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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The ‘risk’ of Atheism?

Sirkolgate made this comment recently and I wanted to capture it before it went into old post Limbo.

He said: What you do in your life is up to you and you can make it good or bad. Main difference is I think you’re making a scary choice, because if you’re right… I’ll be dead having still lived my life the way I wanted. If I’m right, well shit, sucks to be you.

This seems to be a variation of Pascal’s Wager. Blaise Pascal basically said that the rewards for a belief in God are infinite whilst the dangers of not believing in Him are just too terrible to contemplate. Therefore it is far more reasonable to believe in God than not – because you lose nothing if you’re wrong (dead is still dead) but gain everything if you’re right.

There are so many things wrong with this philosophy that it’s difficult to know where to start. I actually think that Pascal’s Wager is the argument of a coward. It basically states that we should believe in God because of the fear of the consequences of not believing. It is essentially a negative belief. Personally I don’t believe in things just because I’m threatened – indeed if a belief is based on a threat then I am less likely to believe its validity.

As an Atheist I, of course, recognise that I could be wrong in my belief. However, I think that the odds of me being wrong are pretty slim. I have given the subject a great deal of thought and have come to what I believe is a reasonable conclusion. If God does indeed exist I find it hard to conceive of Him punishing me for all eternity for an honestly arrived at mistake. I think that He’d be a bit bigger than that.

There is, of course, the very real possibility that the Christians are wrong and that God does not in fact exist. What few Christians seem to contemplate (apart from the fact that their beliefs might be wrong) is that both of us might be incorrect. Maybe the Hindu’s are right or the Buddhists? Maybe an obscure tribe deep in the Amazon are the only ones clued into the real Dive Plan? How can we possibly know? There is a very real possibility that your particular religion – whatever that is – is the ‘wrong’ one and some God you might never have heard of is really angry with you. It’s about as likely a scenario as your God being the ‘correct’ one. So to be on the safe side which God should I worship and how would I know (for definite) that He, She or It was the right one?

Sirkolgate made a point about ‘living my life the way I wanted’ and still being either rewarded (by God) or just going out like a light bulb (if Atheists are right). Well, I too am living my life as I want and with as much integrity as I can manage. I have developed my beliefs and do my level best to live by them. If God does indeed exist and He’s a good as He’s cracked up to be I’m confident that a life of integrity would mean something to Him. If, however, in His infinite loving wisdom He casts me into the pits of Hell I’m sure I could give Satan a few ideas for a campaign to re-take Heaven.

21 comments:

Plonka said...

Nice one CK. Without any sort of observable evidence, how can we say any better than "I don't know"? I think that's where part of the problem lies though. We all to often "need" to have an answer and sometimes assertion suffices where fact fails.

Chris Bradley said...

I think that Pascal's wager and it's variants actually tell us more about the mindset of religious people than anything else. It is not a call to disbelievers to change our minds, because it is in fact so childish. There is no way to know which religion is right, for instance. It has always seemed to me to be directed at people who believe but have doubts -- to remind them of the consequences of leaving the religion whose tenets they already accept.

But it isn't particularly unknown that in this day and age, religion primarily feeds on fear.

CyberKitten said...

Thanks Plonka - That response to sirkolgates comment resulted from a few hours thinking about it today. Though it certainly wasn't intended as any criticism of sirkolgate himself but of the Wager argument.

Chris Bradley said: But it isn't particularly unknown that in this day and age, religion primarily feeds on fear.

I have always thought that all religions (at heart) are based around a fear of death. I wonder if there's a PhD thesis in that idea? [muses]

Chris Bradley said...

I have always thought that all religions (at heart) are based around a fear of death. I wonder if there's a PhD thesis in that idea? [muses]

LOL. You should definitely read Hegel! Allow me to quote: "The beginning of wisdom is the fear of death." ;)

sirkolgate said...

I'm not proud of the comment and it is a very ‘dead handed’ approach to the debate. I was angry and I am continually frustrated by these tired arguments. And yes, CK, I have seen Pascal’s Wager before, and I’m so glad you drew that parallel. The ‘wager’ is nothing more than the believer’s jibe against the Atheist.

