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Dawkins and 'The New Atheism'

by nanne Mon Jan 21st, 2008 at 10:48:01 AM EST

I tried to get out of the atheism debate, but they keep pulling me back in.

The small band of people who are now referred to as 'the new atheists' finally lost the last bit of my respect when a few years ago, they were trying to re-label themselves as 'brights'. To be honest, I never cared all that much for Dawkins, but I had expected Dennett to know better. At the time, I was more sympathetic to the notion of developing a fitting label for philosophical naturalists than I am now -- but not something that self-evidently stupid. The entire episode made me cringe.

If you want a reasoned take, read Chris Mooney.

Upon first hearing of the 'new atheists', then, I must admit I had a preconceived idea about Dawkins and Dennett. I also had a preconceived idea about Christopher Hitchens, based upon Hitchens doing a joint tour of the UK with David Horowitz, and reading oh, dozens of his columns on Slate either spewing bile and unsupported allegations on Bill Clinton or claiming that there really were WMD in Iraq. Hitchens is a polemicist for the sake of polemics and I feel I've quite saturated the empirics to make that determination without reading his latest column or book. It just is not worthwhile anymore.

So you have this group of people (including Sam Harris, whom I don't know much about and thereby won't comment upon) who go into the media with each to his a book with a provocative title, talking about how they are no longer going to be quiet in the face of the widespread societal intolerance engendered by people of faith! It doesn't take much to think that these people are just being confrontational. I used a common pejorative to describe that, which I shan't repeat in this rejoinder.

(This diary is a response to Ted Welch's 'On misunderstanding Dawkins', which was in turn sparked by ThatBritGuy's diary 'On not understanding Religion')


Reason's insufficiencies

You can find an interesting critique of 'The New Atheists' in this article by Michael Schermer, a friend of the movement. To take out a quote:

Atheists cannot simply define themselves by what they do not believe. As Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises warned his anti-Communist colleagues in the 1950s: "An anti-something movement displays a purely negative attitude. It has no chance whatever to succeed. Its passionate diatribes virtually advertise the program they attack. People must fight for something that they want to achieve, not simply reject an evil, however bad it may be."

This is a very important point, which raises deeper questions that I will dive into at a later point. Schermer's answer to this, however, is to shine the light of reason and science, which I don't think to be sufficient.
Champion science and reason, as Charles Darwin suggested: "It appears to me (whether rightly or wrongly) that direct arguments against Christianity & theism produce hardly any effect on the public; & freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men's minds which follow[s] from the advance of science. It has, therefore, been always my object to avoid writing on religion, & I have confined myself to science."

One central point of the diary of ThatBritGuy, as I understood it, was that people do not flock to religion for intellectual reasons, but for a range of services and in the context of a broader social system. Reason is an answer to this like stones are an answer to thirst. You could go further and say that rationalism itself has severe deficits. Although I haven't yet found a presocratic source, this argument is not novel. It is quite common in cultural philosophy and has come to a full formulation in Horckheimer and Adorno's Dialektik der Aufklärung, almost 65 years ago.

Es scheine nur so als ob das aufgeklärte Weltbild dem mythischen überlegen sei. In Wahrheit seien diese beiden Ansätze sehr eng miteinander verwandt. Das Ideal der Aufklärung ist die rationale Erklärung der Welt um die Natur zu beherrschen. In ihr werde der Begriff durch die Formel ersetzt. Durch die argumentative Verteidigung der mythischen Weltdeutung werde das Prinzip der Rationaliät der Aufklärung schon anerkannt. Dadurch werde sie in jeder Auseinandersetzung mächtiger. "Als Sein und Geschehen wird von der Aufklärung nur anerkannt, was durch Einheit sich erfassen lässt; ihr Ideal ist das System, aus dem alles und jedes folgt." Alle Götter und Qualitäten sollen zerstört werden. Dabei übersieht sie, dass die Mythen schon ein Produkt der Aufklärung sind. "Als Gebieter über Natur gleichen sich der schaffende Gott und der ordnende Geist." Sie haben die gleichen Wurzeln, denn "Mythen wie magische Riten meinen sich wiederholende Natur." It would only appear as if the enlightened worldview is superior to the mythical. In reality, both approaches would be closely connected. The ideal of enlightenment is the rational explanation of the world in order to control nature. In it, understanding is replaced by the formula. Through the argumented defense of the mythical interpretation of the world, the principle of rationality would already be acknowledged. As a result, it would get stronger with each confrontation. "As being and an event, enlightenment only recognises that which can be compassed in the unit; its ideal is the system, from which all and everything follows." All gods and qualities should be destroyed. In this, it overlooks that myths are already a product of the enlightenment. "As commander over nature, the creative God and the ordering intellect are alike." They have the same roots, as "myths like magical rites hold themselves to have a repetitive nature."

