Atheism is not an idea Bob. It's not meant to compete with anything. Your obsession with trying to put the rejection of a stupid idea on the same level as a stupid idea will never succeed no matter how desparately hard to try to shove that circle into a square...though I have to say your insistence is remarkable.

@Davis Goodman has chased me around any number of threads here with this insistence, and I'm curious what the rest of folks here think.

For me, religion is just an area where people have competing ideas.  Some religions believe in One God, some in many gods.  Atheism is just part of that range of competing ideas, the one that maintains there are no gods.  There are communities of individuals who self-identify - I am a Catholic, I am an atheist, etc. - and they argue for their positions or against the opposing ideas.  Those can be animated arguments, to be sure, but they are principled.

By contrast, there are people who choose just to oppose another group.  They spend their days railing about how bad or awful or stupid some other group of people are.  For me, these are hate groups.  They aren't making a principled argument for their own idea(s), they are instead simply trumpeting how awful other folks or ideas are.

It's the difference between making a principled argument in favor of traditional sexual morality and being a homophobe.  The former is arguing in favor of a position; the latter is vilifying a group that holds a different practice or idea. 

So which one is atheism?

Is the notion that there are no god(s) a principled idea, which competes with various religious notions that there are god(s) of different sorts?   I think that it is, myself. 

Or is atheism not an idea, and people who self-identify as atheists really aren't advocating for a position, they're just united by their opposition to the ideas and practices of others?  Sometimes here we see this, too, complete with hate-speech like associating religious instruction with "child abuse."

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It's interesting what you say about the atheists you know, Bob. I'm sure they are not interested - at least not interested enough to join an online forum. However, surely if you were to debate them on the issue they would state they do not believe in God or the resurrection of Jesus.

Does the explicit statement of this turn them into anti-theists? I'm guessing not. It seems to me that your problem is with anti-theism not atheism and, if so, simply state it as such. Then maybe @Davis will leave you alone. ;-)

"If atheism doesn't offer a better framework for individuals and for societies to base choices, it's not worth anything."

This is where I think you mis-step, @Bob. You can only make the statement above if the purpose of atheism is to offer a better framework. You cannot say something is not worth anything because it doesn't fulfil something it's not supposed to. That's like saying because an aeroplane can't get you to the bottom of the Mariana Trench it's not worth anything. It wasn't designed to do that. I think your problem is that atheists don't offer a better framework. Not all do. But some do - there are non-religious ideas about how to run society.

However, surely if you were to debate them on the issue they would state they do not believe in God or the resurrection of Jesus.

It's interesting that you would think I debate them.  I'm not particularly opposed to atheism, nor are they opposed to Christianity.   We'll talk about things, but it's never a debate.  The merits of string theory, now... that can be a debate!

It seems to me that your problem is with anti-theism not atheism and, if so, simply state it as such.

I don't think I have any "problem" per se.  I'm a professor-type.  I want people to make sound and well-informed arguments more than anything.   Where I try to politely raise thoughts here, it's to help people form more sound and well-informed arguments.

I will say along those lines that I'm not a fan of demagoguery, either on the theist or atheist side (or in any other context).  Our fundamentalist brethren and your anti-theists seem to be the most predisposed to that sort of thing.

That's like saying because an aeroplane can't get you to the bottom of the Mariana Trench it's not worth anything.

No, an airplane does do something worthwhile, it allows you to fly.   The analogy would be if an airplane did nothing other than be bored with going to the bottom of the sea (or, for the anti-, say that going to the bottom of the sea is stupid and worthless).  It's like our U.S. politicians who define themselves as just opposing taxes.

"I don't think I have any "problem" per se.  I'm a professor-type.  I want people to make sound and well-informed arguments more than anything.   Where I try to politely raise thoughts here, it's to help people form more sound and well-informed arguments.

I will say along those lines that I'm not a fan of demagoguery, either on the theist or atheist side (or in any other context).  Our fundamentalist brethren and your anti-theists seem to be the most predisposed to that sort of thing."

I can agree with all of this.

