Author Topic: Evangelical Atheism versus Religion, ROUND 666  (Read 630 times)

Cramulus

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Evangelical Atheism versus Religion, ROUND 666
« on: May 21, 2019, 03:24:34 pm »
I've seen this article bouncing around facebook... It's basically another of these evangelical atheism pieces. I wanted to share my response.

http://churchandstate.org.uk/2019/02/you-need-to-consider-the-possibility-your-religion-is-mythology/

Article Summary
  • If any religion is true, it's only one of them. Therefore most people who practice religion are wrong.
  • "A belief system written by human beings that has no bearing on the factual nature of reality is mythology." They are using the word Mythology to mean "an amusing bedtime story with no bearing on reality", and also a "complete waste of time"
  • your religion contains stuff that doesn't jive with a materialistic world view, it's false
  • Believing in mythology is a 'waste of time'. You should focus on 'real things'.
  • You need to critically evaluate your own religion (okay, I agree with that, but they also assume that if you evaluate it critically, you should conclude that it's all bullshit)
  • Evangelism is bad, because if you convert a bunch of people to a belief system, it will influence laws and social norms, thereby fucking over people who don't share that belief.[/i]
Feel free to add to this, if there's something in the article I missed in that summary.


Okay, so where does this go wrong?


First, let me pose the question what the fuck is religion, anyway? A basic answer is that it's a belief system, it "explains" things about the world we live in. Gods, heaven, hell, what created the earth, etc. It explains what the stars are to people who don't haven't discovered astronomy.

But this is actually pretty reductive. Religions are also communities. Traditions. Cultural practices. A way of orienting oneself to the outside world and the bigger picture. In a lot of religions, the actual "beliefs" take a back seat - what's really "going on" is the relationships between people and community that's born from that.

as an aside - some scholars think that religious practices predated religious belief. Maybe there are ceremonies that villages do together for community or survival related reasons, and over time, a mythology develops around it.

I think it's better to ask the question "which cultural practices are bad?" rather than assuming all religious thought is "mere hokus pokus".

For example, take the Native American protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline. They believe that the land is sacred, and running an oil pipeline across it will defile that sacred land. So yeah, at the root, there is a belief that the land has some invisible quality which should be protected. This is not true in a material sense. But it is true in a symbolic sense. Respect for the land is a positive human behavior which grows out of that "mythological" belief.

Could the native americans respect the land without the mysticism? Probably. I mean, there are lots of good material reasons for not hosing crude oil all over the cute forest animals. But isn't it a bit colonial/imperial to impose this on people? To say "even though they result in the same outcome, my reasons for protecting nature are true, whereas yours are false?"

And really, why does it matter what the behavior is rooted in? Maybe you watched the movie Fern Gully, Wall-E, or some other film that is supposed to help you give a shit about nature. None of the stuff in the film is materially true... but along with the story about (inexplicably white) faeries that live in the jungle, something else is transmitted--a feeling about nature. A sense of mankind's place in the universe and how we are going off-course. The article would suppose that this story is a waste of time, and that you can arrive at the same relationship with nature using reason alone. I don't necessarily agree. Different strokes for different folks.

To use a more secular example --- take the story of American Thanksgiving. I was raised with this narrative that the Pilgrims and Native Americans made friends and had dinner together, etc, etc. This turns out to be a bad distortion of the truth. Nevertheless, we celebrate Thanksgiving today with a ritualized meal and this weird historical 'mythological' explanation for why we're doing it.

But the explanation is really kinda irrelevant, yeah? The real inner-essence of thanksgiving is the material behavior-- that we get together with our families and eat and spend a moment being thankful for all of our gifts and privileges. I feel like the article would tell us that the story about native americans and pilgrims is a waste of time because it's not materially true. (And yeah, we could benefit from a more truthful understanding of the native/colonist relationship, but the real reason we tell the story is not as a documentation of history.. it's that we can benefit from participating in this story where two groups come together and share)

And why is it good to be thankful? This is essentially a spiritual question.

