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Dawkins
I arrived at this debate whilst it was still going on, the new atheist movement had already started going through the motions before I picked up my copy of the God delusion and the debate about lack of evidence of God has been going for hundreds of years. My life prior to the God Delusion, the book that is not my belief in God, had never really involved anything to do with religion to much extent or so I thought. However, after reading just half of the book I started to notice the things what were going on with a new kind of light such as suicide bombers, the conflict in the middle east, the conflict in Northern Ireland, the horrible & nasty things Muslims were doing to other Muslims in Iraq, these things really started to worry me even though they felt distant. This anxiety and worry did not stop there as I carried on reading; in fact I read almost everything I could get my hands on including news paper articles and watching recorded lectures on the subject. To my horror the threat of religion to me started to become so much clearer not just to me either, to all of us the role and place of religion is so intertwined with social norms, our laws and methods of daily living that if religion has anything other than the divine to do with it then we should all be very apprehensive.

So that left me the question; is there anything other than the divine about religion? So I came up with this, Christianity and Islam are very different, they have different laws and boundaries, so if I assume that one of these is right and one is wrong, how do I tell which is the correct religion. Both of these religions pretty much state that nonbelievers should be killed, this is taken from God’s word of either the Bible or the Koran, although conversion is also an option. If one is that of the divine and other a pack of lies, how would God direct me to make the right and noble choice? I feel a general level of distaste towards both of them really and this brings me to the most fundamental point I have ever considered – why do people never seem to really benefit from praying to the correct God and suffer from worshiping the one that happens to be wrong? I am of course, not a God, though I think that I would just at some point say that is enough I am going to give my true followers some weapon, ‘cause I don’t really want to get my hands dirty, which will help them kill off all the nonbelievers, that will be an end to all the fighting and everyone will know where they stand. The response to that by catholics at least is that God needs us to suffer and return that information in order to add towards the knowledge of God, still unless God has some serious special needs that information has already been served and what else can we take from that other than God wants us all to suffer in the most horrible manner possible.

I personally cannot tell the difference between a religion of the divine and the others that are just a pack of lies and no one has ever offered to take me on the journey of demonstrating the divine. There is no evidence of divine, other than some emotional reaction to the world and if all the things I mentioned at the start such as conflicts and attacks did not come from the divine then we need to attack the systems that allow these things to happen. This is the first justification to attack religion. The next justification is taken from Steven Pinker’s study on violent crime, I have used Pinker’s work before, this time it is about the things that we feel compassion towards and how we started to care for others. He used it in terms of why violent crime has been reduced, part of this is due to the circle of expanding empathy, first we only care about our family and others are seen as non-human. It expands over time to include clans, nations, races, both sexes, animals and so on. Each time the circle expands it includes greater numbers of people to whom we then consider the realm of their potential pain and suffering (Peter Singer). In essence we consider the possibility that we could be outside the circle and as a result probably suffer in this event and this changes how we approach & deal with others that are not like us. I carry this on to include people that happen to be born into religious families or societies; I can understand and empathise with them about the possible suffering they might have to endure. If religion causes harm then it is right to attack religion for this.

It is both very easy for me to state religion causes harm and also very difficult, the difficulty comes because often people will disagree with the statement choosing rather the idea that they only benefit. Part of the problem is that once people have purchased into a religion they don’t want to feel that their personal effort, time and suffering is simply the result of their own wrongness and large parts of their life has been wasted. Much like when Marxists argue that the capitalist revolution won’t happen as most people have already brought into the capitalists game, such as owning a house or having money, so they are unwilling to lose that even though they would ultimately benefit in the long run. I will not insult your intelligence here at least half, for a safe bet that is, of all religious activity can be seen as causing harm. The fact that stem cell research might be disallowed in America as the result of a religious debate would harm millions of people in the future who suffer from presently incurable diseases, it is perfectly acceptable to have the stem cell debate based on science and morality not that of religious morality since the law in America forbids this. If governments make decisions based upon their religious convictions this is wrong, it should be decided on by rational thinking and acceptable standards that society as a whole confirm with in an honest presentation of the information. The suffering that religious people could cause to others is great. In Pakistan a blind girl was sentenced to be stoned to death for being a victim of rape, in the end after much suffering and public humiliation she was acquitted, this suffering was the result of women being considered second class and thus outside the circle of compassion in Islam. Religion causes suffering, the humanists try to stop it and this is why attacks upon religion are justified. I care about others suffering and I want to see an end to it.