Now, this is yet a bit simplistic. But there are two important insights we can draw from it. First, rational, humanistic enlightenment thinking has its own implicit myths. Second: because it is based upon the active disavowal of myth, it hinders an active examination of these myths, and a consideration of how they might be improved so as to work towards greater appeal and societal betterment.

Again: this is nothing really new. The notion that we need a new conception of progress - in a relative shift: away from the scientific towards the moral; away from the personal towards the relational; away from maximisation towards satisfaction - has been buzzing around green circles for decades. So you can easily think of a secular parralel to Emil Möller's idea that we need a 'shift up' in consciousness, which started off the heated dustup on religion here.

Humanism has not yet integrated these criticisms.

Reassessing Dawkins

Can we exculpate Dawkins et al. for the public image of atheism they create with their campaign? Does Dawkins really not know what he is doing when he publishes a book called 'The God Delusion' and takes it into the media? He should know, as he is clever enough to realise how the broader public will receive this. But, one has to admit, the 'brights' episode shows that Dawkins may be hapless when it comes to public perception and framing.

Ted kindly pointed to substantial outtakes from the first chapter of 'The God Delusion' and a number of videos showing Dawkins in action at Randolph-Macon Woman's College in Virginia, US, and on the BBC. After reading and watching all of that, I have come to a slightly more differentiated view of Dawkins.

First, the speech:

The speech by Dawkins did not quite set me aback with admiration of his equanimity and erudition. On the other hand, I was irritated by a number of things. First, Dawkins states that he intends to fight religion on its strengths, but then spends most of the time discussing intellectually very weak and typical formulations of a personal creator god.

I disagreed with his historical take on Catholicism as having developed a pantheon of saints -- Catholicism took over a pantheon as Christianity replaced the earlier polytheistic religions of the Roman empire. For that matter Judaism is also not a purely monotheistic religion, just a tad more monotheistic than polytheism as it used to exist across Europe -- it has a pantheon of good and evil angels. His use of the example of the assasination attempt on the Pope to ridicule the belief in both saints and belief in miraculous fortune was inappropriate. You can say many bad things about John Paul II, but he handled the assassination attempt admirably, meeting up and talking at length with the would-be assassin only two years afterwards. I do not know when the Pope claimed that it was 'our lady of Fatima' that helped him recover, but do note that there was another assassination attempt on the Pope in Fatima, Portugal a year later on the day before the anniversary of the assassination attempt in 1981. For that matter, also note Ratzinger's explanation of the 'third secret' of Fatima:

"The purpose of the vision is not to show a film of an irrevocably fixed future. Its meaning is exactly the opposite: it is meant to mobilize the forces of change in the right direction. Therefore we must totally discount fatalistic explanations of the "secret", such as, for example, the claim that the would-be assassin of 13 May 1981 was merely an instrument of the divine plan guided by Providence and could not therefore have acted freely, or other similar ideas in circulation. Rather, the vision speaks of dangers and how we might be saved from them."

I do not think it is needed for Dawkins to understand every aspect of Catholic history and theology in order for him to reject Catholicism. But it would come in handy if he tried to understand some of it before trying to ridicule Catholicism on such specific points.

This is but one example of the tin ear Dawkins seems to have when he discusses religion, as this quote from the first chapter of his book demonstrates:

There are many intellectual atheists who proudly call themselves Jews and observe Jewish rites, perhaps out of loyalty to an ancient tradition or to murdered relatives, but also because of a confused and confusing willingness to label as 'religion' the pantheistic reverence which many of us share with its most distinguished exponent, Albert Einstein.

Being a Jew and observing Jewish rites can only seem a chore to Dawkins, which must be due to loyalty to relatives killed in the holocaust, and which can only be maintained by not seeing Dawkins' determinate, definitive, ultimate take on what religion is.

