Bruce Sheiman recently published a book descriptively entitled "An Atheist Defends Religion: Why Humanity Is Better Off With Religion Than Without It".

A blog written by a self-professed fence-sitting agnostic gave it a
positive reivew and provided a lot of nice HL Mencken quotes.

Bruce Sheiman issued this poorly considered response:


Given that Mencken famously made up the history of the bathtub, only to see it propagated in encyclopedias for decades thereafter, he knows a few things about making things up. And he had little use for the made-up stories of religion. Neither do I.

But as I say in my book, religion is more about meaning and purpose than facts and events. And I want to congratulate you on offering the best interpretation of my book’s reason for being compared to other reviewers.

Religion has value despite its being scientifically false. And after living more than half a lifetime, I would rather live the “inauthentic life” of a believer than in the stark, naked atheistic reality that we are all “food for worms” and that the universe cares not for my existence. That makes me an “unhappy atheist.” And I assert that most atheists are unhappy with their creedless belief system.

It is so much more fulfilling to believe in something than nothing – or, worse — to believe in an anti-belief, i.e., to base my existence on the antithesis of someone else’s belief. Atheists can try to make that into a virtue (“free-thinkers living life courageously”). But as Dr. Phil asks, Would you rather be right or happy?

Given the choice, I would choose the latter. But as I make clear in my book, it is rarely a choice. Atheism or theism is what one is; it is not what one chooses. And that is precisely why the “debate” is a useless exercise: if belief or unbelief is not a choice, then all the argumentation in the world cannot change one’s position.

Alas, I remain an atheist.

Bruce Sheiman

What do you think of that? Has anyone read Bruce's book?

My response to Bruce Sheiman is in the comments below.

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Yes, I recalled those. You are right, no one remembers the defilement that The God Delusion took. Where is the outcry?
It depends on what sort of Catholics we're talking about here. They don't all march in lock step.

You are absolutely right. And churches, priests, and pastors are aware of this. Most cater to their moderate masses.

And that was my point. Challenges to Catholics beliefs and rituals may serve Catholicism by giving it's members a rallying flag. Sorry if I wasn't clear.

In a sense, PZ Myers is just as much of a fundamentalist as Bill Donohue, because he assumes that every Catholic who found his stunt to be offensive, also believed in literal transubstantiation.

Does PZ believe that? I don't remember him ever saying that. He has said that the Catholic church teaches transubstantiation and that some Catholics believe it, but I can not recall him saying that all offended Catholics were offended because of that particular belief.

The fact that some people may have taken a more nuanced approach to ritual completely escapes him. Like many new atheist fundamentalists, Myers only understands the religious fundamentalist perspective.

What would a more nuanced approach be? The cherry picking of beliefs? And I'd hear more about how "New" Atheists mostly understand the fundamentalist theists before I could agree or take exception to that. As it stands, it sounds a little hyperbolic.

It boils down to what is more important: authenticity or comfort. I am not interested in comforting myths either, but I do not believe everyone is willing to accept real answers that they find disturbing.

Then why am I supposed to coddle these delusions?

I can't find a transcript of the Dawkins quote I'm looking for. It's one I heard him repeat a number of times when discussing how he finds his own sense of meaning and fulfillment from what he has learned through science. When Dawkins is pressed to answer how universal he believes his own science-based spirituality should be, he indicates that it should fill the gap for everyone who has left religion behind. That is the beef I have with "Aweism" or whatever you want to call it. The subject of this thread is a self-proclaimed atheist who fell into nihilistic despair. A lot of comments so far don't take seem to believe that this can happen, but I can't see why it is impossible.

I only press for the Dawkins quote because it runs against everything I have ever heard him say. Even in the God Delusion, he admits to not having absolute certainty about the existence of a God or gods. Why would he then assert that everyone would be happy if religion just ceased? That doesn't make any sense to me.

Why should we be happy with reality? Well, if not, then why not spend our lives in a drug induced stupor that gives us pleasure? I guess I don't understand what is so bad about reality that people are afraid of it, or that some think we should encourage or enable these delusions.

I've never said that people can't fall into a nihilistic despair. But why is that so important to making the point about ignoring reality? Most atheists here at T|A are very happy with reality despite the fact that it doesn't make grand promises for them after they perish. If a small handful of despondent atheists makes some sort of statement, what statement does the vast majority of happy atheists make?

I think there is some basis for comparing the propagation of ideas with biological and computer viruses, but the Meme theorists don't give much credence to evidence of cognitive psychologists, who believe that we have a built in tendency to look for teleological explanations, and certainly some of us who become skeptics, have been able to curb that tendency, but many people will never get beyond it. The danger of calling religious beliefs dangerous viral memes should be obvious! How do we respond to biological or computer viruses? We try to eradicate them!

