Do Atheists ‘Love the Sinner but Hate the Sin’? October 13, 2010

Do Atheists ‘Love the Sinner but Hate the Sin’?

Reader Chris sent me an email that boiled down to this:

Atheists like to say: You should respect the person, but you don’t have to respect their beliefs.

Is this any different from Christians saying, “Love the sinner but hate the sin”?

The gist of my response to Chris went like this:

There is one major difference.

At *no* point are atheists trying to enact laws that would forbid religious people from believing in a god or attending church. We want to persuade them they’re wrong. Some atheists call them names, some write books, some blog, some are involved in local groups, some don’t do anything… but, in general, we would oppose forcing anyone to share our beliefs.

Meanwhile, Christians who “love gays but hate gayness” constantly vote against gay marriage, fight against hate crime legislation, pass laws against gay adoption, and spread lies about homosexuality (“They choose to be gay!”)…

They’re not content with just sharing their misguided opinions on homosexuality. They want to see to it that gay people are treated unequally in our society.

Atheists don’t need to resort to laws or lies. The truth is on our side. We’re just out there trying to spread it.

Would you add anything to that response?


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  • Narvi

    Not every atheist want to convince theists they’re wrong. Some just want the right to not believe. Secularism and religious freedom is all we want.

  • I’d add to that that (most) atheists don’t think that being religious is, in and of itself, a bad, immoral or evil thing. It’s simply an incorrect position. It doesn’t preclude a person from acting in a moral and rational fashion with regards to others. While, sure, it can be used as a wedge of irrationality in someone’s view of the world, it’s entirely possible for a person to be religious and also moral, reasonable, and live a perfectly good life.

    Also, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I don’t ‘hate’ religiousness. Sure, I think that it is an incorrect and irrational position, but then again, I’ve had the same accusation levelled at me regarding my position on onions*. But I don’t think that there’s anything ‘wrong’ with religious people. I don’t think they’re broken.

    *Yes, I get it, they impart a lovely flavour to food. I get that that flavour is tasty. I like it. But, damnit, I DO NOT WANT to see an ONION in my FOOD, and if I do, that food is ICKY. ….it’sfineaslongasthey’reinvisible.

  • I would also like believers not to try to convince kids that their beliefs are true. Or claim miracles. ANyways.

  • Valhar2000

    I’ve said this before on this blog: “love the sinner, hate the sin” isn’t that problematic in and of itself. The problem is that it is, almost always, a big fat stinking lie. When it comes to the “sin” of homosexuality, they hate the sinner with a burning fiery passion that simply has no equal.

    That’s why the equivalence that Chris points out is actually a real one, and not a bad one, but, as Hemant points out in reply, this equivalence exists mostly in theory, and not in practice.

  • Tim

    All religion is harmful, either in the short or long term, to human rights at the most and critical thinking at the least. My version of this phrase is “Love the religious, hate the religion…” although I don’t really like to say “hate.” I agree entirely with this response.

  • Benjamin Kay

    Two things:

    1. Atheists don’t, by definition, have some kind of central plan. Perhaps you should replace “Atheist” with “Humanist”, “Secularist”, or “Most atheists in America.”

    2. I suspect a religious person would respond, “What do you mean atheists don’t promote laws against religion?” And then cite all sorts of first-amendment cases like school prayer and public Christmas displays. Rather than allow your audience to frame their response this way, preempt such nonsense with something like this:

    “At *no* point are atheists trying to enact laws that would forbid religious people from believing in a god or attending church.” In fact, atheists are some of the most ardent defenders of religious freedom and first amendment rights!

  • Claudia

    I would like to add that this:

    Atheists don’t need to resort to laws or lies. The truth is on our side. We’re just out there trying to spread it.

    is not 100% true. We do in fact wish to enact laws that restrict the free practice of religion in some cases. Off the top of my head:

    – Christian “scientists” (urg) should be legally prohibitted from denying medical care to their children.
    – Female genital mutilation of a minor should be illegal in all cases (as well as it’s less horrific cousin of male circumcision).
    – Jehova’s witnesses should be legally prohibitted from denying life saving blood transfusions to their children.
    – Arranged marriage of minors should be illegal.
    – Relationships between prepubescent girls and men are pedophilia and a crime.

    Every single one of these things steps on a religious belief of one sort or another, yet I’m perfectly comfortable keeping or creating those laws. They all affect the well-being of children, so I think we should say that unlike the religious, we don’t want to interfere in the consensual behavior of adults.

  • I think one issue is what they call it. They talk about “sin”, which implies that people are bad for being who they are.

    Atheists (and most other people) who criticise other people’s opinions are not attacking who those people are (and have to be), but rather going after their bad logic.

    Loving the sinner, when the sinner is gay is not a very loving thing to do. You’re calling someone a bad person that you never the less love, just because they are who they are.

    Us saying that Christians have stupid beliefs, but at the same time saying we respect them as people is us saying “you’re a good person, but you have some very stupid ideas that I insist on criticising”.

    All people have opinions, which they should voice and which other people should criticise. This is how we grow as people.

    We all also have things about us, which are not opinions. This would be things like skin colour, gender and sexual orientation. What is the point of criticising things about people that they can do nothing about? I don’t see what good it can do. Surely it will just make them feel sad. (sounds naive, yes. You know what I mean). This is what I think is the major difference between atheists being rude to religious people and Christians being rude to gay people

  • Tony Konrath

    I don’t respect people who steal & murder.
    I don’t respect liars and cheats.
    I don’t respect deists either! Why should I?
    It helps to behave as if I do though.

  • Respecting someone includes respecting their right to hold ridiculous beliefs.

    Hating the sin involves denying someone’s right to commit that sin.

    They are polar opposites at the boundary.

  • “You should respect the person, but you don’t have to respect their beliefs.”?

    Most of the time – yes. But if their beliefs are that freaking stupid, NO, because there is nothing there to respect.

    For a non-religious example: birthers – those who believe the President is not eligible for office. All the evidence needed by law has been produced, but none is accepted by birthers. I have no respect for that belief, nor the people who believe it.

    From a religious angle – the folks who have sex with young children as part of their belief system (this is different, though equally disturbing, as priests who have raped choirboys). Taking “wives” who are pre- or early-teens. That belief system holds nothing to respect, nor are the people who believe it worthy of any respect.

  • It is curious that the same people who say “love the sinner but hate the sin” pray to a God whom they believe sends those sinners who haven’t “accepted” Jesus to everlasting hell. These believers don’t believe that God loves the sinner. They believe that God hates the sinner. Its no wonder that so many of the believers also hate the sinner while hating the sin.

  • MaryD

    What has atheism got to do with homosexuality, or for that matter, any other issue apart from a non-belief in a god?

    Attempting to align atheism with any other cause does it no good at all. That is the classic approach of the political ‘left’, bring together all of the disaffected under the banner of ‘change’. Of course, once they have taken power with your support you might find that their idea of ‘change’ isn’t the same as yours.

    Your enemy’s enemy isn’t necessarily your friend.

  • Secular Stu

    I’ve said this before on this blog: “love the sinner, hate the sin” isn’t that problematic in and of itself. The problem is that it is, almost always, a big fat stinking lie. When it comes to the “sin” of homosexuality, they hate the sinner with a burning fiery passion that simply has no equal.

    That’s why the equivalence that Chris points out is actually a real one, and not a bad one, but, as Hemant points out in reply, this equivalence exists mostly in theory, and not in practice.

    I could not have said this more perfectly.

  • Nicole

    At what point exactly did this blog become evangelical, rather than a place to share links to stories relevant to the community?

    The tone of this blog creeps me out lately. It’s zealotry of another kind. I don’t like the fact that there’s a segment of the atheist population (which includes Mr. Mehta whose earlier posts were always a bit more levelheaded) that’s constantly trying to suggest or insinuate that I as an atheist have a proper course of political and social action. Isn’t grouping us together contrary to the whole idea? When did this happen?

    I understand there’s a need to make the world more comfortable for atheists to come out in. I understand there’s a need to be vigilant about church/state separation issues. But there’s no need for this constant, nebulous suggestion that as atheists we have some sort of duty to society or prescribed set of behaviors. Please stop that. It makes me uncomfortable that I am running out of good atheist commentary that isn’t riddled with accusations that I’m not doing my part, however faintly suggested.

  • Twin-Skies

    I don’t like religious institutions in general, but I’d stop short of wanting it outlawed. If somebody wants to practice their religious belief, by all means.

    Just don’t expect me to hold back when I call you a delusional flocking bustard and other colorful terms when you start using that same faith as an excuse to oppress people because of their race, color, differing faith, or sexual orientation.

  • Neon Genesis

    And actually there are atheists out there who would have no problems forcing their beliefs about Islam being a dangerous religion on other people. Like there’s plenty of atheists out there who supported Switzerland’s ban of minarets. There are atheists who support France’s ban of the burqa and some atheists who think Muslims shouldn’t be building a NYC Islamic Center, so yeah, there are atheists who believe in forcing their beliefs on others.

  • 1) Mechanism: Atheists make the distinction between a person and their beliefs because they hope to preserve the former and rectify the latter. SIf someone is claiming to do thins for homosexuality, they should called out for being both morally reprehensible and factually incorrect

    2) Meaning: Atheists make the distinction to describe the paradox of free society – you fight for the right to hear opinions that you would not say yourself. The Christian theology of “love” and “hate” however seems more like contradiction than paradox. God is a being who you must both love and fear – the epitome of an abusive relationship. Jesus loves you for who you are, which is why he wants to fill you with the Holy Spirit so you only do good things and are responsible for none of the things you do. We atheists reserve the right to repeat the phrases that Christians use that time, with the appropriate insertion of quotation marks.

  • Chas

    “hate the superstition, love the superstitious”?

  • John Small Berries

    This reply isn’t really about the equivalence between the atheist stance on religion and the Christian stance on homosexuality, for which I apologize; it is about the “love the sinner but hate the sin” excuse mentioned by Christ, which seems to be brought up by Christians whenever their treatment of homosexuals is condemned.

    I might point out to Chris that homosexuality is, as far as I can tell, the only “sin” regarding which many Christians absolutely reverse their stance on the easily obtainable forgiveness of God. (To be fair, not all Christians feel this way. But their voices on the national stage are staggeringly overpowered by the ones who do.)

    In Matthew 5, for example, Jesus explicitly denounced divorce for any other basis than marital infidelity, calling those who divorced for other reasons (and those who remarried) adulterers. Yet those who violate this explicit teaching of Jesus are not treated with the contempt that gays are; merely praying for forgiveness is enough to erase the sin in the eyes of their fellow Christians.

    Divorcers and remarriers are not required, as gays are, to give up their “sinful lifestyle” (for example, by annulling their remarriages and/or remarrying their original partners) in order to be treated with simple human decency by the members of their congregations. (How many politicians and right-wing radio talk show hosts beloved by the Evangelical/Fundamentalist set have had two, three, even four marriages?)

    Paul, in 1 Corinthians 6, lists a number of the “unrighteous” who “shall not inherit the kingdom of God”: sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, “homosexual offenders”, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, slanderers and swindlers.

    Yet it is only gays who are apparently unqualified to receive forgiveness, and who are the targets of such unrelenting hatred. And, yes, it is hatred of gays, not hatred of the “sin” of homosexuality. The invective coming from both the pulpit and the congregation makes no distinction; indeed, it’s “the gays” and “the homosexuls” — the people, not the sin — who are condemned time after time.

  • John Small Berries

    Er, that should have been “mentioned by Christians” in my first paragraph. Sorry, haven’t had enough caffeine yet this morning.

  • John Small Berries

    Or even “mentioned by Chris”. That’s it, I’m going back to bed.

  • Erik

    The difference is in the word ‘sin’ – that word accuses whoever they’re talking about of being ‘wrong’, and they’re showing their ‘tolerance’ by ‘loving’ them nonetheless.

  • Mr Z

    Yes, I’ve got something to add. Love the sinner and hate the sin is the most ignorant condescending thing you can hear when you tell someone you’ve been abused by a priest.

    If it is wrong to say it then, it’s always wrong to say it.

  • Silent Service

    First, we’re talking about a difference in the definition of the terms believer and sinner, and how those terms are applied. I love many a believer, but I don’t hate their belief at all and that is the difference. At most I find their belief silly, illogical, and unsupportable by reality. Yes there are those atheists that hate religion, but they are not the norm. The evangelical religious crowd hates the sin and believes that it condemns the sinner to eternal torment if they don’t start behaving and living under a bizarre code of ethics enshrined by goat herders over 4000 years ago. And yes, there are those evangelicals that can separate out their belief in religion and sin, but within the evangelical crowd they are not the norm and are compelled to go along with the efforts of their religious leaders.

    So yes you can make a comparison between how religious people treat the LGBT community and how atheists treat religious people, but it falls apart pretty quick when you get to that whole damned to eternal fire thing. It’s just too silly to accept, yet they do.

  • Hamilton Jacobi

    I have no interest in spreading atheism, and I don’t think that should be our goal. Rather, we should be trying to spread rationality and critical thinking.
    Of course, adherence to religion is a big red flag indicating that you have flunked the critical thinking test.

  • I subscribe to the H. L. Mencken school of thought on this question:

    “We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.”

    So, to the religious zealot I say, why don’t you just introduce me to your family?

  • Greg

    Atheists like to say: You should respect the person, but you don’t have to respect their beliefs.

    A couple of things:

    First off, any sentence that says ‘Atheists do X’, when X is not ‘does not believe in god’ is automatically false (whether merely a generalisation or downright untruth).

    There are many atheists I completely disagree with. It is conceivable that there exists an atheist that I disagree with on every single point but one.

    I just say that, because I am not one of those people who says the above quoted piece.

    Maybe it’s just because I’ve run into a lot of pricks in the world, but I tend to operate by the principle:

    Respect should be earned, and not given.

    I may respect their rights, but that’s different. Very different. There are very good reasons that you should respect peoples rights.

    Actually, I think the word ‘respect’ has been gradually getting a ‘dumbing down’ in meaning. We are often told to be respectful in conversation with someone, when all that is actually meant is to not be a jerk. Respect is a positive emotion between that middle ground of not being a jerk and the over the top spot of reverence. It is something you show someone when they are somebody you admire – for instance:

    I respect scientists because of their knowledge and/or the quickness of their minds.

    I respect authors for their ability to weave their intricate and fulfilling stories.

    I respect athletes for their physical strength/speed.

    I respect people with leadership skills for their ability to organise a cohesive group.

    But it works both ways.

    If someone is a sadist, then they’ve lost my respect.

    If someone is a YEC, then they’ve lost my respect.

    If someone believes the world is flat, then they’ve lost my respect.

    If someone is a geocentrist, then they’ve lost my respect.

    Now don’t get me wrong, actions and beliefs that win my respect may overcome the ones that lose it in terms of whether I respect the person or not, but I’m not going to just respect them solely because they are a person. That almost seems to imply some sort of supernatural ‘meaning’ behind the physical structure that is a person, whether it is an impossible to see (regardless of instruments) attribute that all people have, or that they have a soul which is intrinsically precious, or whatever unprovable assertion you want to put there. I mean, how falsifiable is the suggestion that all human life is intrinsically valuable and worthy of respect?

    But I’m also going to deal with these people politely, even if I don’t respect them, unless they really irritate me (or just slightly irritate me if I’ve had a bad day – I’m working on it…) and then, admittedly, I might get a bit snarky. 😛

    And, tying this back to the topic, that is completely different to love the sinner, hate the sin. Which, of course, is flat out fraudulent, unless they also believe that thinking these people should be tortured for all eternity is the expression of some sort of love – cos I gotta tell ya, if I was sure someone I loved was being tortured eternally, I would be out of my mind with anger, worry, grief, to name just three of the emotions.

  • Rami Abulhusn

    The thing is, the idea of

    a) You should respect the person, but you don’t have to respect their beliefs

    isn’t the equivalent of the idea of

    b) Love the sinner, hate the sin

    One of the main differences is that with (a), we are discussing beliefs, whereas with (b), they are talking about actions.

    As an example, I doubt that anyone here would use (a) when talking about, say, a murderer, whereas a religious person may very well use (b) in that case.

    And therein lies the problem. To many atheists (I won’t presume to say all/most, we have our prejudices like any group) homosexuality is not even a moral issue. For many religious folks, homosexuality is given the same moral equivalence to murder or rape, hence the application of (b).

    Just as they would argue that a murderer is a sinner to be loved, but murder should remain illegal, they argue that homosexuals should be loved, but gay marriage should be illegal, etc, etc.

  • @considertheteacosy

    Love the flavor, hate the food?

  • ButchKitties

    I think Rami nailed it. The are not equivalent ideas. They just have the appearance of being equivalent ideas because their sentence structures are very similar.

  • Just throwing it out there that the idea “love the sinner, hate the sin” isn’t actually anywhere in the Bible.

    It’s certainly not said of God – who judges sinners justly. Sinning without repenting earns God’s anger at both the sin, and the person committing it.

    The whole notion is screwed up. We (Christians) are told to love everybody. A much better saying is “there but for the grace of God go I”… which you atheists can alter to something else… perhaps “there but for some educational quirks and possibly my genetic make up go I”…

    But on the not loving gay people front – I think trying to prevent people from causing themselves harm is pretty loving. It’s one of the natural instincts of parenting. So while you might disagree about the harm involved in a gay marriage, at least understand where those who oppose it are coming from. It is, generally speaking (for the Christians I’ve met) motivated out of a loving concern for people and society. It might be irrational. But it’s not necessarily unloving to have different presuppositions to other people.

  • Those things are in different categories.

    Your sexuality (gay/straight) is what you are.  Your religion is something you believe.  What you are and what you believe are different categories of things. What you are (gay or straight, black or white, tall or short etc) can’t be wrong.  (Or right, for that matter.) What you believe can most definitely be right or wrong.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Opening post: Atheists like to say: You should respect the person, but you don’t have to respect their beliefs.
    David McNerney: Respecting someone includes respecting their right to hold ridiculous beliefs.

    No one has phrased it precisely the way I would.

    First off, you have no obligation to respect someone else’s beliefs. Your obligation is to respect their right to form and hold their own beliefs.

    Second, the word “respect” has multiple meanings. The “respect” I owe to someone’s right to their own beliefs is abidance or toleration. This is entirely different from the definition of “respect” which is “to hold in esteem or honor.”

    If someone holds very silly beliefs, then I clearly have no obligation to esteem their beliefs, and since they have given themselves over to such silly beliefs, I will probably not have much respect for the person either. But I still tolerate and abide their right to hold silly beliefs.

    Just as with “faith” and “spirituality,” and so many other topics which are of interest in discussions of religion, this is a case of ambiguous vocabulary, not a serious disagreement over substance. If you want to get your point across clearly, use clear language.

  • noen

    Rami Abulhusn Says:

    The thing is, the idea of

    a) You should respect the person, but you don’t have to respect their beliefs

    isn’t the equivalent of the idea of

    b) Love the sinner, hate the sin

    One of the main differences is that with (a), we are discussing beliefs, whereas with (b), they are talking about actions.

    This is incorrect, here’s why.

    1. Love the sinner = respect the person
    2. hate the sin = you don’t have to respect their beliefs

    #1 goes to the person. You really should treat others with respect at all times and not engage in ad hominem. I guess the majority of atheists here don’t agree with that.

    #2 goes to their behavior. We don’t have access to a persons private thoughts. We can only know what their beliefs are when they express them but we should not draw an equivalence between what someone says and their value as a human being.

    Most religious people do not condemn others for what they believe, most atheists do. Yes yes, I know, you think that most people of faith are as filled with hate as you are for others who don’t think as you do. That’s just confirmation bias. Atheists associate themselves with the very lowest forms of religious belief so they think wrongly that everyone is like that.

    There are limits though. One should be able to call out someone when their behavior is excessively angry or violent. There are also some extreme beliefs that just cannot be tolerated (such as pedophilia). Sadly, for many atheists anyone who disagrees with their ideology is intolerable.

    I find little difference at all between most atheists and the fundamentalists they object to. That’s what happens when you go out fighting imaginary monsters. You become one.

  • keddaw

    If gay people were saying their ‘lifestyle’ was the only correct one and trying to pass laws so that their ‘gay agenda’ was being pushed into public life and they had a huge lobby working on their behalf AND no-one was trying to deny them their rights to marry, serve in the military, etc. then, at that point, the two positions would be similar.

  • noen

    Reginald Selkirk Says:
    “If someone holds very silly beliefs, then I clearly have no obligation to esteem their beliefs, and since they have given themselves over to such silly beliefs, I will probably not have much respect for the person either.”

    You can get away with a lot online but in real life this just doesn’t work. In real life you are required to treat others with respect EVEN when they hold very silly beliefs. I suppose that if all you want is a fight then by all means just stay online and have your petty squabbles. But if in real life you’d like to actually influence someone and possible convince them their ideas are silly then you had better treat them with respect EVEN if their ideas are very odd or even insane.

  • Christophe Thill

    Our notion of erroneous beliefs has nothing in common with the religious concept of “sin”.

  • Marie T

    How is hating something equivalent to not respecting something? Hating is an active verb, the individual is doing something. Failing to respect something is passive, the individual does nothing at all. I have no respect for professional sports. It seems frivolous to me. All this leads me to do, however, is ignore it. I do not go around starting citizens initiatives to try to write banning professional sports into my state constitution.

  • Hemant, I’ve got to agree with those who say you are getting a bit too well unfriendly. Maybe you need to take a step back and look at the big picture.

    I resent two things in this post:

    1. The assumption that all Christians are the same. They decidedly are not and I’ve met many who don’t give a hang if someone is gay, who are all too happy to leave said judgment to gawd as their holy book says they should. These tend to be the type of Christians I make friends with and they are totally cool with me. I think they’re wrong; they think I am; we still respect each other and beyond respect actually like each other for other qualities we have in common.

    2. It’s also an overgeneralization of Atheists. It’s like that song “I’m Every Woman” that I hate. Almost every time I hear that it’s coming from a woman to whom I react, you are not me, you are nothing like me, stop freaking speaking for me. On this, I’ve got to say, you’re nothing like me, stop freaking speaking for me, you are not me.

    Frankly, I don’t give a hang what imaginary friends someone holds as long as they don’t judge me for not sharing said friend. I really couldn’t care less. If they’re not saying you can’t do this because god said not to but I can’t because god asks something different of me, I am inclined to shrug and say whatever floats your boat. I simply don’t care.

    I also am not out to deconvert people. I frankly find that as annoying as those who try to save souls for Jesus. Stop being such an asshole already.

    I’d think you were once again confusing the religion of Secular Humanism with Atheism but, honestly, every Secular Humanist can’t be this bad, can they?

    Is it okay by you if there are actually Christians and other theists I admire? Do I need your freaking permission? I’ll answer that for you. No, I do not.

  • noen, you too. Stop fucking overgeneralizing Atheists.

  • Keith

    Part of the problem here is the assumption that respect for a person is binary: that either you respect someone or you do not. I think this is too simplistic. You can have respect for one aspect of a person’s attitudes or beliefs while being strongly averse to others. We should never feel obliged to make the sort of general statement as “I do/do not respect that person”.