What is religion, then, according to Dawkins? That is rather simple: it is an evil disease.

In 1991, Dawkins wrote a short essay called 'Viruses of the Mind' which forwarded a speculative argument that religion operates akin to a virus. Note that the piece is not a work of science, even though it uses some jargon, as Dawkins only provides an argument, no evidence. The entire theory behind the piece, if it can even be called a theory, has never been tested. Now, note the first paragraph:

A beautiful child close to me, six and the apple of her father's eye, believes that Thomas the Tank Engine really exists. She believes in Father Christmas, and when she grows up her ambition is to be a tooth fairy. She and her school-friends believe the solemn word of respected adults that tooth fairies and Father Christmas really exist. This little girl is of an age to believe whatever you tell her. If you tell her about witches changing princes into frogs she will believe you. If you tell her that bad children roast forever in hell she will have nightmares. I have just discovered that without her father's consent this sweet, trusting, gullible six-year-old is being sent, for weekly instruction, to a Roman Catholic nun. What chance has she?

Can you feel the hatred, the contempt? Can you see the emotional divisiveness?

To be fair to Dawkins, he might have written the piece in an angry fit as he had just found that Hitoshi Igarashi, the Japanese translator of the Devil's Verses, had been murdered.

Nonetheless, Dawkins does not seem to have gone down on the old hatred.

In the penultimate chapter of his best-selling book The God Delusion, biologist and world-renowned atheist Richard Dawkins presents his view of religious education, which he explains by way of an anecdote. Following a lecture in Dublin, he recalls, "I was asked what I thought about the widely publicized cases of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Ireland. I replied that, horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place." Lest his readers misunderstand him, or dismiss this rather shocking statement as mere off-the-cuff hyperbole, Dawkins goes on to clarify his position. "I am persuaded," he explains, "that the phrase 'child abuse' is no exaggeration when used to describe what teachers and priests are doing to children whom they encourage to believe in something like the punishment of unshriven mortal sins in an eternal hell."

Why Dawkins refuses to take this idea to its logical conclusion--to say that raising a child in a religious tradition, like other forms of child abuse, should be considered a crime punishable by the state--is a mystery, for it follows directly from the character of his atheism.


The answer would seem to be that Dawkins, like some teenage Randian objectivist, gets too carried away with his rhetoric, severing all connections between his professed stance and its implications upon reality.

Dawkins is supposed to lay out his views upon religion in Chapter 5 of 'The God Delusion', which according to Wiki has the following qualification:

"the purpose of this section is to ask whether meme theory might work for the special case of religion" (italics in original, referring to one of the 5 sections of Chapter 5), The God Delusion, page 191

So it would seem he still thinks his 'Viruses of the Mind' argument holds some water, but he may have become more cautious about it. The readers of 'The God Delusion' are actively invited to give their feedback :-)

Next, the Q&A at R-M Woman's College:

Now, Dawkins gave a good acount of himself in the Q&A, answering most questions politely and intelligently. Quite a few of the questions were posed by students of the nearby Liberty University, and I think it's only fair to add that most of the Liberty students were polite as well and asked coherent, pointed questions. If you have some time to look at the video, listen to a few questions and then skip to the young woman who asks a question at around 59 minutes. I'll just say it seems to be a very cathartic moment for the young women at the college, who have quite a bit of pent up anger about their religious upbringing. So Dawkins definitely has a role there, in terms of channeling some of that anger and making people who are atheistic in a very religious setting more self-assured.

On the BBC Interviews:

Part 1:

At 6 minutes, Dawkins is talking about the tribal/political conflict in Northern Ireland:

Religion is an identifier, and that's the point. If it wasn't for religion then those two communities would long ago have intermarried have interbred, have merged into each other. There would no longer be two tribes that you could identify. (...) There are of course other badges, other labels, other dividers. But when there's nothing else, as in Northern Ireland, religion does the job very nicely.

Tribal conflicts marked by large economic and status differences can survive for a long time, without any clear identifiers other than wealth and status. The Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda and Burundi are a case in point. I see no reason why the same could not have happened in Northern Ireland.