I do understand what you're saying about atheism (especially the way a lot of people brand it like a theism-destroying weapon) but I do still think atheism does have something worthwhile. No, it cannot tell you how to build a harmonious society, or how to be moral or the meaning of life or what career to pick, etc. However, despite your own imaginative (and I think refreshing) take on Christianity you have to admit that a lot of Christians (just taking Christianity as an example) have quite traditional views (such as God will punish me if I do wrong, God will heal someone if I pray for them, the Bible tells me what the best thing to do is). Let's assume that God does not exist and the religion has been entirely invented. If that were the case these people could re-examine all these views and decide whether they actually agreed with them. For example, a lot of Christians seemed to be opposed to homosexuality yet they never seem to put forward a decent argument why other than the Bible or God doesn't like it. I suspect if they were not constrained by this they would be all in favour or simply wouldn't care. 

I think atheism (simply not believing in Gods) frees you up to do what you have stated above. Form sound and well-informed arguments. It is no coincidence that many of the testimonies of people that leave a religion describe it as an emancipation.

However, despite your own imaginative (and I think refreshing) take on Christianity you have to admit that a lot of Christians (just taking Christianity as an example) have quite traditional views (such as God will punish me if I do wrong, God will heal someone if I pray for them, the Bible tells me what the best thing to do is).

Well, within Catholicism I have quite traditional views, or at least I would be considered a "traditional" Catholic in most ways; perhaps a liberal Catholic in a few.  I think part of this is your perception of what a "traditional" Christian is, which is what I'm lending an insider's perspective on.  My views are fully orthodox and far from imaginative, I'm just trying not to use explicitly theological language which comes with a lot of baggage.   That's a topic for a different time, perhaps.  This thread was trying to get folks' understandings of atheism in language without baggage so that I can understand it better.

Let's assume that God does not exist and the religion has been entirely invented. If that were the case these people could re-examine all these views and decide whether they actually agreed with them.

Is that a good thing?  Do you really want everyone to re-examine all of society's views on morality and decide whether they should agree with them?  That's a very different thing than reconsidering isolated notions like homosexuality. 

How likely do you think it is that the bulk of humanity would on their own come up with something as good as the ideas that have been winnowed by 5000 years of human experience?

Isn't that a bit like saying if we don't teach kids science, then people could re-examine all of our current understanding of the physical world and decide whether they agreed with it?   How do you think that would turn out? It might be "liberating", but I think it would also be foolish.  Most folks, left to decide on their own, would end up something between animists and Aristotillian. 

"Do you really want everyone to re-examine all of society's views on morality and decide whether they should agree with them?"

Yes, yes and yes again. I'm not saying start from scratch and try and come up with stuff again. You're right - 5000 years of experience counts for a lot. I'm saying re-examine what we currently have. 

Without this re-examination women would still not be able to vote, we would still keep slaves and, more topically, gays could not get married. We don't leave folks to decide on their own - we come to a consensus. My only stipulation is that this process of deliberation and consensus should not involve anything magical or supernatural. 

A lot of the ideas that have persisted for thousands of years, if re-examined, will remain. Don't kill, don't rape, don't steal, etc. Good solid stuff. However some things that came about just because of people's ignorance or thirst for power and control (don't educate women, black people are inferior, etc) can, and should, be overturned.

Everything should be subject to review and reflection, sure.  That's not where we start from, though.  We start by teaching kids our best current ideas, our current consensus. 

"Magical" and "supernatural" are just meaningless bias words.  Energy is magical and supernatural for all intents and purposes, as I've described.  It's an invisible stuff that magically transubstantiates into different forms.  It can't be observed in any way, there's no direct evidence of its existence and yet we claim it is the cause of all kinds of things and we indoctrinate children to believe in it. 

So as we reflect, we must also be careful of our own biases.

One of those biases may also be that the good ideas that have grown out of thousands of years of religious ethics will necessarily persist on their own.   After the Great Depression, we had a number of good ideas like creating a firewall between commercial banks and investment banks.   Yet within only a few generations those protections were abandoned when money and self-interest decided they were "no longer needed."   The result was global mass larceny.

The direction is not always, or even often, upward.