  • Alice

    “The truth is on our side. We’re just out there trying to spread it. ”

    Right, and they think they’re spreading lies. What’s really offensive about “love the sinner hate the sin” is the fact that they believe homosexuality is a sin in itself. If these people did not vote on their convictions, it would not make those convictions any less abhorrent. What offends them about “respect the person, not their beliefs” is that we think their beliefs are wrong in themselves. Whether we try to force it on them or not does not matter. They hate our position, not our actions. In this way, the two are the same. This is fine, because each follows logically from their respective positions. The position is what offends you, don’t make it about actions.

  • Justin

    I think he makes a very valid point, actually. Reading through the comments I see a lot of rationalizations about how the former is different because the “hate the sin” crowd is doing X or doing Y but that’s not central to the question, “Is this any different from Christians saying, “Love the sinner but hate the sin?”

    I say no, there is no difference in the two attitudes.

    If I am mocking the beliefs of a religious person I am mocking them, personally. They will take it personally.

    I will, to a large extent, bear in mind that this person believes nonsensical, silly things. That’s going to bias any other opinion about this person I’m going to have.

    That’s a pretty close parallel.

    I think you can see even more of that parallel looking through the comments again. Comments bemoaning the perils of religion are a reflection of that attitude — although it’s quite possible that this reflects a “hate the sinner AND the sin” attitude.

    Again, the question wasn’t about actions it was about attitudes. In that very limited sense I say yes, the attitudes are the same.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    noen: You can get away with a lot online but in real life this just doesn’t work. In real life you are required to treat others with respect EVEN when they hold very silly beliefs.

    Dear noen: After I spent some effort on the topic of ambiguous terminology, you went right ahead and used the very same ambiguous term in your response. Which definition of “respect” do you think I am required to supply? The value of your response suffers from your embrace of ambiguity.

  • Ash

    Just to further the idea, there is a qualitative difference between “sin” and “belief.” Sin is equitable with transgression, corruption, and evil. Unforgiven sin is worthy of eternal torture; it is the ultimate crime.

    Atheists, on the whole, do not believe someone is due eternal torture for holding a false belief, no matter how toxic. Further, we do not think people should be punished AT ALL for a belief, only for actions.

    Also, while an atheist might not respect a person for holding certain beliefs, we generally respect their right to hold those beliefs (even while we reserve the right to try and convince them otherwise). Theists who “hate the sin” of homosexuality generally do NOT respect the right to actually be gay. That is the key difference here.

  • Mike

    At what point exactly did this blog become evangelical, rather than a place to share links to stories relevant to the community?

    The tone of this blog creeps me out lately. It’s zealotry of another kind. I don’t like the fact that there’s a segment of the atheist population (which includes Mr. Mehta whose earlier posts were always a bit more levelheaded) that’s constantly trying to suggest or insinuate that I as an atheist have a proper course of political and social action. Isn’t grouping us together contrary to the whole idea? When did this happen?

    I understand there’s a need to make the world more comfortable for atheists to come out in. I understand there’s a need to be vigilant about church/state separation issues. But there’s no need for this constant, nebulous suggestion that as atheists we have some sort of duty to society or prescribed set of behaviors. Please stop that. It makes me uncomfortable that I am running out of good atheist commentary that isn’t riddled with accusations that I’m not doing my part, however faintly suggested.

    THAAAANK YOU!!

    I have been railing against the “you’re part of the solution or part of the problem” false dichotemy here for the last couple of weeks. Eloquently stated!

  • Ben

    I’m rather laizze-faire on religion and belief until it hurts or oppresses another human being or animal. I’ll keep shut up about faith and religion just like I will about your favorite sports team as long as you keep it to yourself.

  • Samiimas

    Atheists like to say: You should respect the person, but you don’t have to respect their beliefs.

    Is this any different from Christians saying, “Love the sinner but hate the sin”?

    They’re not any different. When someone says they ‘love the sin, hate the sinner’ it means they hate the person but don’t wanna seem like an ass by admitting it.

    The same reason people try to not seem like asses by claiming that they would still respect a person even if they believed Zeus created lightning bolts. They wouldn’t but it sounds so much more polite to claim otherwise.

  • Suzanne

    We need to respect (and defend) the other people’s rights to have the beliefs. We don’t need to respect the actual beliefs.

  • When I hear “love the sinner, hate the sin”, what I interpret is a believer who isn’t just full of shit but must be just as sinful in the eyes of their sky daddy. If they love the sinner but hate the sin yet their God clearly hates the sinner AND the sin because of the promise of eternal hellfire (what a loving God!) then the believer is also committing a sin by loving the sinner who is hated by God. They believe God will burn said sinner yet are too cowardly to go as far as to follow their own deity’s example and be as thoroughly hateful and condemning. They are, it would seem, disobeying God in order to not be seen as a dick to others. Apparently the opinions of mere mortals means more to these hypocrites as the demands of their eternal, vengeful Creator. Someone who believed so fully in such a powerful being wouldn’t be so picky-choosy with who they wish to impress.

    I muddle my point a little but that’s because this whole thing gives me a headache. Ugh.

  • Typo: Should be Apparently the opinions of mere mortals means more to these hypocrites THAN the demands of their eternal, vengeful Creator.

  • The root problem of “love the sinner, hate the sin”, as applied to homosexuality, is that it implies that homosexuality is evil. This is just plain morally backwards whether you’re nice about it or a jerk about it. Actually, being so morally backwards is being a jerk, so you can’t really be “nice” about it.

    When atheists say that they respect people but not their beliefs, I think theists could definitely make the same objection: this implies that religious beliefs are bad. Well of course, that’s what we’re saying. We’re not trying to be coy about it.

  • noen

    Reginald Selkirk Says:
    “Which definition of “respect” do you think I am required to supply?”

    It doesn’t matter which definition you use. What matters is your behavior and what you want from them. If you want someone’s respect then you need to be respectful. If you want to convince someone of the rightness of your opinion then you need to treat them respectfully while politely disagreeing with them.

    The idea that one can disagree without being disagreeable is apparently a foreign concept to 90% of online atheists.

    Now me, I don’t care. I don’t want your respect. If I did I would act completely differently. I want the world to see you for what you are.

  • p.s.

    If you want to convince someone of the rightness of your opinion then you need to treat them respectfully while politely disagreeing with them.

    Now me, I don’t care. I don’t want your respect. If I did I would act completely differently. I want the world to see you for what you are.

    BAHAHAHAHHAHAHA

    Damn, you are a piece of work. Thanks for the entertainment 😀

  • Reginald Selkirk

    It doesn’t matter which definition you use. Now me, I don’t care. I don’t want your respect. If I did I would act completely differently.

    Then your wish is granted. You wallow in ambiguous terminology, and when directly questioned about it, refuse to clarify. I certainly cannot respect that sort of behaviour. bye bye asshole.

  • duhsciple

    I am a follower of Jesus who for me embodies God.

    I do not want to wipe out the belief or identity of any other person or group, including here the “friendly atheists”.

    I do not always feel safe around other Jesus followers. They give me the idea, “belief like us or else!” Many pastors say, “You have to have my specific theology or it is to hell with you!” Or, “Unless you are in our church, then God doesn’t really love you.”

    I do not always feel safe around the new atheists. They give me the idea, “Your faith is 100% evil and any good you do is only accidental and not in any way related to faith.” When you say you want to wipe out my “faith virus” or “delusion”- I feel a threat.

    Because I follow Jesus, I am trying to be “friendly” to all. And I don’t feel safe with all.

  • Korinthian

    I’m still not sure I can separate people from their beliefs like that, especially if they’re strong beliefs.

    I guess I could be more tolerant.

  • Greg

    The idea that one can disagree without being disagreeable is apparently a foreign concept to 90% of online atheists.

    noen – I’ve seen you post here a bit now, and you’re the one who’s being spewing vitriol, not anyone else.

    I’d already come to the conclusion you are a troll, but if you actually aren’t, you might want to try practicing what you preach occasionally. That’s just meant as friendly advise, because you are seriously not coming across as ‘disagreeing without being disagreeable’. I’m not sure I’ve seen one post by you I’d put in that category.

    It’s very easy to be misinterpreted in text comments online, I know, but if you’re going to hide behind that excuse, you’d sure better give other people the benefit of the doubt too.

    Of course, if my first instinct was correct and you are a troll…

    Screw you! 🙂

  • Edmond

    The trouble comes from the word “sin”. The closest secular equivalent to the word “sin” is “crime”. But, not everything that’s a sin IS a crime. Crimes are generally qualified as “wrong” by the level of harm they bring, either to individuals or to society. Sins are not. Sins are qualified as “wrong” simply by a god having said so (or, more correctly, by scripture claiming that a god said so). Often, however, these sins cause no harm to anyone, individually or socially. As many of us like to point out, the bible condemns as “sin” such simple actions as cutting your beard or wearing clothing made of different fibers. These “transgressions” are in the same section of scripture as condemnations of homosexuality. But who is harmed by homosexuality? Why, the very same people who are harmed by shaving or poly-cotton blend. No one.

    When Christians refer to homosexuality in saying “love the sinner, hate the sin”, they are attempting to equate homosexuality with crime, as one might condemn the act of murder but still offer love to a murderer. But homosexuality is NOT a crime, and for good reason. It harms no one, and the government has no business regulating our sex lives. Why don’t the gods feel the same way?

    The rationalization for hating homosexuality is that it is “against god”, or “against nature”. But god, if he is real, cannot be harmed by homosexuality (or anything else). Nature cannot be harmed by homosexuality. This is an empty rationalization. It is an excuse to practice exclusionism.

  • daniel miles

    I’ve heard people say that we should respect people but not necessarily their beliefs and I can’t speak to what they’re saying when they say that, but if I were to say it, I would mean that we should respect a person for the whole of her being instead of lending arbitrary weight to religious matters.

    For me, it’s about aspects of a person’s life and personality that variously enhance and degrade my esteem for that person. If you take a silly position about something trivial, like stating that God exists, that dampens my esteem for you a little bit because it shows a flaw in your ability to reason. But that small “hit” doesn’t come to much when compared against a lifetime of good work. For example, I have high esteem for Mother Theresa because of all the medical care she provided and high esteem for Bach because of a lifetime of beautiful music despite each of them taking a silly position about an imaginary friend.

    On the other hand, if you were to take a silly position about something that hurts people, like asserting that promising medical research is a bad thing, that gay sex is somehow bad, that people with differing skin color shouldn’t marry or that people with dark skin color are evil, that would dampen my esteem for you by quite a lot. You’d have to work very hard to make it up in other areas before I’d consider you worthy of respect.

    If that’s similar to loving the sinner and hating the sin, then I’d say people who say it right. But When I see people trying to act on sinner-loving and sin-hating, it certainly seems to look a lot like sinner-hating. Maybe I’m missing something about the differences in philosophy? Maybe it’s a difference in execution?

  • daniel miles

    I’ve heard people say that we should respect people but not necessarily their beliefs and I can’t speak to what they’re saying when they say that, but if I were to say it, I would mean that we should respect a person for the whole of her being instead of lending arbitrary weight to religious matters.

    For me, it’s about aspects of a person’s life and personality that variously enhance and degrade my esteem for that person. If you take a silly position about something trivial, like stating that God exists, that dampens my esteem for you a little bit because it shows a flaw in your ability to reason. But that small “hit” doesn’t come to much when compared against a lifetime of good work. For example, I have high esteem for Mother Theresa because of all the medical care she provided and high esteem for Bach because of a lifetime of beautiful music despite each of them taking a silly position about an imaginary friend.

    On the other hand, if you were to take a silly position about something that hurts people, like asserting that promising medical research is a bad thing, that gay sex is somehow bad, that people with differing skin color shouldn’t marry or that people with dark skin color are evil, that would dampen my esteem for you by quite a lot. You’d have to work very hard to make it up in other areas before I’d consider you worthy of respect.

    If that’s similar to loving the sinner and hating the sin, then I’d say people who say it are right. But When I see people trying to act on sinner-loving and sin-hating, it certainly seems to look a lot like sinner-hating. Maybe I’m missing something about the differences in philosophy? Maybe it’s a difference in execution?

  • Rami Abulhusn

    noen,

    That was just.. wow.

    Most religious people do not condemn others for what they believe, most atheists do.

    I find it hillarious that you follow up the above sentence with a commentary on confirmation bias. This, more than anything, makes me think you’re a troll.

    Yes yes, I know, you think that most people of faith are as filled with hate as you are for others who don’t think as you do

    Anything I said that implies I hate religious folks? I definitely don’t agree with many of the actions taken by religious people, but only those actions that affect me (or others.. the prop 8 debacle comes to mind, as do the countless stories of children dying due to faith-healing parents).

    There are also some extreme beliefs that just cannot be tolerated (such as pedophilia)

    That’s actually the point I was trying to make when I mentioned the murderer. Sorry if it didn’t come out clearly. The phrase ‘respect the person, not the belief’ does not apply at all in this case, whereas the phrase ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ very much does. I was trying to show what I meant when I said the two phrases were not at all equivalent.

    I find little difference at all between most atheists and the fundamentalists they object to…

    And you’ve done it again. Congrats.

  • Nordog

    “In fact, atheists are some of the most ardent defenders of religious freedom and first amendment rights!”

    Yeah, except Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Chauchesku, et alia.

  • Nordog,
    that is a pissing contest you would not want to get into, compare atheist people who have hurt millions with theistic people who have hurt millions.

    Going to be a long day.

  • The default position is to offer a modicum of polite respect to any stranger. This respect can quickly be lost or enhanced. For example they may fail to return this respect and make unfair judgments on others or they may exceed our expectations of basic, human decency. Someone who thinks of human beings as “sinners” is automatically changing the default position of respect. They are saying that nobody deserves any respect, that we are all unworthy of this basic, human decency.

    Despite claiming that they “love the sinner” they still have no respect for you or me. In that it is rather like being in an abusive relationship where they love us but don’t respect us. I don’t want that kind of relationship with people.

    Then they claim that they “hate the sin” as if things aren’t bad enough in their eyes already. The “sin” of course is undefined and could be any action or opinion that they choose. It is based often on no more than a feeling of unease. This could come about from someone not accepting their mythology as fact or by going against their expectations.

    This is quite different from respecting the person and not respecting the belief. Respecting the person is only to say that they are a human being with thoughts and feelings just as we are. A belief is an opinion, subject to verification and to reevaluation. It is held as true but capable of being wrong and capable of being monstrously wrong at that.

  • Secular Stu

    muggle:

    I resent two things in this post:

    1. The assumption that all Christians are the same.

    They are largely the same. The opposition to gay marriage is largely based on religion. “Homosexuality is a sin” is a Christian tenet. Period. Are we supposed to avoid noting that just because you’ve got a couple of friends who aren’t politically active about it?

  • duhsciple

    When you demonize people you inevitably become a demon. Of course, we often see this with religious people. And I observe this is a human trait, not strictly limited to religious folks.

  • cat

    Okay, I wanted to agree with the person above who pointed out that ‘respect’ is a vague term. I can be against murdering/oppressing people I hate and despise because I believe that murder/oppression is evil, not because I give special credit to those people any more than the minimum I give to any other human as a human.

    Of course, not every atheist is an anti-theist, some atheists do not actually think that simple religious belief is morally negative, they only think that the results can often be.

    But, I am not one of those. I actively think religion is bad and that religious beliefs are bad. I do think less of someone than I would think of them otherwise, all else equal, if they are religious (do I get some honesty points here?). I also think less of someone, all else equal, if I find out they shoplift. That is what it means to make a moral judgement about a person’s behavior, that you think they would be a better person if they did not do it than if they did. However, not all badness is equal, there are degrees, and a person can be bad in one respect and good in others. Saying “Violence is bad” does not mean you think that the person who punched someone in a barfight is the equivalent of Hitler. I could generally forgive the former, even though I think the person would be a better person if they did not get into bar fights, but I could not forgive the latter. Why? Because of the degree. The barfighter’s bad behavior is fairly low and could be trumped by good factors, like being an animal shelter volunteer or donating canned goods to the food bank. However, when you are a Hitler level baddy, all of the puppy petting and creamed corn in the world isn’t enough to make up for your nastiness. That is why I can still love individuals who are religious moderates, because their good traits-loyalty, friendliness, anti-racist work, etc. are enough to make them a good person despite the points deducted for religiousity, but I don’t forgive religious conservatives, because their evil actions are far more severe in degree. I can think highly of Isaac Newton despite his religiousity, because the level of harm he did from it was on the low side and his other accomplishments were of high value. However, I cannot forgive Pope Urban II, because the crusades and conversion by force in Europe were far higher evils and he has no good deeds to his name that would even come close to competing value.

  • Jonathan

    “Atheists like to say: You should respect the person, but you don’t have to respect their beliefs.

    Is this any different from Christians saying, ‘Love the sinner but hate the sin?'”

    These two statements can’t be equivalent because “the person” and “the sinner” are not even remotely equivalent concepts.

    There are a number of people with whom I vehemently disagree, yet respect. In order to “love the sinner,” however, I would have to judge the person a sinner first.

    When I hear someone tell me to love the sinner, I think, prove their a sinner and we can talk about hating the sin. I don’t have that reaction when someone tells me to respect the person.

  • Seantzizl

    I don’t like your generalization of Christian voting on homosexual/government issues. I’m an atheist and on those issues would vote the following way…

    Gay Marriage – No, not because fundamentally I think gays should not be allowed to married, but because I don’t think marriage should be a government institution. Tax breaks? incorporate…Hospital visitation rights? reform…

    Hate Crime Legislation – Of course not! Why should one bad motivation for a crime have more severe consequences than another…

    Gay Adoption – Leave it to the adoption agency, I wouldn’t support a law requiring or condemning…

    My only real point being, is that Christian voting records on social issues is weak to your argument. I often times think that if the liberal atheist of the world were as critical of government as they are of religion, then they would all be libertarians.

  • Ash

    “In fact, atheists are some of the most ardent defenders of religious freedom and first amendment rights!”

    Yeah, except Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Chauchesku, et alia.
    ————
    Nordog, thanks for pointing out the difference between a handful of historical tyrannical despots who happened to not believe in god and the remaining 99.999% of non-god believers who happen to not be tyrants.

    What connects those tyrants that the remaining non-theists don’t seem to share? I suspect egomania, an insatiable lust for power, hatred of the “other”, perhaps paranoia, a loathing for freedom of inquiry, and certainly a profound level of sociopathy.

    Weirdly, those traits, while mostly absent in the non-tyrant population, seem to be shared by other tyrants who happen to believe in god. This makes me wonder if, perhaps, being an inhuman tyrant has less to do with (non)belief in god and more to do with some combination of these traits?

    The good news? On the whole, the vast majority of atheists do indeed defend religious freedom and first amendment rights…I suspect far more percentage-wise than in the theistic community.

  • @Ash

    What connects those tyrants that the remaining non-theists don’t seem to share? I suspect egomania, an insatiable lust for power, hatred of the “other”, perhaps paranoia, a loathing for freedom of inquiry, and certainly a profound level of sociopathy.

    Weirdly, those traits, while mostly absent in the non-tyrant population, seem to be shared by other tyrants who happen to believe in god. This makes me wonder if, perhaps, being an inhuman tyrant has less to do with (non)belief in god and more to do with some combination of these traits?

    You may not be too far off the mark. To quote one of R.J. Hummels’ works:
    http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/COM.ART.HTM

    But communists could not be wrong. After all, their knowledge was scientific, based on historical materialism, an understanding of the dialectical process in nature and human society, and a materialist (and thus realistic) view of nature. Marx has shown empirically where society has been and why, and he and his interpreters proved that it was destined for a communist end. No one could prevent this, but only stand in the way and delay it at the cost of more human misery. Those who disagreed with this world view and even with some of the proper interpretations of Marx and Lenin were, without a scintilla of doubt, wrong. After all, did not Marx or Lenin or Stalin or Mao say that. . . . In other words, communism was like a fanatical religion. It had its revealed text and chief interpreters. It had its priests and their ritualistic prose with all the answers. It had a heaven, and the proper behavior to reach it. It had its appeal to faith. And it had its crusade against nonbelievers.

    What made this secular religion so utterly lethal was its seizure of all the state’s instrument of force and coercion and their immediate use to destroy or control all independent sources of power, such as the church, the professions, private businesses, schools, and, of course, the family.

    Ironically, this docu was brought to my attention by a Catholic apologist during a debate at our forums, when he was asserting that atheism was to blame for these atrocities.

    Apparently, he was not very diligent in checking if his own sources matched his assertion 😉

  • Nordog

    Ash,

    Fair enough, for the most part.

    However, I might quibble about you figure of 99.99999%.

    While admittedly not a proper scientific sample, my observations of many comments on this website indicate that there are many “fellow travelers” (to borrow a phrase) here who apparently would have no problem of stomping out religion and those who practice it.

  • Hugh

    “Hate the sin, love the sinner” is a crock. Right from the word go, you are presuming to stand in judgment over the other person, labeling them a sinner, claiming moral superiority over them. That’s not love, it’s condescension!

  • Hugh

    Nordog: I want to stomp out religion in the same sense that I want to stomp out poverty and disease.

  • Aj

    Hugh,

    I want to stomp out religion in the same sense that I want to stomp out poverty and disease.

    Turning poor people into food and setting up quarantine colonies?

  • Ash

    @Nordog,

    “However, I might quibble about you figure of 99.99999%.”

    I think it’s reasonable to estimate that of all the atheists who have ever lived, only about .00001% of them have been despotic tyrants who oversaw brutal regimes.

    “…there are many “fellow travelers” (to borrow a phrase) here who apparently would have no problem of stomping out religion and those who practice it.”

    I’ve been reading many of those same comments, and I’ve yet to hear anyone suggest that religion and religious people should be “stomped out”. If you believe otherwise, allow me to ease your mind and assure you that no one at the Friendly Atheist blog is backing a pogrom against religious believers. But alas, you will very likely continue to hear rational if strident diatribes against superstitious beliefs and the bad actions of theists. No getting around that one I’m afraid.

  • Silent Service

    I go to class for the afternoon and by the time I get back to the blog all the fun troll stomping is over. I miss all the fun. 🙁

  • Steve

    It can also be argued that Stalin himself set up a quasi-religion. His whole regime was a huge personality cult. Not quite as extreme and sick as North Korea, but way up there as far as personality cults go.

  • @Steve

    Stalin’s regime:

    Unquestioning obedience, check
    Fanatical followers, check
    Personality worship, check
    Intolerance of other ideas, check
    Anti-intellectuaism, check
    Absolute faith that their belief is the “true” path, check
    Willingess to use violence to enforce said belief, check

    Now let’s compare it to The Vatican:

    Oh, forget it. Just slap a Walrus ‘stache on Papa Benedict, and call it a day 🙁

  • They are largely the same. The opposition to gay marriage is largely based on religion. “Homosexuality is a sin” is a Christian tenet. Period. Are we supposed to avoid noting that just because you’ve got a couple of friends who aren’t politically active about it?