It’s not cowardice, it’s merely stating the obvious. If I’m right and you’re wrong… well… what else would happen? I wasn’t using it to convert you CK, I was hurling it at you because it’s very ‘hurlable’. Cowardice would be using the ‘wager’ as a reason to be a Christian. I don’t and I would say you and Mr. Bradley are absolutely correct in assuming it’s a bad reason to believe.

I listen to these ‘claims’ that religion is a danger to the ‘modern’ world and that people need to work towards its eradication. I see the disdain that Atheists have for any religious argument because we’re ‘irrational and deluded’. As I’ve argued that science has no place in religion, neither does Atheism. You simply can not argue against religion if you’re not religious. You have no idea what you’re striking out at. You don’t understand religion so therefore you disdain it.

The primary difference between me and the Atheist is that I understand where the Atheist is coming from. If you don’t believe, you should not be able to comment on what a religion ‘means’ to anyone or the ‘reason’ that anyone is religious.

Can you not see that you are struggling against something that exists outside what you understand? You can find fault with everything because you’re comparing apples to oranges. You are arguing why it is not a good idea to drink the wine, though you have never tasted it. Even if you were once ‘religious’ you are not now and so you only give testimony of what it is to fail in religion. If you choose to not believe then of course my arguments mean nothing, as far as you’re concerned my premise is false.

I could pull every argument into my editor and fight it until my fingers and arms cramp into knots and I die of dehydration. I could argue and argue using every calm cool reason that I could arrive at and still make no difference.

Atheists will always be frustrated by the religious person’s inability to see ‘reason’, and sadly the religious person will always feel much the same.

Chris Bradley said...

You simply can not argue against religion if you’re not religious. You have no idea what you’re striking out at. You don’t understand religion so therefore you disdain it.

Well, would I have to be a criminal to understand that crime is bad? This is a very poor argument at it's base. It is saying that atheists have no ability to understand the consequences of actions which they are not emotionally or institutionally involved in, which is not true of anything, really.

Not to mention the fact that I was very religious for much of my life. I even considered becoming a Catholic monk. So, I've got some pretty direct experience with religion.

I very much understand where most religious people are coming from. I just don't think that it's a good place.

Ken Comer said...

I'm an agnostic whom many atheists and theists would call an atheist. There is no god that I believe in, and I believe that the task of creating a detailed definition of a credible god has not yet been successfully been performed. I believe the question of first causes to be essentially indeterminate.

I regretfully part ways from my semi-educated “big bang” friends who do not realize that most versions of the big bang theory entail at least one stage where the laws of our universe did not apply, and these other universes could never even theoretically be re-created to allow for empirical testing. Moreover, there are some who claim another type of universe was a stage in the making of our universe and some of these other universes could theoretically (but probably never practically) be recreated (but not without posing the risk of destroying the current universe), and even if they were, the fact that these universes might be able to be reproduced (at least once, but if it wipes out the entire universe, it is not very reproducible, is it?) does not mean that they were, in fact, the actual stages which DID take place.

Current "Standard Model" physics and "Big Bang" cosmology require us to believe that the laws of our universe were not in effect during the production of the universe and to believe that 85+% of the matter in the universe is invisible at all wave lengths does not interact with the matter we know exists in any way we can detect that conforms to the laws that apply to the rest of the universe. Frankly, I don't see much difference between that and "then a miracle happened" and "god is invisible and all around us, influencing things in his own mysterious ways to achieve his unfathomable ends." Substitute "alternate universe" for "miracle" and "dark matter" for "god" and you basically reconcile science with religion without bending either one too far out of shape. Pfui. I'm not saying that all science is wrong or that all cosmology is useless—far from it—but we need to recognize when theory requirements pass out of the realm of reproducible, empirical science into the realm of “educated guesses” and make clear that we've gone that way. “Evolution” = “confirmed educated guess”. “Bose-Einstein condensate” = “predicted discovery with many predicted properties and some properties that were not predicted”. (Einstein was a true prophet who spoke the shape of things to come. Moses was either a liar or someone who said that the absolute word of God was subject to change on whimsy and had excuses why God did not let his predictions come true.)

I've spent so much time defining who I am that I can only hope you will bear with me while I make the point I was going to make...

sirkolgate said...
As I've argued that science has no place in religion, neither does Atheism. You simply can not argue against religion if you're not religious. You have no idea what you're striking out at. You don't understand religion so therefore you disdain it.