There are of course religious people that are kind and also humanists this leads me to the next justification, which is the power that is handed over to officers of religion, be it priests or whatever. I have already written about how a Muslim cleric, in my post about Karen Armstrong’s case for compassion gone wrong, that claimed that the polio vaccine was a plot against Islam and this resulted in 2005 in another outbreak and the deaths of children. Why did this happen and for that matter why did the rape of children occur within the Catholic Church by priests? Why are the only people in the UK that are allowed to make public hate speeches about Jewish people and gay people Muslim clerics? Why is the choice of contraception taken away from women who would have under the concept of equal rights be would allowed to choose for themselves? It is at some point that people have handed over their freedom and allowed the officers of religion to have it. You could counter my argument that these officers reflect God’s word; it is however, a false statement to make since God’s word is never all that clear in the first place. It is God’s word to stone children if they talk back to their parents, this as far as I know does not happen in Christian societies which leads me to believe that either the officers made the choice this is unacceptable in which case morality of nonbelievers is greater than that of God or they have made the decision that other matters are more important and that if they try to convince parents of this they are likely to lose them for their other causes. If this is the case why do we allow these officers to tell us what to do in any situation? If you see it like I see it, these officers are not from God but from their own greed for power or money or both. This is why it is justifiable to attack religion.

I fear that this is the point where most will start to strongly disagree with me, let me explain the last point but perhaps in a somewhat clearer way. I have often come across the situation where people claim that God will save them. What I think is happening here is either the event they are going through is either at no point controlled by them, which makes it somewhat understandable or the situation appears to be too difficult for people to deal with. Relying on God to save me, how disempowering is this notion? To accept that God is the only force in the world that could change the events in your life leaves people powerless. I have written about this in one of my earlier posts, the empowerment of people is one of the most important things anyone can do whether this means women taking their power back from men or everyone taking back power from God. As soon as people do this the world becomes a better place and a place were more good things happen than bad things. I remember a Fr. Benedict Groeschel telling this story, it is not word for word but the general direction is the same. There was going to be a great flood and this old couple said to each other, ‘don’t worry God will save us’, so they stayed in their home. The police asked them to go with them to get them out of danger; still the couple ignored the police because they thought God was going to save them. The flood waters started to rise; the fire people came along in their boat and tried to get the couple in the boat and away from danger. Still they refused to leave because they thought that God was going to save them. The flood waters got higher and the couple had to climb onto the roof, then a rescue helicopter came along and the crew tried to get the couple off the roof, still they refused because they thought that God would save them. The flood waters got higher and the couple died! When the couple got to heaven they asked God why he let them die and God replied, ‘you fools, I sent the police to take you to a safe place but you refused. Then I sent the fire service to get you out of the flood waters, still you refused. Last of all I sent the rescue helicopter in my last attempt to save your lives but again you refused. What fools you are!” I could not help thinking the moral of the story was wrong; God took credit for the people’s actions. It was not God rather the police officers, the fire service and the crew of the rescue helicopter who all took part because they were compassionate people that wanted to make the world a better place. How dare God take that away from people? I will vote on the side of empowerment and this is the justification for my attack on religion. It’s proven that people can make the world a better place.

 

To start off with I did talk about the idea of truth, as in there is no evidence to suggest that there is a correct religion, this issue could be explored for pages, I won’t though. A lot of religious speakers point to a lack of intellectual honesty on behalf of those that speak against there being a God, this situation is the wrong way around. An example of this is when Rabbi Shmuley Boteach said in a debate with Christopher Hitchens that circumcision is good since many HIV infected countries are considering it in order to prevent the disease spreading. The argument was ha ha you see circumcision of babies is a good thing; this lacks intellectual honesty, since the reason behind religious circumcision is not the prevention of being infected with HIV it is for other reasons. If circumcision is argued for other reasons then it must be for those arguments which are dealt with when talking about this issue, to side line into other arguments is wrong. It is like me trying to make a bomb to destroy an entire country and in the process creating a free source of energy, no one can deny the benefit of my discovery of free energy but to claim that it was always my intention to do so is not from intellectual honesty, it is a lie, I was trying to create a massive bomb that would kill millions in one go. This is the type of dishonesty that goes around and is presented by religious speakers, dinosaurs on the Noah’s ark is an example of post hoc quick thinking that religious people try to teach as fact. Let me say when I was young and I learnt about Noah I certainly never made any paintings with dinosaurs on his ark. For this reason it is justifiable for me to attack religion.

These are my base reasons for why I attack religion and I have found that most in the atheist movement have similar concepts or combinations of these reasons. Dawkins is very much based on the idea of truth whereas Hitchens is very much based on the idea of religion doing harm. The motive for the attacks on religion is not based on the notion that we should simply attack religion, there are reasons and at the heart of those reasons is a deep caring for others.