    Stu, this is nothing but a preconceived notion on your part! It’s a blanket bigoted statement taken because there are some very vocal asshole Christians who use gawd to justify their homophobia and, yes, it’s in the buybull. But, as we’ve also often noted on this blog, believers are very adept at picking and choosing what they like. Some ignore the commandment regarding man lying with man as much as they do the laws regarding keeping kosher or working on the Sabbath. Or the ones about mixing fabrics. And why do you assume I’m only talking about a couple of my friends? It’s not only more than a couple of friends (as I said, I don’t hang out with the other kind of Christian, the fanatic, who indeed would have more desire to hang out with me as I do them) but there are entire Christian churches out there who would happily marry gay couples if they were allowed to by law.

  • Nordog

    @Ash:

    “I think it’s reasonable to estimate that of all the atheists who have ever lived, only about .00001% of them have been despotic tyrants who oversaw brutal regimes.”

    Well yes, of course.

    My point was not that atheists are dictators, nor even that they are mass murderers (as James seems to have concluded my point to be).

    Rather, my point was that, imo, more atheists than you apparently think, would like to see religion disappear, go away, be destroyed.

    Ash:

    “I’ve been reading many of those same comments, and I’ve yet to hear anyone suggest that religion and religious people should be “stomped out”.”

    May I refer you to this, from a post above, as just one example:

    ***

    Hugh Says:

    October 13th, 2010 at 10:32 pm
    Nordog: I want to stomp out religion in the same sense that I want to stomp out poverty and disease.

    ***

    Ash:

    “If you believe otherwise, allow me to ease your mind and assure you that no one at the Friendly Atheist blog is backing a pogrom against religious believers.”

    Well, on that my mind was already at ease. I’ve never thought, nor said, that any pogrom even existed here and now, let alone that this non-existent pogrom was supported by anyone here at Friendly Atheist.

    It’s just false to say that atheists don’t desire an abolition of religion.

    This is false even though there ARE atheist who do support religious freedom.

    Not only false, but irrational.

    If I were an atheist, and I was convinced ot the evils of religion as described frequently here, not to mention by luminaries such as Christopher Hitchens, I would very much want the abolition of religion.

    How could I not want that abolition?

    How could those of the “Religion=Oppression/Ignorance/Rape/Death” school of thought not want that abolition?

  • walkamungus

    The two statements are the same, no matter how vehement the various hairsplitting explanations here might be. Both suggest broadmindedness while reducing a person’s value to a single attribute.

  • Steve

    Want and doing it are two very different things. Any reasonable person who would like to get rid of religion realizes that it’s impossible. Not even dictatorships managed it. Your vaunted Stalin didn’t achieve it either. The Orthodox Church is well alive in Russia. Poland is extremely Catholic. Eastern Germany isn’t as religious as the West (maybe the one good thing Communism achieved there), but the Protestant Church still exists.

    We realize that getting rid of religion is a dream. Discussing it is an exercise in the hypothetical. The best we can do is curtail its influence and limit its power.

    For me, religious freedom means that you won’t get burned at the stake or thrown in prison for what you believe. It doesn’t give you any special rights beyond that. For radical Christians, religious freedom is but a fig leaf to impose their ideology on society and freely discriminate against people they don’t like (“But doing business with the gays is against my religion!”)

  • Just a heads up, noen is a known troll.

  • Secular Stu

    Stu, this is nothing but a preconceived notion on your part! It’s a blanket bigoted statement taken because there are some very vocal asshole Christians who use gawd to justify their homophobia and, yes, it’s in the buybull.

    It’s not “some” Christians who oppose gay marriage, it’s the majority.

    Now I wouldn’t on an individual basis, assume someone is anti-gay just because they self-identify as being part of a group whose tenets are anti-gay. I really do realize that some of them just ignore the anti-gay parts. I just think it’s a ridiculous situation.

  • Love how you cut that short, Stu and completely the ignore about there are churches eager to marry gays!

    If I were an atheist, and I was convinced ot the evils of religion as described frequently here, not to mention by luminaries such as Christopher Hitchens, I would very much want the abolition of religion.

    How could I not want that abolition?

    How could those of the “Religion=Oppression/Ignorance/Rape/Death” school of thought not want that abolition?

    While I’m not of the anti-theist mindset, nordog, I’ll bite: How about they’re idiots if they try that given how in the minority they are? (Yes, I’ll agree with you that some are that stupid. I’ve seen anti-theists rant that religion does need to irradicated.) Given we’re like maybe only 15% of the population, we definitely don’t outnumber the theists and shoot ourselves in the foot if we try that happy horseshit.

    Myself, even if we were in the majority, I don’t want to see us oppressing anyone. Religious freedom is an important facet of human rights, plain and simple.

  • Nordog

    Muggle,

    It doesn’t follow that someone supports religious freedom just because they don’t actively seek to suppress it.

  • Nordog

    Oh, and Muggle, I basically agree with what you just wrote, and appreciate your view of religious freedom as a human right.

  • Aj

    Nordog,

    While admittedly not a proper scientific sample, my observations of many comments on this website indicate that there are many “fellow travelers” (to borrow a phrase) here who apparently would have no problem of stomping out religion and those who practice it.

    I personally haven’t seen one person comment that they would like, or would have no problem with, those who practice religion being “stomped out”. I find it hard to believe that someone believes that, but then you’re also a theist.

  • Ash

    @Nordog,

    “It’s just false to say that atheists don’t desire an abolition of religion.”

    I think it depends on how you mean it. If I could wave a magic wand and make it so that every religion has gone the way of Zeus, then I would be sorely tempted. But that isn’t the same as saying that I want to take away anyone’s right to believe what they want or to somehow ban religious practice. I’ve never come across an atheist who sincerely advocates for that. Rather than eliminating religion, I think, on the whole, atheists primarily want two things:

    1) a secular society where religious beliefs do not interfere with equal opportunity and fairness, scientific and medical progress, public education, or governmental policy, and

    2) the advancement of reason, critical thinking, free inquiry, skepticism, and scientific education.

    The Gnu Atheist movement has largely arisen, I believe, because loud, dogmatic, aggressive, and often well-funded religious populations have effectively attacked both of these general aims (as well as actual people). Further, there is a growing realization that, while irrational fundamentalists are striking the deepest wounds, the core problem is religious thinking itself.

    I believe this is what Hugh meant in his comment, that many of us want to help move the world beyond the superstitious and tribal thinking that religion promotes, which is not remotely the same thing as, say, banning religious practices or killing religious adherents. When you can grasp that fundamental different, then you will better understand the viewpoint of movement atheists.

  • Secular Stu

    Love how you cut that short, Stu and completely the ignore about there are churches eager to marry gays!

    The minority of churches. I keep making it clear that it is a minority of Christians that support homosexuals, and they do so in a way that is difficult to reconcile with the Bible. You refuse to address my point, and accuse me of being a bigot and taking things out of context. You are behaving like an asshole.

  • Nordog

    AJ, then you haven’t even read all the posts on this thread.

  • Person A: I am a moral person because I follow my religion, which tells me which morals are important. Without my religion would be lost, and there would be chaos.

    Person B: I am a moral person because I do not follow blindly, and will not take someone’s word for the truth without proof. Without truth I would be lost, and there would be chaos.

    Q: If you had to choose a person to spend a couple of months with in a collapsed mine and could not guarantee any specific religion which person would you pick? Yea, Yea…I know who you would pick, but would a religious person pick B over A. Hmmm.

  • Aj

    Nordog,

    AJ, then you haven’t even read all the posts on this thread.

    You’re right, I didn’t, but then I did, and you’re full of shit. You’re possibly referring to Hugh, that would be the height of dishonesty, as his post was completely ambiguous on methods, which I took full advantage of by making some up. If you can make this claim for this thread, my already low opinion of your ability to interpret comments has not increased. Carry on, shake that paranoia.

  • Robert

    Ash, You should listen to Hitchens more. He specifically advocates the abolition of all religion. Look at the post here a couple of days ago that was his greatest hits montage.

  • Nordog, don’t most Christians think it would be wonderful if everyone believed in their god? Don’t many of them wish/hope/pray that other people will share that belief? Don’t many of them try to convince other people to believe in their god and follow their religion?

    I fail to see why atheists can’t have the same view from the opposite direction. The vast majority of Christians are not in support of forcing people to believe the same way they do. They believe (or purport to believe) in freedom of choice. Atheists are just as likely to support religious freedom, while at the same time wishing that people would give up their supernatural beliefs.

    I am 100% in favor of supporting and defending religious freedom for everyone around the world. But I think supernatural beliefs are false, and I think the world would be better off without them. However (and this is an important point), if religion is to disappear, it must disappear naturally. We can’t force it to disappear. That would be unethical and immoral.

    In my ideal (unrealistic) world, the theists would simply realize they are wrong about the supernatural. That’s all. There would no pogroms, no pressure, no laws against religion, no forced closing of churches. There would simply be debate and discussion, and people would naturally see religion as less meaningful and relevant to their lives, so they would simply give it up of their own free will.

    I’d be perfectly happy if they kept the cultural aspects of religion, just as long as they didn’t take it literally anymore. We can preserve the history of various world religions. We can preserve the architecture of those beautiful cathedrals in Europe. We can preserve religious music. If people still want to act out religious ceremonies or do symbolic rituals, that would be just fine, too. I don’t consider any of those things false or dangerous.

    I think it’s the faith that makes theism so dangerous. It’s harmed the world in so many ways. People can claim their gods want them to do X, Y, and Z, and people are willing to follow along. And religion has led many people to do immoral things and promote immoral beliefs. It has led people to trivialize the only life we have. I think we’d be so much better off without it. But I only want to see religion disappear on its own. That’s the key phrase here, on its own. Not because people “stomped it out” but because they saw it for what it was.

  • Nathan

    Hemant,

    I left a comment here a few days ago that hasn’t appeared – might it be in your spam folder?

  • Aj

    Robert,

    Ash, You should listen to Hitchens more. He specifically advocates the abolition of all religion. Look at the post here a couple of days ago that was his greatest hits montage.

    We’ll take your trustworthy word for this, as you have proven to be an unbiased honest chap that is in no way gullible or frequently mistaken. On second thoughts, I’d like a direct quote and citation of a reliable source that’s sufficient in detail.

  • Robert

    Aj,

    Review the hitchslap video posted here on 10/9/10. In that montage Hitchens claims that religion is to be held in contempt, is evil and poisons everything. He also refers to teaching religion to children as child abuse.

    He calls for the replacement of religion with reason and enlightment.

    Doesn’t sound like “live and let live” to me.

  • Nordog

    Aj, I never said anything about methods either. I think your opinion of me is a bit of projection. Or perhaps you’re just a hater. Both could be true.

    To borrow from Bob Schieffer, is that the best you can do?

    Anna, I found your post above a pleasure to read.

    “Nordog, don’t most Christians think it would be wonderful if everyone believed in their god? Don’t many of them wish/hope/pray that other people will share that belief? Don’t many of them try to convince other people to believe in their god and follow their religion?”

    Of course.

    “I fail to see why atheists can’t have the same view from the opposite direction.”

    Of course, I fail to see it either.

    In fact, essentially I wrote above that if I were an atheist and held the lower opinion of religion often posted on this site I would, in your words, “have the same view from the opposite direction.”

    That would be as it should be.

    “I think it’s the faith that makes theism so dangerous. It’s harmed the world in so many ways. […] I think we’d be so much better off without it.”

    I take exception to the idea that we would be better off without religion.

    Specifically I mean that if by “harmed the world in so many ways” you mean things like strife, wars, pogroms, ethnic/sectarian cleansing, etc., I convinced that these things are fundamentally a function of a human failing. It’s a failing that’s found in atheist regimes (whether communist or humanist) at least in equal measures as that found in theocracies or pluralistic yet religious societies.

    If religion, faith, and believers in God, god, or gods, were all to disappear tomorrow, we would still have those problems.

    It’s a human thing, and history has shown that reason, rationality, and enlightenment does not deliver us from it.

  • Steve

    Teaching religion can be child abuse if it’s all the children know and the indoctrination is too strong.
    My religious education was very mild. People certainly insisted on it, but I wasn’t spoonfed it all the time and I wasn’t punished for not believing. I knew two very religious families and it was off-putting at times, but compared to evangelicals they were harmless.

    Unfortunately, this what radical Christians do:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ppQhleVuWPM
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZzE36jTw8pQ

    Look at the sheer terror in those kids’ eyes. It’s sick, cruel and evil. And I truly despise the adults there who let such things happen. Or the very intelligent boy in the second video. Everyone gives him dirty looks. Even the other children have been so brainwashed that they just regard him as weird. It’s pure insanity and definitely abuse.

  • Ash

    @Robert,
    “Ash, You should listen to Hitchens more. He specifically advocates the abolition of all religion. Look at the post here a couple of days ago that was his greatest hits montage.”

    @Robert:

    “He also refers to teaching religion to children as child abuse. He calls for the replacement of religion with reason and enlightment.”

    Hitchens indeed argues that the world would be a better place without religion, and he’s right. He proposes that religious beliefs be directly and ruthlessly challenged using the tools of persuasion, reason, compassion, and scientific evidence. At no point has he ever suggested that we rescind the rights of free belief or worship, and in fact supports those rights without reservation. And he is on the far end of the atheist spectrum. If Hitchens is the “worst” we have to offer, then Nordog’s premise is weaker than tea.

  • Aj

    Robert,

    In that montage Hitchens claims that religion is to be held in contempt, is evil and poisons everything.

    He calls for the replacement of religion with reason and enlightment.

    I believe the same things, but I also believe in freedom of expression and thought, even when it’s something I don’t like. When Hitchens says “religion poisons everything” which is the subtitle of his book “God is Not Great” he means that there isn’t a human activity or aspect of culture, that some religion hasn’t poisoned in some way, this is hyperbolic statement equivalent to saying “it’s hard to think or, and may be impossible, to think of things that religion hasn’t influenced in a negative way”. You may be projecting what you would do in Hitchens’s place.

    Hitchens’s position on freedom of expression.

    He also refers to teaching religion to children as child abuse.

    Teaching implies imparting knowledge, that’s not what religion does. As in Hitchens’s chapter on the subject, God is Not Great, ch. 16, the obvious example of child abuse is telling children something that is unlikely to be true, and is completely unjustified by evidence or reason, for instance their Grandfather is going to be tortured for eternity for being baptized the wrong way. Please tell me that isn’t cruel, maltreatment, abusive, any word that means the same, and that it isn’t directed at children, tell me why this type of abuse of children, should not be conveniently shortened to “child abuse”.

    Doesn’t sound like “live and let live” to me.

    Don’t let knowledge get in the way of your prejudice.

  • Richard Wade

    Nathan,
    I found your comment in the spam file. Why it was there I have no idea. Anyway, it’s now appearing above where it should have been at October 13th, 2010 at 9:52 am e.

  • Aj

    Nordog,

    Aj, I never said anything about methods either. I think your opinion of me is a bit of projection. Or perhaps you’re just a hater. Both could be true.

    You never did say which comment calls for the “stomping out” of people who practice religion. Now you’re evading defending your obviously false statement, instead of rightly apologizing.

    Here’s your comment again, relevant parts in bold:

    While admittedly not a proper scientific sample, my observations of many comments on this website indicate that there are many “fellow travelers” (to borrow a phrase) here who apparently would have no problem of stomping out religion and those who practice it.

    Please give some examples of some methods of stomping out people.

  • Nordog

    Aj,

    You are quite correct. The phrase “…those who practice it” goes too far.

    I don’t recall anyone here ever even coming close to advocating “stomping” out people.

    Sloppy writing on my part. What I meant to convey was simply something like “…an eradication of religion, which would have as a necessary consequent that there would no longer be adherents of religion.”

    As written it conveys a position I do not hold and which I did not want to convey.

    And for that you do have my apology.

  • Richard,

    Thanks. I think, for some reason, akismet, the WordPress spam filter thing, decided I’m spam.

  • The minority of churches. I keep making it clear that it is a minority of Christians that support homosexuals, and they do so in a way that is difficult to reconcile with the Bible. You refuse to address my point, and accuse me of being a bigot and taking things out of context. You are behaving like an asshole.

    No, you are. I did address your point. You keep lumping those Christians in with the majority who do. My point is merely that that’s wrong.

    We’re a minority of society, at least here in the good ole US of A. Does that make it okay for the majority to ride roughshod over us? To lump all Atheists together? No? Then stop doing the same damned thing.

    Steve, I’m one to defend parents’ rights to raise their children in their belief system but when it raises to that level, I’ll agree it’s child abuse. Also, when they neglect to give them proper medical care or use the buybull to justify beating them (believe me, some do, speaking from personal experience), then they should be held to the same standards anyone else is. Screaming at your children and purposely scaring to the point that you have them shaking and crying is otherwise considered child abuse and should be in the case of things like Jesus Camp or even parents who do at home. Theist parents/camps/schools should be held to the same standard on that that a secular equivalent would be.

  • Secular Stu

    Muggle, I am not lumping them together. You’re the one determined to take it as a slight to all Christians. Is there any way Hemant could have phrased that so it would not offend you?

  • Robert

    Aj,

    As a Christian father should I call it child abuse for an atheist parent to tell their child that there is no God? I believe that that parent is telling their child a lie that will effect their child for this life and the next. But is it abuse? Hardly.

    Child abuse is an inflammatory word that Hitchens uses on purpose. Just like he uses the word poison, specifically not as hyperbole. (look at his quote on that video where he directly states that the use of that word was not at the suggestion of the publisher for emphasis but was what he exactly meant)

    The atheist parents who indoctrinate their children that there is no God are not committing child abuse unless they do it in an emotionally abusive manner. They are passing on their believes to their children. Just as the Christian parents are.

    Now, if a parent told a child who was too young to understand that Grandpa was in hell, that would be cruel. Just as if a parent told the child how cancer eats at your body or how much pain he is in or how the family dog got his head crushed when it got run over by a car.

    Hitchens is specifically arguing that teaching religion to a child is child abuse because he doesn’t believe it and uses the example of Hell as if all Christian parents would tell their young children that. He ignores the notion that Christian parents would love their children enough to tell them what is appropriate. He also ignores that idea that these same Christian parents would be telling their children about the love of God and Christ and all of the positive aspects of their faith.

  • Secular Stu

    Dan Savage has a new column just up today, a must-read follow up on the subject that states it better than I can.

  • Robert

    By the way Steve,

    I agree that the Jesus Camp people are overboard. Those children are too young for that type of revival and teaching in the manner in which she is doing it. She is extreme and definitely not an example of mainstream Christian teaching of young children.

  • Robert,

    Do you yourself really believe in Hell?

    I wonder from some of your recent comments.

    If not, then congratulations.
    Personally, I think the Universalist stance is much more reconcilable with the concept of some kind of omnipotent, benevolent, omniscient god.

    I always thought it funny that so many people are basically praying to what they consider to be some kind of deified version of Fred Phelps judging people and sending all “undesirables” to hell.

    If you do believe in Hell, wouldn’t it be negligent not to spend every waking second of every day screaming about the consequences of not believing exactly the right things? Even to very young children…

  • Robert

    Jeff P,

    The concept of Hell as a definite place or as a separation from God varies across the Christian theological spectrum. I view it as a separation from God and not necessarily a specific place. Regardless, the concept of spending eternity with God can be taught to young children without the potentially frightening concept of Hell.

  • Robert,

    If there is an afterlife and some kind of God-entity that is desirable to “be near”, couldn’t one just kind-of mosey over closer to God after you die?

    What is so special about the infinitesimally small period of time of our mortal existence as compared to the infinite span of eternity? Why would the finite entail the infinite in any kind of moral universe? Is there no redemption in the afterlife?

  • In fact, essentially I wrote above that if I were an atheist and held the lower opinion of religion often posted on this site I would, in your words, “have the same view from the opposite direction.”

    But you have a low opinion of atheism and you don’t take the Christian view that you would like all people to believe in your god?

    By the way, it’s not that I have a low opinion of religion in and of itself. I have a low opinion of false beliefs and immoral beliefs, and unfortunately many of those are tied in with religion. I think it’s perfectly possible for there to be religions that contain neither false nor immoral beliefs, but in our current world, they seem to be extreme minorities.

    In any case, it’s not “religion” (rather broad tent) that’s the problem. It’s faith. Faith is what makes theism so dangerous. Faith is not a virtue. It essentially gives people an excuse to do anything they want to do. They just have to believe that their gods and their holy books command the action.

    I don’t really care that much if people are bent on believing false things. I think it’s silly, but it doesn’t affect my life in any way. However, when people start to believe dangerous things, I think it starts to harm society. I listed some of the reasons why.

    I take exception to the idea that we would be better off without religion.

    You’re free to disagree. Again, religion’s a broad tent. I’m not as concerned with religion as I am with faith in supernatural beliefs. Of course, I would like everyone to realize that supernatural beliefs have no basis in reality simply because I think it’s better to believe true things than false things. But that doesn’t really affect my life. I would mostly like to see supernatural beliefs disappear because faith that they are real can be incredibly dangerous.

    Specifically I mean that if by “harmed the world in so many ways” you mean things like strife, wars, pogroms, ethnic/sectarian cleansing, etc., I convinced that these things are fundamentally a function of a human failing.

    I am also talking about homophobia, denial of science, attempts to impede medical and scientific advancement, promotion of faith healing, and other ills that come from faith in a supernatural realm. Sure, wars that result from “kill the unbelievers!” scriptures have been a major part of it, but in today’s society, there are other problems to worry about.

    If religion, faith, and believers in God, god, or gods, were all to disappear tomorrow, we would still have those problems.

    We’ll never be free of the legacy of religion, that’s for sure. Actually, situations like Northern Ireland and Israel/Palestine would probably take centuries to resolve even if all forms of religion magically disppeared tomorrow, simply because there’s so much bad blood on both sides.

    If religion had never existed, we’d still have problems. I’m quite sure we’d still have territorial disputes, but they’d be different from the ones we currently have. We’d still have wars, but many of them would have been different wars. I’m not claiming that a world free of supernatural beliefs would be a perfect world. IMO, it would be idiotic to claim that. It would merely be a world in which society would be unaffected by the claims that a particular god wants people to do this or that, whether it’s kill infidels or stop scientists from using stem cells in their research.

    I’d like to see that world. I think it would be better than the one we’ve got. Of course, it’s unrealistic, but when I look at places like Scandinavia I have some hope. I read Society Without God by Phil Zuckerman last year, and that’s the kind of situation I would like to see. No one forced the people in those countries to give up their faith. They weren’t pressured to do so. But belief in gods has been swiftly dwindling away. People don’t see those concepts as relevant or meaningful. They have kept the cultural trappings of religion (church weddings and christenings are very popular), but no one involved (usually even the minister) actually believe any of it’s real.

  • Robert

    Jeff P,

    The Bible doesn’t give us any indication that there will be a second chance to accept Jesus as your savior after death. It looks like that decision must be made during this lifetime.

  • Nordog

    “But you have a low opinion of atheism and you don’t take the Christian view that you would like all people to believe in your god?”

    Not really sure what you’re asking here (or stating rhetorically).

    I’ll just say that yes, I have a low opinion of atheism because I think it is wrong.

    And I’ll say that I would indeed like all people to believe in God.

  • Secular Stu

    Last thing I have to say about this, but Hemant’s use of the word “Christian” isn’t fundamentally different from using the phrase “Roman Catholic priests” when discussing that scandal. Yes, we know not every RC priest abuses children nor are we saying all RC priests should be treated like child abusers. But there’s no reason for us to qualify the terms to death to avoid stepping on toes. It would take a lot of gall for a Roman Catholic to get all offended at that sort of criticism.