To back up a bit, I also disagree with the assumption that religion is basically the impoverished, uninformed version of what science can give us. I think science and religion are aimed at different targets. There are fruits growing on the spiritual vine which you can't pluck from contemporary science, and vice versa.

I strongly agree that people who take the bible literally are hung up on a lot of horse shit. But there is a way to read religion without taking it literally. Reading religious writings literally is a trap that very material-minded people fall into whether they are atheists or religious.

There is an inner-meaning to spritual practices -- in part, it's meant to develop an personal sense of compassion and empathy, a sensitivity to others (That's the essence of the "Do unto others..." rules). This empathy is a positive quality for a person, and it's also good for a community that people within it have this sensitive orientation. A community which develops the empathy of its members will work better.

Is it possible to receive that empathy from science alone? Yes, some people do -- Carl Sagan thought of the universe as conscious, and that our consciousness plays some cosmic role in the universe's desire to know itself. But that idea is not a scientific conclusion--it's an interpretation, an extrapolation.

It is no different than a pantheist's conclusion that we are all a part of god, and that the omnipresent god's will is to know itself. Or the Zen conclusion that the ego is false and that the greater forces hidden behind the ego (some of which are external to our physical being) are the real self. Sagan looked at the Big Cosmic Picture and arrived at some conclusions about how he should live, how he should relate to others, how his personal curiosity fits into the nature of intelligence and human purpose. This is, in essence, spirituality.



Cramulus

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Re: Evangelical Atheism versus Religion, ROUND 666
« Reply #1 on: May 21, 2019, 03:39:20 pm »
as a coda, I'd like to tack on a quick bit about Physics and Chemistry and their ancestor, Alchemy.

We often think of Alchemy as the primitive version of Chemistry. Really, they're two different animals that share some territory.

The Alchemists had this belief "As above, so below" -- meaning that the material world and the spiritual world correspond to one another, they have similar laws.

The Alchemists studied matter... they learned all sorts of facts about how matter behaves. What they were most interested in was transformation - how does something worthless become something valuable, in nature? They believed that if they could understand the physical process, it would be a clue about the spiritual process. That is, how does a bad person become a good person? How does the sinner transform into the saint? How does an ordinary idiot become enlightened?

The Alchemical process talks about these different aspects of transformation: Calcination (heating up), dissolution, separation, conjunction, putrefaction, fermentation... etc. These are physical ways that matter can be altered.

But they believed that there is a personal truth to be learned from all this ... that the spirit transforms along similar dimensions.

For example, bringing yourself to a high level of activity, intense passion, fury... this is calcination.

After that fire, you rest, calm down, let things settle. The intense feelings you had will drift apart. This is dissolution.

Two parts of you are no longer in agreement. Recognizing that there is an inner conflict is separation.

Sitting on an idea, letting it percolate through your mind, feeling it on all levels, eventually transforming it -- this is fermentation.

All of these alchemical processes describe physical things, but they also describe aspects of an inner process of transformation. This was lost when the texts shifted to purely physical descriptions.

And that's okay, we needed to understand the physical things in fine detail in order to advance. In some ways, the spiritual dimension hindered us from using the material science all by itself. (perhaps this entire cleaving between material and spiritual is alchemical separation. Perhaps the development of chemistry is itself alchemical fermentation.) But then we look back and reduce alchemy to mere proto-chemistry, a clumsy explanation of matter. It's a little more complicated than that!

Today, we don't practice alchemy. But I know a lot of people who are going through something difficult. They might be helped by the understanding that their turmoil and strife may be a phase in a larger process of personal transformation. The Dark Night of the Soul is followed by a new dawn -- the dawn has a different quality, if one has been lost in darkness. The alchemists understood this - chemists do not. This is why I say that chemistry and alchemy are aimed at different targets.