It was the religious, not the secular authorities that first undertook the education of women in Europe; it was the religious, not the secular groups that pushed for the end of slavery and racial equality. It was the language of religion that inspired even those not directly affected by the matter to care about it and become involved.

"One of those biases may also be that the good ideas that have grown out of thousands of years of religious ethics will necessarily persist on their own."

Persist on their own? I don't understand - without help from who/what? It's people's brains and writings that persist them, isn't it? Those would still be around if no-one believed in God (I imagine?)

"It was the religious, not the secular authorities that first undertook the education of women in Europe; it was the religious, not the secular groups that pushed for the end of slavery and racial equality. It was the language of religion that inspired even those not directly affected by the matter to care about it and become involved."

Good for those people. They chose to ignore what the Bible said about keeping slaves and think for themselves.

Language of religion? Interesting. I've not come across that before.

It was the religious, not the secular authorities that first undertook the education of women in Europe; it was the religious, not the secular groups that pushed for the end of slavery and racial equality. It was the language of religion that inspired even those not directly affected by the matter to care about it and become involved.

It was the religious, not the secular that had the reigns of power. It was the religious, not the secular that supported inequalities before they pushed against them. Which keeps happening even today, with the support of obnoxious, exhibitionist, self-proclaimed "Christian" politicians.

It's still against the law in some U.S. states for atheists to run for office, and candidates cannot openly run as atheists successfully in other states because of the social stigma incurred.

I agree with the criticism that atheism is more of a reactive than an pro-active force. In fact I say here at TA repeatedly that atheism would not exist as if theism did not exist. Atheists rage here, more often emotionally than rationally. But also notice how many (and sometimes most) posts are devoid of atheistic or theistic perspective. TA is a gathering place for people who have an imposed, minority status in society.

TA is a gathering place for people who have an imposed, minority status in society.

And that's a fine thing.  I can even understand the "raging" of those who, for example, live in areas like the American South where an overt form of fundamentalism is culturally common.  Complaining about work, or whatever, is an American pasttime.   It's just best not to dwell on that for too long, lest you define yourself as a rager and depart from more considered rationality.  For example...

It was the religious, not the secular that had the reigns of power. It was the religious, not the secular that supported inequalities before they pushed against them.

This sort of claim is just silly.  Aside from perhaps the papal states for part of Italian history and modern post-revolution Iran, the civil power in most of the world has been secular.  For most of history, secular authority has been dictators, warlords, and monarchs, and the monarchs for all their failings were the best of that lot.

Chattel slavery's origin was in what was then the normative behavior of African tribes, conquering neighboring tribes and enslaving them.  This was in turn exploited by Dutch merchants (at that time the most democratic of European nations) and then the Portugese (who under the Marquis du Pombal also launched major efforts to enslave native Americans even as he advanced secular authority in Portugal).

I will of course join you in rolling my eyes at obnoxious, exhibitionist, self-proclaimed "Christian" politicians.  Do you think for a minute, though, that if a majority of voters were anti-theist, that there wouldn't be a whole cadre of obnoxious, exhibitionist, self-proclaimed anti-theists?  We're talking demagoguery and politicians, after all.

"For most of history, secular authority has been dictators, warlords, and monarchs..."

Monarchs that often claimed they ruled by divine right? I suppose that doesn't count as religious because they didn't have "real" divine right, like the pope.

Sure, monarchs who claimed they ruled by divine right, like the Queen of England still does.

Divine right of kings was part of the Church's efforts at reigning in the abuses of monarchs and monarchy.  It places obligations on monarchs to care for and protect their people, to act with charity as representatives of God.  During this period we also see lots of language about Jesus being "King of Kings", and the institution of things like the Feast of Christ the King, to emphasize that worldly monarchs are still subservient to the only real Monarch. 

This was just the Church's way of trying to moderate the world of that day, just as things like the U.S. Bishops' letter on economics or the Pope's upcoming encyclical on climate science are efforts to speak to the world of our day.

Dictators and warlords rule by their own right, and the right of might.  That's much, much worse than ruling by divine right.

"Divine right" is made up nonsense, which was my point. All it is is the king saying obey me or my all-powerful imaginary friend will pound you. Dictators and warlords have no need for that pretense. They do their own pounding.

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