Saturday, October 7, 2006

Reading About Religion

I've been reading quite a bit about religion lately (or rather, mostly things against religion). I bought Richard Dawkin's The God Delusion at the bookstore two weeks ago, and I've been slowly going through it (you can only read so much in one sitting in the bathroom, after all ;)). I read Sam Harris's short book Letter to a Christian Nation, which is more ranty than Dawkin's book on the subject. I discovered the bi-monthly magazine Foreign Affairs, and read the article "God's Country?" by Walter Russell Mead. I read part of the chapter "The creation myth: on the sixth day, God created fruit flies" from Ann Coulter's book Godless.

All this reading about religion is making me want to talk about religion with someone, but I don't know who I can talk to. Forrest doesn't seem like he really feels like discussing it much, Jerry's the choir, and my family parents seem to have become pseudo-religious since Bush (or maybe it's just since I've become strongly atheist as opposed to just agnostic, as I was in high school -- it's hard to tell which is the reason, since they were more or less coincident events). It's frustrating to not be able to really discuss a topic that's been bugging me and that I've been reading up on. Grr, I say.

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10 comments:

John Cowan said...

Well, will I do? I'm a relaxed agnostic (defined as "someone who does not know whether there is a God and does not believe you do either"). I've read other Dawkins books, but not this one, and I just read the Mead article with interest.

While most of the "spiritual" people I meet seem to be a bit deficient in their sense of reality, I've also experienced the "religious feeling compatible with an entire absence of theology" that Thomas Henry Huxley (the first self-labeled agnostic) talked about.

Indeed, about a dozen years ago I had a distinctly odd experience. While heading for the bathroom, I heard a voice in my mind (definitely in my mind, not anywhere else) say "Nobody in the world knows anything about Me." A message, I thought, from the unknown God (agnostos theos in Greek). I don't take this too seriously; but I don't take it too lightly either.

Let me know what you think.

pirate-sr said...

"and my family seems to have become pseudo-religious since Bush ..."

Oh what utter balderdash!

"...(or maybe it's just since I've become strongly atheist as opposed to just agnostic, as I was in high school -- it's hard to tell which is the reason, since they were more or less coincident events). "

I rather suspect it is your perspective that has changed, as we remain as we are.

Prior to 1492, the entire world believed with all its collective heart that the world was flat. Then good ol' Cristobol Colón showed otherwise. So, I put it to you ... is the world really flat? round? or did people's perception change?

However, playing the Devil's Advocate, since I am in the midst of said family, perhaps I am not able to see the forest for the trees. (But I think not. :-) ).

But, hija querida, anytime you wish to discuss a topic, you know how to contact me. I can certainly tell you all the ways you are wrong ... give you a D- ... and that's a gift. :-)

(and Blogger better doggone well put my ID in here instead of that bogus "fakename". Hmph.)

staticfoo said...

Rather interesting using that phrase when discussing atheism, no?

There have only been a few non-choir people I've been able to talk to about such things without annoying them: Aaron, who even after joining the ranks of atheist/agnostic people, came from a religious background, Dan, and the people down at Farmers' last year. Perhaps actively seek out the people trying to convert you?

John Cowan said...

Actually, what Colón (who may not have been from Italy at all: all foreign merchants at the court of Spain were called "Genoese" in his day) proved was not that the earth was round, as everyone with any education knew that.

What he proved is that it doesn't matter how wrong you are (the Earth is much larger than he thought, and that's why the Portuguese wouldn't fund his crazy expedition), it only matters how lucky you are.

Setting out to cross an ocean that was in fact as wide as the Atlantic and the Pacific put together at their widest, he smacked right into something new.

Arthaey said...

John wrote: Well, will I do? I'm a relaxed agnostic

Thanks for volunteering. :)

What'd you think of Dawkin's other books? This is the first I've read of him. His other books do look interesting to me.

I haven't read much about Huxley, apart from these two Wikipedia articles. Do you mean something like the naturalism that Dawkins describes, having "no theistic beliefs, but shar[ing] the poetic naturalism that the cosmos provokes in the other scientists" (p14)?

Indeed, about a dozen years ago I had a distinctly odd experience. ... I don't take this too seriously; but I don't take it too lightly either.

I'll agree with you that your voice-in-the-head experience is unusual, but without more information I'm not convinced it's life-changing either. Then again, it sounds like you haven't become a die-hard religious fanatic over it, either. `:)`

Pirate wrote: I rather suspect it is your perspective that has changed, as we remain as we are.

While I'm certain that I've changed since college (how could a person not?), you guys have also changed (again, how could four years not have any change?). In non-religious things, you and Dad have started swearing and telling more off-color jokes around my sisters and me, now that we're older. So you guys haven't stayed completely static.

As for religious things, a couple concrete instances come to mind. Whenever I discuss gay marriage with Dad, for example, he will usually have some mention of religion in his arguments against it. And as an example for you, I remember you mentioning within the past few months that you will sometimes thank God for "the little things," like not running into traffic on the freeway when driving home from visiting Papa.