Whoa, there, Nellie. Is that like saying, "you can't vote on issues regarding pregnancy unless you have been pregnant?" Is it saying "you can't vote on issues related to abortion unless you've been involved in one?" Let's check that analogy:
* religion has no place in judgements about abortion, and neither does atheism: sounds right

* you can't argue against abortion if you haven't been involved in an abortion: sounds right

* you have no idea what you're striking out at (if you have not been involved in an abortion): check

* if you do not understand abortion, you disdain it: seems dead on

Having paid for an abortion ('twasn't mine in either respect and I do not know if you get to call it “paying for an abortion” if you get repaid, but I claim collateral connection nonetheless), I get to speak on its behalf. Anyone who has not paid for, performed, or had an abortion does not. Is that a reasonable position? If so, will you please communicate with your fellow theists that they have no right to preach about something unless they know it directly?

Now, I know that I am making many assumptions here. I am assuming, for example, that you have never had, paid for, or performed an abortion.

You are also making many assumptions. Unlike CK, I was once but lost, but now have found that the Christian religions are a bunch of hokum. If you are born in the USA, the odds are that you will be raised in the Christian tradition at least to some extent. Most American atheists, freethinkers and agnostics are ex-theists. Because the Christian mythos is a specific set of beliefs I have decided is irrevocably and irretrievably insane, I assume that you would class me as an atheist. I would class you as an atheist regarding Zeus and his family, Odin and his family, Jupiter and his family, Ra and his family, etc. Correct me on any point here where I am mistaken. By your own logic, then, you and other Christians are unqualified to speak as to the merits of those who follow those religions I was told the other day by a Christian that all of the religions of the world were monotheistic (she actually said something like they "were really just another version of Christianity in that they all had one real god and a bunch of others that weren't really gods but they followed him"), which took me by surprise. I skipped over all of the matriarchical religions and those, like Catholicism, that skirt the question of how many gods there really are, then asked the woman how she knew that all the history books were wrong about the Greeks. She said, "Are you saying that Zeus was not the head god?" I answered, "No. I am saying that, once he killed his father Neptune and then had kids, they were all gods and not all of them did what Zeus wanted them to all of the time. He was not the ONLY god... Just one of many." Her only reply was a troubled look, after which she changed the subject. Both of us were atheists about that religion. Did either of us have the right to comment on it? Does the fact that I find a polytheistic religion more credible than a monotheistic one (or even a 3-for-the-price-of-1 PLUS, if you repent NOW, more saints and martyrs than you can shake a stick at) make me marginally more qualified to speak on the subject? Does the fact that I spill wineand murmur on certain occasions (or did back before my doctor made me give up drinking) make me any closer to a follower of Dionysius or Bacchus?

No, seriously... Can it be said that I understand polytheism without having formally accepted anyone's formally defined set of gods? I sometime wonder what face that supreme being(s) might bear if they exist. Don't let's get started in on Christianity... I am constructing my set of gods to conform to my perception of how the Universe might function and follow the laws of reason while also giving a little extra oomph to explain satire, irony, and poetry; synchronicity and coincidence; the building of the mind from the brain. the states contained therein, whatever quantum connections exist both inside and out, and whatever function that could describe the progression of a mind or set of subminds (whatever) through space-time; the existence of all of the creatures of the universe on all scales of mentation and life processes; plus the things outside “me” which ultimately can never be proven any more or any less than this group of gods which, however aesthetically appealing and fit to describe as a force in the universe, is still probably just a part of “me” and my “imagination.”

Sirkolgate, you have made the (ridiculous) claim that atheists (which, given that I have studied many religions and think they are all either hokum or smell suspiciously like they would be hokum if I looked hard enough, probably includes me) will always be frustrated by the inability to get the religious person to “see reason”, and “sadly the religious person will always feel the same.” I am not ridiculing you—merely what you have said—but do not marry yourself too steadfastly to those words or you will earn the contempt that you gain.