Yes! A great idea! We should eradicate them! Why should eradicating silly notions and delusions be something to vilify as "despotic"?

it's easy to see how meme thinking could be the basis for a despotic and ruthless attempt to crush religion and its adherents. Even if things never approached that stage, having atheists thinking that all of the god-believers are zombies infected with destructive memes is just as bad as the Christian fundamentalists who believe that everyone who doesn't "know Jesus" is going to burn in hell.

Huh? First, I don't know of anyone that seriously thinks that we must "crush" theists. What, am I to go punch my mother in the face? Kill family and friends? What kind of silliness are you talking about? And who is it that is espousing the view that all Christians are "infested zombies", or less than human, as I took it to mean? Honestly, I have no clue where you are getting these ideas.

Part of the problem with theists (and people in general) is they get so emotionally invested in their beliefs and ideas that they view any assault on them as a personal attack. This same personal investment blinds their eye of reason and doesn't allow them to make critical self assessments.

I think that maybe you are confusing some of the "New Atheist" language dealing with ideas and beliefs. If not, you'll have to explain what all this talk of crushing people is about.

My definition of moderate religionists are ones who accept the Theory of Evolution and evidence for climate change, rather than raise the drawbridge to shut out scientific evidence.

What? Where do you live? I live in St. Louis and do a fair amount of traveling through the mid-west. I think my casual church goer might qualify as a fundamentalist in your eyes.

Take a look at what Albert Moehler, the Southern Baptist head honcho, has to say about Dawkins and evolution: The Dawkins Delusion Mohler and Dawkins both believe that evolution is incompatible with Christian doctrine, so they have a strange cameraderie in having a common cause of clearing out atheist "accomodationalists" and liberal Christians, who are trying to make the pieces fit together.

I don't see how that is relevant. They agree that something is incompatible, therefore they are wrong? But what if they agree because it is true? I certainly do not see how current scientific knowledge is any way, shape, or form, compatible with religions.

As soon as they find out I'm an atheist, that's usually the end of that conversation. They are aware that people in a modern, multicultural society believe alot of different things, so as long as they feel they are not going to be attacked for their own beliefs, they're fine with whatever others, including atheists, want to believe.

Again, nowhere has Dawkins or other prominent atheists ever encouraged anyone to attack people who were minding their own business. No one is saying we need to break into homes and churches in order to berate believers.

If moderates really were fine with people believing what they want to believe, including atheists, then why are there no (save one) open atheists in elected positions of U.S. government on the national stage ? Why is gay marriage even an issue?

Dawkins wrote the God Delusion out of frustration. He is an educator that can not educate because he has to spend so much time cutting through the nonsense of religion.
No they don't! At least not since John Paul II and Benny started running things. There have been a few Vatican watchers who have posited the theory that the Church hierarchy would rather purge the liberals and moderates who don't listen to them, even if it means shrinking membership in North America and Europe.

Well, what about the Anglicans? I shouldn't use such sweeping generalizations because there will always be cases where it is not true. In the U.S., however, many churches look to grow their flock and the best way to do that is to not offend moderates with extreme views and stances. This does not apply to Baptists, of course.

One point that hasn't been discussed so far is the problem of making an exact determination of reality. We don't get exact impressions of the world around us, our brains create maps of the world around us from the sensory data that we gather.

Yes, I am well aware of this and the rest that followed it (cut it off for brevity). That is why science is so important and why I am a huge fan of it. It is, hands down, the best tool we have available for telling us about reality. There is no second place. But how can religious adherents know, based on faith, what is not testable by science? And the claims that are testable do not provide corroborating evidence.

So, while we may safely say that knowledge can not be absolute, we should also make clear to mention that there are degrees of wrongness. With science, we can objectively test and verify. Schizophrenics can test to see if the voices are internal or external. Should we entertain a schizophrenics internal voices as being whatever it is they believe is speaking to them?

BTW, I have read "On Being Certain". Or, at least I am pretty sure I did. ;-)

I don't know what percentage of the atheist community nihilists would make if it was possible to poll every atheist. I've heard before that likely less than 1% of atheists and agnostics ever join an organization, so it's hard to consider a small community of activist atheists to be the norm. But it seems reasonable to assume that there will be some percentage of atheists who don't get anything out of Aweism.

Well, I don't know the stats, either. Maybe it is the case that only the happy atheists join social networks. I guess as long as neither of us have any good studies to site, we have to leave that line of argument to the side. Although, I thought there was a astudy showing atheists were happier than average folk. But, it probably came out right after a study showing the opposite. Maybe I'll look it up and peruse it.