« Last Edit: May 21, 2019, 06:08:25 pm by Cramulus »

nullified

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Re: Evangelical Atheism versus Religion, ROUND 666
« Reply #2 on: May 21, 2019, 04:09:35 pm »
So, my belief system/“spirituality” is something I’ve been working on, tailor made, specifically for me, for years now. I’m not really an atheist in the sense of New Atheism, but I’m no deist and I tend toward a mechanistic/materialistic worldview. I’d say I fall pretty firmly in the “spiritual” camp, with some hefty caveats. But that’s for another time.

Here, what I want to say is that I disagree on one point you seem to be trying to make early on. (I might be misreading, but I don’t think that’s the case here.)


So...the point on evangelism is spot on. 100% absolutely true. We have the evangelicals trying to /destroy/ the LGBT community in the US right now.

You could say “that’s homophobes”, but that ignores that the most politically powerful homophobes are evangelicals.
You could make the point that that is Evangelical Christians, which ignores that the most evangelical sects of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam coincide with some of the most horrible and reactionary shit on earth.
There are a number of points you could try to make, but without fail, evangelism coincides with terrible behavior and destruction of lives. I cannot think of a single sect of any religion heavy on trying to get converts that hasn’t ended up shitting the fucking bed hard. Do tell me if there is one, I admit my memory is less an archive and more a tube that things sometimes mercifully get stuck in.

It could be I misread it, but I saw that point as something you disagreed with due to you specifically calling out that you agree with critical thinking applied to one’s own beliefs just above it.

I’m going to argue that evangelism is inherently given to bad behavior. It has in-group superiority baked into its very concept, as the only reason to convert people is if they are Doing It Wrong until they join you.

In-group superiority is inherently given to Bad Shit, no matter who the in-group is, but non-evangelical groups can be avoided safely and so they tend toward localized Bad Shit, rather than Bad Shit that destroys a way of life for people they’ve never even heard of.

Evangelism, by contrast, specifically brings the in-group TO the supposedly inferior outgroup. Over and over and over. It is purpose built to create and sustain conflict, and is it any wonder that such eternal conflict sours the participants and turns into something monstrous?


Might be repeating the article, I wrote this while waiting on a bus ride, so I’m short on time and mostly wanted to reply to you specifically. I figure it doesn’t hurt too much, because I feel you sort of glossed over that one specific point while hitting everything else with at least a couple words of acknowledgement.

As for the rest, I mostly agree. My points of disagreement with those are mostly nitpicking and semantics, where I think the point on evangelism is vital.

Out of time, I’ll read the alchemy bit later.

The Johnny

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Re: Evangelical Atheism versus Religion, ROUND 666
« Reply #3 on: May 21, 2019, 04:15:10 pm »
Evangelism is bad, because if you convert a bunch of people to a belief system, it will influence laws and social norms, thereby fucking over people who don't share that belief.

That irony is so delicious - EVANGELISM BAD, IF ITS NOT ATHEISTIC EVANGELISM HEHEHE

Anyhow, theres some argument that religion is just elaborate animism and obsessive rituals.

And there supposedly was a shift from an "organic worldview" to a "mechanistic worldview" around the XVth century which implied the transition from living in harmony with earth to literally raping, pillaging and burning the planet. So yes, paganism held in check the fucking ecocide.

To me religion is little more than the indoctrination that theres an all seeing all powerful judge that doubles up as executioner, and yes, that simulates empathy and generates social cohesion, but artificially... if people were actually educated to understand the basic benefits of cooperation instead of cutthroat egoism wed live in a different reality. So fuck all that brainwashing and social engineering.

But besides my personal take, if people need some recomforting fairy tale to make life easier, thats fine... what is really obnoxious and destructive is when particular fairy tales and their dogmatic laws interfere with how i live, i fucking hate the church meddling with state affairs and thats something that should be erradicated.