First, I am often offended when people choose to accept fact when I tell them the fact and give them an easy way to verify it. It means that they think I am a liar or a fool. Either way, choosing not to verify my fact when they do not believe it is a mark of contempt. Of course, if the way that I have told the to verify the fact is illogical, then they have a right to hold me in contempt. The problem with most theists is, they demonstrate no understanding of what logic and proof are. They think their religious teachings—most of which most of them have not fully read, and none of whom (I guarantee) can make a sensible interpretation which holds true in the physical laws of the observable world we share—are the equal to facts that have been concretely demonstrated. That is not a failure to see reason; it's a failure to see fact. (more on that later)

Sometimes people try to duck out of conversations with me when I branch onto events of the day, saying, “I do not like talking politics” (presumably referring only to those who hold politics other than their own). If I really am talking politics—that is, a set of opinions and goals based on actual facts—I invariably respect their preference and desist. When I hear that, though, I am almost never discussing what should be done about a set of facts, but rather what the facts are.

I take no offense when another person has a different set of opinions than I do if their opinions are based on the same set of facts. They almost never are. I think I am pretty brilliant. I do great on tests—all kinds of tests, especially tests built to measure how good you are at taking tests (i.e., “intelligence tests”)x—and I have a long background of spotting things that others failed to see given the same set of facts. Nonetheless, if someone sees the same set of facts and comes to a different conclusion, I recognize that I can only successfully argue against their position if I understand it completely. If it is important to me to convince that person or to understand the bases of the opinions other than my own—and, believe it or not, I do recognize that I am not completely infallible—I make an earnest and sincere effort to understand their opinion. Usually, through doing so, I discover that they are missing a fact, and revelation of that fact makes their opinion bend closer to my own. The converse also occurs. Sometimes, though, I discover that it is a genuinely different mindset, and I respect people who, having the same facts, reach differing conclusions based on their philosophy of life so long as they do not attempt to enforce their philosophy of life upon others.

There's the crux of it. Sirkolgate, you say that both sides will stand in frustration at the inability to make the other see “reason”. If that's all they do, well and good. If the theist (on one side or both) tries to coerce others to conform to their philosophy, though, we have a problem. The thing that most atheists have against theists is that the theists generally want to control the lives of others so that their sensibilities are not offended. Fuck that!

Atheists (agnostics, freethinkers, etc.) often say that religious philosophy has caused more deaths and suffering than any other cause, natural or man-made, in all of history. If you want to score some points on me, refute that one. Remember: Hitler thought “Gott in Himmel” was on his side (“Gott mit uns”).

If you want to impose on society your religion's rules about sex, intoxication and recreational drugs, sex education, obligation to the state, obligation of the state to your religion (other than “keep your hands off” in the USA), the rights of women being lesser in any way than those of men (or the other way around for the first time in history), any teachings which conflict with proven fact e.g., evolution), rules that allow killing for breaking religious laws that are not also criminal statutes, etc., then you will have to do it through the government (and you should be polite enough not to try). You also do not get to infringe on my freedom of speech to protect your children's ears, or any of that related nonesense. That's not “differing opinions”. It's “double standards”. For example, by my religious beliefs, I am divinely chosen to be king of Earth and The Stars of the Milky Way Galaxy. You probably would not want to live in a world that was run according to my religious beliefs. Therefore, you do not have the right to demand that I live by yours. Well, you do if you can find enough idiots to stand with you in the United States, but that does not mean that you have the ethical right, nor that you have the legal authority to impose laws because they are the laws of your religion

If you want to organize a protest against the teaching of the big bang, I'd actually join in (though I would not have done so 25 years ago back when it was more popularly controversial). The funny thing about science is that the bad theories sometimes last longer than the good theories, and the replacement of a theory that has been “adjusted” nineteen ways from Sunday usually has a long lag even when parts of the old theory are widely shown (not necessarily “widely accepted”) as false. (There's a book by Kuhn, something like>Theory and Structure of Scientific Revolution, that gives a very cogent description of the process as he perceived it, including the paradigm shifting phrase, “paradigm shift”). The Big Bang was good science. When we learned more, it started taking more and more bending of both fact (e.g., one explanation of the “inflation” phase of the Big Bang says that the speed of light was anisotropically variable) and the theory itself. That does not make it bad science of itself... Theories are malleable so long as the facts keep fitting together. The problem occurs when it has become a putty of fact and supposition that is no longer clearly distinguishable from folklore with an upscale syntax.

CyberKitten said...