    Sorry if I’m harping on this but I resent the accusations of bigotry.

  • Robert,

    What you say about the bible is correct but only if you view the bible as being actually the word of God and not just a collection of writings and beliefs held by some of the people back then.

    If I could invent a time machine and go back in time and convince some of the influential religious scribes to include some extra phrases in the bible, the believers of today would attribute them to God. Just because it “is written” doesn’t make it true.

    I prefer to view and critique religious systems based on whether they can make any kind of cosmological (and moral) sense. If a holy book says something basically immoral, I question it. I view an eternity of “separation” for not “accepting” some premise during a finite lifetime as immoral disproportionate cruel and unusual punishment. If there were some “intelligence” that set up the universe, I grant that intelligence much more respect than to attribute the Christian doctrine to it. It deserves better.

    Of course an easier stance is just to claim agnosticism and move along to something else.

  • Aj

    Robert,

    As a Christian father should I call it child abuse for an atheist parent to tell their child that there is no God? I believe that that parent is telling their child a lie that will effect their child for this life and the next. But is it abuse? Hardly.

    Back in reality, where it’s unlikely or reliable what you believe is true, as it’s not backed by reason or evidence, one of many mutually exclusive belief systems, it doesn’t matter what you believe in relation to whether something is child abuse or not.

    It’s wrong to tell children lies, but is it cruel? I don’t think so. For it to be cruel, it has to be something that causes them harm. You believe that not believing in God causes serious harm in reality and in an afterlife, this isn’t almost certainly not true, but if it was then of course it would be abuse. What do you think the word “abuse” means?

    Child abuse is an inflammatory word that Hitchens uses on purpose. Just like he uses the word poison, specifically not as hyperbole.

    The terms “child abuse” and “poison” are accurate. When I was refering to “hyperbole” it was in connection with the word “everything” in the sentence, not “poison” i.e. something “destructive”.

    The atheist parents who indoctrinate their children that there is no God are not committing child abuse unless they do it in an emotionally abusive manner. They are passing on their believes to their children. Just as the Christian parents are.

    I don’t support indoctrination of beliefs such as the non-existence of gods. I think it’s obviously moronic to pass dogmas down from one generation to the next. Beliefs shouldn’t be based on authority in general, but to codify them and share them to successive generation is a terrible idea. Who your parents are and what they believe has little to do with the truth, and a lot to do with their parents and what they believe.

    Now, if a parent told a child who was too young to understand that Grandpa was in hell, that would be cruel. Just as if a parent told the child how cancer eats at your body or how much pain he is in or how the family dog got his head crushed when it got run over by a car.

    Pretty much the only children that it isn’t cruel to tell them that their Grandfather is in Hell are the ones that don’t understand, could have no concept of, Hell.

    The truth matters, while cancer and car accidents are real, Hell is not. If they’re capable of understanding, they should be told the truth. The facts of the matter are not going to be important factor, it’s the consequences of those facts.

    Hitchens is specifically arguing that teaching religion to a child is child abuse because he doesn’t believe it and uses the example of Hell as if all Christian parents would tell their young children that. He ignores the notion that Christian parents would love their children enough to tell them what is appropriate. He also ignores that idea that these same Christian parents would be telling their children about the love of God and Christ and all of the positive aspects of their faith.

    He doesn’t actually say anything about Christian parents in the passage I referred to. It’s my understanding that this sort of doctrine was taught in Christian and Muslim schools, churches, or mosques frequently, who is going to hell and why. It was deliberate that young children were targeted for this abuse. When would it be appropriate to tell children about Hell? When they’d have the sense not to believe it. I don’t give a shit about the “love of God and Christ” or all the supposed “positive aspects” of the faith of their parents, positive lies don’t make it right.

  • Aj,

    I’m curious about some parts of this statement of yours:

    “Back in reality, where it’s unlikely or reliable what you believe is true, as it’s not backed by reason or evidence.”

    Theism, in some shape or form, seems to be a reasonable deduction based on the evidence, namely our existence. Our existence is evidence of a kind, as is the existence of life, beauty, the solar system, etc… how you interpret that evidence is entirely up to you – but the theism/atheism divide seems like a coin toss to me on the basis of “evidence”…

    Once you’ve taken whatever evidence interpreting framework you use I’d say there’s a fair chance that applying reason and standards of evidence to religious beliefs will leave Christianity out in front of these myriad, as you say,”mutually exclusive belief systems.”

    I’d be interested to know what standard you, and others here, apply to these belief systems in order to determine whether they’re backed by reason or evidence?

    I’d say, on the basis of my application of reason, that Christianity comes out on top there, so the coin toss, for the reasonable person, is a binary atheism/Christianity deal. It’s quite possible to get to either position using reason – I think what you’re suggesting is that it’s not possible to get to Christianity using the framework you, personally, have decided is the “most reasonable”.

    The question of likeliness or reliability depends greatly on the presuppositions you bring to the question, and the fact that there are multiple alternative views of a theistic order of the world does not make theism less likely, it just makes choosing the right option after that choice harder. Doesn’t it?

    And if you’re suggesting that likeliness or reliability has anything to do with how parents or institutions should educate children in their care then you’re going to get to a point where it’s very hard to teach children anything at all – I’d suggest every science class for the last 200 years has taught children things later proven to be incorrect.

    Shouldn’t those responsible for the upbringing of children be able to make decisions about how to raise those children based on what they believe is in the best interest of the child? How is doing that, acting in the child’s best interest, to the best of one’s ability, anything close to child abuse? Ever?

  • p.s.

    Nordog, that is incredibly hypocritical of you (and I think that was anna’s point):

    I’ll just say that yes, I have a low opinion of atheism because I think it is wrong.

    And I’ll say that I would indeed like all people to believe in God.

    And I think it would be nice if all people didn’t believe in god. That doesn’t mean we are actively fighting to stomp out each others beliefs. I’m sure we can all agree that the actions necessary to make everyone believe/not believe in god are far worse than having a bit of religious/nonreligious diversity (which is pretty much what everyone else has been saying.)
    Incidentally, it would also be great if gumdrops rained from the skies and everyone had a puppy and/or a kitten (and no allergies, of course). And pie for every meal!!

  • Aj

    Nathan,

    I suspect you’re referring to an argument from ignorance, a failed attempt at deductive logic. Also that divide would be between a set and forget deistic god and atheism. Deism and atheism both describe the same known universe we inhabit.

    Christianity is just as devoid of evidence and insulting to reason as any religion. That there are so many religions shows how easily humans make and believe myths, making all of them less likely. There are no separate standards of reason, and evidence is something that reliably supports a claim.

    You’re right about it being very hard to teach children a complete account of the universe. More emphasis should be placed on how to think, not what to think. Theories should be introduced, not presented as dogma, the evidence for them should be discussed and debated. An important concept is that it’s right to try to falsify a scientific theory.

    Supposedly “acting in the child’s best interest” with the best of intentions can turn into child abuse with the wrong information or premises. It can lead to violence e.g. some forms of exorcism, negligence e.g. faith healers who reject medicine, or emotional distress e.g. teaching children about Hell as undeniable fact.

  • Robert

    Aj,

    I would like to know what study you have done to determine in your own mind that Christianity is not backed by reason or evidence. Even a cursory look would show you that such a statement is not correct.

    Of course you have the right to tell your children that there is no God. I would think you are wrong and doing them harm, but I would never take that right away from you or call it child abuse.

    By referring to teaching children about God as child abuse, Hitchens is clearly implying that it should not be allowed.

    There is no need to dance around his desires by sugarcoating his words. He is clear that religion should not be taught to children under the notion that it is abuse. And if it is ever labeled as abuse, it would necessarily follow that there would have to be laws to prevent it thus taking away the rights of those children’s parents to raise them as they see fit. If he didn’t have that desire he wouldn’t label it as abuse when he surly knows the connotations of that term.

  • Love the theist, hate the logical fallacy.

  • Baconsbud

    Robert, I know I am jumping in a discussion between you and AJ but I do have a small question about your evidence for your god. The evidence you are using, can it be used to state that all the gods worshiped are real? I am trying to ask how you decided the evidence points at your god and not some other god that was worshiped by early humankind.

  • Robert W.

    Baconsbud,

    To answer your question, the evidence I am referring to does point to the Christian God. Apologetics in a defense for God, start with the notion of God existing and then present the evidence for why the Christian god is the true God.

    It is too lengthy to really state here, but there are countless books on the subject. Initially I would direct you to C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity as one. For a more recent source, you could look to William Lane Craig’s work, Reasonable Faith.

  • Not really sure what you’re asking here (or stating rhetorically).

    I’ll just say that yes, I have a low opinion of atheism because I think it is wrong.

    And I’ll say that I would indeed like all people to believe in God.

    Like p.s. said, this seems awfully hypocritical to me. You’re criticizing atheists for having the exact same beliefs you do, except from the opposite direction. You have a low opinion of atheism because you think it’s wrong. I have a low opinion of theism because I think it’s wrong. You would like all people to believe in your god. I would like all people to stop believing in gods. Since neither of us plans on forcing others to change their beliefs, what on earth is the difference between us? I don’t see why my beliefs should be cause for condemnation if yours aren’t.

  • Nathan

    I’d say there’s a fair chance that applying reason and standards of evidence to religious beliefs will leave Christianity out in front of these myriad, as you say,”mutually exclusive belief systems.”

    What evidence and what reason puts Christianity in front of, say, Islam, Hinduism or Flying Spaghetti Monsterism?

    the coin toss, for the reasonable person, is a binary atheism/Christianity deal.

    That’s just special pleading for Christianity. Someone who was raised to believe in the God of Islam would certainly say that the “coin toss” was between atheism and Islam and someone who was raised a Sihk would put belief in Ik Onkar ahead of a lack of belief in gods. Atheism is a lack of belief in gods. It doesn’t matter which god or gods. We just don’t have a belief in them.

    The question of likeliness or reliability depends greatly on the presuppositions you bring to the question

    Not for me. For me it is all about evidence. There is no evidence for gods so I don’t believe in them.

    the fact that there are multiple alternative views of a theistic order of the world does not make theism less likely, it just makes choosing the right option after that choice harder.

    Logically a large number of theistic beliefs makes it more likely that the one that you have chosen is incorrect. The assumption of course is that the evidence for any such belief is equal (i.e. none).

    I’d suggest every science class for the last 200 years has taught children things later proven to be incorrect.

    The point being that the science taught was to the best standard that was available at the time. When was the last time that Christians changed part of their mythology because the evidence didn’t agree with it?

    How is doing that, acting in the child’s best interest, to the best of one’s ability, anything close to child abuse? Ever?

    Do you think that it is wrong to mentally scar children with stories of hellfire? To leave them in fear of a cruel and capricious deity? Probably, you don’t seem overly cruel yourself but then some parents aren’t so kind, some parents think it best to terrify their children into “good” behaviour. For their own best interests of course.

  • Aj

    Robert,

    I would like to know what study you have done to determine in your own mind that Christianity is not backed by reason or evidence. Even a cursory look would show you that such a statement is not correct.

    There is no reason to take the Gospel accounts anymore seriously, or Paul’s conversion, or the Old Testament with many ahistorical events, than other myths. There is only one brief mention of “Christ” as a historical figure outside the Gospels. There is every reason to believe humans can and do make these myths up, including the various features of the Jesus narrative. It’s unclear how far removed from a first hand source, if at all historical, making it not just unreliable as human accounts are, but completely worthless without outside confirmation.

    Of course you have the right to tell your children that there is no God. I would think you are wrong and doing them harm, but I would never take that right away from you or call it child abuse.

    The difference between doing harm and abusing is? The dictionaries I’ve read suggest they mean the same thing.

    By referring to teaching children about God as child abuse, Hitchens is clearly implying that it should not be allowed.

    You’re projecting your views onto Christopher Hitchens, it goes against Christopher Hitchens’s views on freedom. Richard Dawkins also calls it “child abuse” but specifically denied wanting any law banning it. Just because it’s something you would do doesn’t mean everyone else is like you.

  • Robert W.

    Aj,

    You may view the evidence as you wish but there is far more evidence for the historical accuracy of the gospels then any other ancient text and they were written far earlier then other historical accounts accounts from that time period which i am sure you accept as being valid.

    So you are saying that Hitchens believes it is okay for parents to abuse their children?

  • Robert W.

    I need to clarify. I meant to say the gospels were written far closer tin time to the accounts they write about then other ancient documents

  • Nordog

    “Like p.s. said, this seems awfully hypocritical to me. You’re criticizing atheists for having the exact same beliefs you do, except from the opposite direction.”

    Hypocritical? That’s silly. Two people hold completely opposite positions on some issue, neither one is hypocritical for saying they think the other side is wrong.

    Besides, I’ve mentioned at least twice that I think atheists should work on behalf of their position.

    If there’s a particular statement of mine in this regard upon which you would like me comment, just let me know.

    ‘You have a low opinion of atheism because you think it’s wrong. I have a low opinion of theism because I think it’s wrong. You would like all people to believe in your god. I would like all people to stop believing in gods. Since neither of us plans on forcing others to change their beliefs, what on earth is the difference between us?”

    You’re an atheist and I’m not.

    “I don’t see why my beliefs should be cause for condemnation if yours aren’t.”

    Positions will be condemned by those who oppose them. Mine by you; yours by me.

  • AJ,

    Christianity is just as devoid of evidence and insulting to reason as any religion. That there are so many religions shows how easily humans make and believe myths, making all of them less likely. There are no separate standards of reason, and evidence is something that reliably supports a claim.

    Not really. Christianity rises or falls on the historicity of Jesus Christ and the reports of his life, and whether or not they accurately describe his fulfillment of the Old Testament – Christianity is testable in a way that say, Mormonism, is not. And its multiple attestations across numerous generations make it slightly more historically verifiable than the work of one prophet (Islam).

    Christianity invites historical examination in a way that other religions don’t or can’t.

    I’d disagree with your view on “set and forget deism” one, because Christianity hangs on the divine claims of Jesus Christ (who interacted with the world) – which rules out “setting and forgetting,” but also because I suspect it’s more a case of “set and maintain,” and the maintenance of underpinning constants which we explain and observe using science is the work of God. A position I think is quite rational – if not skeptical (ie, I don’t apply Occham’s Razor to a monotheistic God the way many here do).

    Suggesting tests of prayer with the healing of amputees is a misleading and irrational test that does not conform with any proposed mechanism of testing from any divine claims.

    That there are so many religions shows how easily humans make and believe myths, making all of them less likely.

    Though also, somewhat paradoxically, making believing anything less likely – even believing that believing nothing is more likely. Atheism is just as likely to be a meme as any other belief system outside of whatever is true. It adds to the noise to signal ratio making it harder to spot the truth, but it doesn’t make the truth less likely. Just more obscure.

    So AJ, I guess my question is, should I have children in the next couple of years, is it ok for my wife and I to raise them teaching them what we believe, and taking them to church, for the purpose of indoctrinating them, without atheists suggesting that exercising this freedom to parent out children as we see fit is child abuse?

  • Hoverfrog,

    What evidence and what reason puts Christianity in front of, say, Islam, Hinduism or Flying Spaghetti Monsterism?

    Evidence – the person of Jesus Christ, and historical claims about his life, miracles, death and resurrection – the multiple testimonies recorded and collated in the Bible is “evidence” for these claims – you can choose to interpret that evidence using whatever framework you like.

    The Old Testament and its relationship to the New Testament, and the testimony of Paul, a Jewish religious leader who knew the Old Testament and saw Jesus as the promised Messiah, and then devoted himself to proclaiming that message throughout the Graeco-Roman world would also fit the category of “evidence” – unless our law courts have suddenly stopped taking testimonies as evidence overnight, and nobody has told me…

    So Christianity has multiple testimonies across thousands of years while Islam has the testimony of one man. I’d say most reasonable approaches would find that more compelling. Certainly most courts of law would.

    Good old skepticism suggests that a monotheistic system of belief is more likely than polytheism. Though I acknowledge that growing up in a Judeao-Christian culture with Christian parents has provided me with a bias towards Christianity.

    Given that the Flying Spaghetti Monster is a fictional rhetorical creation for entirely this purpose, I’m pretty sure we can examine its origins to determine its plausibility. It makes no claims to be true. The others do.

    That’s just special pleading for Christianity. Someone who was raised to believe in the God of Islam would certainly say that the “coin toss” was between atheism and Islam and someone who was raised a Sihk would put belief in Ik Onkar ahead of a lack of belief in gods. Atheism is a lack of belief in gods.

    Yes, well, I’m a Christian – though I did point out earlier that I think the evidence leads essentially to an each way bet between theism and atheism – and that I then think Christianity is the more likely conclusion on the theism side of the debate – using reason and evidence.

    I know what atheism is. I’m in no need of your definition – it simply is the other side of the foundational coin toss on the question of origins…though I actually think it makes more sense that the universe arrived as a result of something bigger than something smaller – and that the foundation of everything (the non-contingent entity) is an infinitely powerful being rather than an infinitely small entity. So I don’t actually think it’s a 50/50 split.

    “For me it is all about evidence.”

    Which is my point – that’s a presupposition you bring to the question, but you also have a bunch of categories you haven’t revealed for how you assess such evidence and a bunch of tests you think a God should pass before you’ll accept the evidence.

    I say Jesus is evidence… you say “I’m yet to see evidence”… what we both are pointing to in those statements is the weight of evidence we find convincing. Those are different standards – but we both reach our conclusions on the basis of assessing evidence in a rational manner.

    Logically a large number of theistic beliefs makes it more likely that the one that you have chosen is incorrect. The assumption of course is that the evidence for any such belief is equal (i.e. none).

    That’s not entirely true – you’re bringing a number of other assumptions to the table here – the assumption that people generally act in an irrational manner and can’t weigh up competing claims for themselves. That’s similar, to continue the signal to noise analogy, to suggesting that it’s hard to dial into the right radio station because of all the dead air, and other radio stations.

    It may make it more likely that the first option you choose is not the correct one – but if you’re committed to finding the right one then you’ll get there eventually.

    Logically multiple views does not make all views wrong – it simply means that all the wrong views are wrong. And that there are more wrong views around.

    When was the last time that Christians changed part of their mythology because the evidence didn’t agree with it?

    I’d say it happens pretty regularly – we now believe the earth revolves around the sun. For instance. And Christians had previously believed that it had not – there’s mythology, that which theists have created to help experience the numinal, or out of primitive beliefs – and there are core truths. I’d distinguish myths (and traditions) from doctrine though, in a way that you are possibly not theologically equipped or interested in doing.

    “Do you think that it is wrong to mentally scar children with stories of hellfire? To leave them in fear of a cruel and capricious deity?”

    Mentally scarring people is something I’d generally frown upon – but not all fear is mentally scarring. Do you think it’s wrong to inspire fear in children about the dangers of touching a hot stove? Or playing with electricity, or running on the busy road?

    Parents can act out of concern on those issues and potentially go too far (the Arrested Development scare campaigns would be one example) – but I don’t think it’s necessarily child abuse to talk to your children about potential dangers that may arise employing fear as a tactic.

  • There is no reason to take the Gospel accounts anymore seriously, or Paul’s conversion, or the Old Testament with many ahistorical events, than other myths. There is only one brief mention of “Christ” as a historical figure outside the Gospels. There is every reason to believe humans can and do make these myths up, including the various features of the Jesus narrative.

    I guess the reason to take them seriously, or question whether they should be taken seriously, is that they present themselves thus… you can then weigh up the claims using whatever metric you think is reliable. That’s “a reason” so when you say there’s “no reason” that’s a little different. What you might mean is “I don’t think there’s a reason” which is altogether a different thing.

    There are a couple of mentions of Christ as a historical figure, or at least the impact of his followers within the lifetime of eyewitnesses, outside the gospels (I’m assuming you’re lumping Acts, and the letters of eyewitnesses in with the gospels here though, or there are several). There’s a reference to the followers of Chrestus causing disturbances in Rome which led to Nero’s expulsion of Jews from the city, and a series of letters between Pliny and Trajan which discuss what to do with the followers of Jesus, whom the Romans crucified – if the Roman empire thought Jesus existed, and that they had put him to death for treason (he claimed to be king) then that seems fairly attested to to me.

    I agree that there’s plenty of evidence that people make stuff up for their own ends – but again, that doesn’t mean any claim is by necessity the result of human duplicity. It also creates a sword that atheism must itself be capable of falling on.

    It’s unclear how far removed from a first hand source, if at all historical, making it not just unreliable as human accounts are, but completely worthless without outside confirmation.

    This is a weird approach to the multiple testimonies now collated in the Bible. It wasn’t written as a single volume, but collected later, by Christians, as a collection of reliable accounts. Sure, they’re in a single volume now, but each document in the New Testament independently confirmed the others.

    The difference between doing harm and abusing is? The dictionaries I’ve read suggest they mean the same thing.

    That’s a ridiculous appeal to a non-authority that shouldn’t have outlasted your high school essays. The dictionary? I mean come on. You can do better than that.

  • Nathan

    Evidence – the person of Jesus Christ, and historical claims about his life, miracles, death and resurrection – the multiple testimonies recorded and collated in the Bible is “evidence” for these claims – you can choose to interpret that evidence using whatever framework you like.

    Thank you. I think I will. In historical research we assess a piece of evidence in certain ways. Broadly speaking we take some evidence and put it into one of three categories. Primary evidence is some direct artifact of the time: a film; a spear; a shoe; a fossil; an eye witness account; etc. Secondary evidence is some secondary account of the event or period: the writings of someone who wasn’t an eye witness; a reproduction of a style of dress; a copy of a sword; a biography; etc. Tertiary evidence is some account based on secondary evidence: an essay on the writings of St Paul; a 21st century living village; an almanac or bibliography; etc.

    Where does the Bible fit into this? It cannot be said to be primary evidence because it accepted that the accounts were written two or three generations after the events that they purport to discuss. At best it is secondary evidence but there is a problem. No original Bible exists. The oldest is from the fourth century (the Codex Sinaiticus was written between 325 CE and 360 CE). What we have then is an edited, translated collection of earlier writings. Tertiary evidence.

    Now tertiary evidence is fine, there is nothing wrong with it (if you think that Braveheart is acceptable historical evidence of the conflict between England and Scotland in the 13th century) but it is no substitute for good primary evidence supported by several secondary evidences. No doubt you’ll point to the rather vague writings of Josephus and that too is fine. We should rightly add these to the pot as tertiary evidence too.

    The Old Testament and its relationship to the New Testament

    It should hardly be surprising that a religion that was built on the success of its parent faith should tie its myths in closely to the mythology of the parent religion. That said in an historical investigation it isn’t appropriate to discount any evidence. We should merely flag this as having multiple explanations.

    the testimony of Paul, a Jewish religious leader who knew the Old Testament and saw Jesus as the promised Messiah, and then devoted himself to proclaiming that message throughout the Graeco-Roman world would also fit the category of “evidence”

    Back to my question as to why Christianity has better evidence that other faiths. Didn’t Joseph Smith also offer considerable testimony? Didn’t Mohammad offer considerable testimony? Didn’t L. Ron Hubbard provide much testimony? I grant that Paul was probably sincere and believed completely in his message. It is accepted that he is largely responsible for the formation of the early church. There are two questions though: Why should his testimony be treated differently than anyone else’s; How does this make what he believed true?