In resume: i dont need no materialistic evangelion just as i dont need religious evangelion, let people believe what they want - and by focusing their efforts on "conversion" they are missing the point of the real fight, which is laicism of the state.
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Re: Evangelical Atheism versus Religion, ROUND 666
« Reply #4 on: May 21, 2019, 04:23:49 pm »
It reminds me of when science proponents try to apply scientific methods to art: it’s meaningless, except as more art. Science has its uses, but doesn’t have dominion over everything. Science tells us very little meaningful information about either religion or art.
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Cramulus

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Re: Evangelical Atheism versus Religion, ROUND 666
« Reply #5 on: May 21, 2019, 04:41:38 pm »
Quote from: nullified
I’m going to argue that evangelism is inherently given to bad behavior. It has in-group superiority baked into its very concept, as the only reason to convert people is if they are Doing It Wrong until they join you.


Evangelism all by itself is just trying to get others to see the universe "properly". It does assume that there is a right way and a wrong way, and this attitude all by itself can be very problematic, especially when wielded by colonists and moral-majority.

But I'm thinking about the feminist, pro-vaxx, environmental, and pro-choice factions... they are keenly focused on converting others to their way of thinking. In this evangelism, there is a denial of the subject's previous belief system, which can come off as real, uh, high and mighty. (I'm thinking about all the women who don't identify as feminists because they are pro-life) But sometimes the old ways do need to be bulldozed, right?

If you belong to the "child marriage is good, female gential mutiliation is good" religion, I would prefer to convert you by reason, but maybe conversion by sword is okay too.

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Re: Evangelical Atheism versus Religion, ROUND 666
« Reply #6 on: May 21, 2019, 05:39:10 pm »
It sounds like they took their atheism and ran it right past rationalism and back into religion.  Specifically, the religion that says we should all be Vulcans and think only rational thoughts.

Humans don't work that way, and expecting them to is one of those myths they're so worked up about.

And, as Cram just said, evangelism is basically when you spend all day telling people they're doin' it wrong.  And who the fuck does that?  I mean, besides me.
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Re: Evangelical Atheism versus Religion, ROUND 666
« Reply #7 on: May 21, 2019, 09:19:29 pm »
I tend to separate evangelism from things like pro-vaccination and feminist stuff. The words for the distinction aren’t coming to me, but it’s something like “empathy,” and something like “evidence supports.”* Not exactly those things, but they’re directly adjacent to the idea I can’t think of the right words for. “Materially better for someone”? I’m not bringing it together, I don’t think.

That said, I recognize that it’s not a super clear distinction. I mean, fuckin obviously. :lulz: And even off the top of my head I can think of a couple cases where what I would hesitate to call evangelism has become definite and unquestionable evangelism.

I’ll come back to this (and the alchemy bit) after I’ve had a bit of food and sleep. Right now my brain is a glob of fizzing goop in the vicinity of my right ankle, not very useful to give a thoughtful response with.


*For my part here, this doesn’t mean a fact based approach is immune to becoming evangelism, as New Atheism shows in spades.

Cramulus

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Re: Evangelical Atheism versus Religion, ROUND 666
« Reply #8 on: May 21, 2019, 09:38:51 pm »
I tend to separate evangelism from things like pro-vaccination and feminist stuff. The words for the distinction aren’t coming to me, but it’s something like “empathy,” and something like “evidence supports.”* Not exactly those things, but they’re directly adjacent to the idea I can’t think of the right words for. “Materially better for someone”? I’m not bringing it together, I don’t think.

Yeah, like you said, it's a little fuzzy...

Many evangelicals are extremely empathetic -- they really believe that you are going to suffer in hell for eternity, and want to prevent that. If it was true, that people will suffer forever unless they say the magic words, then an empathetic person would do their best to make people say those magic words.

And as for evidence -- lets not pretend that our attitudes and lifestyles are evidence-based. Especially as Discordians. ;) My desire to save the environment is not based on evidence, it's based on feelings about nature and waste, it's based on fear and revulsion. We think it's bad that we're in the middle of a mass extinction -- why? Is it because of a (falsifiable) theory of ecology, or is it because we believe, (in a way that doesn't require evidence) that these creatures are worth saving? The evidence comes after the fact, it's a supporting argument. Evidence for beliefs is usually like putting up a support strut in a house that's already built.

so I'm not clear that there is a real distinction between evangelical religious beliefs and preachy social beliefs. And in part, that's why I'm forgiving of evangelism -- the world kinda does need some crusaders now and then.