Enlightenment principles never led to the same kind of oppression. But some would argue that the deists who brought forth the Reign of Terror after the French Revolution did show how high-minded thinking can lead to bad results because of people who stubbornly resisted the Enlightenment

It's not a big jump from disrespecting people's deeply held personal beliefs to having no respect for the people who hold those beliefs.

I think this is where the crux of it all lies. Forgive me if I am doing some armchair psychology, but I've had a feeling that it is fear of this very thing that leads you to unsavory opinions of New Atheists.

Most atheists I know would be horrified at what your thoughts imply. New Atheism (and I hate that term) has never come close to that line. In fact, prominent proponents of New Atheism put emphasis on valuing people. PZ Myers even stressed this during "crackergate". Respect of people, life, and liberty have always been high on any of these peoples' list of talking points and it is always backed up by their example.

But the idea that we must respect beliefs is absurd. It is the antithesis of the scientific method and the reason you will see people like Dawkins and Myers happily trashing ideas and beliefs. It is not because they are malevolent bullies eager to oppress their foes. It is because they are scientists and good science has no place for sacred cows or emotional attachments to ideas.

People are welcome to their ideas and beliefs, but as soon as they put them in the public sector, they should be open to critique and ridicule along with everyone else's. So, your wife is free to be a Catholic and worship her god. The moment anyone ties to drag her out of her church and infringe on her rights, I guarantee that among the throngs of people opposing this violation, you will find atheists, new and old.

Neither the Christian fundamentalists nor the atheist fundamentalists accept the notion that religious dogma can be allegorized so that liberal religionists can keep things they find of value in the religious traditions they grew up with, and still accept knew scientific discoveries

Atheist "fundamentalists", as you call them, are well aware of these positions. Compartmentalization is well known and discussed by the likes of Dawkins, Myers, Coyne, et cetera. I mean, how else can they explain Ken Miller? But we know that people have this ability to compartmentalize their beliefs to keep them safe from critical self assessment.

It's amazing what delusions intelligent people can harbor.

Perhaps! I live in Canada, so most of the churches where you live may be fundamentalist on my scale.

Well, there you go. You live in the land of the enlightened! In all seriousness, though, I think we view moderates differently. Moderates in my area do not usually accept evolution. And most who don't (and even some who do) have know idea how it works.

whenever I'm on side with fundamentalists on any issue, I am inclined to take a 2nd look at how I arrived at my conclusions.

Always a prudent move, but I tend to re-evaluate things even when I find myself singing along with my choir. When there is no dissent, that is when it is easiest to fool yourself. In fact, I have been known to argue with myself!

Maybe if more atheists and agnostics of the type that Jerry Coyne has labelled "Accomodationalists" such as Chris Mooney, David Sloan Wilson and Neil DeGrasse Tyson become the image of atheism, it will be easier to be elected as an unbelieving politician.

Maybe. But maybe not. The message from the likes of Mooney are for atheists to shut up and be respectful. Well, for too many years atheists have done that and it got us no where. We have been a minority more reviled than any other for centuries. Now, look where we are.

I have hesitantly likened this to the civil rights movement of the 1960's. I'm hesitant because the analogy only goes so far and atheists do not suffer a dearth of rights as the blacks did. But during that time, people began to make noise and demanded to be heard. There was violence and upheaval as a segment of the population refused to be quiet any longer. Now, a man with some of that heritage is in the White House.

No, sitting back, being quiet, and showing deferential respect to superstition is not how atheism will become an accepted world view. I do not plan on being subservient in my views in the hopes that the religious majority will throw some table scraps to me for being so well behaved.

But that is what the accommodationists seem to think will happen.

and we are just a few years ahead of the U.S. on the progressive index.

Only a few years? You either give us Yanks too much credit or you do a disservice to your country. ;-)
Thanks Michel. Sadly, we ran out of reply buttons! :-(
Haha. True. It's becoming a tight squeeze.
I run a telephone hotline for suicidal people, and people in crises. Once I received a call from a woman who was very distraguht because her horse had died (whom she had loved and cherished), and her pastor told her that her horse would not go to heaven. When I heard this I thought: you've got to be kidding! What kind of human being would deny solace to a woman who had lost something in her life that meant a great deal to her? So I quoted chapter and verse that would support the idea that she would be reunited with her horse in the next life. It seemed to alievate her distress and she became calm, and ended the call on a positive note. How can caring human beings make other human beings more upset and stress about stuff that doesn't matter?
There exceptions to many rules.

If someone lost a loved one and was telling me that this deceased person was in heaven, I certainly would not look to compound their grief.
No, I haven't read Bruce's book. I don't think I will, either. If "It is so much more fulfilling to believe in something than nothing", how in the world can one then conclude, "I remain an atheist"??

Could it be because, "theism or theism is what one is; it is not what one chooses"? Then in that case it's true: you can't argue with that.

Life takes care of itself. And Life is larger than life.


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