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:

Sir:

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.

Tags: atheism, book, defending, religion

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So Mr Sheiman, are you going to respond to any of the criticisms leveled at your comments, such as noisician's countering of your bare assertion that most atheists are unhappy or that they share a creedless anti-belief system? Or about how you seem to assume that being right is incompatible with being happy?

It is perfectly possible to have a happy, fulfilling, enjoyable life without having to believe in something fictional to supply that satisfaction. It is also possible to have a happy, fulfilling, enjoyable life while believing in something fictional. And it's possible to be miserable and unhappy both ways, too.

So, given your (and Dr Phil's) choice of being right or happy? I'll try to achieve both, thank you, and see no need to try and make happiness dependent upon religion.

Incidentally, I took a look at your website. The very first sentence is a false dichotomy, which does not bode well for the rest of your arguments.

For centuries, “The God Debate” has been dominated by two positions: devout believers fervently committed to their faith in a living God; and adamant atheists vehemently driven to repudiate the Divine.

You neglected, among others, the people who wished for religion to be a private affair and that everyone would just keep it to themselves. Or those who believed in a Deistic god (particularly during the Enlightenment period). Or, for that matter, those who do not believe in a god but do not claim 100% certainty. (This would include Dr Dawkins, by the way.)

And your Atheism 3.0 is something I've seen before. Focused heavily on 'They are so mean!' and decrying the lack of a kinder, gentler atheism while touting the good works of religious belief and steadfastly insisting that the bad done by and in the name of religion is just not important enough to worry about.

Personally, I recognize that religion can do good. Two of the biggest benefits of religion are a sense of community and acting as a source of inspiration. However, I do not believe that these benefits are exclusive to religious belief, nor do I believe that the damage done by religious belief is inconsequential. I would much prefer to have the sense of community and inspiration without the negative influences of religion, starting with the us-versus-them mentality that lies at the core of most religions that you ascribe to atheism.
Nice, Dave. Thanks for saving me the trouble of typing out my own response.
Dave:

I did not start the us-vs-them dichotomy, and it is not "false" in the mind of society in that it is what the majority of people derive from the debate.

One of my basic criticisms will be very familiar to you. I would ask that the mainstream group of atheists stop engaging in herd-thinking, in groupthink, in conformistic in-group/out-group thinking. The fact that Reggie below can say "Thanks for saving me the trouble of typing out my own response" shows how similiar your responses would be.

Religion, and even atheism, is enormously complex, and the one distinction I would make is between the mass of moderates and the elite group of extremists, where the latter largely defines the agenda for the former. As you would say to your religious counterparts, "Think for yourself."

Again, I do not want to appear to be disparaging to anyone in particular. I am open to the atheist argument (if it is original) and the religious argument (if that is original). And I think my argument in my book, website and blogs are original to a significant degree. And all I ask is that you read them before your criticize them.

Thanks for listening. I know I have not answered all your questions. But I do appreciate your open-mindedness.

Bruce
Dear Donne:

I did not mean to suggest that if an argument is not "original" (based on my admittedly biased interpretation of what is original) I will ignore it. It's just that no doubt I will have heard those points before.

I would be especially interested in your response to my website and blog essays. There I attempt to be somewhat "original" (albeit, I may not have achieved that).

In the end, we are on the same side. I do not believe in God, but I do hold many of the same values that are shared by all religions. My objective is to convey that we atheists are not "enemies" of religion (the exception being extremism of both kinds -- religious and secular).

Bruce
A life with a goal and a purpose is far superior to a life without a goal and a purpose but looking to religion for that purpose? I don't think that is necessary.

I agree.

All this talk of bias and groupthink makes me wonder if the biggest groupthink of all is the very human desire impulsion to assign design and purpose to chaos, to exert control on the uncontollable? I would think this affinity to some of religions' comforting ideas to be a regression into herd mentality on a grand scale.
Ha!
The fact that Reggie below can say "Thanks for saving me the trouble of typing out my own response" shows how similiar your responses would be.

Dave is a smart fellow. My response would be similar simply for the fact that I have come to the same conclusions as Dave. If it makes you feel better to believe that this is group think at work, then you are welcome to your delusion.

I guess if I agreed with Dave that water is made of hydrogen and oxygen molecules, this is more evidence of group think? The point is, if you are going to accuse us of group think, at least back it up with something with substance. That I agreed with Dave doesn't say anything beyond the fact that I agreed with him.
Wow! What you said! Dave G, I don't think I could have said it better myself!
You Groupthinker, you!
Shshhh!!! Don't tell the other thetans...errr I mean heathens...errr...aw shucks :>
Ralph:

That is a very fair criticism, and for that I apologize. Promoting a book and blog is an incessant endeavor. But I did not mean to push it on to you so blatantly. Again, I am sorry.

Bruce
I don't see anything wrong with writers promoting their external content, as long as they are active participants

Exactly correct, my friend.

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