First of all, I don't think religious belief is extremely destructive.  I agree that intrinsically divisive, irrational and unfalsifiable beliefs about the nature of reality are frightening in the 21st century.  You don't need to look far in this age of terrorism for evidence of this.

Yes, religion has committed atrocities.  Yes, nonbelievers have less reason to act so destructively.  And yes, religion is not necessary for a good life.  Most of us agree there.

BUT, religion is not always or even often destructive.  Although most Christians (I have no experience with members of other religions, sorry) would be fine without their religion-I'm not claiming they can't- it's a characteristic of religion's circular logic to convince people that God is the only source of meaning and morality. It is extremely sad when a delusion is all a person relies on for self-worth, but, there are people who DO rely on it to get along.  For example, I know a couple Marines who can only cope with the guilt of having taken human life by believing that God forgives them. 

I may be preaching to the choir here, but I hope you all realize that being religious also does not make a person stupid.  Neither does it make a person immoral, or crazy, or particularly different from you!

If I've learned anything from losing my faith, it's that there is always a chance I'm wrong in holding a particular belief.  We all are equally succeptible to confirmation bias and logical inconsistency.  Waving around the banner of "intellectual" "skeptic" and "freethinker" as a way to exalt yourself is betraying the very values we are representing. 

Now on to my main point.  Nonbelievers are in the minority, de facto atheists even smaller.  Are we hindering our own progress by being so strident?  Not all people who label themselves with a particular religion subscribe to all its ideas.  Are antitheists like thunderf00t and Hitchens for example isolating moderates and liberals?  Please tell me what you think.

Thanks guys, and this is an awesome forum :)

Tags: antitheism, isolating, labels, liberals, moderates, religious

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I want to hold a conviction, a valid belief, but I can't out of acknowledgement of my own ignorance.  Maybe it's a waste of time to have an opinion at all.

Perfect knowledge can only exist in a supernatural agent. The problem is that the only claims of evidence of divine knowledge come from fallable humans, prone to faith or commitment in beliefs of improbable things. Acknowledgement/admission of what one doesn't know for sure, but understanding of things as probabilities and improbabilities is a clear sign of intelligence, skepticism, and freethinking. (These are good flags to wave!)

I'm not a militant atheist, and I don't feel I'm skilled at fighting religion, not even idiotic religion. Sure, I can join a gang and enjoy my similar beliefs with them, but what I care the most about is having some kind of dialog that actually makes a difference to religionists, especially the idiotic religionists. Other ranters, ravers, name-callers will keep doing what they feel is most effective or satisfying, but I tend to skim their posts for any evidence or mentoring they might be able to spice it up with.

"Sure, I can join a gang and enjoy my similar beliefs with them, but what I care the most about is having some kind of dialog that actually makes a difference to religionists, especially the idiotic religionists. "


With this I am in complete agreement. The diversity of human thought is helpful precisely because skepticism and alternatives help to check and balance and improve our own personal (and gang) errors in thought.

Atheism informs and refines faith, and we need to listen. I think the reverse is also true.

Besides, I have my own problems with the "idiotic religionists." I am currently engaged in gentle remonstrance with one of our state school board members who maintains that global warming is caused by volcanoes. Because they're hot, don't you know?

I would shake your hand in public on this Dr. Bob, but the resulting sticks and stones could kill both of us. :)

(Thank you, thank you, TAers... glad to be here... you're a wonderful audience... I love this city! Please invite me back...)


"Catholicism gave [Bobbie] defenses similar to those it long ago gave me"

Could you elaborate, please.

Yes, briefly now. Twelve years of daily religion classes [with all the guilt, shame and isolation they use] helped me build in my mind a defense [a wall is a good metaphor] that kept "dangerous" issues out of awareness. Time [if only minutes] passed and I "forgot" them. And the people who raised those issues didn't tell me they were awaiting replies.

To that, add an influence Bobbie perhaps didn't have. My ethnic German parents [and their parents, etc] taught: "If you're talking, you're not working." [I joined Toastmasters and haven't stopped talking since.]

Is that enough?

"Twelve years of daily religion classes [with all the guilt, shame and isolation they use] "

I'm sorry if those who were teaching you did such a poor job that they relied on guilt, shame, and isolation. They certainly failed in their duty.

By contrast, I've had theology into the graduate level. My teachers always encouraged curiosity, exploration, reflection, and compassion. The emphasis was on community, not isolation.