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//scienceblogs.comFirst of all let me initially describe the position that I have found myself in many times, people describe me as an atheist! Actually, let me also be honest I have described myself as that as well, still I have never really subscribed to the church of atheists so I don’t really know why I got there. When people say it though I get the impression that somehow my perception of the world is altered slightly since I then have the agenda of the atheists which gets in the way of me understanding the world. When I was younger I was not really a strong Christian nevertheless I kind of understood that there was a God and a bloke called Jesus who was a good guy that suffered in his own way. At this level let’s be frank they are not the same sorts of things, I never learned how to be a good atheist or had to go to a special place in order to increase my general understanding of the thing that I don’t believe in. This is the key word; believe, since I rejected the notion of Christianity I simply stopped believing in that kind of God, non-belief is very different to that of belief in many ways. Rejecting the notion of Jesus simply means that I no longer believe that the stories of his life are anything other than stories. So when I come to make my decisions in life whatever Jesus said or did is never really all that important. I often hear about girls asking ‘what would Jesus do?’ and that leading them to rejecting sex before marriage. I did some research and found out girls (young women) that make that pledge more often than not only delay sex for 18 months and then since they are never taught about contraception, I assume because people think that they won’t have sex, end up pregnant and with more sexual transmitted diseases than the average population. Whereas atheism would never lead to such a universal pledge by young girls, Christianity would, that is the fundamental difference between the two.

Let me go back to what religious people mean when they say atheism; it is almost the suggestion that the poor atheist has a mental refusal at every level to accept what they are saying about God is true. It’s like they say ‘of course god exists’ and then all of a sudden expecting everyone else to agree with them. This mental refusal is not really the case since there is only the refusal to listen to the argument that there is a god because you say so again and again, it gets a little boring and it is never based on anything more than a simple proposal. I will listen to any argument as long as it appears to be true, I can make an assessment from things I can experience in the world and second, it can withstand influence from a different perspective. No atheist will ever be able to demonstrate that there is not a God, at least as far as we can understand the universe at the moment; it is however, possible to make an assessment of the affects your God has on the world.

Perhaps a second meaning of atheism is that it rejects the whole notion of God, this is not the case as it would be impossible to argue for most atheists, rather the rejection comes towards certain ideas or concepts of God. There might be a God, as an atheist, this acceptance does not include the versions of God determined by Islam, Christianity, Hindu, Jewish or other religions. An atheist rejects religious accounts of God; there could be a God just not the one that has been created. Albert Einstein who although was brought up in the Jewish religion never accepted a religious God, although he still claimed that God was behind the universe with the definition that God was simply nature and its governing laws.

The last account of atheism that I have come across is the idea that atheists are somehow more intelligent since the religious followers are just a bunch of stupid people that will believe anything. Once again I am speaking to the atheists here, I have met some really stupid atheists and I can assure you that this does not mean atheism is equal to intelligence. If any atheists assume that only stupid people follow religion then you are undermining your own intelligence on the matter. To say that you are an atheist never means the same thing, you could reject most sorts of Gods or not, it’s not about denying believe based on the atheist’s religion and by all means atheists are not the ones who have worked something out that religious people have yet to do.

To paraphrase Sam Harris everyone is pretty much an atheist about something, if you don’t believe in the fairies at the bottom of my garden you are an atheist. If you are a Muslim and you don’t think the Christians are right, then you’re an atheist. If you call yourself a Pagan and you don’t believe that the Muslims are right, then guess what, you are also an atheist! Sam Harris argues that the word atheist is not necessary and in fact it can turn out to be something bad. To start off with Harris suggests that there is not a non-racist organisation out there which is in fact a correct stand point, it’s wrong for atheists who seem to identify each other by the name, since atheism is not a philosophical perspective and by keeping our atheist name it means that we are migrated to the margins rather than the mainstream. There is also the burden that comes from such label, after all if someone is calling them self a Christian then they have to justify their position, if we go around calling ourselves atheists we then also have to justify our position and that is dangerous for two reasons, it means that we are talking more about atheism than why religion is getting things wrong and it sets up a position to which we can be attacked. In essence Sam Harris is arguing that ‘atheism’ is not the correct or useful term to label non-believers with, it creates more problems than it is worth. I do have a suggestion though, when you get into discussions about religion and someone asks you if you believe in god, simply state – what do you mean by God? This pushes the burden back to the religious believers and allows us to avoid the atheism label.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=Ok2oJgsGR6c  – Sam Harris in this 2007 AAI address on the subject, although I sometimes don’t follow what Harris is saying he is always insightful.

 

A little more on this matter…

www.churchofatheism.co.uk

I read a little more about atheists in someone else’s blog and I really did find it interesting, at first glance it looks like a valid point even though it does go against the idea that non-belief is not actually a belief. I wanted to add it because after thinking about it a little more, you can actually see their point. There are these soft atheists and then there are hardcore atheists who rather than simply having no believe they have adopted a set of beliefs that are against the very idea of God. These hardcore atheists have a belief system, I think they need to be called something else perhaps members of the church of atheism. Even though I think this is only a small number of people. Have a read of their blog….

http://murderofravens.org/2007/10/04/what-i-learned-from-the-atheists/

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