    So Christianity has multiple testimonies across thousands of years while Islam has the testimony of one man. I’d say most reasonable approaches would find that more compelling.

    That isn’t really the case though as I’m sure that you would know if you’d discussed Islam with Muslims. I think that it is your own personal bias that gives weight to these ideas. We all have them. The trick is spotting them.

    Good old skepticism suggests that a monotheistic system of belief is more likely than polytheism.

    Hang on. Why is that? As a sceptic I treat monotheism and polytheism equally and consider neither likely as they are not supported by evidence. However if one god were indicated I would immediately give greater credence to polytheism as a precedent would have been set for the existence of gods. Where there is one there may be others. It would be remiss to cease looking for all the gods in the universe simply because we’d found one.

    I know what atheism is. I’m in no need of your definition

    Perhaps not but it is unfortunately true that many theists including Christians really don’t know what atheism is. It does no harm to appeal to the lowest common denominator when it can dispel misconceptions early in a conversation.

    I actually think it makes more sense that the universe arrived as a result of something bigger than something smaller – and that the foundation of everything (the non-contingent entity) is an infinitely powerful being rather than an infinitely small entity. So I don’t actually think it’s a 50/50 split.

    Well I believe it is a 50/50 split either. 😉 If you believe in a creator then you come to the problem of infinite regress. Simply saying that your deity isn’t created doesn’t help because we don’t accept your assertion that there is a god. The truth is that we simply don’t know how the universe first came to be, that question of “why is there something rather than nothing?”. As atheists we are happy to say that it is an unanswered question. We may want to find out the answer but we’re not willing to impose a myth in the place of a real answer.

    Which is my point – that’s a presupposition you bring to the question, but you also have a bunch of categories you haven’t revealed for how you assess such evidence and a bunch of tests you think a God should pass before you’ll accept the evidence.

    The question is “Does God exists?”. Before applying questions or tests to this we must first define our terms. What is meant by “God”? How does existence apply to this “God”? I’ve never heard a reasonable definition of God but if you wish to provide one then we can explore that idea more thoroughly.

    I say Jesus is evidence… you say “I’m yet to see evidence”… what we both are pointing to in those statements is the weight of evidence we find convincing. Those are different standards – but we both reach our conclusions on the basis of assessing evidence in a rational manner.

    Actually there are agreed standards. In historical research, in scientific analysis, in textual analysis, there are ways to examine evidence and draw conclusions. These standards exist to prevent us from accepting any cock and bull story as true. Why should your faith not be held to the same standards?

    That’s not entirely true – you’re bringing a number of other assumptions to the table here – the assumption that people generally act in an irrational manner and can’t weigh up competing claims for themselves. That’s similar, to continue the signal to noise analogy, to suggesting that it’s hard to dial into the right radio station because of all the dead air, and other radio stations.

    Your assumption is that the other “radio stations” aren’t just as entertaining.

    It may make it more likely that the first option you choose is not the correct one – but if you’re committed to finding the right one then you’ll get there eventually.

    If you believe that your faith is correct, as you do, then what incentive do you have to explore other faiths?

    Logically multiple views does not make all views wrong – it simply means that all the wrong views are wrong. And that there are more wrong views around.

    How do you assess which views might be correct?

    I’d say it happens pretty regularly – we now believe the earth revolves around the sun. For instance. And Christians had previously believed that it had not – there’s mythology, that which theists have created to help experience the numinal, or out of primitive beliefs – and there are core truths. I’d distinguish myths (and traditions) from doctrine though, in a way that you are possibly not theologically equipped or interested in doing.

    I might be. Try me. I would just like to point out that there are creationists who actively deny that evolution is true, that geology is false and who believe in a literal flood. You may not and that goes to your credit.

    Do you think it’s wrong to inspire fear in children about the dangers of touching a hot stove? Or playing with electricity, or running on the busy road?

    Yes I do. There are more appropriate ways of teaching children about dangers than to frighten them.

  • Aj

    Robert,

    Provide some examples of this “evidence”. If it’s the same as your supposed “evidence” for the Old Testament, I’ll remind you that other myths take place in real places and real times, very much as our contemporary fiction does.

    I’m not going to accept accounts that are not first hand, that are from an oral tradition decades old, and that are from a tradition of myth making, as reliable. If you find something I believe, that’s actually based on such bullshit, I’ll apologise for being so foolish, the solution will not be to believe in more bullshit. Also, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, or ordinary claims already have evidence in their favour.

    Hitchens strongly recommends against the cruelty done through religion, but does not believe there should be a law against abuse such as indoctrination of the concept of Hell.

  • Where does the Bible fit into this? It cannot be said to be primary evidence because it accepted that the accounts were written two or three generations after the events that they purport to discuss. At best it is secondary evidence but there is a problem. No original Bible exists. The oldest is from the fourth century (the Codex Sinaiticus was written between 325 CE and 360 CE). What we have then is an edited, translated collection of earlier writings. Tertiary evidence.

    This just isn’t true. Most scholars now accept that the gospels and epistles were written within 20 to 40 years of the death of Jesus, the exception perhaps being the book of Revelation.

    Only minimalists with an axe to grind against Christianity suggest that they are composed later than that.

    No original Bible exists. The oldest is from the fourth century (the Codex Sinaiticus was written between 325 CE and 360 CE). What we have then is an edited, translated collection of earlier writings. Tertiary evidence.

    I think you’ll find that’s the oldest complete copy of the New Testament – there are earlier copies of other documents – like the Gospel of John – that have been dated to 125CE. This is my point. The Bible is a collection of earlier writings collated later by the church.

    I’d put it in the primary evidence category.

    Hang on. Why is that? As a sceptic I treat monotheism and polytheism equally and consider neither likely as they are not supported by evidence. However if one god were indicated I would immediately give greater credence to polytheism as a precedent would have been set for the existence of gods.

    Occham’s Razor. Only one God is necessary. Also, one all powerful God would do away with other competing Gods – that would be consistent with the nature of being completely in control wouldn’t it? It would also fit with the behaviour of the god’s creation.

    Didn’t Joseph Smith also offer considerable testimony? Didn’t Mohammad offer considerable testimony? Didn’t L. Ron Hubbard provide much testimony? I grant that Paul was probably sincere and believed completely in his message. It is accepted that he is largely responsible for the formation of the early church. There are two questions though: Why should his testimony be treated differently than anyone else’s; How does this make what he believed true?

    Did L. Ron, or Joseph die for their beliefs or make a lot of money from their beliefs? I’d say the comparison isn’t doing much justice to Paul at that point.

    It doesn’t necessarily make what he believed true – it puts Paul’s writings on the table as pretty early (first century) historical evidence.

    If you believe in a creator then you come to the problem of infinite regress.

    Which is where I was heading with the suggestion that I think it’s more plausible that the root cause of everything was something big and powerful not something small and random.

    The question is “Does God exists?”. Before applying questions or tests to this we must first define our terms. What is meant by “God”? How does existence apply to this “God”? I’ve never heard a reasonable definition of God but if you wish to provide one then we can explore that idea more thoroughly.

    Lets start with the Christian definition of God – an omnipotent being who created the universe and sent his divine son to earth, where he was crucified by the Roman empire.

    I have no real interest in defending any other concepts of God – but if this turns to a “lets show where God answers prayer by healing amputees” – I will ask you to frame your tests in line with what presents as the Christian God’s revelation to creation – the Bible, and the person of Jesus.

    There are plenty of claims there that are capable of being tested – it’s more a question then of what sort of tests are applicable.

    Why should your faith not be held to the same standards?

    It absolutely should be. My point is though, that different people see the same evidence, or same set of facts, and reach different conclusions. That doesn’t necessarily make one more rational or delusional than the other (within certain limits). Provided the evidence in question is legitimate, and the approach taken to it is rational, then I’m not sure it’s fair to call raising one’s children in line with those beliefs abuse, or to call the beliefs of the other “delusions” – they are simply wrong conclusions reached in the same complex world from the same evidence.

    Your assumption is that the other “radio stations” aren’t just as entertaining.

    My assumption is perhaps more that only one is speaking truth.

    If you believe that your faith is correct, as you do, then what incentive do you have to explore other faiths?

    Faith without doubt is dangerous. Faith arrived at without thought or investigation is equally so.

    I would just like to point out that there are creationists who actively deny that evolution is true, that geology is false and who believe in a literal flood. You may not and that goes to your credit.

    Two out of three ain’t bad right? I think it’s possible that there was a localised flood (multiple attestation and all that – see the Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic etc).

    I think the distinction between myths and core beliefs that I would make are based on reading and understanding the Bible as literature of its time, as well as understanding it as timeless revelation from God. I think there are many Christians, and atheists, who don’t approach it with any sense of literary nuance. Many practices built on tradition – especially those of the Catholic Church after the Roman Empire took over the religion because it was politically expedient – fall into that myth category.

    The sun example, and even the age of the earth, fall into categories based on failures in genre recognition where poetry is read as historical – the sun reference coming from a book of poetry, and the Genesis creation account being recognised by most OT scholars as a poetic theological corrective of the Enuma Elish and other Ancient Near Eastern creation accounts.

    Yes I do. There are more appropriate ways of teaching children about dangers than to frighten them.

    What about smacking them when they reach for the hot stove, or powerpoint. Or yelling when they are about to run on the road.

    Both can be traumatic events for children (being yelled at, or smacked). But both means are justified by the ends aren’t they?

  • Aj

    Nathan,

    Islam is not just the Qur’an dictated by an angel. Muhammed had his own life, and was present at alleged miracles, these are documented by testimonies themselves. It’s debatable whether the Gospels can be considered multiple independent sources, and by that I mean it ranges from unknown to unlikely.

    I’m quite sure I mean “there is no reason” to take scripture seriously, and by seriously I mean as true, or at least reliable.

    I was including Acts with the Gospels, as they have an author in common. Referring to the authors of the Catholic epistles as “eyewitnesses” is a dubious claim, not that they are actual accounts of the alleged events in any case.

    There’s a reference to the followers of Chrestus causing disturbances in Rome which led to Nero’s expulsion of Jews from the city, and a series of letters between Pliny and Trajan which discuss what to do with the followers of Jesus, whom the Romans crucified – if the Roman empire thought Jesus existed, and that they had put him to death for treason (he claimed to be king) then that seems fairly attested to to me.

    There are outside sources that confirm the existence of Christians such as the letters between Pliny and Trajan, that’s not a reference to the Jesus narrative. The short reference to the crucifixion of Jesus by Josephus is considered corrupt by scholars.

    Of course you disagree with deism, you’re a Christian, but you haven’t supported that leap through reason or evidence. Rationalism implies skepticism. Do you accept that Occam’s razor is a good rule of thumb?

    Atheism is not a belief system, it’s not a meme, it’s a lack of belief. That humans make stuff up all the time does make religions less likely, which makes non-religion more likely, although not necessarily atheism. Your mistake is you assume that one out of many religions has to be correct. What is that? Begging the question I suppose.

    So AJ, I guess my question is, should I have children in the next couple of years, is it ok for my wife and I to raise them teaching them what we believe, and taking them to church, for the purpose of indoctrinating them, without atheists suggesting that exercising this freedom to parent out children as we see fit is child abuse?

    I can’t parse that question. It’s a pretty shitty thing to indoctrinate children with bullshit, especially things like Hell, it’s child abuse. It’s fine to refer to your own beliefs to your children, teach your beliefs, that’s tell of your beliefs. If you indoctrinate those beliefs, that’s not teaching, that’s spreading dogma.

    That’s a ridiculous appeal to a non-authority that shouldn’t have outlasted your high school essays. The dictionary? I mean come on. You can do better than that.

    I guess I should concede to your non-authority instead, on second thoughts, that would be a stupid idea. The dictionary may not claim authority over how people should use words, but they are authoritative on how words are and were used in general, common parlance, overall culture. I don’t even know what you suggest I’m appealing for, as my quote isn’t in the form of an argument.

  • p.s.

    nordog:

    Hypocritical? That’s silly. Two people hold completely opposite positions on some issue, neither one is hypocritical for saying they think the other side is wrong.

    What? you weren’t attacking us based on what we believe, you were attacking us because you think we want to “stomp out” religion. It’s hypocritical to say that when by the same standard, you want to “stomp out” atheism.

    This is a completely ridiculous argument. Noone wants to limit the freedom of another group, and to insist that by day-dreaming about a world where the concept of god doesn’t exist, atheists are “attacking” theism is just stupid. I don’t tell you that you are threatening my beliefs by going to church or praying or wearing a cross.

  • Hypocritical? That’s silly. Two people hold completely opposite positions on some issue, neither one is hypocritical for saying they think the other side is wrong.

    Nordog, I think you’re being deliberately disingenuous. You’re hanging out on an atheist blog, making comments that indicate you feel atheists are somehow sinister for thinking that our position is correct and for wanting other people to believe what we understand to be true things, rather than false things.

    Two of your previous comments:

    While admittedly not a proper scientific sample, my observations of many comments on this website indicate that there are many “fellow travelers” (to borrow a phrase) here who apparently would have no problem of stomping out religion and those who practice it.

    Rather, my point was that, imo, more atheists than you apparently think, would like to see religion disappear, go away, be destroyed.

    You obviously are disturbed by this fact, yet you admit to having the exact same view from the opposite direction. You want everyone to believe in your god; therefore, you would like to see atheism “disappear, go away, be destroyed.” That’s the height of hypocrisy, making us out to be coercive or suppressive merely for desiring the very same thing that you desire.

    Besides, I’ve mentioned at least twice that I think atheists should work on behalf of their position.

    Then why make it seem like we’re doing something you wouldn’t do? Why make sinister accusations that atheists wish to “stomp out” religion (implying force) and acting like we’re somehow unusual for wanting people to share what we see as correct beliefs?

    You’re an atheist and I’m not.

    Obviously, but it seems like you totally missed my point.

    Positions will be condemned by those who oppose them. Mine by you; yours by me.

    When did I ever condemn your position? I’m not the one hanging out on Christian blogs making accusations that Christians want to “stomp out” atheism.

    I think you have the perfect right to want people to share your beliefs. Since you feel they’re correct beliefs, you’re entirely justified in that. You should feel free to influence people by writing books, having discussions, giving money to religious groups, etc. I think you’re wrong, but I still support you having the freedom to speak your mind, and I wouldn’t insinuate that you’re some kind of fascist bent on forcibly converting the whole world.

  • Nordog

    p.s.,

    As the saying goes, I think we’re getting lost in the weeds here.

    As I said in my last post, please give a specific comment of mine so I can know to what exactly to respond. Specifically, what attack?

    You wrote:

    “And I think it would be nice if all people didn’t believe in god. That doesn’t mean we are actively fighting to stomp out each others beliefs.”

    And I never said anyone here was actively doing so, or even calling for it to be done.

    What I did write was:

    “While admittedly not a proper scientific sample, my observations of many comments on this website indicate that there are many “fellow travelers” (to borrow a phrase) here who apparently would have no problem of stomping out religion and those who practice it.”

    This was a statement of opinion, admittedly arguably wrong opinion, regarding what some people would not have a problem with.

    Regarding the “…and those who practice it” at the end of the passage above, I’ve already allowed that the phrase was poorly chosen and not reflective of what I have ever thought (you can scroll up for that if you like).

    Basically, I think that it is proper, indeed a responsibility, for one to fight for what one sees as right and good.

    Thus, I don’t not in the least think atheists are wrong in principle to advance what they think is right. This is true even though I think the atheist position is the wrong position.

    Perhaps we can call it a question of doing the right thing but for the wrong cause. The rightness or wrongness of a given cause is obviously a point of contention. My point here is not to say which cause is right and which cause is wrong. Rather, it is to illustrate the point that I can agree with another person’s duty to advocacy while disagreeing with the object of that advocacy.

    I think we can all agree that there are limits to what methods one can employ to advance even correct positions, and that people of a walks of life, creeds, etc. have over the course of time exceed those limits. People with differ on what those limits are, but that’s an altogether different conversation.

    Again, I don’t condemn anyone for fighting for what they see as right, though I may argue that they are wrong in their vision, so to speak.

    I still think it correct to say that it would be natural that an atheist would be happy if religion (or as some here would prefer: faith) were to disappear (hopefully that’s a sufficiently neutral term), just as I think it natural for a religious person, a Catholic like me let’s say, would be happy if atheism would disappear.

    How could it not be? I see neither contradiction nor hypocrisy in that statement.

    As far as my use of the phrase “stomping out”, that too was rhetorically excessive.

    However, no doubt there are atheists and Christians (and dare I say, Muslims?) who would be happy with some stomping, both figurative and literal.

    Indeed, history is full of examples of both sectarian and secular societies committing atrocities in that regard. As I believe I’ve already said here, that’s to be expected from the inherent faults found in being human.

    Personally, and for the record, I am against stomping. I am for a pluralism that includes freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and even a freedom to reject religion.

    Post Script:
    Can someone explain what characters I should type to offset and highlight quoted texts in a comment box (that is if anyone is even reading these comments anymore; they are getting rather long in the tooth). Thanks.

  • p.s.

    well, you started with this:

    In fact, atheists are some of the most ardent defenders of religious freedom and first amendment rights!”

    Yeah, except Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Chauchesku, et alia.

    and then yes, you did say this:

    While admittedly not a proper scientific sample, my observations of many comments on this website indicate that there are many “fellow travelers” (to borrow a phrase) here who apparently would have no problem of stomping out religion and those who practice it.

    No one has advocated stomping out anything. What people have said is that it might be nice if people stopped believing in god. Not that we should force them to not believe in god, not that we should threaten them with future punishment if they continued to believe in god, just that it might be nice. How delicate are your beliefs that this gets equated to “stomping?”

    and then of course, you added this little gem:

    Muggle,

    It doesn’t follow that someone supports religious freedom just because they don’t actively seek to suppress it.

    It really sounds like you are saying that atheists *don’t* support religious freedom. Which is the complete opposite of what anyone here said.

    But you know, maybe you are just not saying what you really mean. I agree with some of what you said:

    Specifically I mean that if by “harmed the world in so many ways” you mean things like strife, wars, pogroms, ethnic/sectarian cleansing, etc., I convinced that these things are fundamentally a function of a human failing. It’s a failing that’s found in atheist regimes (whether communist or humanist) at least in equal measures as that found in theocracies or pluralistic yet religious societies.

    If religion, faith, and believers in God, god, or gods, were all to disappear tomorrow, we would still have those problems.

    Yes. Absolutely. Sometimes religion is used as a tool for heinous crimes, but I agree they aren’t the root cause. However, combined with what you said before, it seems like you think that *atheists* are therefore part of the problem.

    I would like to give you the benefit of the doubt. I hope this is not the message you intended to convey. However, if that’s the case, maybe you could work on your phrasing a bit, and instead of trying to subtly imply your point, you should just clearly state it for us slow folk 😉

  • p.s.

    wanted to add a few things as well:

    However, no doubt there are atheists and Christians (and dare I say, Muslims?) who would be happy with some stomping, both figurative and literal.

    Sure. But you implied that atheists *here* held those views, and I see no evidence of that.

    Personally, and for the record, I am against stomping. I am for a pluralism that includes freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and even a freedom to reject religion.

    And for some reason, you appear to think that we think differently. I don’t want to speak for anna, but I think this is what she meant. We aren’t that different, and your words are overly judgmental. Atheists aren’t at war with religious, so don’t treat us like we are your enemy.

  • Nordog

    Anna, hopefully I’ve answered some of your points in the previous posting.

    You wrote:

    “Nordog, I think you’re being deliberately disingenuous. You’re hanging out on an atheist blog, making comments that indicate you feel atheists are somehow sinister for thinking that our position is correct and for wanting other people to believe what we understand to be true things, rather than false things.”

    Then you gave the examples of my writing:

    “While admittedly not a proper scientific sample, my observations of many comments on this website indicate that there are many “fellow travelers” (to borrow a phrase) here who apparently would have no problem of stomping out religion and those who practice it.”

    …and…

    “Rather, my point was that, imo, more atheists than you apparently think, would like to see religion disappear, go away, be destroyed.”

    I know I have addressed the first already.
    I’ll address the second by saying I think atheists do want religion to disappear in numbers greater that those I suspect Ash thinks.

    So what, maybe he’s right, maybe I’m right.

    You again:

    “You obviously are disturbed by this fact, yet you admit to having the exact same view from the opposite direction. You want everyone to believe in your god; therefore, you would like to see atheism “disappear, go away, be destroyed.” That’s the height of hypocrisy, making us out to be coercive or suppressive merely for desiring the very same thing that you desire.”

    I think you need to relax a bit. Are you really trying to understand what I’m trying to say? Or are you looking for key words to infer what I do not intend?

    Making “us” out to be coercive? If you read what I’ve written you’ll see that I contend that there’s plenty of coercive activity to go around.

    It doesn’t follow that I think you, or even most atheists are coercive just because I may think some atheists can be and are coercive (and I do so think, thought it’s important to note that I’ve not written that previously).

    Similarly, it doesn’t follow that I think I am, or even most Christians, are coercive just because I may think some, even many, Christians are coercive (and I do so think).

    “Why make sinister accusations that atheists wish to “stomp out” religion (implying force) and acting like we’re somehow unusual for wanting people to share what we see as correct beliefs?”

    I’ve addressed both of these already. It’s my contention that some atheists (and some Christians) do indeed wish to “stomp out” the opposition. While I did not intend the implication of actual force, there must be at least some in each group who would indeed be happy to use force. Is this not so? I would be happy to be wrong.

    You, quoting me:

    “Positions will be condemned by those who oppose them. Mine by you; yours by me.”

    You:

    “When did I ever condemn your position?”

    Forgive me, I thought you were an atheist. You are, aren’t you? Shouldn’t an atheist condemn Christianity for being in error? Is the idea that an atheist would condemn Christianity for being in error, or that a Christian would condemn atheism for being in error really such an outrageous one?

    “I think you have the perfect right to want people to share your beliefs. Since you feel they’re correct beliefs, you’re entirely justified in that. You should feel free to influence people by writing books, having discussions, giving money to religious groups, etc. I think you’re wrong, but I still support you having the freedom to speak your mind, and I wouldn’t insinuate that you’re some kind of fascist bent on forcibly converting the whole world.”

    Beautifully written, and it’s the same position I hold from the opposite side of the spectrum.

    But make no mistake, there is a tendency for some on each end of that spectrum who are drawn to the “fascist bent”.

    Can we at least agree to oppose both groups?

  • Nathan

    Only minimalists with an axe to grind against Christianity suggest that they are composed later than that.

    Nice that you dismiss any different interpretation of the evidence as coming from someone with an agenda.

    The Bible is a collection of earlier writings collated later by the church.

    I’d put it in the primary evidence category.

    No, it doesn’t. At best it makes is secondary evidence and that is being generous. What someone else copied from someone else’s second hand account isn’t ever going to be primary evidence.

    Occham’s Razor. Only one God is necessary.

