Today NY Times Op Ed columnist Nicholas B. Kristof wrote a column under the title Learning to Respect Religion, which begins with these provocative paragraphs (you're invited to read it in its entirety):

A FEW years ago, God seemed caught in a devil of a fight.

Atheists were firing thunderbolts suggesting that “religion poisons everything,” as Christopher Hitchens put it in the subtitle of his book, “God Is Not Great.” Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins also wrote best sellers that were scathing about God, whom Dawkins denounced as “arguably the most unpleasant character in fiction.”

Yet lately I’ve noticed a very different intellectual tide: grudging admiration for religion as an ethical and cohesive force.

The standard-bearer of this line of thinking — and a provocative text for Easter Sunday — is a new book, “Religion for Atheists,” by Alain de Botton. He argues that atheists have a great deal to learn from religion.

“One can be left cold by the doctrines of the Christian Trinity and the Buddhist Eightfold Path and yet at the same time be interested in the ways in which religions deliver sermons, promote morality, engender a spirit of community, make use of art and architecture, inspire travels, train minds and encourage gratitude at the beauty of spring,” de Botton writes.

“The error of modern atheism has been to overlook how many aspects of the faiths remain relevant even after their central tenets have been dismissed,” he adds, and his book displays an attitude toward religion that is sometimes — dare I say — reverential.

What are YOUR thoughts?

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I agree completely. Religion does a fair job of keeping the masses in a social coma. It does have it's failings obviously.

To me, admiring religion is akin to admiring slime that grows under a rock.  Oh, sure, there are important building blocks there and it's interesting to see where we came from - but that is a far cry desiring that one's brain regress into primordial goo.

Apparently you want a pat on the head so...pat, pat, pat.

And I ask once again, where is the good atheists do? Where is the Atheist General Hospital, for example?

Surely, you jest..??

"Let's see, we have scores of Baptist Hospitals, Method[ist] Hospitals, Jewish Hospitals, Catholic Hospitals, etc., etc.. Each of these have 'outreach' programs both here and in the most dismal places on earth, staffed with dedicated medical doctors and nurses. Where oh where are the Atheist's hospitals, or soup kitchens?"

—quoted by Jonah Goldberg for National Review Online

"One hundred years after Christ had died, suppose someone had asked a Christian, What hospitals have you built? What asylums have you founded? They would have said, 'None.' Suppose three hundred years after the death of Christ the same questions had been asked the Christian, he would have said, 'None, not one.' Two hundred years more and the answer would have been the same. And at that time the Christian could have told the questioner that the Mohammedans had built asylums before the Christians. He could also have told him that there had been orphan asylums in China for hundreds and hundreds of years, hospitals in India, and hospitals for the sick at Athens."

—Robert Green Ingersoll, "What Infidels Have Done"

Good deeds are not always of a material structural nature. I don't want a pat on the head for being there for a friend in need; that is something that happens spontaneously.

Our secular society has produced more advancements to medicine and hospitals than religion has been able to. 

Why would atheists come together to form an atheistic hospital?

Would you not form a Women's hospital or a children's hospital. People do not do things because their atheists. 

Besides religious people have a nasty habit of killing people and taking their stuff, so it has been difficult to get enough of a foot hold in society to produce an atheists hospital. 

"Secular" does not equal atheist. There are plenty of religious scientists and engineers, one of them having been Albert Einstein.

Atheism has a PR problem. We are unremittingly negative and who likes that?

He didn't believe in a personal god, but still had his own weird concepts of religion. That's why his position on religion is debated to this day and everyone is confused.

Sure whatever.

Einstein once said, "Der Herrgott wuerfelt nicht" (The Lord God doesn't shoot craps) when confronted with quantum theory randomness. No, he didn't believe in Yahweh, but he was religious in his own way.

My stepson, John, who attends a Protestant school, said that Einstein believes in God. I explained how God is used metaphorically to represent what we don't yet know and that this is what Einstein was usually doing: using the word God metaphorically. He insisted Einstein believed in God because his teacher told him so.

I brought him to my PC and opened my collection of quotes. I did a search for "Einstein" and showed him all the various ways Einstein refers to God. Sometimes it did seem he was speaking of a diety. Other times it did seem metaphorical. Other times he seemed to be speaking of Spinoza's pantheistic or deistic god. But he was always disdainful of a theistic God.

I managed to convince John that Einstein definitely did not believe in the God of the bible and was, in fact, very dismissive of that God. From the rest of his quotes, it remains unclear to me if he was a deist/pantheist or an atheist. I think a part of him definitely believed that:

"“Human beings, vegetables, or cosmic dust: we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible piper.”

There are very abstract conceptions of God which are hard to get one's mental fingers around, such as the Hindu concept of Brahman which is almost an exact analog to theologian Paul Tillich's concept of God as The Ground of Being.


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