Chris Bradley said: LOL. You should definitely read Hegel! Allow me to quote: "The beginning of wisdom is the fear of death." ;)

I've added the book you recommended & a few others Amazon recommended to my Wish List. If I get around to reading them I'll let you know what I thought of them. I think that the next two years (or so) are going to be philosophically interesting... [starts getting excited].

Vancouver Voyeur said...

It always amazes me how intense religious debate becomes. I believe in a God, a higher power, but don't know which religion has the correct god. I'm okay not knowing and just living my life the best I can. I'm not trying to convert anyone to my way of thinking and am not looking to be converted by others. I liked your statement CK that a just God probably wouldn't or shouldn't condemn you to hell for a rationally made decision just because it was wrong. As for your smartass solution: "If, however, in His infinite loving wisdom He casts me into the pits of Hell I’m sure I could give Satan a few ideas for a campaign to re-take Heaven." If I'm wrong, I'll likely be right there with you. :-)

CyberKitten said...

I always say V V that if I *do* end up in Hell at least it will be warm and all my friends will be there.... [rotflmao].

But I imagine that God is 'bigger' than that. One would certainly hope so [grin].

sirkolgate said...

I’ve realized that if I wish to remain an ‘active’ member of any discussion I have to at least allow the discussion to take place. If I leave my last statement without any embellishment I’ve simply ‘removed’ myself from the ‘field’ because I’m refusing to play the game.

First off, due to the offense Ken clearly took to my words, I am not trying to repress anyone. Despite my tone I actually hadn’t intended on telling people what I think they should or shouldn’t do. I was voicing my frustration at the religious/atheist argument as I see it. Why argue with people who only care about ½ of what I’ve got to say. I may be wrong, but I get the impression that anything even remotely biblical or religious that comes out of my mouth is immediately dismissed. If its what I believe doesn’t that have some value? I mean, how can you know where I’m coming from if you don’t value what I believe? Even if it’s not dismissed what value do you, as an Atheist, attach to anything biblical or religious in nature? Does any of it mean anything other then to serve you in your battle of reason?

Of course Atheists can argue against religion with every tool in the woodshed, and it’s a big woodshed. I don’t want anyone to stifle their ‘outcry’ because of me. I just was having a tired moment and I indicated my view of my situation in these message boards. I don’t want anyone to do anything for me. I just want a chance to be heard too.

Can’t I be perfectly sane and intelligent and still believe in God? I feel as though I’m the kid in the corner and sometimes someone likes what I say enough to give me a pat on the head before sending me back to my place, to listen, and behave. If I speak out of turn, it is a good laugh and dismissal.

I guess the moral of the story is this: If I’m going to keep coming to CyberKitten’s blog and commenting I better learn to relax and enjoy myself. If something wants to bend me out of shape I need to just reflect and maybe write my response the day after.

Also, I said in my quote that CK published for me if you die as an Atheist it “sucks to be you.” That was not entirely keeping with what I believe, just me being angry and wanting to be cliché. If you go to the original comment I state that it’s a “bit of a crap shoot” before I made the final statement that was more damning.

Despite the contemporary belief that everyone not Christian (believing in Christ) will go to Hell when they die, I think judgment is much more complicated than that. There isn’t much on the topic, and the only quote that comes to mind is Jesus indicating that it’s better to have never known him, than to have known him and left. I’d suppose going to Hell for both reasons wouldn’t leave a ‘better’ option. I also don’t think there’s purgatory, or various levels of heaven, just perishing in the ‘lake of fire’, or living on. It is just interesting to note that despite the ‘pop culture’ theists, who damn Atheists to Hell, it is never explicitly stated that lack of faith is equal to Hell.

So, CK and VV if someday I prove to be right, there is only one thing that awaits you for sure, and that is judgment. However, while that bible offers several great ways to go about living your life, it does not tell us how we’ll be judged. I know, typical biblical answer, the most interesting subjects aren’t covered at all in detail. Mainly it is in my faith that God judges those who are not Christian while Jesus judges those who found salvation in him (believe he died on the cross for their sins). God will judge according to your ‘works’. So there you go… that’s all I know.