Part 2:

When Dawkins says that it's "truly wicked" to label a child a Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or Jewish child, he is missing the cultural aspects of these religions. This is another side-effect of his overall take on religion as a primarily intellectual affair. It is not that uncommon for people to say 'this is an Armenian child' or for that matter 'this is a hippie child'. And we think little of it, or at least I do. Similarly, being Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, and to a lesser extent, Christian, is also a matter of cultural identity.

Dawkins loses me when he talks about moderate belief:

Once you sell a pass about faith, once you agree that faith doesn't have to be justified, then the vast majority of people who have faith are never going to do anything bad, that's fine. But a few are going to do very violent things and if you then tell them why do you do that, why do you that, how could you make yourself into a suicide bomber, how could you kill like that, they say 'that's my faith, you mustn't question that' and they've been taught that, they've been taught to respect faith by moderate teachers.

The argument of Dawkins that moderate faith can act as a smokescreen for radicalism and that suicide bombers (before blowing themselves up, apparently) are going to offer these kinds of intellectual justifications for their actions seems... specious! Detached from reality. I'd venture to argue that most violent believers have in fact been taught by altogether non-moderate teachers, and that the respect or lack of it in broader society towards moderate faith has nothing whatsoever to do with their violent ideology. On the other hand, since people of faith are generally a quite large portion of the population, it may be worthwhile to cooperate with the more moderate believers who will agree to things like teaching science in the classroom and protecting their belief from the corrupting influence of politics.

Part 3:

No major disagreements on the third part. I don't entirely agree with the idea of Dawkins that our brains are predisposed to be religious belief. Ideas like 'the god part of the brain' always struck me as implausible (and yes, scientistic). Mankind was together not that long ago (our genetic adam is 60,000 years old), so there could well have been a primal, animistic religion -- and on the other hand the inferences behind animism are so simple that it is completely conceivable that it would spring up universally as a cultural phenomenon. A more balanced take (on the 'god gene') can be found in this article by Carl Zimmer.

Given all that... it's only fair to say that Dawkins is quite able to engage in civil, reasonable dialogue. I guess at times he makes a good joke, I won't assess his wit as I was looking at him sceptically. Nonetheless, he seems driven by a deep hatred of religion which causes him to make a great deal of ill-considered statements. Inevitably, intolerant statements like this one tend to make me angry:

I wish that physicists would refrain from using the word God in their special metaphorical sense. The metaphorical or pantheistic God of the physicists is light years away from the interventionist, miraclewreaking, thought-reading, sin-punishing, prayer-answering God of the Bible, of priests, mullahs and rabbis, and of ordinary language. Deliberately to confuse the two is, in my opinion, an act of intellectual high treason.

Dawkins, author of 'The Selfish Gene', of all people, accuses scientists who use an anthropomorphical image (of god) metaphorically... of intellectual high treason.

To the church of what, exactly?

Understanding belief

I keep being struck by the remarkably imprecise discourse that physicalists offer up on belief. In all these long discussions on religion, those who prefer a scientific understanding of everything have not displayed a very scientific understanding of belief, or reason, or rationality. Belief is a folk lore, or Aristotelian, concept. What evidence do we have that we can talk about it in the mentalist fashion that we have so far?

Dawkins repeats this error, although he offers up a more functional, reductive take on belief by casting it into the unit of the 'meme'. Nonetheless, this take - for which, again, no evidence has been brought, only arguments - is still mentalist in that it presumes these units to be actually existant in the mind or brain. Dawkins thereby falls into a common physicalist error of hypostatising the function of a largely unexamined, and certainly not tested mental category he is talking about. When he starts developing claims on the basis of this speculative and highly dubitable model of mental functioning, he crosses the line into scientism.

I am not uncomfortable with mentalist interpretations of belief myself: I am pointing out that people who would claim the dominion of positivist science over all domains of understanding should be.

On the other hand, we may want to form a narrative understanding of an issue, as is done in many approaches in the social sciences, including anthropology (see: thick description). Dawkins is incapable of taking that approach, which is why I tend to sympathise with many of kcurie's contentions in Ted's diary, even though kcurie should have done a better job of explaining those contentions... but here's an attempt on my part:

  • Dawkins does not do 'context'. His model for explanation of belief is based upon a hypostatised group of units of beliefs that replicate themselves. Because Dawkins is blind to the context, the broader social role of belief, he is incapable of seeing non-intellectual reasons for participating in religious practice (as demonstrated above by his quote on Jews)
  • Dawkins has a profound antipathy towards his subject. He views believers as people who are afflicted with a partially or wholly incapacitating disease. He talks about 'the weakness of the religious mind'.