    Actually no gods are necessary.

    Also, one all powerful God would do away with other competing Gods – that would be consistent with the nature of being completely in control wouldn’t it? It would also fit with the behaviour of the god’s creation.

    What it would mean is the existence of a new species of “god” beings. Why would you assume that this species was made up of only one member?

    Did L. Ron, or Joseph die for their beliefs or make a lot of money from their beliefs? I’d say the comparison isn’t doing much justice to Paul at that point.

    Are you suggesting that Scientologists and Mormons aren’t just as sincere in their beliefs as Christians?

    the root cause of everything was something big and powerful not something small and random.

    Why? Is it that you have a bias that says that God did it? Also what makes you suggest that the Big Bang cause (if cause is even an appropriate term) was small and random? The point is that we have no knowledge about such a cause.

    Lets start with the Christian definition of God – an omnipotent being who created the universe and sent his divine son to earth, where he was crucified by the Roman empire.

    No, lets not bring any preconceived notions in where we don’t have to. An omnipotent being will suffice for now. So lets examine the evidence for an omnipotent being.

    I will ask you to frame your tests in line with what presents as the Christian God’s revelation to creation – the Bible, and the person of Jesus.

    Certainly not. Once we arrive at a workable definition then we can begin to form a functional hypothesis. This hypothesis must be falsifiable to be of value and I’m certainly not going to bias it by fitting it to your preconceived notions. That would be unjust.

    My point is though, that different people see the same evidence, or same set of facts, and reach different conclusions.

    People may well form differing hypotheses from the given evidence. That is good and healthy. We should then proceed to test these hypotheses and eliminate those that fail.

    Faith without doubt is dangerous. Faith arrived at without thought or investigation is equally so.

    Now that I can agree with.

    I think there are many Christians, and atheists, who don’t approach it with any sense of literary nuance.

    I do find this approach interesting but only as an intellectual exercise. For me the whole question of gods fails long before the myths are even looked at.

    What about smacking them when they reach for the hot stove, or powerpoint.

    Nope. Smacking is wrong.

    Or yelling when they are about to run on the road.

    Depends on what you mean by yelling. You can yell a warning or you can yell abuse.

  • AJ,

    Do you accept that Occam’s razor is a good rule of thumb?

    I believe I did in a subsequent comment. I don’t think that rationalism necessitates skepticism, nor naturalism. Those are different frameworks, and while there is a large overlap you can be one without the other.

    There is though, always the possibility that in employing the razor you will go one cut too far.

    I’m quite sure I mean “there is no reason” to take scripture seriously, and by seriously I mean as true, or at least reliable.

    Again, you’re using an absolute here when in fact you mean you personally find no reason… “there is no reason” is quite different to “I don’t see a reason”…

    Here are two reasons (not necessarily entirely convincing, but they are “reasons” – there were an overwhelming number of witnesses still living who could have refuted the testimonies of the gospels and they didn’t, and the people who wrote them died for their testimonies without material gain.

    This might be true for many other religions – but that doesn’t make Christianity necessarily untrue. It is evidence for Christianity though, so when you say there is no evidence for Christianity that is either the product of self-delusion or an outright lie.

    Atheism is not a belief system, it’s not a meme, it’s a lack of belief. That humans make stuff up all the time does make religions less likely, which makes non-religion more likely, although not necessarily atheism.

    Strong atheism, or at least the atheism advocated by many on this site – and beliefs regarding the evidence presented by religious beliefs seem pretty memetic to me. You are putting forward a position on Christianity that I would guess first comes from your reading of a secondary or tertiary source, someone perhaps writing against the topic of Christianity – I might be wrong, but your statement “there is no evidence” is not what I’d expect from somebody who had looked for evidence, I would expect them to say “I was not convinced by the evidence”…

    Your mistake is you assume that one out of many religions has to be correct. What is that? Begging the question I suppose.

    You might think that’s a mistake – and you might be right. But once you choose the other side of the coin when it comes to the origin of the universe you’re left trying to find a correct religion.

    I can’t parse that question. It’s a pretty shitty thing to indoctrinate children with bullshit, especially things like Hell, it’s child abuse. It’s fine to refer to your own beliefs to your children, teach your beliefs, that’s tell of your beliefs. If you indoctrinate those beliefs, that’s not teaching, that’s spreading dogma.

    So I guess despite your inability to parse my question you’ve answered it with a no – I can’t teach my children what I believe, and to believe what I believe, without atheists saying that I’m abusing them. You’re a credit to your meme.

    he dictionary may not claim authority over how people should use words, but they are authoritative on how words are and were used in general, common parlance, overall culture.

    You’ll find that most words have many meanings, called a “semantic range” and while harm and abuse may have an overlap – some common definitional elements – they are not equal. You won’t find many writers of dictionaries suggesting that they are either. To suggest that all harm equals abuse is to commit a fallacy – one that has been called the illegitimate totality transfer – you can’t bring all the meanings of a synonym into your interpretation of a like word. Language doesn’t work like that. Despite your appeals to the dictionary.

    I’ll get to HoverFrog later.

  • Nice that you dismiss any different interpretation of the evidence as coming from someone with an agenda.

    If the cap fits…

    At best it makes is secondary evidence and that is being generous. What someone else copied from someone else’s second hand account isn’t ever going to be primary evidence.

    Given that we disagree with the timing and nature of the composition of the documents in question we’re going to arrive at different conclusions here. If they were written in the first century by eyewitnesses would that change your opinion?

    Are you suggesting that Scientologists and Mormons aren’t just as sincere in their beliefs as Christians?

    No, it’s not about sincerity of adherents, but rather sincerity of those getting the ball rolling. You can convince anybody of anything and have them believe sincerely. That’s what the marketing industry is all about.

    Is it that you have a bias that says that God did it? Also what makes you suggest that the Big Bang cause (if cause is even an appropriate term) was small and random? The point is that we have no knowledge about such a cause.

    Possibly, bias doesn’t necessarily make a conclusion wrong though. Science, are you suggesting an alternative? Perhaps some sort of purposeful collision of two minute particles travelling around an infinite vacuum at speeds capable of triggering the universe as we know it? The point is that you reject any knowledge about a cause on the basis of your dogma. I think it is logical to assume that a creator God would want to be known for his creation – humans do it, we write our names on books, paintings and landmarks. So you reject out of hand any potential testimonies about creation and then say “we have no evidence.”

    So lets examine the evidence for an omnipotent being.

    Ok. You start.

    Nope. Smacking is wrong.

    More or less wrong than letting them burn themselves – which seems to be the approach you advocate when it comes to religious beliefs (let them figure it out for themselves). That doesn’t fit with any sort of social evolutionary approach to bringing up children – shouldn’t parents pass on knowledge to their children and have each subsequent generation learn from shared experience? What does one do before a child understands logic and even language to prevent the child harming themselves? Your ethical framework seems a little rigid. I’d say it’s more wrong to have the child cause serious harm to themselves by causing a small amount of harm. But then I’m pretty utilitarian.

    Is it more loving to yell abuse at a child in order to stop them getting run over or let them get run over (I’ll concede that there are other options – but in the heat of the adrenalin rush I’m happy for parents to use whatever means necessary to stop great harm happening to their child)?

    I think breaches of love happen by both omission and commission, and I fail to see how you can possibly believe in a bad consequence for your children and not indoctrinate them to avoid it.

  • Nordog

    Correction:

    I wrote:

    “It doesn’t follow that I think you, or even most atheists are coercive just because I may think some atheists can be and are coercive (and I do so think, thought it’s important to note that I’ve not written that previously).”

    I think after any reasonable reading of things I’ve written here one would rightly concluded that I have indeed written that I think some atheists can be and are coercive, though I didn’t actually use the word “coercive”.

  • Aj

    Nathan,

    …there were an overwhelming number of witnesses still living who could have refuted the testimonies of the gospels and they didn’t…

    That’s wild conjecture. There’s a general silence outside of the Christian faith, which shouldn’t have been if the Gospel accounts were true, apart from a short reference already refereed to, that’s been corrupted.

    ..and the people who wrote them died for their testimonies without material gain…

    Again, this proves there were Christians, not that Christianity is true. People have died for many mutually exclusive beliefs. The fact that humans are willing to die for entirely wrong beliefs means that it is not reason to believe the truth of claims, just that they themselves believed it. It’s ridiculous to call this evidence for Christianity, doing so would be delusional, it’s in no way reliable.

    Strong atheism, or at least the atheism advocated by many on this site

    There are strong atheists on this site but they’re hardly a majority.

    You are putting forward a position on Christianity that I would guess first comes from your reading of a secondary or tertiary source, someone perhaps writing against the topic of Christianity – I might be wrong, but your statement “there is no evidence” is not what I’d expect from somebody who had looked for evidence, I would expect them to say “I was not convinced by the evidence”…

    That’s because you submit to an authority of a position that assumes through faith. If you were not seeking to confirm your already existing beliefs, then doubts about the nature of the Gospel accounts mean they cannot be considered reliable evidence without outside confirmation.

    You might think that’s a mistake – and you might be right. But once you choose the other side of the coin when it comes to the origin of the universe you’re left trying to find a correct religion.

    That is also a mistake. As I said, that it makes all religion less likely doesn’t mean that atheism is more likely. You’re still left with a god that isn’t accounted for in religion, or a deistic god.

    To suggest that all harm equals abuse is to commit a fallacy – one that has been called the illegitimate totality transfer – you can’t bring all the meanings of a synonym into your interpretation of a like word.

    That’s the logical fallacy of false attribution, in context I clearly wasn’t suggesting all harm equals abuse, I was responding to a specific case in the form of question. In context, the relevant part of abuse and harm, is also the part where their meanings overlap.

  • The fact that humans are willing to die for entirely wrong beliefs means that it is not reason to believe the truth of claims, just that they themselves believed it. It’s ridiculous to call this evidence for Christianity, doing so would be delusional, it’s in no way reliable.

    There’s a difference though between the founders of a religious belief dying for their testimony and adherents dying for their testimonies isn’t there?

    There’s a general silence outside of the Christian faith, which shouldn’t have been if the Gospel accounts were true

    What should there have been? Christianity was a minority belief both in the Jewish and Roman context – the established religions had an interest in keeping Christian belief silent – and they did, both the Roman empire and Jewish leaders actively worked against the church (based not solely on the testimony of early Christians in Luke-Acts, but also on the letters from Pliny to Trajan and the writings of Josephus (not the scribal interference, but references to Jews being expelled from cities).

    There are strong atheists on this site but they’re hardly a majority.

    At the very least I’d argue that most of the arguments against Christianity put forward on this site are memes. And I think you’d have a hard time arguing against that. I’d also say most of the assertions here regarding historicity and biblical scholarship are memes, myths, and shoddy academic work citing the work of direct publishing or minority voices who calculate the impact of their work to create controversy and rock the Christian boat.

    If you were not seeking to confirm your already existing beliefs, then doubts about the nature of the Gospel accounts mean they cannot be considered reliable evidence without outside confirmation.

    Like I said, faith without doubt is dangerous. Putting one’s faith in documents two millenia or more old is also dangerous – I’d suggest anybody who doesn’t do at least some investigation of the criticisms of the New Testament is in danger of blind faith. But I’d say you, through your atheism and commitment to a skeptical and rational model are just as likely to fall foul of confirmation bias when assessing, or refusing to assess, religious claims.

    You’re still left with a god that isn’t accounted for in religion, or a deistic god.

    Or plausibly, depending on your presuppositions, a God who is accounted for in religion in the religious system that is most rational. I’d say Christianity fits that bill – it’s the most widely attested religion, relying on multiple prophets through multiple generations, and a visit to earth by its God in a measurable and observable manner who performed measurable and observable actions that were recorded by eyewitnesses – whose accounts have survived rigorous historical and textual criticism from critics with an interest in debunking them from the first to the twenty first century.

    You may argue with the evidence for one, or all, of those assertions – but I find the body of circumstantial evidence quite persuasive and consistent with a theistic view of the origin of life and the universe.

    That’s the logical fallacy of false attribution, in context I clearly wasn’t suggesting all harm equals abuse, I was responding to a specific case in the form of question

    That’s a little disingenuous. In the context you were clearly suggesting that there was no difference between harm and abuse because the dictionary said they were the same. Here’s what you said:

    The difference between doing harm and abusing is? The dictionaries I’ve read suggest they mean the same thing.

    You didn’t say “can mean the same thing” you framed it as an absolute “they mean the same thing.” They clearly don’t always mean the same thing, and you were clearly presenting them as completely synonomous.

  • Nathan

    Given that we disagree with the timing and nature of the composition of the documents in question we’re going to arrive at different conclusions here. If they were written in the first century by eyewitnesses would that change your opinion?

    The historical consensus is that they were written in the first century but not by eyewitnesses.

    You can convince anybody of anything and have them believe sincerely. That’s what the marketing industry is all about.

    That is also what organised religion is all about. The point is that the sincerity of belief isn’t in question. Paul may have been very sincere and so may Smith and Hubbard. That in itself doesn’t prove anything.

    Possibly, bias doesn’t necessarily make a conclusion wrong though.

    That’s true but we should always be aware of it and take it into account. The scientific method has built this in to its process.

    The point is that you reject any knowledge about a cause on the basis of your dogma.

    What dogma? I’m an atheist. I don’t have any dogma.

    I reject the assertion that we have knowledge of a first cause on the grounds that we don’t have any knowledge of a first cause.

    I think it is logical to assume that a creator God would want to be known for his creation

    Fine then where is he? Let him stand in Times Square and announce his presence for all to see.

    So you reject out of hand any potential testimonies about creation and then say “we have no evidence.”

    Think of it as an application of Occam’s Razor. We have naturalistic explanations so have no need of supernatural ones. In the event that we have no explanation it would be negligent to assume any explanation, natural or supernatural.

    So lets examine the evidence for an omnipotent being.

    Ok. You start.

    I don’t have any.

    More or less wrong than letting them burn themselves – which seems to be the approach you advocate when it comes to religious beliefs

    You create a false dichotomy where there is none. There are alternatives to smacking in discipline. It is a heavy handed and often ineffective approach. The same goes for hell.

    What does one do before a child understands logic and even language to prevent the child harming themselves?

    Seriously? You don’t know how to express something to a toddler so you hit them? I’m sure that I must have misinterpreted you.

    Your ethical framework seems a little rigid. I’d say it’s more wrong to have the child cause serious harm to themselves by causing a small amount of harm. But then I’m pretty utilitarian.

    I think breaches of love happen by both omission and commission, and I fail to see how you can possibly believe in a bad consequence for your children and not indoctrinate them to avoid it.

    I prefer the term “teach to avoid” rather than indoctrinate. Tell me though. If your deity is so wise and loving then why such a heavy handed apporach to teaching humanity?

  • Hoverfrog,

    The historical consensus is that they were written in the first century but not by eyewitnesses.

    Can you point me in the direction of this consensus? If it’s the name “Bart Erhman” then please note he doesn’t represent the consensus view of any serious New Testament scholars.

    Paul may have been very sincere and so may Smith and Hubbard. That in itself doesn’t prove anything.

    No, but insincerity does prove something. As does the material gain sought in the founding of the religion.

    I’m an atheist. I don’t have any dogma.

    I’m not so sure the two are mutually exclusive. Sure, you don’t have “religious dogma” but you do have a set of beliefs about the world (a commitment to skepticism and scientific naturalism perhaps), and an approach to religious beliefs “I don’t have any”. Given that the Greek origins of the word are something along the line of thoughts and beliefs held by an individual I’m surprised you would argue that you have none of those.

    I reject the assertion that we have knowledge of a first cause on the grounds that we don’t have any knowledge of a first cause.

    I suggest that such knowledge comes from the Bible (though not in the scientific sense that those in the AiG camp believe).

    Let him stand in Times Square and announce his presence for all to see.

    Perhaps he did that some 2,000 years ago and was crucified by the state for his troubles?

    Think of it as an application of Occam’s Razor. We have naturalistic explanations so have no need of supernatural ones.

    That’s an application of your presuppositions that naturalism is the best framework for determining truth – or indeed that truth can only be found through naturalism. Why do naturalistic observations by necessity explain cause rather than effect? Why can an event not be explained both naturally and supernaturally? That’s like saying that if we understand musical theory and the science of individual instruments we have no need to look for a composer behind the notes.

    I don’t have any.

    I’ve got one. We exist. Your turn.

    You create a false dichotomy where there is none. There are alternatives to smacking in discipline. It is a heavy handed and often ineffective approach. The same goes for hell.

    And I preempted that claim of a false dichotomy – it is a dichotomy for the purpose of exploring the balance of two extremes.

    The heavy handedness of said smacking varies greatly. I was smacked by my parents but not abused. Your history might be different – and if that’s the case I’m sorry.

    Hell as a motivation for doing the right thing – like the boogeyman – is not great parenting, agreed. But not telling your children about hell if you believe it is there is also bad parenting. So how does one resolve that tension?

    If your deity is so wise and loving then why such a heavy handed apporach to teaching humanity?

    Tough love I guess. Maybe because heavy handedness develops resilience – and resilience is a necessary trait for survival.

  • Aj

    Nathan,

    There’s a difference though between the founders of a religious belief dying for their testimony and adherents dying for their testimonies isn’t there?

    Many religions have formed and been persecuted by more established religions, it’s hard being a new religion, founders are targets. People can and do believe their own bullshit. Historically very little if anything is known about the founders of Christianity outside the Gospels that are suspect.

    …the established religions had an interest in keeping Christian belief silent – and they did, both the Roman empire and Jewish leaders actively worked against the church…

    So what you’re saying is it was a conspiracy. That explains why there is no record other than Matthew of many bodies rising from their graves along with Jesus and appearing to many in Jerusalem.

    On the historicity of the Bible, slandering the work of secular scholars is one way to rationalize dissent from the faith-based tradition of biblical study, such as dating the Gospels from 56-76 AD as you did in one comment replying to someone else. You seem to think that it’s reasonable to accept the traditional position that the Gospels are genuine independent eye witness accounts (even though popular theories such as Mark + Q, and that the author of Luke copied Mathew and/or Mark contradict this). You claim that these bullshit positions are the majority ones of scholars, I do not know either way, but I’d like to know how you do because I doubt it.

    Being rational, I would not accept eye witness accounts even if they did exist, as they do for other religions, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The nature of the Gospels as sources is of little importance to me.

    I suspect even you know how dubious all those assertions are, if you actually have read the opposing opinions of scholars. If that’s your version of “survived rigorous criticism” then no wonder you believe the dead can walk.

    That’s only the New Testament, the Old Testament narrative isn’t even set in our reality.

    You didn’t say “can mean the same thing” you framed it as an absolute “they mean the same thing.”

    I didn’t need to, because I was responding to a quote, and in the context they do mean the same thing. To quote me without also quoting what I responding to, and then suggesting I meant it generally is quote mining, which is a disingenuous move on your part. Why would I even need to claim that generally when responding to specific instances?

  • anon

    believe their own bullsh*t

    You claim that these bullsh*t positions

    Being rational, I would not accept

    A lesson in debate from the school of Penn Jillette. Begin with a premise that absence of evidence is evidence of absence (a premise, by the way, that even the prominent atheist Carl Sagan knew was fallacious). Then, claim objectivity and openness to new ideas, but go on to insult your opponent’s ideas, and intimidate your opponent until they concede. Finally, when they inevitably give up because you obstinately dismiss all their arguments without a thought, claim the intellectual high ground.

    Rational thinkers, indeed.

  • AJ,

    Sorry if I’ve misrepresented you. But can you explain the difference between:

    Of course you have the right to tell your children that there is no God. I would think you are wrong and doing them harm, but I would never take that right away from you or call it child abuse.

    The difference between doing harm and abusing is? The dictionaries I’ve read suggest they mean the same thing.

    And:

    The difference between doing harm and abusing is? The dictionaries I’ve read suggest they mean the same thing.

    I’m not seeing it. In both case you’re suggesting the dictionary giving similar definitions for the concept of harm and abuse were equal. I hardly think it’s disingenuous to suggest that it’s a fallacy to be using a dictionary to make such a claim.

    On the historicity of the Bible, slandering the work of secular scholars is one way to rationalize dissent from the faith-based tradition of biblical study, such as dating the Gospels from 56-76 AD as you did in one comment replying to someone else. You seem to think that it’s reasonable to accept the traditional position that the Gospels are genuine independent eye witness accounts

    I’m quite happy for there to be some dependency – it’s pretty firmly established that the gospels have borrowed details from one another – but this doesn’t mean that they weren’t written (in the bits of the gospel that don’t overlap) by independent eyewitnesses – it simply means that independent eyewitness wrote their memoirs from a similar source document and their own recollections.

    Luke acknowledges that he himself was not an eyewitness – but that his work drew on previously written accounts and his research talking to eyewitnesses. I’d suggest Mark came first, and that Luke knew of Matthew – this accounts for all the borrowing and does away with the need for Q.

    You claim that these bullshit positions are the majority ones of scholars, I do not know either way, but I’d like to know how you do because I doubt it.

    My claim is based on having read the scholarship in the last nine months from a broad spectrum of views. The idea that there is scholarly consensus at all is a myth – most scholars bring their presuppositions to the table.

    Being rational, I would not accept eye witness accounts even if they did exist, as they do for other religions, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The nature of the Gospels as sources is of little importance to me.

    Exactly. Unless you can see it with your own eyes and hear it with your own ears you’re not going to buy it. That’s fine. But it doesn’t sound incredibly rational to me.

    I suspect even you know how dubious all those assertions are, if you actually have read the opposing opinions of scholars. If that’s your version of “survived rigorous criticism” then no wonder you believe the dead can walk.

    Until there is a consensus view I’m happy to suggest that it has survived rigorous criticism. Almost nobody except the people who buy Ehrman’s books in the sphere of New Testament scholarship, buys his conclusions.

  • Aj

    Nathan,

    As you can see I was responding to someone else’s use of harm, which I think does mean the same as abuse means in the same context. My question is what do they mean by it, what is the difference to them. There’s no wrong usage of words, however if you want to justify using words in a way easily understood to a general audience, dictionaries are a legitimate source.

    That they could be eyewitness accounts, at most secondary in the case of Luke, isn’t supportive of them being eyewitness accounts. They could be completely fictitious, but set in a real place, with some characters based vaguely on historical people. That’s only two possibilities of many, and there’s no evidence or reason to favour one or the other. The traditional view is that Moses wrote the Torah, but that is false.

    It’s rational to be skeptical considering the alternative, being born to parents who indoctrinate you, then continuing to believe some claims out of many because you’d like it to be true, some people told you its the truth, some group of clergy selected certain accounts for their own dubious purposes, or because your parents believed it.

  • p.s.

    Sorry to jump into this discussion, but I was wondering if Nathan could clarify one thing for me:

    I’d disagree with your view on “set and forget deism” one, because Christianity hangs on the divine claims of Jesus Christ (who interacted with the world) – which rules out “setting and forgetting,” but also because I suspect it’s more a case of “set and maintain,” and the maintenance of underpinning constants which we explain and observe using science is the work of God. A position I think is quite rational – if not skeptical (ie, I don’t apply Occham’s Razor to a monotheistic God the way many here do).

    and then a bit later, you use Occham’s razor to support your assertion that a monotheistic god is more likely:

    Occham’s Razor. Only one God is necessary. Also, one all powerful God would do away with other competing Gods – that would be consistent with the nature of being completely in control wouldn’t it? It would also fit with the behaviour of the god’s creation.

