friends with a Mormon? Watch it.

I don't actively practice a religion right now, because my day to day life became so burdensome that the idea of trying to straighten it out and continue in the work (yes, esoteric religions actually require A LOT of time and effort) was too intimidating. When I did practice most of my time was spent learning. Now most people focus on memorizing prayers, symbols, and rituals. They forget that the only reason those are there are to provide a sort of rough map to help you sort through the REAL work; which is the harmony of self, humanity, and (for want of a better word) the ALL. The desired end of this harmony isn't some kind of ever lasting wisdom, but at best to see yourself completely in all your horror and glory. To see yourself, so you can try to understand, forgive, love and grow. And then try to give the same to others. Does this mean you're somehow beyond the inherent pitfalls of being human? No, but you have a way of pulling yourself up every time you screw up and trying again and again...

"Practice is the only way that you will ever come to understand what the way of the warrior is about. Constant striving for perfection of the self through a chosen art is the only path to enlightenment. Words can only bring you to the foot of the path, and to attain mastery and perfection you must constantly strive to better yourself through an understanding of your chosen way."
— Miyamoto Musashi
As if I haven't been mouthy enough...
I just want to add that I get tired of people opting out cause there is something bad or conflicting in a religion. If you feel there is something worthwhile in a religion and you feel a deep personal pull towards it, fight for it. A religion isn't just a collection of beliefs, fables, and symbols. It's also a collection of the contributions it's members chose to make to it.
Perhaps the problem here is my use of the word "Religion," [perhaps even more so in that form].
Oh Joy in Hosanna! The grammatical correct mirror images of the "God Hates Fags" only from opposite side of the fence -- yet still if ignorance was directly correlated to distance away from the fence, they are truly the mirror image, verily, verily, verily the mirror image of ignorance

But darned if they couldn't say it any more correct like with their impeccabul grammers

It just wouldn't be same without bullets of ignorance coming from the atheists and club dawkins, who do the exact same damage and distortion to the Truth and the fundamental bigots in from the Church.

The same ones who beliefs in biogenesis, but cry foul of religious beliefs.

Thank God almighty, there's a crossfire now coming from the other ignorant camp
Ophian @78: Hey, good looking. It's not you or your use of the word "Religion". We have entered the realm of the knee-jerk reactive and the angry. Peace has little semiotic space here.
Did my low opinion of people who are the only ones capable of pissing me off more than bigots who clearly have misinterpretted the Old Testament, accepted the words of Saul Pet of Tarsus for over half of the New Testament -- the man hired by the ruling religious class of Jesus's Days to mitigate the damage that speaking the Truth was doing to the church -- and the only ones who piss me off more are the ones who don't use God as an excuse to lie, they use science.

Well, I can't apologize, because look at what they have done with Truth, they allow Science to lie, the last bastion of Truth itself, and yet people who don't know the first thing about science will automatically accept anything and any word spoken just because "science" said so.

Well I call bullshit, because that is allowing exactly what the people allowed during the days that Jesus walked the earth, and that is exactly what people are doing these days.

Any publishing company starts up a "scientific sounding" named magazine and call it journal, and suddenly it's word is golden?

We have astrophysicists who claim the milkway itself is travelling in a straight line away from a single point with the bullshit story about a Big Bang, and nobody says shit about those fairy tale tellers,

The same crap with Dawkins and his bullshit stories, the guy doesn't even understand the most basic principles about evolution, and these fucking assholes claim that The Word is scriptures is the problem with religion, that it's just a bunch of fairy tales

The Truth in the way this world works, and whether or not you can interpret the meaning , or even a step further, whether it is even in The Word or not,


The problem is idiot men who are not honest with themselves, idiot men who cannot admit when they are wrong and the idiot women who put their faith in said idiot men.

And anybody who speaks words that they don't know jack shit about, especially the assholes like Dawkins and every single fucking asshole that automatically believe idiot and then support them as if their word is truth, are doing the entire world a disservice, and they are the problem

the same as the idiot leaders of the church have been doing the same shit since those rat bastards executed my Savior for speaking the Truth during his Time almost two thousand years ago, and every asshole that has blindly given their word their endorsement of their truth

So yeah, I think it pisses me off more during these days when some assholes takes the name of Science, and soils it as if it were the name of God.

I don't like those who soil either names and I don't show any respect to those who do.