Doktor Howl

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Re: Evangelical Atheism versus Religion, ROUND 666
« Reply #9 on: May 21, 2019, 09:40:23 pm »
I tend to separate evangelism from things like pro-vaccination and feminist stuff. The words for the distinction aren’t coming to me, but it’s something like “empathy,” and something like “evidence supports.”* Not exactly those things, but they’re directly adjacent to the idea I can’t think of the right words for. “Materially better for someone”? I’m not bringing it together, I don’t think.

That said, I recognize that it’s not a super clear distinction. I mean, fuckin obviously. :lulz: And even off the top of my head I can think of a couple cases where what I would hesitate to call evangelism has become definite and unquestionable evangelism.

I’ll come back to this (and the alchemy bit) after I’ve had a bit of food and sleep. Right now my brain is a glob of fizzing goop in the vicinity of my right ankle, not very useful to give a thoughtful response with.


*For my part here, this doesn’t mean a fact based approach is immune to becoming evangelism, as New Atheism shows in spades.

Everything humans do is subject to becoming a religion.  It happens at the instant you think you have all the answers.
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Re: Evangelical Atheism versus Religion, ROUND 666
« Reply #10 on: May 22, 2019, 03:28:04 am »
I slept a bit and I think I have the mental acuity to give this a proper response.

On a second pass: yeah, okay. You’re right. I think there are still distinctions, but they aren’t hard enough (even combined) to give a proper dividing line. They’re more “general indicators” that you aren’t completely unhinged, and some things (fucking up fascists, fighting climate change) miss most or all of those indicators but are still worth doing. More importantly, the absolute worst shit out there (consider ethno-nationalist bullshit) passes every test as well as anything I can come up with, it’s just they are using a really fucked up reality grid.

Read through the alchemy bit properly, and I think that you about covered it there. It was proto-chemistry, sure. It was also late magic (which means it was late esoteric religion (which means it was proto-psychology plus some extra stuff)). Chopping bits of its historical intent and use out does it a disservice. Phlogiston theory was proto-chemistry, full stop, alchemy had a bit more going on.

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Re: Evangelical Atheism versus Religion, ROUND 666
« Reply #11 on: May 22, 2019, 05:44:23 am »
My reaction to the article linked in the OP was severe irritation.  It was a sequence of unsupported claims delivered in a condescending manner, with arbitrary confidence levels (99.99%) presented as probability.  I am inclined to make a point-by-point rebuttal; but that would not be a useful exercise, and I don't really have anything to say that hasn't already been covered in this thread, so I'll just vent a bit, and let it go.

The objectionable part of religion lies when it produces unquestioning adherence to a belief system, and this is hardly unique to religion.  You can find it in politics, economics, sports fans, dogmatic atheists, and occasionally even scientists (this can cause science to get stuck for a while, but it starts progressing again once the old guard dies off).

As a militant agnostic, I reserve a special hatred for those who believe they have all the answers, and cannot be swayed from their beliefs, even when I happen to think their beliefs are probably correct.

I have to admit I don't understand the concept of spirituality, so I treat it as a null term.  My worldview is almost purely mechanistic, although I might discard that model if it should stop being useful.  I do believe that there is such a thing as a soul, but I think of it as malleable and destructible, and expect that it doesn't survive the death of the brain-meat.

Sleep-deprived at the moment, apologies for bad grammar and unsound reasoning, if any.
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Re: Evangelical Atheism versus Religion, ROUND 666
« Reply #12 on: May 22, 2019, 11:59:41 am »
For me, spirituality is something like, “applying value judgements and useful but unrealistic heuristics to the mechanical world I live in.”

Gravity is a blind, unthinking, uncaring force, but saying it “wants” to bring things down/together is a useful abstraction. It’s anthropomorphism, but it’s an anthropomorphism that provides a useful and easily understood explanation of a complex and currently poorly understood physical force.

