Tag Archives: atheism

The Humanist Symposium

To my regular readers: Not too long ago, I (and thousands of others) stumbled across an article titled Atheists and Anger, an articulate, well-thought-out piece which I highly recommend. It had the welcome side effect of introducing me to the wonderful writing of Greta Christina. (Whose themes range far beyond atheism and are not for Read More…

To my regular readers: Not too long ago, I (and thousands of others) stumbled across an article titled Atheists and Anger, an articulate, well-thought-out piece which I highly recommend. It had the welcome side effect of introducing me to the wonderful writing of Greta Christina. (Whose themes range far beyond atheism and are not for everybody… read at your own risk. In case you end up wondering: no, I am not into spanking.)

It was on Greta Christina’s blog that I learned about a new way to share love and traffic among like-minded blogs, called a BlogCarnival. My own piece on Raising a Non-Believer was hosted soon thereafter by The Humanist Symposium, and now I’m doing my bit in return.

The themes of the articles below may include (according to the guidelines):

  • The happiness and freedom of life as an atheist, or other positive aspects to living a life without religious belief
  • Efforts to evangelize for atheism, and stories of people who have recently deconverted from religion
  • How to find meaning and purpose in a godless life
  • How non-religious people deal with weddings, child-raising, deaths, and other significant life events
  • Posts that stir up the human sense of awe and wonder
  • The ethics and moral philosophy of the non-religious
  • How nonbelievers can foster and nourish a sense of community

Here, without further ado, are the articles. The quotes below each are their authors’ descriptions, where such were provided.

Greta Christina presents The Meaning of Death, Part 2 of Many: Motivation and Mid-Life Crises posted at Greta Christina’s Blog:

“In a world with no God and no afterlife, death — like life — doesn’t have any purpose or meaning except the meaning we create. So what meaning can we create for it? Here is one idea: death as a deadline, for those of us who are deadline-driven.”

Phil for Humanity presents The Blame Game << Phil for Humanity posted at Phil for Humanity:

“Recently, I heard a racial slur against Jews because of what they
supposedly did to Jesus Christ. This insult was not against the Jews
that were alive two thousand years ago but against the Jews living
today.”

Samuel Bryson presents The Meaning of life (and other trivial concerns!)- An Existentialist Approach: posted at Total Wellbeing.

Alonzo Fyfe presents E2.0: David Sloan Wilson: New Atheism a Stealth Religion posted at Atheist Ethicist.

KC presents Speak now, speak loudly and speak often posted at Bligbi.

Chris Hallquist presents Review: On Truth posted at The Uncredible Hallq.

Albert Foong presents The life that has gone on before: The Perils of Compassion, Part 2 posted at Urban Monk.

The Sacred Slut presents Beside the Point, posted at A Whore in the Temple of Reason.

Ron Brown presents Finding meaning in wonder and well-being: An ex-fundamentalist’s tale « The Frame Problem posted at The Frame Problem.

vjack presents Atheist Spirituality posted at Atheist Revolution:

Can an atheist be a spiritual person, and if so, in what sense? Is it meaningful to talk of atheist spirituality, or should the term be reserved for religious believers?

Mike White presents How much Freedom do we Have? posted at Life According to Mike White.

An adventure into how much freedom as humans we actually have. How does religion affect our freedom, how morality is affected through our choices and attention taken to our inner self. I think this might be a long one!

plonkee presents violence and incompetence posted at the religious atheist:

It’s funny, but I’ve always heard that you get more conservative, traditional and right wing as you get older, whereas I seem to be getting more pacifist.

John Remy presents For Atheists and Agnostics Who Go To Church | Mind on Fire. posted at Mind on Fire..

From D: I haven’t had time to write anything new myself this week that fits the theme, but those who are new to my site can check out the links on the left for some older musings of mine on atheism.

Though it hasn’t been submitted as part of the Symposium, I strongly recommend that anyone interested in questions of morality and religion read Steven Pinker’s recent NYT article on The Moral Instinct.