    So what gives? It seems like you are saying that Occham’s razor isn’t a good argument unless it supports your argument.

  • p.s,

    Occam’s razor is a fine tool – but as I said somewhere earlier – it can, and I think often is, applied a step too far.

    So I’d suggest Occam’s razor legitimately gets rid of multiple gods when explaining the universe.

    But I think one God is still necessary for explaining the existence of the universe. For reasons already discussed.

    See my music analogy above. Which I guess is pretty similar to the watchmaker argument. Basically I’d argue that some thing or being has to be infinite in order for the universe to exist – and I think it more likely that that thing is big and purposeful rather than microscopically small and random.

    I don’t think “the universe exists because it has to exist” or “the universe exists because it exists” are significant enough explanations for applying the razor to the concept of God.

    AJ,

    As you can see I was responding to someone else’s use of harm, which I think does mean the same as abuse means in the same context.

    So are you or aren’t you equating harm with abuse on the basis of the dictionary definition being the same?

    That they could be eyewitness accounts, at most secondary in the case of Luke, isn’t supportive of them being eyewitness accounts.

    This sentence makes almost no sense. If they are in fact eyewitness accounts from three eyewitnesses (Matthew, John, and Mark writing on behalf of Peter) and one investigator speaking to many eyewitnesses (Luke) how do you imagine they would be presented? I’d say pretty much as they are. Especially if each writer is presenting the account of Jesus life to a different audience (Matthew to Jews, Mark to a largely Roman context, and Luke to Romans worried about the legal status of Christianity). You dismiss these accounts far to blithly while only attempting to interpret them with the ability of a fundamentalist literalist Christian.

    The traditional view is that Moses wrote the Torah, but that is false.

    It is true that Moses did not pen the final form of the Torah (since it arrived some time after his death). But it’s likely that he had some part in its composition and that later teams of redactors added in historical markers for their audience. The documentary hypothesis that saw four writers (or voices – JEDP) in the Pentateuch has now largely been rejected through source criticism and more recent scholarship. It seems the documents are united in purpose and theology – and it is now viewed as plausible that Moses may have written or dictated significant chunks of the books. Sorry.

    When you say “there’s no evidence” you’d be much more convincing (and dare I say, accurate) if you said there’s “no good evidence” or “no evidence I find convincing” – because evidence exists, you just refuse to admit it (in the way a judge admits evidence as well as in the way a guilty party refuses to admit to a crime).

  • p.s.

    Nathan,
    Before we get into this, I want to start by saying that I don’t really like using Occham’s razor in *any* argument. Appealing to simplicity, to me, seems like poor logic because there isn’t an objective way to judge what’s really simple. Personally I find that adding god(s) makes the universe more complex, but clearly you disagree.

    Occam’s razor is a fine tool – but as I said somewhere earlier – it can, and I think often is, applied a step too far.

    Where do you think that step is? Is there an objective way to determine what’s “too far?”

    So I’d suggest Occam’s razor legitimately gets rid of multiple gods when explaining the universe.

    actually the best argument I’ve herd for theism has been polytheistic: we have all these forces in the universe that frequently “fight” against each other… pressure vs gravity, hunter vs prey, pain vs pleasure, etc. “clearly” the universe was formed and is governed by a collection of gods with different objectives and personalities. So I guess if I had to choose a religion, I would go with the constantly bickering greek gods because it best explains what we see in nature.

    But I think one God is still necessary for explaining the existence of the universe. For reasons already discussed.

    And I disagree with you, for the same reasons discussed. Incidently, there are theories about the origin of the universe that have nothing to do with god. They aren’t currently testable (which is why we stick to “we don’t know yet”), but the fact that a scientifically plausible theory exists proves that god may not be necessary, doesn’t it? I think stephen hawking said something along those lines a little while back.

    See my music analogy above. Which I guess is pretty similar to the watchmaker argument. Basically I’d argue that some thing or being has to be infinite in order for the universe to exist – and I think it more likely that that thing is big and purposeful rather than microscopically small and random.

    Why can’t the universe be infinite? Why does there have to be something external from the universe that is infinite?
    I take issue with you calling the origin of the universe “small”. Small compared to what? How would you measure something if there isn’t really a dimension of space to measure in?
    We don’t know “random” anything is, or if it even matters. If you are rolling a six sided die many many times, then you are probably going to roll a four at some point. It’s random, but the likelihood of you *never* rolling a 4 is actually pretty high.

    I don’t think “the universe exists because it has to exist” or “the universe exists because it exists” are significant enough explanations for applying the razor to the concept of God.

    But it does exist, and clearly it has to exist if we are in it. Maybe the process that triggered it’s existence had to happen, maybe the universe has always existed. we don’t really know. Now, that doesn’t disprove god’s existence, but it certainly does not prove it.

  • Nathan

    Can you point me in the direction of this consensus? If it’s the name “Bart Erhman” then please note he doesn’t represent the consensus view of any serious New Testament scholars.

    I see. Only those who support your position count as experts?

    I’m not so sure the two are mutually exclusive. Sure, you don’t have “religious dogma”

    Good. Glad that’s settled.

    you do have a set of beliefs about the world (a commitment to skepticism and scientific naturalism perhaps), and an approach to religious beliefs “I don’t have any”.

    Firstly atheism says none of these things. Atheism says only that we lack belief in gods. It is presumptuous to read anything more into it than that. Whether or not I hold additional beliefs it is the case that these do not form part of any “atheist dogma”. Since when is not having a belief considered dogmatic? Is your lack of belief in leprechauns (I assume) a dogmatic belief or is it simply a lack of belief?

    I suggest that such knowledge comes from the Bible (though not in the scientific sense that those in the AiG camp believe).

    Why would a mythology represent knowledge of billions of years in the past regarding a subject that wouldn’t be conceived for thousands of years? It makes no sense to make such a claim.

    Perhaps he did that some 2,000 years ago and was crucified by the state for his troubles?

    Or perhaps he didn’t and that story is nothing more than a myth attributed to some poor bloke who died in agony.

    Why do naturalistic observations by necessity explain cause rather than effect? Why can an event not be explained both naturally and supernaturally?

    How does “supernatural” provide any kind of explanation? What does it explain? how does it improve our understanding of a given phenomena? It doesn’t, its a cop out and a non answer masquerading as a real answer.

    I’ve got one. We exist. Your turn.

    How does that indicate a deity? If anything we have a very good explanation for our existence that doesn’t involve gods of any kind.

    Your history might be different – and if that’s the case I’m sorry.

    I’m not. I was not abused even by minor smacking.

    But not telling your children about hell if you believe it is there is also bad parenting.

    Yet the idea of hell is clearly untrue and even for a Christian who believes in the mythology of their Bible it is poorly supported.

  • Aj

    Nathan,

    So are you or aren’t you equating harm with abuse on the basis of the dictionary definition being the same?

    I’m saying that they’re synonyms, in a particular context they can have the same connotation.

    If they are in fact eyewitness accounts from three eyewitnesses (Matthew, John, and Mark writing on behalf of Peter) and one investigator speaking to many eyewitnesses (Luke) how do you imagine they would be presented? I’d say pretty much as they are.

    And if they were myth, or as often happened in this period, biographical work mixed with myth? While we’re on the subject, it looks exactly like what would happen if they were to retcon the origins of Jesus in the nativity story to appease Judaic prophecy. If we’re going down the path of how it’s presented, then much can be said against the Gospels, but nothing relevant to establishing the truth of supernatural content can be said for them.

    You dismiss these accounts far to blithly while only attempting to interpret them with the ability of a fundamentalist literalist Christian.

    What is this referring to?

    It is true that Moses did not pen the final form of the Torah (since it arrived some time after his death). But it’s likely that he had some part in its composition and that later teams of redactors added in historical markers for their audience.

    You can’t even say he’s likely to have existed, that’s just wish-thinking. Genesis and Exodus are ahistorical, the creation myth, the flood myth, the enslavement myth, the migration myth, the war with Canaan myth, it’s plausible that Moses is a myth.

    …and it is now viewed as plausible that Moses may have written or dictated significant chunks of the books. Sorry.

    If he existed, it’s possible he wrote or dictated those books, that’s hardly a compelling case for this hypothesis, many things are possible.

    When you say “there’s no evidence” you’d be much more convincing (and dare I say, accurate) if you said there’s “no good evidence” or “no evidence I find convincing”

    No, there’s a difference between what you’re suggesting is evidence, and actual evidence. We have fundamental disagreements about the nature of what you suggest is evidence, and that’s because you are committed through authority and wish thinking to believe unsubstantiated things about the nature of scripture. It’s probably even harder for you to accept, given how you tried to mount an argument for your religion by suggesting that other religions don’t have the type of evidence you suggest yours does.

  • Robert W.

    Aj,

    have you really done a serious analysis of the historical evidence that supports the Bible? From the archeology to the evidence for the early Christian church? If you did you would never be able to say there is no evidence. In fact the evidence is extremely compelling and growing. For example, until recently there was an argument that King David wasn’t real. Yet a recent find from a non Jewish kingdom mentions him as the King of Israel (the tel Dan stone among others)

    What I have sen following this argument is that you simply dismiss the evidence that is there because you don’t believe it.

  • The bible is a collection of stories by different authors. As such. It is highly probable that some references are true and some are false (or at least metaphor misinterpreted as literal in the modern age). I say we need different standards of proof depending on the claim. I can accept a certain king existed more easily than someone rose from the dead. It’s bad logic to say that if any part of the bible can be shown to be true then it all must be true.

  • Aj

    Robert W.,

    In fact the evidence is extremely compelling and growing. For example, until recently there was an argument that King David wasn’t real. Yet a recent find from a non Jewish kingdom mentions him as the King of Israel (the tel Dan stone among others)

    The Bible has historical people as characters in it, that’s hardly evidence for the historicity of the narratives in it, miracles, or other characters. Novels, TV shows, and movies have real people and real places in them all the time, but if you started to suggest they were real you may end up in a padded room. I’d be surprised if they didn’t refer to these things in a mythical pseudo-history.

    What I have sen following this argument is that you simply dismiss the evidence that is there because you don’t believe it.

    That’s what you believe because you want to, that’s not related to reality. For me, I’m wondering how you people can possibly believe that what you present is evidence. That there was a King David doesn’t mean that anything the Bible says is true, apart from there was a king called David. And if you think that’s what I’m claiming when I say I doubt your religion, that I doubt there was a king called David, then you’re horrendously mistaken. I don’t give a shit, I don’t care either way, there’s nothing particularly theologically important in that statement. I’m pretty sure Joseph Smith, L. Ron Hubbard, and Muhammed existed, that doesn’t really say anything about my belief in the narratives that each of their religions claims of them.

    Also I question the methodology behind this use of “evidence”. When there are ahistorical accounts in the Bible, such as the creation myth, the flood myth, the enslavement in Egypt, the migration from Egypt, contradicted by scientific and archeological study, making a whole lot more of the Bible false you don’t then discount everything. Yet a sliver of truth such as getting the name and approximate time right of a king and suddenly that’s supposed to support anything else said in the Bible.

    We’re not really talking about the existence of mundane things. If Jesus sent demons into some pigs, the existence of pigs isn’t evidence for that story, it just means that story requires less evidence. At this point I’m slightly scared of you people.

  • Anna, hopefully I’ve answered some of your points in the previous posting.

    Yes, thank you for clarifying some of your positions.

    I think you need to relax a bit. Are you really trying to understand what I’m trying to say? Or are you looking for key words to infer what I do not intend?

    To be fair, in your very first comment you invoked Stalin, Mao and other totalitarian dictators in response to the statement that atheists are some of the most ardent defenders of religious freedom and first amendment rights. As discussed later in the thread, the incredibly tiny minority of dictators who lacked belief in gods (debatable in the case of some, and some certainly believed in the supernatural) does not seem to be relevant to the topic at hand. Other comments you’ve made in the past, too, led me assume at least a somewhat hostile intention.

    I’ve addressed both of these already. It’s my contention that some atheists (and some Christians) do indeed wish to “stomp out” the opposition. While I did not intend the implication of actual force, there must be at least some in each group who would indeed be happy to use force. Is this not so? I would be happy to be wrong.

    I think you’re trying to make it seem like the two would be equivalent in number. Yes, “some” might advocate force. One would hope that groups wishing to use force would be rather small, and that seems to be the case in the United States. However, while I could name several promiment (if fringe) American theists who wish to “stomp out” the opposition by force, could you name even one prominent American atheist who advocates making religion illegal? Who advocates the government shutting down churches? Who advocates that religious people not receive full and equal civil rights? I think you would have a tough time with that. Meanwhile, I could just point to the frightening Christian Reconstructionist movement which seeks to set up a theocracy and kill people who don’t conform to their beliefs:

    Reconstructionism seeks to replace democracy with a theocratic elite that would govern by imposing their interpretation of “Biblical Law.” Reconstructionism would eliminate not only democracy but many of its manifestations, such as labor unions, civil rights laws, and public schools. Women would be generally relegated to hearth and home. Insufficiently Christian men would be denied citizenship, perhaps executed. So severe is this theocracy that it would extend capital punishment beyond such crimes as kidnapping, rape, and murder to include, among other things, blasphemy, heresy, adultery, and homosexuality.

    My point is that the first comment you made was obviously an attempt to make it seem like atheists don’t support religious freedom and first amendment rights. However, the only examples of people in the United States who wish to coerce (if not outright force) people to share their beliefs are on your side of the fence, not ours.

    Forgive me, I thought you were an atheist. You are, aren’t you? Shouldn’t an atheist condemn Christianity for being in error? Is the idea that an atheist would condemn Christianity for being in error, or that a Christian would condemn atheism for being in error really such an outrageous one?

    Sorry, I think you misunderstood me. By “position,” I didn’t mean Christianity. I meant the position of wanting other people to share what you see as correct beliefs. Obviously, I think your religious beliefs are false, but I don’t condemn your position of wanting to share what you see as the truth with other people.

    But make no mistake, there is a tendency for some on each end of that spectrum who are drawn to the “fascist bent”. Can we at least agree to oppose both groups?

    Certainly. I’m on the record as opposing anyone who would seek to force or coerce people to stop believing what they want to believe. However, I’m unconvinced that those “groups” pose an equal threat. In the developed Western world, there are no groups of atheists who seek to forcibly eliminate religion from society. I concede there may be a few unhinged individuals, but they are obviously not people who have any power. Yet there are religious groups that seek to enforce theocracy. Not many, but they’re there. In our modern world, I think I have more to fear from your side than you do from mine. Where are the prominent American atheists who don’t support first amendment rights? The ones with a fascist bent? Not in the public eye, that’s for sure.

  • Hoverfrog,

    Only those who support your position count as experts?

    Not at all. I would cede the title of “expert” to plenty of people I disagree with. I just think putting forward the guy who writes popular and controversial books for profit while ducking the peer review process (or being pretty widely refuted in that process) as an expert is a little misleading.

    To suggest that his views are representative of the academic consensus, even of the textual critics who are looking for the historical Jesus, is misleading.

    Atheism says only that we lack belief in gods

    This position, by definition, must be reached with a commitment to rejecting suggested beliefs in God. Which starts with a modicum of skepticism because you don’t accept any notions of gods postulated at face value.

    It makes no sense to make such a claim.

    No, your description doesn’t make a lot of sense. I agree. Perhaps it’s more a case of that being the moment the movement moved from an oral to a written tradition.

    Or perhaps he didn’t and that story is nothing more than a myth attributed to some poor bloke who died in agony.

    Perhaps. And perhaps that’s a dodge that fails to address the idea that Christians believe God already submitted himself to your concept of testing – why should he conform to your personal wishes and methodology?

    It doesn’t, its a cop out and a non answer masquerading as a real answer.

    Perhaps. Unless the supernatural exists and is part of the real answer. The point is that you can’t prove that it doesn’t using naturalism as a methodology.

    If anything we have a very good explanation for our existence that doesn’t involve gods of any kind.

    We have a good explanation of humanities existence, but not for the existence of life.

  • Nathan

    Atheism says only that we lack belief in gods

    This position, by definition, must be reached with a commitment to rejecting suggested beliefs in God. Which starts with a modicum of skepticism because you don’t accept any notions of gods postulated at face value.

    No. It really isn’t. I may have made these additional steps but that doesn’t mean that every atheist has. There are plenty of functional atheists who are simply uninterested in the question of gods. I even know a few who have no concept of gods whatsoever, rendering the question meaningless.

    It makes no sense to make such a claim.

    No, your description doesn’t make a lot of sense. I agree. Perhaps it’s more a case of that being the moment the movement moved from an oral to a written tradition.

    It still makes no sense to accept any claim without supporting evidence.

    perhaps that’s a dodge that fails to address the idea that Christians believe God already submitted himself to your concept of testing – why should he conform to your personal wishes and methodology?

    Sincere belief isn’t the issue. Whether or not there is a god is the question. I suggest that the scientific method is our very best methodology for determining the veracity of a given claim. Is there a good reason why it should not apply to gods?

    Unless the supernatural exists and is part of the real answer. The point is that you can’t prove that it doesn’t using naturalism as a methodology.

    I’ve no interest in trying to prove a negative. If there is no evidence for it then I see no reason to take the claim seriously.

    We have a good explanation of humanities existence, but not for the existence of life.

    We have an excellent explanation for the diversity of life on our planet. In addition we have reasonable explanations for the origins of life that fall short at the moment. These lack sufficiently compelling evidence and experiments to reproduce life in the laboratory under expected conditions have so far failed. That means that we can’t say that life formed in the way that we expect. There is no reason to presuppose that we will never find the correct combination of circumstances for life to form. We don’t need to resort to a non-answer. We can keep looking.

    Honestly Nathan, readers of the friendly atheist have probably been exposed to all the standard arguments for the existence of gods and for your particular god. None of the atheists find these arguments compelling. If we did then we’d believe as you do. More than that many of us find the actions of religionists to be often reprehensible which is a reason not to get involved with church activities or highly religious people. Furthermore organised religion is often responsible for avoidable tragedies and moral lapses that beggar belief. In short we don’t believe that your religion is true and even if we did we’d probably not join anyway. Can you accept that?

    Now as a person I can’t say that I have a problem with you. You argue concisely and strongly and you limit yourself to the arguments. I can respect that. That doesn’t mean that I wish to extend that respect to your beliefs, not when I think that they are in error. That is what this particular post is all about.

  • Robert

    Aj,

    You have proven my point. You are presented with evidence and because of your bias and predisposition, you simply disregard it.

    Eyewitnesses- not to be believed at all;

    archeology- means nothing

    outside sources- too few and corrupted

    evidence- not extraordinary enough

    Talking points for the atheist position only and standards which are not applied to any other study of history or institutions.

    At least you should be forthright and admit that there is some evidence, you just don’t buy it.

    I ask again, have you read anything on the support of faith? Such as c.S. Lewis or William Lane Craig just to name a couple?

  • Honestly Nathan, readers of the friendly atheist have probably been exposed to all the standard arguments for the existence of gods and for your particular god. None of the atheists find these arguments compelling. If we did then we’d believe as you do. More than that many of us find the actions of religionists to be often reprehensible which is a reason not to get involved with church activities or highly religious people. Furthermore organised religion is often responsible for avoidable tragedies and moral lapses that beggar belief. In short we don’t believe that your religion is true and even if we did we’d probably not join anyway. Can you accept that?

    Yeah, you’ll notice I’ve pretty much steered clear of trying you engage you in anything but a token defence/argument for the existence of God. And particularly the Christian God.

    What I’m most interested in, on this thread, is the idea that some have put forward (again) the incredibly naive and myopic notion that believers raising their children consistently with their beliefs is tantamount to child abuse. We’ve already got plenty of actual examples of child abuse – it’s a preexisting category that doesn’t need people acting to prevent their children meeting possible future harm (on the basis of having reached different conclusions about the question of god(s)) added to the mix.

    That’s just emotive and manipulative hyperbole that has no place in reasoned debate. It’s the parenting equivalent of Godwin’s law. You know who didn’t have children to abuse via indoctrination – Hitler.

    There is no reason to presuppose that we will never find the correct combination of circumstances for life to form.

    I’m sure we will eventually have a naturalistic answer to the questions of the origin of life – but that will not do away with the question of why that happened. That’s a question for philosophy, or for religion, to answer (if it is a valid question). My point, I guess, in this thread, has mostly been that you can subscribe to a semi-natualistic, skeptical and rational view of the world without completely subscribing to the view that understanding effect does away with the need to understand cause. That’s the problem I have with the Hawking quote that somebody alluded to earlier – it’s a cause/effect confusion/fallacy where he suggests that just because natural physical laws exist a natural law maker doesn’t.

  • Nathan

    What I’m most interested in, on this thread, is the idea that some have put forward (again) the incredibly naive and myopic notion that believers raising their children consistently with their beliefs is tantamount to child abuse.

    I do not believe that this is the claim that is being made. Rather that some efforts at raising children within a particular brand of the Christian faith are equivalent to mental cruelty. That constitutes abuse in the same way that telling a child that they are worthless and never worthy of parental love is abuse. Additionally certain false beliefs such as a literal reading of the bible with regards to the flood myth or the creation myth and denial of scientific facts is an abuse it itself.

    Yes there is real harm being done by real child abusers. This is a terrible thing and we should all want it stopped. That doesn’t mean that a lesser form of mental cruelty shouldn’t also be resisted. Nor should the denial of a proper (and I mean thorough and fact based) education be simply accepted as a parental right. Not when we can speak up about it.

    I’m sure we will eventually have a naturalistic answer to the questions of the origin of life – but that will not do away with the question of why that happened.

    Why do you need a why? If we take a candidate for abiogenesis as a simple interaction of organic molecules (an ordinary chemical reaction) that produced a molecule that was self replicating under certain conditions then we have the start of an evolutionary process. There doesn’t need to be a why here. It is just chemistry.

    That’s a question for philosophy, or for religion, to answer

    Philosophy already asks “why is there something rather than nothing?” but it is science that is looking to find an answer to that question. Once we have something isn’t it rather likely that eventually and somewhere the right combination of chemical reactions will occur that may (given sufficient time and the right conditions) lead to beings capable of asking “from whence did we come?”?

    That’s the problem I have with the Hawking quote that somebody alluded to earlier – it’s a cause/effect confusion/fallacy where he suggests that just because natural physical laws exist a natural law maker doesn’t.

    That isn’t what he’s saying though. He’s saying that a natural physical law has no need for a law maker. That isn’t to dismiss the possibility but simply to say that one isn’t needed. It puts the emphasis back on those who assert a creator deity to present some form of evidence or reasoned argument for their hypothesis. Science has moved on from the days where “doing science” was to look at how God’s plan was unfolding. We don’t need to include a deity to see the universe for what it is. I really don’t see more in his statement than that.

  • It is just chemistry.

    It may be chemistry – but there’s no need for it to be “just chemistry”…

    Science has moved on from the days where “doing science” was to look at how God’s plan was unfolding.