I tend to anthropomophize concepts, apply narratives that aren’t realistic or even close models to explain things that are difficult to grasp naturally, and so forth. This is what I consider spirituality: where we let our intuitive meat construct satisfying explanations for why things work the way they do.

Incidentally, this also basically explains my take on “magic” as such: psychology is a difficult topic to approach directly without a ton of background knowledge. Magic lets us abstract away actual mechanical chains of cause and effect to talk about the most immediately useful “cause” that eventually gives us a desired end result. All the fuzziness and poor matching to actual physical reality gives us some wiggle room so we don’t give up the second we fail, which helps because the human brain seems to respond to repetition and intent. But it’s all just useful self-deception.

Applied dogmatically, spirituality becomes religion. Applied with the knowledge that it’s just a useful shorthand, it is a valid and acceptable worldview I think.

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Re: Evangelical Atheism versus Religion, ROUND 666
« Reply #13 on: May 22, 2019, 10:09:41 pm »
thanks, i hate it. this is the exact shit that drove me out of the atheist community in like 2008.

that author is arrogant, condescending, badly argued, ill informed, w i l d l y fucking racist, and also antisemetic, ffs. the "primitive culture" thing is some real white supremacist logic and i have rarely seen so much protestant baggage in one place, either.


Quote from: the Johnny
To me religion is little more than the indoctrination that theres an all seeing all powerful judge that doubles up as executioner, and yes, that simulates empathy and generates social cohesion, but artificially... if people were actually educated to understand the basic benefits of cooperation instead of cutthroat egoism wed live in a different reality. So fuck all that brainwashing and social engineering.
if it's indoctrination, it's no more indoctrination than any other aspect of socialization and we have to be socialized to engage with other humans at all. "an all seeing all powerful judge...executioner" is pretty specific to monotheist religions, or at least the abrahamic set (as problematic as that term is, idk what else to call judiasm and its offshoots). omnipotence and omniscience are not particularly common things afaik and a lot of other faiths have more "human" gods.

i'm not saying we need religion per se, but we do need ritual imo, like Cram said. humans are social creatures and doing things together is what binds us as a community. humans like rituals. you can take the ritual out of religion but not the ritual out of the person. every culture is going to develop a set of lore and accompanying rituals: the fourth of july or harvest, easter or holi - they're all social rituals, whether or not there's a (sometimes openly acknowledged) divinity involved. they are important moments in the communities we built and the history we write together, and they help foster a sense of community (a both necessary and potentially dangerous thing, i acknowledge). there's nothing artificial about rituals bc they're an organic creation of a culture.
i'd go further than just the secular feasting rituals like thanksgiving and argue that things like farmer's markets and blossom festivals are a kind of social ritual, too. there's a formula for how it unfolds, lots of food, we spend time with others in our community, and maybe there's some music or other display. those are imo important parts of ritual. also, js, a community with no social rituals sounds super boring and also like no amount of education about the benefits of cooperation would really cement them together. we need a shared history to care about other people on more than an intellectual level.

religion doesn't have to be violent and cutthroat and hierarchical, but in a culture that is violent, cutthroat, and hierarchical, that's what it's going to look like. not every culture is violently monstrous like that. if religion were unique in this tendency, we wouldn't have social darwinism or capitalism.

a note i'd add re discussing religion, belief in the divine or the lore surrounding it isn't necessary at all (certain types of buddhism, chinese religion, etc. don't care if you believe in the buddha or the king of heaven). what matters is that you do the rituals. religion is a means for community bonding, especially historically, and you don't necessarily need to believe in Adonai/the Buddha/Odin/Coyote/Kali Ma to cement bonds through participation in ritual.
jumping back to the shitshow article, insisting that participating in a religion and its rituals is insanity is incredibly fucking insulting.
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Re: Evangelical Atheism versus Religion, ROUND 666
« Reply #14 on: May 22, 2019, 10:19:42 pm »
“primitive culture” is a big Ayn Rand thing. When she was in a good mood. When she was in a bad mood they were “savages”.
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