The next Humanist Symposium will be Feb. 17 at Cafe Philos.

your thoughts?

Raising a Non-Believer

A reader has just written to me: “One was on an essay about Religion as a Cause of Strife in the World – you can bet she went to town on that!” this is a comment you wrote on Ross’ India Diary and i have always wanted to ask you why you believe that Ross Read More…

A reader has just written to me:

“One was on an essay about Religion as a Cause of Strife in the World – you can bet she went to town on that!”

this is a comment you wrote on Ross’ India Diary and i have always wanted to ask you why you believe that Ross has arrived at an independent opinion/thought/decision regarding religion when it is the exact same opinion/insight you and your husband have. maybe mistakenly, but i’ve gotten this impression that you are very prideful that her belief is identical to yours and see it as a sign of her independent, intelligent thought. how much of a stretch is that really? how different is that to the child who grows up with the gospel every week at church and every day at home? how “independent” can that child’s outlook ever be due to that home conditioning?

It’s very true and completely unsurprising that Rossella, like most kids, shares her parents’ beliefs (or lack of). The more interesting question is: did how she arrive at those beliefs?

One of Richard Dawkins’ most provocative theses is that schools and even parents should not be allowed to proselytize children into religion at young ages. He points to lifelong traumas (both physical and mental) inflicted upon people (and cultures) from infancy, in the name of religion.

One might reasonably ask (many have) how Dawkins’ desire to promote atheism is any different from a religious person’s desire to promote religion. The logic here seems to be: “Atheism is just another belief. Why is it okay for you to preach what you believe, but not for religious people to do so?”

Here’s the “fundamental” difference: most religions teach their adherents – and particularly children – to accept certain strictures, norms, behaviors, etc. because someone in “authority” said so. Believers may be allowed to question up to a point, but sooner or later every religion comes down to “faith” – a necessarily blind (because unprovable) belief that there is some “higher power” out there which has an opinion about how you should think and act.

This is emphatically NOT how we raised our daughter.

My husband is a professional mathematician. This means that he thinks long and hard to come up with new hypotheses about how things behave in his particular realm of mathematics. When he can support his ideas with mathematical proofs, and those ideas are new, and important enough to be brought to the attention of his colleagues, he submits them (in the form of articles) to professional mathematical journals. There his ideas are judged by his peers for their truth and interestingness and worthiness of publication. If he gets something wrong, either he or one of his colleagues will figure that out. He thanks the people who point out his errors, and goes back to the drawing board.

The same thing happens in every scientific field. Ideas are developed, tested, and submitted to a jury of one’s peers. Sometimes an idea is proven wrong immediately, sometimes later, as more research is carried out. A few hypotheses survive the judgement of the scientific community and the test of time to become theories: which is to say, scientifically-proven facts.

All of this is done in a spirit of cooperative enquiry and (more or less) humility. No one can claim to know more than anyone else on the basis of some externally-granted “authority” – a scientist must be able to back his or her hypotheses with solid, provable facts.

I’m not a scientist, but I use the classic scientific method in my job every day: Does this work? If not, why not? What went wrong? Test one variable at a time til you find out where the problem is, then fix it. It’s a simple logic which can be usefully applied in many areas of life.

Given our professional and personal biases (and our penchant for arguing about EVERYTHING), Enrico and I have raised our daughter to prize inquiry, and not to grant authority blindly. We would be hypocrites if we had not encouraged Ross to think for herself and ask questions – to which we always gave grown-up answers.

This isn’t a totally easy way to raise a teenager: “Why do I have to be home at midnight?” In a family like ours, “Because I’m the mom and I said so!” doesn’t cut it. In Ross’ most exhausting, argumentative moments, I have gritted my teeth and consoled myself that: “At least I know she’s not going to do something stupid just because her friends are doing it.”

And, mostly, she hasn’t. We raised her to think for herself, and she does think – and, most of the time, she comes to very sensible conclusions.