I am sick of stupid people
Knee jerk or ho humm all you want, if you think me disgust for liars from any place, even those that sit on the fence with me, is knee jerk, I'd have no problem lumping anyone into the category they fit

I am used to being discounted by both sides, a circumscription of discounters doesn't mean shit to me, if anything it gives me strength
@82: I wasn't directing my post towards your comments. Mostly because I'm not exactly sure what you're trying to say.
I think he's saying he forgot to take his lithium today.
I am sure you don't understand what I am saying, as you don't see that the problem is not anything that is written in the scriptures, and it would be even it instructed people to do every evil and vile act known mankind, because it could be exactly that and it could even be God's word verbatim, and the God could be very real provable or not, and it would still be the people who are the problem.

Mostly men, but of course there will always be women who adopt the same lies and trumpet the same truth that are lies, doesn't matter if they are false prophets claiming the to know God's will, or false scientists claiming some new discovery.

It's the lies they tell others and the lies they get themselves to believe by justifying their actions

That is problem with, and denying the problem is part of the problem.

everyone who is part of the problem can fuck off
And I have to commend you Orphian, as I don't know how you can calmly respond to idiot grammarians whom it often seems the case they believe writing or saying something with correct grammar, trumps truth.
It isn't your grammar that makes you hard to understand there Chomsky. It's the incoherent, stream of consciousness rambling.

All I can tell is that instead of disliking one side of the debate or the other you dislike both, and that makes you feel superior to everyone unlike we peons who can only feel superior to only one half of the debaters.

Good for you. Must make you feel all warm inside.
@86: Uh, I agree with Ophian. He's a friend, deeply intelligent, and wonderfully diplomatic regarding most things. I wasn't antagonizing you @83; I really don't understand your posts, and I think you've misunderstood mine. I think you're saying even if scripture actively compelled men to evil, it is man's capacity for evil that finally makes the evil possible. Which makes sense if you believe man wrote scripture, but I'm not sure how that relates to our discussion.
Really Now, @76:
"Practice is the only way that you will ever come to understand what the way of the warrior is about. Constant striving for perfection of the self through a chosen art is the only path to enlightenment. Words can only bring you to the foot of the path, and to attain mastery and perfection you must constantly strive to better yourself through an understanding of your chosen way."
— Miyamoto Musashi
[@ 89 was @76's contribution, and says better than I did what I think the good part of Religion is.]
lolo, @88, thank you.

I feel that I lost sight of diplomacy, and started to get kind of shoutty here. As F. Mercury said, "بسم الله لا"

I'd be interested to listen to your perspective on these matters. I'm a geek about these things [imagine that], but I try to be only slightly obnoxious.

In any case, smooches to you and to my other interlocutors: 道可道﹐非常道;名可名,非常名

@91, should be: "In any case, smooches to you. And to my other interlocutors: 道可道﹐非常道;名可名,非常名.

[The full stop is important, as I meant to send smooches to you, not to, "my other interlocutors."]

@91: I've been shouting at a completely delusional and entitled misogynist named the Misanthrope on another thread for three days now, so I think you can still count yourself among the diplomatic. As for my perspective, I suppose it's not altogether more complicated than what I've already posted here. I personally don't have any attraction to organized religion (this probably has to do with the fact that my father was a late-convert Jehovah's Witness who dragged me and my brother into it [my mother flatly refused]) so I've been lazy about learning about other options.

In terms of spirituality, my favorite entry points are art and sex (natch); music, books, film and physical contact all hold- at their best- a very palpable sense of divinity. But divinity as I define it is just that sense of larger connection to the world, of getting at the intangible but inherent elements within people and the things they create and space they inhabit in the world. I hope none of this sounds as pretentious as I think it might; I very rarely am asked to articulate these things.

To use a musical example: my favorite album ever is PJ Harvey's To Bring You My Love (no surprise there), which my favorite music critic described as the moment Harvey's "desperate carnality takes a sharply metaphysical turn". There are many reasons I love this record, but the main thing it taught me was desire- sexual and romantic- has a lot of the elements that most people ascribe to God, or at least a higher power. That is to say, the physical and the spiritual are intimately connected- which is borne out in the way the music physically affects me as well. Anyhow, I hope this wasn't too rambling or discursive and that I actually answered your question.

@92: Smooches right back atcha. With a tasteful but substantial amount of tongue ; )
@92 The other interlocutors will be jealous. Just sayin'.