Any of you who know the Bible know that it is very good at avoiding answers to the “What about after I die?” and “How do I know I’m not heading for hell?” because the Bible actually concerns itself, ironically, with the same things Atheists concern themselves with… living a good life and being a good person. What we do now is far more important then what happens ‘later’.

If you’re ever curious and want a good and unbiased (at least unbiased against the various translations of the Bible and concerned with reporting as close to ‘original’ as can be) check out www.bible.com or type ‘judgment day’ into wikipedia.org

Just so you know I have a great deal of respect for you all. I have Atheist friends, in fact I carpool with an Atheist so this is not unfamiliar territory. We just disagree on one of the trillions of facets of what it is to be alive. I don’t want to ‘save’ anyone… I just have always liked this subject.

Skywolf said...

I don't consider myself an atheist (although what I am is as yet undefined - and you know what? I hate labels anyway), but I completely agree with your post, CK. There are so many multitudes of philosophies and religions out there. I don't personally believe there's one right answer and everyone else is wrong, but even if this was the case, who's to say which it is? I guess everyone believes they're right, or they wouldn't believe what they believe. But I try to allow my own beliefs to include, rather than wholly exclude, those of others.

There are many aspects of individual mainstream religions that I'll never be able to accept, but there are also many aspects of each one that have a lot of merits. What I can't swallow is having to believe the stuff that doesn't make any sense to me in order to embrace the things that do. That is why Christianity has been left in my personal past. That's why I'm not an atheist, and it's why I can't see myself ever embracing one specific religion again. Because while some aspects of each of those are things I can accept and aspire to, others either don't resonate with me or contradict entirely with my own thoughts on a subject.

So where does that leave me? If I can't determine which side of the fence I'm on, or even if there is a fence in the first place, does Pascal's Wager even apply? I guess what I'm saying is that I don't understand why it has to be one religion (or philosophy) or the other. I'm all for the grey areas.

CyberKitten said...

sirkolgate asked: Even if it’s not dismissed what value do you, as an Atheist, attach to anything biblical or religious in nature?

Personally...? Not very much. If a person wants to live what they consider to be a religious life - that's find and dandy with me. But to have any chance of having a meaningful debate with me... well, scripture doesn't get you a whole lot of points.

sirkolgate asked: Does any of it mean anything other then to serve you in your battle of reason?

I find most religious ideas to be quite frankly incomprehensible. That's because (as I think you said) we're seeing things from *very* different perspectives. I'm not entirely sure if I have the right 'tool-set' to understand religion - and if I did then I wouldn't *need* the tools because I would believe. Religious faith, it seems to me, is a much more emotional response rather than a rational one. Therefore, it's *really* hard to understand it rationally.

sirkolgate asked: Can’t I be perfectly sane and intelligent and still believe in God?

Yes, of course. Many sane & intelligent people believe in God. I just happen to believe that they're all wrong. [grin].

sirkolgate said: I guess the moral of the story is this: If I’m going to keep coming to CyberKitten’s blog and commenting I better learn to relax and enjoy myself.

I do hope that you enjoy our little debates here... and relaxing & enjoying yourself is not a bad way to go about life - from time to time.

skywolf said: There are many aspects of individual mainstream religions that I'll never be able to accept, but there are also many aspects of each one that have a lot of merits.

Indeed. One reason why I cannot accept any religion on offer ATM - though Buddhism seems pretty much OK (from what I've read).

skywolf asked: I guess what I'm saying is that I don't understand why it has to be one religion (or philosophy) or the other. I'm all for the grey areas.

I think it's a very human thing - wanting to be right. Of course if *you* are right then it often follows that other people are wrong... It gets messy and complicated when you have to decide which bits of the 'truth' you hold and which bits other religions hold. I mean... where would *that* end up... Agreement? An end to religious conflict....? Just think of the decline in book sales if *that* happened!

Skywolf said...

And the decline of discussions on your blog... ;)

Buddhism is the only mainstream religion that I can come close to fully accepting as well. I don't know a great deal about the deeper aspects of it (although my OH is a Buddhist), but it definitely makes more general sense to me than any other religion that I've come across, and represents a way of life that I aspire to. And I believe it's also the only mainstream religion that has never had a war started on its behalf. That, in itself, is a huge mark in its favour as far as I'm concerned.

CyberKitten said...