    Not entirely. There are plenty of scientists, good scientists, out there who are motivated by just that.

    He’s saying that a natural physical law has no need for a law maker.

    That’s really not how it played out in the press (though obviously he was trying to sell more books).

    It’s a bit like saying I have no need to believe that you exist because I understand the internet, and HTML, all the things that allow your comments to be broadcast into the ether.

    Rather that some efforts at raising children within a particular brand of the Christian faith are equivalent to mental cruelty.

    Even that isn’t actually true. . Put the boot on the other foot – what if the majority of people in your country were Christians who decided that Christianity was “fact” and that any parents bringing their children up to not believe in God or hell were guilty of abuse. Advocates of this position are getting dangerously close to creating some sort of thought crime. Child abuse is criminal. Throwing the term around in cases that are clearly not criminal is establishing a dangerous precedent. With the boot on the other foot it would be easy to suggest that denying children the knowledge of hell as a potential destiny, and raising them suggesting that any religious belief is delusional superstition could well be conceived as child abuse. Sub optimal parenting is not child abuse, it’s just bad parenting. Feeding you children fast food is not child abuse. Where does one draw the line between harm and abuse? Is watching Fox News with your children child abuse?

  • Aj

    Robert,

    That you appear to completely lack the ability to understand my comments is unfortunate.

    Eyewitnesses- not to be believed at all

    This is a lie, it’s not that eyewitness accounts are not to be believed in at all, it’s that they’re completely unreliable, and that has to be taken into account.

    It’s unknown whether the Gospels are eyewitness accounts. Genesis and Exodus are not eyewitness accounts, they’re ahistorical. So we’re not talking about eyewitness accounts.

    archeology- means nothing

    That’s just a straight lie, you may not have even attempted to understand my comment. Archaeology means that Exodus isn’t true, the Canaanites were not replaced in Israel, the Jews were the Canaanites. Claiming that the Jews had a king called David is evidence for the Biblical account is moronic. It’s like claiming that because Jerusalem was a city in Israel, the Gospels must be true.

    outside sources- too few and corrupted

    This is also a lie, the amount of outside sources was never brought up as an issue. That there is anything at all that supports any part of the Gospels is the issue. That you can’t accept the textual criticism of scholars is down to your ignorance and bias.

    evidence- not extraordinary enough

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. If what’s presented as evidence is not extraordinary, then it’s not evidence. You may not understand this concept if you haven’t read any about skepticism. It suggests that claims that are contradictory to our knowledge, or claims that rely on a lot of assumptions, don’t just need evidence in support of the claim, but also need evidence in support of the assumptions. The main point is that we already know things, with some claims that knowledge can be used, but with extraordinary claims it can not.

    I ask again, have you read anything on the support of faith? Such as c.S. Lewis or William Lane Craig just to name a couple?

    I’ve read articles by William Lane Craig and I know of arguments from C.S. Lewis from references of them. Have you read anything in support of doubt? Hume, Paine, Sagan, Dawkins, or Dennett?

  • Nathan

    It may be chemistry – but there’s no need for it to be “just chemistry”…

    There is no need for chemistry to be anything other than “just chemistry”. It isn’t magic.

    Not entirely. There are plenty of scientists, good scientists, out there who are motivated by just that.

    Not that great a proportion any more though.

    That’s really not how it played out in the press (though obviously he was trying to sell more books).

    Meh! The popular press aren’t known for their adherence to the letter of a story.

    It’s a bit like saying I have no need to believe that you exist because I understand the internet, and HTML, all the things that allow your comments to be broadcast into the ether.

    Then you understand that we don’t have AI sufficiently intelligent to pass as human.

    Put the boot on the other foot – what if the majority of people in your country were Christians who decided that Christianity was “fact” and that any parents bringing their children up to not believe in God or hell were guilty of abuse.

    It isn’t the position of belief that is the issue but the treatment that derives from a harsh interpretation of that belief. If atheism made parents frighten their children with stories of, I don’t know, nothing bad nor good after you die then you might have a point.

    Child abuse is criminal.

    Indeed it is but when it is disguised as religious indoctrination it seems to be acceptable. Note that abuse is a broad term. At one extreme it may be physical and sexual as well as mental. While I’m sure there are Christians who are abusers like this I wouldn’t draw a connection between their faith and their abuse. However there are other forms of abuse that do stem from Christian indoctrination, particularly the dogma of of a literal hell* as punishment for not being a Christian.

    *Hell is poorly supported in the Bible BTW.

    Is watching Fox News with your children child abuse?

    Ha, not even at its worst.

  • Not that great a proportion any more though.

    That greatly depends on who you talk to. I know quite a few Christian scientists (quantum physicists, physical chemists, evolutionary biologists to name a few specialties) who have all told me that they have a number of Christian colleagues, and that most people in the science world think the so called war between Christianity and science is greatly overstated. By the media.

    Ha, not even at its worst.

    A recent example: broken flashlight on a bridge means the terrorists are coming to get us…

    That story was a lie, probably deliberately so, designed to inspire fear. How is it not abuse? It seems to meet the criteria you lay down for “abuse” with regards to religious teaching.

    However there are other forms of abuse that do stem from Christian indoctrination, particularly the dogma of of a literal hell* as punishment for not being a Christian.

    *Hell is poorly supported in the Bible BTW.

    Define poorly supported? It’s in there. It’s certainly more prevalent in the New Testament than the Old Testament.

    I was brought up believing in a literal hell, and I can honestly say it has never really scared me into doing anything other than trying to keep my friends and loved ones out of it. Most Christian parents will treat their children like they’re destined for heaven, and most Bible believing Christians should have figured out that the real message to be teaching their kids is that it’s God’s free gift that gets people to heaven, not whether or not they do or don’t brush their teeth.

  • Nathan

    Define poorly supported? It’s in there. It’s certainly more prevalent in the New Testament than the Old Testament.

    Matthew 25:46 is the only clear reference to a hell as punishment. The modern understanding of hell owes more to Dante than the bible. What is meant by hell in scripture anyway? A rubbish tip is probably the closest meaning. Isn’t it more appropriate to consider that non-Christians are simply discarded rather than punished for their belief.

    Most Christian parents will treat their children like they’re destined for heaven, and most Bible believing Christians should have figured out that the real message to be teaching their kids is that it’s God’s free gift that gets people to heaven

    I’m sure that “most” Christians are as you describe. However “some” are also going to be pretty bad and use hell to mentally abuse children. There is nothing more to such statements like “Hell is a form of abuse” than that. It may be sensationalised but pithy one-liners often are.

  • Isn’t it more appropriate to consider that non-Christians are simply discarded rather than punished for their belief.

    Some noted Christian scholars and ministers think that’s the case, they use a pretty nasty word for it though. Annihilation. It sounds a bit like a wrestling finishing manouver.

    I’m not an annihilist, it would be pretty convenient in arguments like this though. I have much sympathy for the position theologically (and logically) – but it requires redacting too many direct quotes attributed to Jesus – and I’m not convinced the writers of the New Testament had anything to gain by falsifying and account of hell (they may have scared people into believing it – but why not just promise health, wealth and wisdom? – if you’re going to invent a religion why make it unpalatable?) I think they genuinely believed that hell is a real threat.

    And if the writers of the gospels believed that, enough to include it in their account, then how can people claiming to follow said gospel not educate their children of its existence and danger?

    I’m sure that “most” Christians are as you describe. However “some” are also going to be pretty bad and use hell to mentally abuse children.

    I know almost no Latin (which I think should be a reverse Godwin’s Law – quote Latin and you automatically win), but at the moment my favourite phrase is: “Abusus non tollit usum” – Wrong use does not preclude proper use. Many atheists I have spoken to (here and elsewhere) have suggested any teaching of religion to one’s child is indoctrination and therefore abuse. While some Christians may scare the hell into their children, this should not prevent other Christians instructing their children in their faith.

    However “some” are also going to be pretty bad and use hell to mentally abuse children. There is nothing more to such statements like “Hell is a form of abuse” than that.

    You can replace the word “hell” in there with “chocolate” and the argument you have made still stands. You can replace it with all sorts of nouns actually. Abuse is clearly a separate issue to the noun – it is the application of anything with the intention to cause harm. It’s not abuse if a father is playing sport with his son and there’s an accidental broken bone. No Christian parent teaches their children about hell with the intention to cause harm – and it’s not the same as refusing blood transfusions for sick children because one is not acting to prevent harm, and the other is acting to prevent possible future harm.

  • Nathan

    Some noted Christian scholars and ministers think that’s the case, they use a pretty nasty word for it though. Annihilation.

    What is nasty about annihilation? I believe that when I die and my brain ceases to function my personality will die with my brain. That sounds like annihilation to me.

    it requires redacting too many direct quotes attributed to Jesus

    Such as?

    I’m not convinced the writers of the New Testament had anything to gain by falsifying and account of hell (they may have scared people into believing it – but why not just promise health, wealth and wisdom? – if you’re going to invent a religion why make it unpalatable?)

    Surely it is only unpalatable if you aren’t an adherent who has been saved.

    I think they genuinely believed that hell is a real threat.

    I am sure that many adherents do believe that and have in the past. It is a bit difficult to tell if the writers believed it though. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc. 😉

    And if the writers of the gospels believed that, enough to include it in their account, then how can people claiming to follow said gospel not educate their children of its existence and danger?

    That is just it though. One rather poetic verse is hardly what you’d call a thorough warning of the dangers of hellfire. Maybe they just didn’t give it much thought.

    While some Christians may scare the hell into their children, this should not prevent other Christians instructing their children in their faith.

    If I wish to enjoy the freedom to raise my children as I wish then I should be prepared to extend that same freedom to others. There is a proviso that we should all be subject to the same standards of law and social responsibility though.

    You can replace the word “hell” in there with “chocolate” and the argument you have made still stands.

    Vile stuff. I’ve never understood how people can stand chocolate but I accept that they do.

    No Christian parent teaches their children about hell with the intention to cause harm

    Are you sure? A little harm now to prevent a bigger harm later might be sufficient justification in some minds.

  • That sounds like annihilation to me.

    I don’t know. Maybe it’s just the ordinary use of the word lends it more negative connotations – absolute and final destruction v a continued process of destruction – I don’t see how one is necessarily better than the other. But take your pick.

    Such as?

    Matthew 5:22, 5:29 speak of hell, in the midst of Jesus’ most popular moral teaching (the Sermon on the Mount), 7:13 speaks of destruction (following the “Golden Rule” passage), 7:19 talks of unfruitful trees (a metaphor) being thrown into fire, 8:12 equates the “outer darkness” with a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth, which comes up as a descriptor of hell in 13:42 and 13:50, and again in 22:13, 24:51, and 25:30. This phrase also appears in Luke 13. Matthew 10:36 says to fear him who can destroy both body and soul in Hell, 11:20f deals with judgment on cities who reject Jesus suggesting it’ll be worse for them than for Sodom and Gomorrah, which were consumed by fire… that’s just Matthew, and I’ve hardly exhausted the references there, and I’ve run out of time…

    Surely it is only unpalatable if you aren’t an adherent who has been saved.

    Only if you think Christians are only motivated by self interest. It’s unpalatable if you know anybody going to hell. Just because it’s unpalatable doesn’t make it untrue though, nor does it make it immoral or unjust. I don’t know anybody who has ever been punished for anything who thought the punishment was palatable.

    A little harm now to prevent a bigger harm later might be sufficient justification in some minds.

    But for the utilitarian the little harm isn’t actually harm – it’s doing good. It’s acting in love. If we’re talking ends, rather than means, then the ends justifies the means (in that the ends makes the means “good,” not the ends makes the means bad means to a good ends – that’s what justifies means.

  • Nathanabsolute and final destruction v a continued process of destruction – I don’t see how one is necessarily better than the other. But take your pick. I don’t get to choose. All I get to do is live and die and I don’t get much choice about the last bit.

    Matthew 5:22, 5:29 speak of hell, in the midst of Jesus’ most popular moral teaching (the Sermon on the Mount), 7:13 speaks of destruction (following the “Golden Rule” passage), 7:19 talks of unfruitful trees (a metaphor) being thrown into fire, 8:12 equates the “outer darkness” with a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth, which comes up as a descriptor of hell in 13:42 and 13:50, and again in 22:13, 24:51, and 25:30. This phrase also appears in Luke 13. Matthew 10:36 says to fear him who can destroy both body and soul in Hell, 11:20f deals with judgment on cities who reject Jesus suggesting it’ll be worse for them than for Sodom and Gomorrah, which were consumed by fire… that’s just Matthew, and I’ve hardly exhausted the references there, and I’ve run out of time…

    Where does it say that people will go to hell if they are naughty?

    Only if you think Christians are only motivated by self interest.

    Indeed. There is that whole heaven and hell thing that you have that makes it pretty obvious that self interest is at the heart of your religion. If you believe in it that is.

    Just because it’s unpalatable doesn’t make it untrue though, nor does it make it immoral or unjust. I don’t know anybody who has ever been punished for anything who thought the punishment was palatable.

    I find the entire concept of punishment to be unjust.

    What is the purpose of such a punishment? It doesn’t redress the harm done, it doesn’t teach the person not to perform similar actions again and it doesn’t influence the choices of others who might think about performing the same actions.

    Instead I see it as the job of society to:
    1) correct the aberrant behaviour of criminals;
    2) protect the rest of us from their negative actions and;
    3) provide a disincentive to the criminally minded.

    We could torture criminals publicly but that fails on point 1 and it fails to account for those who were wrongly convicted of a crime. An afterlife of torture and suffering achieves none of these points. The villain after all gets no further chance to cause harm or to redress their poor behaviour. They are denied the opportunity to reform.

    But for the utilitarian the little harm isn’t actually harm

    Yes it is. It may be a small and justified harm that leads to a greater good but it is still a harm.

    It’s acting in love.

    If you have a pretty twisted definition of love, sure.

    If we’re talking ends, rather than means, then the ends justifies the means (in that the ends makes the means “good,” not the ends makes the means bad means to a good ends – that’s what justifies means.

    Are you a consequentialist? There are more effects to instilling a fear of hell than having the recipient act to avoid hell. They may be too frightened to question their religious instruction, they may suffer fears that relate to this indoctrination that could effect their mental health, from your point of view they could be turned away from religion.

  • There is that whole heaven and hell thing that you have that makes it pretty obvious that self interest is at the heart of your religion. If you believe in it that is.

    Not at all – if our primary responsibility as Christians is to bring others to heaven, and the OT law can be summed up as “love the Lord with all your heart, and love your neighbour as yourself,” and the fruits of the Spirit are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, humility and self control,” and if “by this shall all men know that you are my disciples, that you have love one for another…” I think you’d be hard pressed to demonstrate from the Bible that Christianity is a self serving religion – that’s its precise difference from almost all other religious beliefs. It’s a corporate thing (focused on the salvation of others), rather than a moral code by which one can save themselves thing…

    Where does it say that people will go to hell if they are naughty?

    It doesn’t. It says people go to hell if they aren’t forgiven. All people are naughty by default. It also doesn’t say anywhere that you get to heaven by being good. Naughtiness and goodness is largely irrelevant in Christian doctrine. These actions arise out of the flesh or the spirit (see Paul’s writings in Romans 7-8).

    What is the purpose of such a punishment? It doesn’t redress the harm done, it doesn’t teach the person not to perform similar actions again and it doesn’t influence the choices of others who might think about performing the same actions.

    This all flows out of your personal (and dare I say emotionally driven opinion) rather than fact. Opposition to corporal punishment is not rational, and you could argue that failures in systems of punishment are introduced by other irrational things like compassion – which I don’t think are necessarily bad qualities, just hard to arrive at using purely rational thinking).

    An afterlife of torture and suffering achieves none of these points.

    It does, at least, achieve number 2 on your list. And number 3. The remaining Christian doctrine seeks to do 1.

    Yes it is. It may be a small and justified harm that leads to a greater good but it is still a harm.

    How are we defining harm? Can harm produce a positive result? Earlier it was being equated with abuse in all instances. I don’t see how defining harm within a framework of causing negative consequences can be reconciled with this statement, it may, in an isolated sense, look like harm, but if it produces a positive result then it can’t be, can it?

    Are you a consequentialist? There are more effects to instilling a fear of hell than having the recipient act to avoid hell. They may be too frightened to question their religious instruction, they may suffer fears that relate to this indoctrination that could effect their mental health, from your point of view they could be turned away from religion.

    Yeah, I guess I am a consequentialist – but I’m much more interested in the final end than in possible other ends. I guess I’d suggest most of the other possibilities you’ve suggested might arise would be mitigated by the other bits of Christian doctrine that I presume parents teach their children (God is love, salvation is free, God’s love doesn’t depend on your actions, your sins are forgiven so you’re free to act righteously without fear, God made you and loves you for who you are… that sort of thing). I don’t think there are any Christians out there who just teach the fear of hell to their kids (or at least I hope there aren’t, nothing would surprise me bring familiar with some fundamentalists though). That would be weird.

  • Sean

    I think you’d be hard pressed to demonstrate from the Bible that Christianity is a self serving religion – that’s its precise difference from almost all other religious beliefs. It’s a corporate thing (focused on the salvation of others), rather than a moral code by which one can save themselves thing…

    I doubt that Christianity could make any claim to uniqueness (or even being unusual) here. Ever heard of a bodhisattva?

    More generally, most cults encourage spreading their own beliefs, and most cults with any concept of “salvation” apply it to converts, so…

  • Nathan

    It says people go to hell if they aren’t forgiven.

    Chapter and verse please. You did say that this came from Jesus too.

    This all flows out of your personal (and dare I say emotionally driven opinion) rather than fact.

    Of course. My name is hoverFrog and I endorse these opinions.

    Opposition to corporal punishment is not rational

    Actually I think you’ll find that it is. It is rational to create a society where crime is minimal because it is easier and cheaper for the majority to live in this way. We require fewer efforts in law enforcement in a low crime society and so enjoy more freedoms as a result. There is an emotional element to this because we are talking about wants but it remains a rational point.

    In order to create a society where crime is low we need to address the causes of crime and the criminals themselves. Crime is often a result of poverty, poor education and limited options through local social pressures like drug use or gangs. Clearly these are all related and providing a person with skills to work and applying a social conscious through exposure to the impact of their criminal behaviour can redress this. Punishment does not.

    It does, at least, achieve number 2 on your list. And number 3. The remaining Christian doctrine seeks to do 1.

    No, the person is dead by the time this punishment is supposed to begin. They are not able to harm society nor is their punishment a reality to provide a disincentive.

    How are we defining harm? Can harm produce a positive result?

    Stick a needle in a child and deliver an injection of an MMR vaccine. You are committing a minor harm (needle go ouchy) in order to produce a positive result. I’m saying that it is still a harm even though the result is desirable. There are degrees of harm and the example of indoctrination into a belief in hell can be viewed as a scale of harm. The good that is supposed to be done though is entirely guess work because we have no knowledge of a literal hell. I say that it is the case that the harm done in this case far surpasses the good result expected.

    I’m much more interested in the final end than in possible other ends.

    Fair enough but things are a bit more complicated than one cause equating to one end. One cause can have many simultaneous results, some good and some bad. I’m suggesting that the many bad results of an indoctrination into the concept of a literal hell outweigh whatever it is that you consider a good result.

    I guess I’d suggest most of the other possibilities you’ve suggested might arise would be mitigated by the other bits of Christian doctrine that I presume parents teach their children

    One would hope so but to me the things you list make no sense at all either.

    I don’t think there are any Christians out there who just teach the fear of hell to their kids

    Sadly I think that there are.

  • Chapter and verse please. You did say that this came from Jesus too.

    I might be theologically dense – but that was what I gave you above. There’s no verse that says “if you are not forgiven you go to hell” but there are many verses (including those above) that talk about hell as the destination for those who are not forgiven.

    Here’s Matthew 3:1-12 where John the Baptist almost explicitly says it.

    The problem many atheists (and fundamentalists) have when interpreting the Bible is they expect proof texts to work. One verse to sum up all their thoughts, one verse to bind them… the reality is you build a picture of something from many verses, which is why I quoted so many above. Jesus taught regularly about hell, it was part of the gospel he preached. That’s undeniable (at least if the gospel is taken to be quoting him), and to suggest hell isn’t well attested at that point is suggesting we shouldn’t listen to the words of the person at the center of the faith.

    It is rational to create a society where crime is minimal because it is easier and cheaper for the majority to live in this way. We require fewer efforts in law enforcement in a low crime society and so enjoy more freedoms as a result. There is an emotional element to this because we are talking about wants but it remains a rational point.

    Yes. It’s called Utopia. And it’s irrational – where are you going to start this society? How are you going to keep out the poor and the stupid?

    Crime is often a result of poverty, poor education and limited options through local social pressures like drug use or gangs

    Often, but not always, that would describe financial crime, and drug related crime, but what about sex crimes?

    No, the person is dead by the time this punishment is supposed to begin. They are not able to harm society nor is their punishment a reality to provide a disincentive.

    According to Christian teaching they’re not actually dead and part of the point is separating the forgiven from the unforgiven. And if you assume the punishment is a reality (like Christians do) then it is a disincentive.

    I’m suggesting that the many bad results of an indoctrination into the concept of a literal hell outweigh whatever it is that you consider a good result.

    What if you consider the good result keeping the person out of eternal torment, or conversely giving them eternal life in heaven (the descriptions of which are pretty similar to your “ideal society”)?

    Sean,

    I really fail to see how that’s relevant to my answer to a specific point about Christianity raised by HoverFrog, but yes, obviously many religious beliefs are predicated on salvation and converting others.

  • Sean

    I really fail to see how that’s relevant to my answer to a specific point about Christianity raised by HoverFrog

    It wasn’t, I was just skimming through and thought you made an odd statement so I replied to that.

  • Nordog,

    Can someone explain what characters I should type to offset and highlight quoted texts in a comment box (that is if anyone is even reading these comments anymore; they are getting rather long in the tooth). Thanks.

    Sure thing. I don’t know what kind of computer you’re using, but you should see a little button above the text box that says “b-quote.” Highlight the text you want to quote, and then press that button. It should block quote it for you.

  • very minor note, when you compare genital mutilation between boys and girls, you must remember that, for the most common forms of either, circumcision of boys is FAR, FAR more damaging and heinous.  20thousand+ fine touch nerves, often total lack of sensitivity of the remaining tissues at 40 years, in most cases NO anesthetic during this ‘minor’ procedure, provable long term pain memory, potential brain damage through high stress hormone levels, all for negligible to -no- benefit.

    as to religious reasons, christians are forbidden(read the book by that atreides person, pawl or something), jews have no genuine requirement.  strict reading makes the case that it was abraham’s family, and -none- after, that had to make this covenant, the rest, are committing a crime against their god.

    if you compare the worst, least practiced forms, still, male is worse, as it removes the penis and testes, a girl could go on to bear children through somewhat pleasurable sex, not the male.

    it is this ‘minor procedure’ that keeps many people feeling ok with having it done, yet it is at the least, an equal mutilation, neither should be legal.  in fact, gender equality laws in many nations already make -both- illegal, yet by the time the child grows to an age that they can take legal action, it’s a civil matter.

    see, minor note, hardly worth mentioning 🙂