Long, late, rambling contribution
I just discovered this excellent thread. May I play too?
I'm not sure if I am, strictly speaking, an atheist. I find it easy to believe that the universe, or nature or what have you, is in some sense
divine. But I do not believe in a creator distinct from his creation, certainly not in an interventionist deity, and still less in the sort of
local-authority god that answers prayers and judges human behaviour. And I have a serious problem with all kinds of religion.
I believe I'm enough of an atheist to participate in this thread. If I'm not, sling me off.
Some answers first:
Originally posted by MajorMalfunction
Does residual brainwashing still crop up in your head now and then?
Yes, it does. When I'm feeling extremely anxious or desperate I pray. Who am I praying to? The God I don't believe in. Do I believe praying will
have any effect? Yes, a psychological one. Am I embarrassed when I find myself doing it? You bet. I squirm. But I still do it.
I also say things like 'God only knows' or 'Sweet Jesus' all the time, but I don't regard these verbal tics as residual brainwashing, just
commonplace ways of expressing myself that everybody understands. Most of it is just swearing out loud.
Does anyone think that this has biological roots, this urge to give in to superstition?
Yes. Richard Dawkins
This is from a fairly hostile New York Times
review of his recent book, The God Delusion
Dawkins’s own attempt at a natural history is Darwinian, but not in the way you might expect. He is skeptical that religion has any survival
value, contending that its cost in blood and guilt outweighs any conceivable benefits. Instead, he attributes religion to a “misfiring” of
something else that is adaptively useful; namely, a child’s evolved tendency to believe its parents. Religious ideas, he thinks, are viruslike
“memes” that multiply by infecting the gullible brains of children.
seems to be saying something of the same sort here...
In my opinion, it's cultural. Children are "programmed" to respect and learn from the elder, this is how they survived in ancient tribal
times. They would learn the dangers of their natural environment. Today we live in a more or less safe society but the ancient instincts are still
there. So when a child is told they'll go to hell if they're bad, they take it all in.
...though I fear he (or she) has got instinct and conditioning a little bit mixed up.
Frankly, I think Dawkins's hypothesis is little more than a stopgap. All human cultures evolve religion. Religious behaviour is so nearly universal,
and so much the same everywhere, that it must have selective value, and I suspect the value is a lot higher than we atheists would like to believe.
But it does not follow from the existence of a 'religion instinct' that a God or gods must exist. Note that every culture has its religion, but
every culture has a different
religion. And these have a good deal less in common, ethically and dogmatically, than ecumenical sentimentalists
like to suppose.
Other than internet conversations such as those we have here, have you "come out" as an atheist in public, and in real life?
Oh, yes. Everyone who knows me knows my views. Down my part of the world, I'm known as a bit of a propagandist for science, logic and all-round
And I offer one of the reasons I make such a big noise about it as an answer to Benevolent Heretic's
...It's the same when atheists or agnostics tell religious people that they're wrong. I totally understand and agree with stating one's
beliefs, but the moment we start saying, "you're wrong" about beliefs, we're as bad as the worst religious proselytizer.
It isn't just that religious folk are wrong in their beliefs. It's that their beliefs do so much damage -- to themselves, to their loved ones and to
society. The 'faith instinct' may have had a survival benefit once upon a time but now it's a pathological remnant. If we can cut it away using the
scalpels of reason and scepticism, should we not?
Certainly, this is not
the way to do it:
Originally posted by xpert11
I find reports of atheists in the US who want religious removed from public places to be disturbing they don't seem to be any better then the
Yes, this kind of thing just gives faith-heads publicity and makes people feel sorry for them.
Comparative religious education is the way to go, as MM
I've studied religions and mysticism all my life, and the study has led me here -- knowing a little about a lot of different religions, a
considerable amount about Christianity, and buying none of it for a millisecond.
I can corroborate this from my own experience, which was identical.
As a child, I was a victim of this mentality:
"Get them young and raise them up right in the ways of the lord."
though I must admit I prefer the Jesuit version: 'Give me the child, and I will give you the man.' Positively spinechilling, that.
Forcing small children to go to church really offends me.
Dawkins (op. cit.
) calls it child abuse. He's right.
But maybe the religious are just doin' like Daddy done:
Maybe God is evil, and made this universe to watch sentient beings form civilisation and exterminate each other.
believe this. So do some Hindu sects I know of. There's nothing inherently less 'reasonable' about this
than the belief that God is good.
I used to annoy religious folk by asking them the following question:
- Can an omnipotent being also be good?
Interesting little philosophical brainteaser, that.
I know this is an awful ramble of a post, but I do want to add one last point before I close, and that's a point about Buddhism:
Originally posted by Edn
I like Buddhism, no god, logical rules (if you want to call them rules) and they don't mind when science proves them wrong which for the core of
Buddhism I don't think it ever has yet.
I was raised and presently live in a country whose population is predominantly Buddhist.
Buddhism is a dismal failure of a religion, even by the low standards set by its competitors. It refuses to grapple with the problem of evil -- the
Buddha taught that 'wrongful' thoughts, words and actions were the result of imperfect understanding, and that the tendency to indulge in them would
diminish as a being advanced towards enlightenment, finally evaporating at the moment of illumination. Wishful thinking of the highest order, as even
a rudimentary understanding of what human beings really are like makes clear. But then, the Buddha
never really got a chance to find out what real human beings are like
The King, ...alarmed at the prospect that his son might become a religious teacher, resolved that [he] would know only the pleasures of the
princely life and never encounter anything which might tempt him toward religion. Prince Siddhartha accordingly grew up amid the luxury and pleasures
of the palace... A princely education [was given him]. Yet even though kept away from the sorrows of the world, the boy evinced an unusual sensitivity
that presaged his future.
This failure to grapple with evil (which, to my mind, helps explain the occasional outbreaks of manic, wholesale violence to which Buddhist countries
are prone) is one problem. The lack of anyone or anything to pray to and put faith in is another, which various sects of Buddhism deal with by
co-opting Hindu gods to worship, manufacturing bodhisattva cults and the like.
Finally, the doctrine of karma
is obviously false unless reincarnation is accepted as true.