If Dawkins were to do religious anthropology, he would be a very bad anthropologist indeed. In order to form a narrative understanding you need to look in a detailed matter at all aspects of a society, to develop a feel for its functioning. A minimum level of sympathy towards the people you are trying to understand is necessary to be able to do that. Dawkins can't, and anyone who shares his contempt for religious people, won't.

Contrary to what Dawkins thinks, religious belief is not perpetuated by infection and incapacitation of the intellect. It is primarily perpetuated by perpetuating the institutions of religious belief. That, I would guess, is mainly a story of power and social control. Growing areligiosity is a testament to the increasing obsolescence of these institutions, not to some silly little intellectual war being fought between believers and nonbelievers.

Edge: Why the Gods are not Winning

In Commonweal Peter Quinn contends that Stephen Gould, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris have sanitized the social philosophy of Charles Darwin, which was not sufficiently kindly and tolerant to produce "the sole and true foundation for a humanistic society, free of the primitive and dangerous irrationality of religious belief."

Aside from the above nontheists never having promoted Darwin's personal world-view as the sole fountain of societal goodness, Quinn is making the even bigger mistake--the same mistake nearly everyone is making--of believing that the contest between popular faith and secularism is an epic struggle of ideas that then determines the quality of societies. But the level and nature of popular faith is really set by economic conditions, and only secular egalitarian prosperous democracies that reject extreme social Darwinism can produce the best practical conditions.

Areligiosity, lest we forget, is growing. We seem to have internalised the conventional wisdom media narrative on 'resurgent religion'. But there is little evidence for that, as the Edge piece demonstrates. Also see Chris Bowers:

I also thought of the studies showing that a rapidly increasing number of Americans do not self-identify as Christian, and the studies showing that those Americans are predominately grouped within Generations X and Y (born 1965-1994). According to a 2005 study by Greenberg Research, only 62-63%% of Americans under the age of 40 self-identified as Christian, compared to over 80% of previous American generations. Further, fewer than 50% of the younger generations now self-identify as either Protestant or Roman Catholic.

Cheer up, atheists. You're not in a war. You're certainly not losing.

The answer to your ills is simple: progressivism.

Display:
There's a fourth part to the revelation I received from our Lady of Berlin, called The Politics of Dissociation. It will be revealed when mankind is ready.

(Or, this is already too long, and I have to check dozens of books first to make the argument in its full form anyway. Starting with the latest by Charles Taylor...)

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Mon Jan 21st, 2008 at 10:54:29 AM EST
Brilliant.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Mon Jan 21st, 2008 at 12:33:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Second round.. so mcuh things to say solittel time.

I am with you almost word by word on the factt aht attacking "standard" non-violent pro-scientific religious people for giving cover is we.. I still can not believe he really thinks so..it so wrong on so many ground... because.. well I am not ctholica.. but I was raised.. adn frankly I ahve very good friends who are.. and they are all-loving pacifist ont he left (liberation and allt hat stuff)..a ccusing them of giving cover.. more precisely accusing them of anything at al.. sorry my blood is boiling.. it shouldn't.

Regarding symbolic antrhopology and amgic studies. He never refers to the mythical and amgic fundations of science described by Hume first and detailed by other authors afterwards.. ebcause it would eb a problem for his point.

Other points. the attacks on "the kind of god we are not talking here" is well, weird... the point would be precisely to nurture and spread this vision of God as oen ofthe multiple subnarratives to win people over.

Regarding the lack of understanding of waht "belief is... well I msut say it is a very difficult issue. to difficult.. I think Brit has v better grasp of it..adn knows a nbunch mroe than me.. about the struture of belief and the bonding of belief. I do must say that they are inded different that the two basic magic unviersal laws present in all cultures... and theya re differtn that religion.

Magic unviersal laws are present ina llcultures..s o they could ahve a biological origin.. though not genetic sicne genes do not fix braion conenctivity (one of his serious mistakes about genes and memes, but that's science again)... but religion are a social cosntruct ... here I udnerstand his position though I do nto share it.. it is highlyd ebatable.. but sicne some magic structures are unviersal he could say 8if he knew) that a social cosntruct of religion from them is a very easy outcome... that's probably nto the case, and as always brain connectivity and social structures adn dsicrimantions (probably the strenght of dichotomies in brain perception) helped to developed a highly structured set of anrratives and cocnepts for the notion of "belief".