If Ross called herself an atheist simply in imitation of me and her father, I’d have no reason to boast of her independence of mind. Perhaps at 18 she hasn’t put as much thought into her beliefs as we have, but I don’t think she’s merely parroting us. She knows that she is welcome – encouraged! – to explore what others believe (Woodstock is an excellent venue for that), and decide for herself what she thinks of it all. Her father and I remain open to discussion. Ross is no fool, and very likely someday she’ll persuade me to something I hadn’t previously agreed with. It wouldn’t be the first time.

The God Delusion

Richard Dawkins is laughing up his sleeve. I wasn’t in any hurry to buy this book. I had already read and admired every other book of Dawkins’, and had read enough in the press to have a good idea of what this book contained, and to know that I would agree with it, as I Read More…

Richard Dawkins is laughing up his sleeve.

I wasn’t in any hurry to buy this book. I had already read and admired every other book of Dawkins’, and had read enough in the press to have a good idea of what this book contained, and to know that I would agree with it, as I had with Dennet’s “Breaking the Spell”.

But I saw it in the bookstore at Luton airport, and couldn’t resist buying it for Enrico – and myself. We both read through it quickly, enjoying Dawkins’ elegant prose and wry wit brought to bear on some of our favorite targets.

It’s amusing to watch all the mudslinging by religious commentators (and even some atheists), shrilly accusing Dawkins of being strident and dogmatic in his non-belief. Apparently they don’t know about the Streisand Effect, an Internet phenomenon whereby raising a fuss about something brings it more attention than it would otherwise have enjoyed.

Not that I think the world would have ignored Dawkins, but surely some of the book’s sales (23 weeks on the NYT bestseller list so far) have been due to the huge amounts of publicity he has gotten from people anxious to vilify him.

Will this book succeed in Dawkins’ aim of “converting” people to unbelief? I’m doubtful. But, judging by some of the comments on Dawkins’ website and elsewhere, he has at least made many atheists feel more comfortable with acknowledging publicly what they have long felt privately – they are indeed “coming out of the closet.”

I don’t think Dawkins deserves the label of “strident” that so many, even on his own side, have applied to him. In the interviews I’ve seen and read, he’s remarkably polite, especially considering what’s being said about and to him.

At any rate, if you think he’s strident, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. I’m now reading Perché Non Possiamo Essere Cristiani (e Meno Che Mai Cattolici) – “Why We Can’t be Christian, and Less Than Never Catholic” – by Piergiorgio Odifreddi. If this ever gets translated into English, Dr Odifreddi will probably find a fundamentalist Christian/Catholic fatwa raised against him. (Italian Catholics are generally more relaxed about such things.)

Oh, Lord, It’s Hard to Be Atheist

I have just read Daniel Dennett’s book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. It’s a great book. Unfortunately, I doubt that it will be read by the people who really need it, though the author tries very hard to preach to them, rather than to the choir of convinced unbelievers such as myself. Read More…

I have just read Daniel Dennett’s book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. It’s a great book. Unfortunately, I doubt that it will be read by the people who really need it, though the author tries very hard to preach to them, rather than to the choir of convinced unbelievers such as myself.

Among others, Dennett makes the seemingly reasonable point that outsiders cannot expect to have much effect on religious extremism (Islamic or Christian or any other kind) – reform is likely to come only from moderates within the fold.

If that’s the case, what can an atheist like myself do to help a world that we see being wrecked by extreme believers? Nobody listens to us. The heads of most religions, when trying to behave well in public, make a show of treating each other with the utmost respect. (Which strikes me as odd: presumably, each believes that the other guy is following the wrong gospel and will spend eternity in some hell or other.)