Indeed skywolf. Buddhism has a lot to recommend it. I'm working my way through several books on the subject and they haven't made me throw my hands up in disgust yet - so that's a pretty good sign.

Juggling Mother said...

Buddist wars - Sri Lanka is the only one I can think of that is current & has buddists on both "sides"

bad sides of Buddism - in my experiance they may eagrd all life as sacred, but they don't seem to do much to improve thier lives or their communities. the only concept of charity I saw in buddist countries was payments to the monks/temples, while deformed street children starved outside the golden gates.

oh, and an extremely "conservative" view of the world - just listen to the Dala Lama on homsexuality some time.
as reliegione go, it's got it's good points, ut don't be swayed by the propeganda. The same propeganda tells us that christians are all loving, tolerant and forgiving:-)

Skywolf said...

the only concept of charity I saw in buddist countries was payments to the monks/temples, while deformed street children starved outside the golden gates.

I have to disagree here. I haven't spent a lot of time in Buddhist countries, but the time I have spent showed me an amazing care and consideration for the lives of others. I spent time with a Sri Lankan Buddhist who made regular random donations of food or other material support to homeless and needy people we came across in ths street. The people were, in general, far more considerate and genuinely concerned for each other's welfare than I can say of people in Western countries. I remember witnessing a road accident, and how the passers-by just got right in there and started helping out, working together to make sure the victim was okay without a moment's hesitation. Can't imagine that happening in Britain. How much of it is to do with Buddhism and how much is just the general culture may be debatable, but I'm sure one influences the other.

And yes - don't get me wrong. Of course there are individuals in all religions who have certain ideals that I disagree with. It would be impossible to agree with everyone who proscribes to one set religion, as there are so many variations of thought within each one. But as a whole, Buddhism is the only religion that I feel generally comfortable with. I greatly admire its basic teachings and have a lot more time for it than religions that preach hellfire and damnation.

As for the Sri Lankan war... it's not a religious conflict. There may be Buddhists on both sides, but that's not what I meant. I don't believe a war or similar act of violence has ever been started in the name of Buddhism. Is there another major world religion that can say this?

Juggling Mother said...

"I don't believe a war or similar act of violence has ever been started in the name of Buddhism. Is there another major world religion that can say this?"

lots - just most of them are dead religions, and those that are still going don't make noise on the world scene. Buddism is the only non-violent religion that seems to have managed to spread across the world.

Sorry - I was not trying to say Buddism is all bad. of course it's not. Just that it's not all good either;-) Sri Lanka may not e areligious war, but there are certainly buddists on both sides willing to kill & be killed - which rather makes a mockery of the statement that Buddism is all about peace & respect for life.

I always stop for car accidents.

I was shocked by the sheer number of starving people giving their little bit of money to a temple that was literally covred in gold! I don't like to see that kind of wasted money here - but there !!!

FreeThinker said...

Instead of searching and searching for the One True Religion, why not consider NO religion? Works for me!

Ken Comer said...

skywolf asked: I guess what I'm saying is that I don't
understand why it has to be one religion (or philosophy) or the
other. I'm all for the grey areas.

That makes you a Unitarian/Universalist, old woman.

Ken Comer said...

I thought that I would chime in on a “me, too” basis because Cyberkitten hit most of the same points I wanted to.

sirkolgate asked: Even if it’s not dismissed what value do you, as an Atheist, attach to anything biblical or religious in nature?
I attach the same significance to some of the finer quotes in the bible as I do the finer quotes from Shakespeare. Worthy words well spoken are meritorious no matter what the source.

It's hard to generalize about the value I place on things that are religious in nature. The things that some call philosophy others call religion. Any time someone begins a sentence with “Jesus wants...”, though, makes me believe that they are a liar and a hypocrite, no matter what value their words might have. The short answer, though, is if you get your religious background from the King James Bible, the Book of Mormon or the Koran, your religious statements are pretty well going to be ignored or be greeted with disdain. If you want to see why, go to the the Skeptic”s Annotated Bible and have a look around. I am not calling the guy who wrote it an expert, and I disagree with some of the conclusions he has drawn. On the other hand, there is an overabundance of contradictions, horrid ethical conclusions reached by the followers of the Christian/Jewish god or purportedly forced upon them through his prophets and downright stupidity. If you believe in some other form of the Bible, you're not going to get much slack because most Christians claim the Bible is inerrant and literally true, and some of the statements that are translated pretty much everywhere are evil enough. (e.g., “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” and “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”)

sirkolgate asked: Does any of it mean anything other then to serve you in your battle of reason?