Well.. and that's all for the moment.....

And great diary....

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 07:20:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So many things to say , so litte time.

The first point I want to make is that Dawkins and brigthest do not understand narrative, do not understand, mythology and do not even know the basic scientific research on antrhopology and social structures and isitutions. This makes them absolutely unsuited for the task they claim  someone should be doing... and they claim to do.

In a more broad context.. if they would know about these issues, they would know how to address the construction of a forward mythology to counter-attack those groups of people attacking enlightnement structures (whicha r enot evenmainly religion  at the head but whcih indeed use a religion subgroup). They can not do it.. because they do not how to do it.

For example .Dawkins approach would be very useful indeed.. but in a later stage of the development. But now it is a disaster.. how do I know? because I read and learnt about that stuff... it is not that difficult really.. a couple of classical books adn then some reasearch and amgazines.. adn finally some specialized books.. no more than a couple of months of lecture.

What are the need of a project to recalim enlightenment values? First we would need a strong group of media-myth structures pumping forward the enlightenment structure. Histories , narratives.. and so on in collaboration with the progressive network. here we do not need so much media as in the US.. theya re with us (in theory) In this sense the editorial of DarkSyde (scientist-in-chief at Dailykos) regarding what he would think if he would beleive in God is the right mainstream approach.

Once this  structure is strong you can proceed to move the set with an a small group of people pushing even further. And then it would also be useful to ahve the angry, scarya theist.Having one or two Dawkins would be very useful for the kind of people you mention int his diary.. people over the line to change a full vision of the world imparted to them ..and which they look with anger. They ability to see thode topics relatd with anger would certainly be a narrative useful for them.

But this subgroup msut come ina second round, together with the main structure of religion-mythology-magic-science explained in the proper cosnensus (with think tanks and writers and fo course allt eh religous people whcih support this view)  a different set of sub narratives should be created to target them to different people which can easily fall in those super hierarchical-prot-fascist mythology. And Dawkisn would be ONE AMONG MANY.

Those different subnarratives would have to take into account that some people are more inclined to magic thinking , other more to aheirarchical structure, other are more suspcious, others have a more loose view of the world, others like to define clear border... each one of them can ahve (and indeed antrhopologists should investigate in more detail although the main brushes can are already known about how different people adapt science and enlightenment to their lifes in Western Europe)

But, lacking a main core strcuture who would define a mainstream consensus (either the S. Gould consensus of separation or a religion vs science with common roots on magic but answetring different questions and feeding eachotehr wodnerfully  like Dark Syde approach) the narrative of the angry atheist is.. well.. probably bad for the cause.

See... a post about Dawkins as a pundit.. where I do not even mention that he does not know a jot about the second law of thermodynamics.. upss sorry sorry.... I quit it here :)

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Mon Jan 21st, 2008 at 12:27:07 PM EST
Sorry, ti should read

either the S. Gould consensus of separation or a religion vs science or the approach of religion and science as having common roots on magic but answering different questions and feeding each other wonderfully more in the line of Dark Syde approach (though in this sense you do not need to pinpoint the two basic magic structures which subtantivate science..just mention thant the outcome can be magic or religious and mcuh more thatn anything you could have dreamed of).

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Mon Jan 21st, 2008 at 12:31:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]

The first point I want to make is that Dawkins and brigthest do not understand narrative, do not understand, mythology and do not even know the basic scientific research on antrhopology and social structures and isitutions. This makes them absolutely unsuited for the task they claim  someone should be doing... and they claim to do.

They are well aware that there are anthropological studies of religion. That is not what they are doing. They choose to try to explain why religious beliefs, expecially the mainstream beliefs of many American Christians are false, or, at best, wildly implausible. They are very concerned to lend support to the growing (but still relatively small in the general population) non-believers and closet atheists in America in particular, by showing that it is OK to very publicly criticise religious beliefs.

You say:

the narrative of the angry atheist is.. well.. probably bad for the cause.