I wonder sometimes whether the shift from religious to lay instructors resulted in a loss of quality. My younger siblings had a few lay religion teachers who leaned a bit more on authoritarian approaches in ways that the (more highly trained) religious did not. I attributed it to lack of depth of knowledge on their part.

Bob, with a doctorate you don't know that using guilt, shame and isolation succeeds with children and fails with graduate students?

Can you be any more willfully ignorant?

Events in my life took down my wall between the world and my awareness of it.

BTW, what evidence allows you to wonder if lay instructors in Catholic elementary schools in the late 1930s and early 1940s wore nuns' habits?

Please let people here know if anything I wrote above penetrates your wall.

MikeLong, adding...

I'd love to understand better how so many friends and family remain in the Church..

I've heard Catholics talk of the ease of confessing. sinning again, and confessing again. They're in danger of next life punishment only if they die between their most recent sinning and their next confessing.

As GB Shaw is alleged to have said, Youth is wasted on the young.

I add Youth's brashness is also wasted on the young.

My parents Germanic customs including placing a high value on childrens' obedience.

As for Catholicism's sexual morality, the oft-repeated warnings I heard about self-abuse's being sinful didn't get past the wall I built that I didn't confess having built. I was in my forties and had been married, done some spouse-swapping, and divorced before I heard masturbation described as self-love. That was a revelation.

Now that I'm thinking on it, for every year I spent in Catholic schools I decades later [after I retired at 45] spent a year at San Francisco Sex Education, answering phoned-in questions about sex. I described my time at SFSI as a wonderful remedy for Catholicism's bizarreries.

Thanks, Tom. Not expressing myself well. I'll pause to think and try again later.

Bringing this back around to what I think is Renee's initial point...

I am fairly deeply involved in the environmental movement in the U.S.  Within the environmental movement there are "purists" who are strongly anti-hunting, anti-fishing, strict preservationists.  I'm with them, in terms of my personal background and sentiment. 

Unfortunately, that's just not a big enough constituency to be able to resist bad actors on the anti-environmental side.  By behaving as purists and alienating the sportsmen, we reject a large group of fellow Americans who would in many ways be our natural allies in preserving the woods and streams.  Worse, because of their more conservative background, we drive them to be more sympathetic to the side of exploitive industry.   Our own "purist" environmentalist approach sabotages our own agenda.

I think Renee is making the same case here.  As close as I can tell from these forums, the atheist community most strenuously objects to the fundamentalists in various world religions, especially the extremist forms.  My own faith and many others shares that objection, and in fact we embrace science and reason.  Much like crunchy-granola environmentalists and sportsmen should be natural allies for conservation, traditional faiths and atheists/agnostics should be natural allies against fundamentalism and in favor of reason.

Unless, like crunchy-granola environmentalists, the atheist community goes far out of its way to alienate all the rest of us in pursuit of its own purity of purpose.  In which case, like sportsmen, our tendency is to become more neutral or to side with our co-religionists against what is perceived as an unfair assault by another extremist group.

So the question is partly one of courtesy and respect, but also one of rationality of tactics.  Do you want to promote reason and resist fundamentalist extremism, or are you obsessed with your own self-righteous purity?

Hi Bob. I am not trying to isolate anyone. However I generally find that the religious hierarchy to be either very condensing towards Atheists or that they generally misunderstand the Atheist viewpoint. For example, a recent pronouncement from the Pope;

I invite even non-believers to desire peace. (Join us) with your desire, a desire that widens the heart. Let us all unite, either with prayer or with desire, but everyone, for peace.

What? Do you honestly think that we don’t want world peace? I and almost all the Atheists I know are active participants in that arena. We are way beyond mere “desire”. My individual actions, as meagre as they may appear on a worldwide scale, are 100% more effective than the prayers of all Christians put together. That is because prayer does nothing. Anyone that suggests otherwise is alienating themselves from Atheists.

To suggest that Atheists can still be redeemed by Jesus is to further show a lack of understanding about “us” or in his words “even them” – as long as we good by doing good, we can reach a meeting point.

The thing is, while I have no problems with individual Theists of any faith, I have no time for institutional religion. (No, it does not mean I have a personal relationship with Jesus) I see it as completely obsolete. There is no need for it anymore. I do not want to see it encroaching into the decision making process of governments or into the education system as religious indoctrination of young minds. I am not interested in becoming allies with organized religion of any hue. I want to see them gone.