I believe that religiosity is a heritable trait, and that religion is one of the more harmful and tenacious memes around. Until we, as a species, can be convinced to tone down this trait and to resist this meme, it means fear, paranoia, illogic, attempts to force religious values on those without the same religion, a persistent spark for genocide and a wedge for segregating people into disharmonious divisions, and the first refuge of a scoundrel.

sirkolgate asked: Can’t I be perfectly sane and intelligent and still believe in God?

Define God. Be very specific (not as unspecific as "the god of the bible" or the "the god of the catholic church"—those both have huge inconsistencies). The specific choices you make will determine whether you are wise; sane and intelligent and aware of the limits of knowledge; uninformed and/or willfully ignorant; or insane/stupid. If you believe that I am god, for example, I'd regard you as a bit gullible but definitely tolerable.

sirkolgate said: I guess the moral of the story is this: If I’m going to keep coming to CyberKitten’s blog and commenting I better learn to relax and enjoy myself.

(Long) Before 9/11 when “terrorist” was a word that wasn't applied with little or no provocation or basis in fact to create FUD and before it meant something other than “someone who does the same things we do, but doesn't have as nice a tailor”, I founded a one-person organization I called “Terrorists for a Happier History”.

Back in the day when people normally saw the headers that go with their e-mail messages (which most people nowadays do not even know exist), I put that name into my e-mails under the “header” for “organization”. I also inserted an X-header (i.e., “experimental header”) of the form “X-Terrorist-Advisory: Be happy or suffer the consequences!”

I've always been a “bread upon the waters” kind of guy, so I would spot clueless newbs and gently, oh so gently, ease them on their way to good netizenship and answer their questions which, in phrasing, revealed that they did not even know that they did not know what they were asking about. One day, the owner of my ISP company—a buddy of mine—forwarded a note that read something like, “This guy wrote me a really nice and informative note and I appreciate it, but...did you know you have a customer that calls himself a 'terrorist'?” In the accompanying note, he pointed her to the page where I explained that my kind of terrorism did not involve bombs or knives.

When I logged in the next day, I noticed she was on-line and (long story short) did a Unix chat with her. She said, I understand now that your “terrorist” thing is kind of a joke and that you're telling people not to sweat the small stuff and to GET OFF THEIR TERMINALS AND SEE SOME LIFE, but there's one thing that still bothers me. You have that 'X-Terrorist-Advisory' thing and it's pretty spooky. Are you trying to threaten people?”

I answered, “Let me ask you: if you are not happy, then are you not also suffering the consequences?”

There was no answer for a moment. Then, “This is Larry, Linda's husband. Linda is off changing her blouse because she just spurted coffee all over it. I want to thank you. I'll never let her live this moment down.”

So, before you get offended at what I (or others) say, you might look to see what people are really telling you and whether it really is something to get your knickers in a twist about.

skywolf said: There are many aspects of individual mainstream religions that I'll never be able to accept, but there are also many aspects of each one that have a lot of merits.

How about the merits of being without religion? You can still have your Manly Bearded God on a Throne and still be without a religion, you know. I do not really care about gods, myself. They might exist and they might not. Personally, a god of the winds, a god of the poets, a god of the thieves, god of wine, etc. holds a real aesthetic appeal to me.


My life has been really bizarre. I know a lot of people who have greeted that declaration with something along the lines of “everybody's life takes bizarre twists”, but when I take the time to talk about my life, they generally walk away shaking their heads. There are doubtless many who have led as bizarre a life as myself, but most people who know enough about me to form an opinion on that subject tend to agree that my existence is one of the most bizarre that they've come to learn about.

The apparent phenomenon of Synchronicity, although reasonably well explained in terms of the human mind's tendency to seek patterns, has reared its anus many times in my life. It pleases me sometimes to think of these small gods striving against one another and their net effect is to create fractal patterns on our consciousnesses.

There's no harm in fantasizing in the unknowable as long as you do not try to convince someone else that it is truly knowable.