Dad may have referenced religion to support his political opinions when I was younger and I just didn't notice, that's true. But I don't remember him doing so. And I'm more certain that you didn't previously talk about thanking God for anything.

Thing 2 has blogged that she believes in the Greek gods -- very interesting, but I'm not sure if she's being serious even though she's posted this a couple times recently. Last time I talked to Thing 1, I think she said she was
uncertain.

So I'll retract my statement that my family has become more religious, and restate it as my parents seem to have, instead.

But, hija querida, anytime you wish to discuss a topic, you know how to contact me.

I know, but it also seems sorta futile...

The last time we discussed gay marriage, for instance, at the end of the discussion you had said you agreed with me in theory, but you weren't going to actually change your mind. That makes me feel less willing to discuss political or social things that we disagree about, since even if you end up saying you agree with me, I don't really seem to convince you.

Further discussion by email or phone?

Staticfoo wrote: Rather interesting using that phrase when discussing atheism, no?

I thought so, yes. :)

Perhaps actively seek out the people trying to convert you?

Interesting point. And, in fact, I've considered it -- for example, I know that Campus Crusade for Christ meets Wednesdays on campus at 8. I was planning on attending as a strictly recon mission, see what goes on there, hear what they actually say at those meetings. No fair telling them they believe nonsense if I've never actually heard what they claim to believe amongst themselves, I figure.

Quervin said...

Yes I believe in the the Greek Gods, because I want to believe in a higher power because then it is men who give us our rights and then therefore they can take them away. I also can't stomach the idea the one God is responsible for both pain and pleasure.

I thank "God" for things, and I'm sure you say, 'thank god' for random things. There's nothing wrong with it.

I'm personally happy that we know the religious leaning of President Bush, because that way we have some idea on which way he'll lean whether I like it or not, I still have some idea that he's just not using the polls to tell him which way to go.

Also, mom and dad were raised going to church every Sunday. We don't have this to fall back on which sometimes makes me depressed, but that's another story. Recently Uncle Mike has returned to going to Church and Dad is spending more time with his side of the family who are also religious. There is nothing wrong in my mind for them to start falling back into what they believe in.

Arthaey said...

Quervin wrote: Yes I believe in the the Greek Gods, because I want to believe in a higher power

Wanting to believe something is independent of whether the thing is true.

because then it is men who give us our rights and then therefore they can take them away.

I'd like to point out that this is a direct paraphrase (if such a thing exists ;) ) of Dad. Quoting people doesn't diminish a point's validity; I just wondered if you saw this as quoting Dad or not. :P

As to the point brought up here: I think we would probably have to define "rights" before we could have a meaningful discussion. But similar to my above comment, just because you don't want it to be humans defining human rights, that doesn't mean that isn't how it is.

I also can't stomach the idea the one God is responsible for both pain and pleasure.

Again, want != reality.

Why do you find it more plausible that there is a pantheon of gods, than that there are no gods and thus no responsibility to be assigned in the first place? Maybe luck just happens randomly; maybe shit just happens; maybe people make their own luck; maybe pain or pleasure is solely in how you decide to take it.

I thank "God" for things, and I'm sure you say, 'thank god' for random things. There's nothing wrong with it.

I use the phrases "thank god" or "Jesus!" with the same amount of religious sentiment as "goodbye" -- that is to say, none.

There is nothing wrong in my mind for them to start falling back into what they believe in.

What if they were falling back into the belief of something other than religion, something that wasn't protected by politically correct respect? Some beliefs are just flat out wrong; some beliefs are harmful.

Airencracken said...

I've been thinking about picking that book up. Would you recommend it?

Arthaey said...

Airencracken wrote: I've been thinking about picking that book up. Would you recommend it?

I would definitely recommend it, if you're not very religious. If you are, it's probably too argumentative and you might be better served by reading Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. It's more philosophical and exploratory than Dawkins' "atheists unite" and "stop believing nonsense" messages in The God Delusion.

Forrest teases me that I ended up reading most of it in the bookstore even after I bought it, so maybe I shouldn't have bought it after all. (I like the reading-in-a-cafe environment, what can I say.) Nevertheless, I do recommend the book. :)

John Cowan said...

Sorry for the delayed response.

I didn't read The Selfish Gene, but I enjoyed Climbing Mount Improbable quite a lot. From what I know of Dawkins, I think he overstates the case for adaptationism somewhat, as does Dennett -- I'm more in favor of Stephen Jay Gould's ideas on the subject myself. I do love Dennett's other work, though, particularly Consciousness Explained.

I don't know if my experience was life-changing or not; if so, only subtly. However, it's clear enough to me that it was an internal experience, but not because of any features of the experience itself -- rather, because of the way it fits in with my other beliefs. If I didn't have those beliefs, though, I'd probably find the supernatural explanation damned convincing.

As for people who are against gay marriage, their arguments are essentially the same as those used a generation or two ago against interracial marriages, all of which were disposed of beautifully in the 1967 Virginia case Loving v. Virginia (and isn't that a great surname for a married couple?) The opinion is online and very much worth reading today.