Like I say, I have no major issues with individual theists and the fantastic things they claim to be the truth. They tend to also alienate me because they cannot understand why I refuse to believe what they believe. I them why and they still don’t explain themselves to me. So if they don’t want to alienate me they should tell me why they believe a supernatural spirit created everything and why that supernatural spirit will make them immortal when there is no evidence for believing that, that I can see. It would also help them not to alienate themselves from me if they could explain why my worldview is wrong. They never explain either to me. So who is driving the alienation process?

Hi Reg,

I think we covered the pope's off-the-cuff remark and the problems with rapid translation by a journalist in another thread.   My visceral response as both a rationalist and a theist is "Why would anybody base any personal judgment on a single off-the-cuff remark in translation?"

I will completely agree that there is a lack of understanding in both directions between atheists and theists of different groups.  I have often commented on how almost none of the beliefs or practices attributed to theists by people here at TA reflect what is actually the case among most of us.  I consider it mythological. 

I think there are several levels to the communication difficulty that are structural, but the first one to overcome is the desire to go into "attack & ridicule mode" quite so easily.

I think one can make a rational case that religion is obsolete as an intellectual construct, and that can be worth considering.  On the flip side, I think one can make a claim for the efficacy of prayer in a broader context, if one has an open mind.  These are things that can be explored.

When we talk about religion encroaching on governments or education, though, you are getting very close to my point.  It's very similar to the environmentalist example I used.  Most of us here live in some form of Western democracy, where atheism continues to make up a relatively small minority.  To influence policy decisions, one must build shared consensus beyond just that minority.  The natural allies for that are all of the religions and theists that are similarly uncomfortable with "indoctrination", who see too much church/state entanglement as being problematic, and who are very comfortable embracing science. 

Now I suppose you could scream "Hunting murders defenseless animals!" and post lots of stupid sportsmen cartoons, I mean you could scream "Religion causes atrocities" and post lots of stupid theist cartoons.  Those things can amuse and titillate the "in" crowd.  The problem is that they work counter to your stated goals.

At least it seems that way to me.

 “I think there are several levels to the communication difficulty that are structural, but the first one to overcome is the desire to go into "attack & ridicule mode" quite so easily.

I think one can make a rational case that religion is obsolete as an intellectual construct, and that can be worth considering…”

When ideas engage on the battlefield of intellectual discourse there will often be a clash of interpretations. The meaning of words in a philosophical conversation, especially one conducted in a non-verbal context such as this format, can be easily misunderstood. The subtleties and intended emphasis of words can be absent and generate that sense of “attack & ridicule mode” you mentioned. That is not and never is my intent when engaged in a civil debate with a Theist of any Faith.

However my problem is that while I am open minded and prepared to change my mind, based on new information (Bayesian Theory again!), the theist is not. They have already entered the arena with the same arguments as they have done since the days of Anselm. The existence of their god is a given from the start. I suppose you recall Kant’s tenet that “existence is not a predicate”? Few theists do. They will tell me that God exists and look at me as if I am blind for not seeing how obvious His existence is (or my heart is closed…yada yada).

Yet when I ask for a description of this God that I appear to be deliberately turning my back on, I find that they cannot give a meaningful description that does not contradict itself so easily as to become absurd. Then they are unable to tell me 3 reasons why they believe in this God without mentioning a book title as one of those reasons.

Finally, after they cannot define their God or tell me why they believe in it to justify me doing the same, they will denounce any differing opinions or ideas I offer as alternative worldviews without giving any adequate explanations as to where I am wrong.

So I will continue to hate the religion but not the theist. Someday some theist might surprise me with a definition of their God and an explanation of what they believe and why they think that belief is justified and why I should not consider it obsolete. Until then they alienate themselves from me by not doing so. Will you tell me Bob why you believe in God?

I make no apologies when it comes to ridiculing religion. I wear a t-shirt that says “I blaspheme all gods except yours” because of a law in my country that tries to stop me from criticizing religion. Some people’s worldviews need protecting by the state because they cannot survive without it. Someone can claim offence because I do not believe what they believe and I can be arrested for it. I am doing my best to be by the way. Then they will know what a militant Atheist is. I will eat their best for breakfast.


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