We the godless, however, get no respect from anyone. According to a survey by the University of Minnesota, “‘Even though atheists are few in number, not formally organized and relatively hard to publicly identify, they are seen as a threat to the American way of life by a large portion of the American public.€

And another: “‘In a recent NEWSWEEK Poll, Americans said they believed in God by a margin of 92 to 6%”only 2 percent answered “don’t know””and only 37 percent said they’d be willing to vote for an atheist for president. (That’s down from 49 percent in a 1999 Gallup poll€”which also found that more Americans would vote for a homosexual than an atheist.)€

The discomfort of these believers seems to arise from the idea that people who don’t believe in any god don’t have any reason to be good (Dostoyevsky is frequently quoted). A survey that I saw mentioned a year or two ago (and cannot find now, I’m looking!) said that some large percentage of Americans (80%?) believe that you cannot be a moral person unless you believe in (some) god. This is like saying that a classroom full of children cannot be expected to behave unless they constantly feel the eye of the teacher upon them. Which may be true for small children, but is this what we should expect of adults?

If I believed that human beings could NOT be kind to each other without the constant presence of some authority to force them to do so, I would be very depressed indeed. That’s a sad and cynical view of human nature which I do not share. God as a stern father whose main role is to keep his errant children in line is also a very childish and simplistic view of religion. I know many wiser believers who do not agree with this view of god, but, sadly, the world appears to be filled with the more ignorant brand of believer.

More reading and viewing:

Symbols

Israel, and Italy’s Jewish community, were angry when the Israeli flag was burned during April 25th Liberation Day festivities in Milan. The burners were Italian extreme leftists, who tend to be very pro-Palestine and anti-Israel. Coincidentally, about the same time I received from a reader a reference to Michelle Malkin (a conservative blogger) about an Read More…

Israel, and Italy’s Jewish community, were angry when the Israeli flag was burned during April 25th Liberation Day festivities in Milan. The burners were Italian extreme leftists, who tend to be very pro-Palestine and anti-Israel.

Coincidentally, about the same time I received from a reader a reference to Michelle Malkin (a conservative blogger) about an incident during the immigration protests in the US, in which the Mexican flag was hoisted above an upside-down American one at an Amerian high school. Red-blooded American patriots muttered about a Mexican invasion, and protested the insult to the Stars & Stripes.

During Italy’s spring elections, there were at least three incidents of atheist voters protesting at having to vote in classrooms which contained crucifixes. Schools are used as polling stations, and many classrooms, even in public schools, contain crucifixes (that’s a whole ‘nother controversy).

Side note: Italian schools are closed on polling days. I don’t know why they can’t just use the school gym like Americans do – which would keep the kids in school, and also solve the crucifix problem: I don’t think there are crucifixes in the gyms.

The three voter protests had different outcomes. In one, the poll supervisor had the crucifix temporarily removed, over vociferous protests from right-wing party observers present and the local mayor; the case went to court, and the court backed the decision to remove the crucifix on constitutional grounds.

In another case, the polling supervisor refused to remove the crucifix. The voter called the police to register a formal complaint at being “unable to vote” in the presence of the crucifix. The police intervened and forcibly removed the cross, protecting the legal rights of the citizen over the objections of the polling officials.

All of these incidents – and the Danish cartoon mess – strike me as examples of people getting rather too worked up about symbols. What are these objects, really? Pieces of cloth or wood or even plastic, held to represent something larger because they happen to be molded into the shape of a man on a cross, or sewn with a certain pattern of stripes, stars, etc. When you endow such an object with so much symbolic weight, you’re simply giving others the leverage to hurt you – symbolically.

To give an object that much importance – isn’t that idolatry? On the other hand, if you feel that you have to make a strident point of objecting to the mere presence of the object, then you, too, are acknowledging its symbolic power. Why would a self-proclaimed atheist give so much to a plastic Jesus?

Yes, symbolic acts can be hurtful, and are usually intended to be. If you were ever teased as a child, you know how much “mere” words can hurt. But we should all be grown up enough to realize that what others say about us (or our beliefs and symbols) really doesn’t matter. Any truly strong nation or person or belief (or lack of belief) should have the moral strength and maturity to shrug off attacks on (or by) mere symbols.