In other words, while accusing them of not researching things you do none yourself, we just have what you suppose. We have the evidence of the sales of these books - they have been best-sellers. There is obviously a market for these books, many people want to read them. Also both Hitchens and Dawkins have found that on their book tours, many people thank them for what they are doing. See also the feedback to Dawkins' site

http://www.richarddawkins.net/convertsCorner

See... a post about Dawkins as a pundit.. where I do not even mention that he does not know a jot about the second law of thermodynamics.. upss sorry sorry.... I quit it here :)

I'm surprised you have the nerve to refer to this. In the comments on my Atheism, the lighter side diary you made the accusation that Dawkins thought the 2nd law was wrong. My reply shows again that you have a nerve to complain that Dawkins doesn't do enough research, while you make accusations based on poor memory/incomprehension, not taking minimal trouble to check first, and shows why I no longer take you seriously:


Kcurie:    I still remember vividly the day I read an article of Dawkins where he worte the second law of thermodynamcis wrong, he explained it even worse (of course it was wrong), relaized that he had never really thought about it in any meanignful way and lost the basic point by making fun of creatonism and the second law when he precisely had not the foggiest idea about the argument at hand....

Utter rubbish. If I were you and I were to think of making such an unlikely accusation, I'd take the little bit of trouble to check first. Just google Dawkins and second law of thermodynamics and one gets as first hit the refutation of your absurd accusation. Do you have a problem reading English ? He says the exact opposite, not that it's "wrong" - but that it's one of the most fundamental things in science:

    Nothing violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The great astrophyisicist Sir Arthur Eddington put it with memorable irony. "If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell's equations - then so much the worse for Maxwell's equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation - well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation." It is not for nothing that C P Snow used familiarity with the Second Law as his litmus test of scientific literacy.

    ...

    Once again, it is not my purpose here to argue for the validity of the Second Law. It is undisputed. Nor is it my purpose to defend evolution against the charge of violating it. My purpose is again to convey the sheer magnitude of the error that Burgess and McIntosh are attributing to their hugely more numerous 'establishment' colleagues, who accept evolution and supply cogent arguments against the suggestion that it violates the Second Law.

    Dawkins



Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Mon Jan 21st, 2008 at 06:37:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ted..

I did nto want to answer to yur quesiton bout the second law..My point is that he wrote incorrectly what the second law of thermodyamics stated. Not that he said it is wrong... I was saying taht "Dawkins quoted the second law of thermodynamcis wrong"... he did not realize, work on it as the way to explain it and then obviously explained it wrong. ANd fromt he way he explaiend and how he wrte iabout oen can know without any doubt tahat he doe snot get it... and he certainlyd oe snot ahve to get it.. he is not a physicist..my point is that he has always beleived that he gets it... but he does not.. he has read some infrmative books about it, and understtod the metaphors.. but never the hard work to learn what it means.

So much for the incomprehension..  (ok ok I should  not write that.. that woudl be a personal attack to you and that would be attacking the way your comprehend , and  I think it is very unpolite to accuse any other person of not being able to comprehend before not being completely sure.. whcih here in ET is probalby never).

Regarding Dawkins as a pundit. Different in opinion we have. People who read him are, either people already convinced, or people that he might join for the cause.
Or people like me.. who would like to know what he says since it is a topic I am interested.

The way I know tha he does not know about symbolic anthropology is that he does not take this approach to the topic.

The anrrative he is pushing is clear.. and we basicallya gree with it.. I jsut say that the way to figth back is not that way.. this wrong-headed atheis of the angry mwhite man is a huge msitake ina vacuum .. and it generates much mroe supporters int he side of creatonism and literally interpretations of the Bible.

And while I am quite sure that it is the wrong approach (I think you would get my approach from hare and fromthe comments nanne has pointed to) I ahve the opinion that ina broader context and for an sepcific subgroup of people it could be useful. It a,ll depends on the context... and that's what Dawkins does not get.

And againl please. you seem to take even my opinions against Dawkins personally. Please do not. I am in no way putting in doubt your intelligence, or you know-how, or.. well anything. How could I?

Peace

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 06:02:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm always amazed how discussions about (almost) all divise topics can remain so civil on ET and how everyone actually listens and responds to the points made by others. Great diary.

I'll probably be back with some criticism, have to run now.

"If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles." Sun Tzu

by Turambar (sersguenda at hotmail com) on Mon Jan 21st, 2008 at 12:59:04 PM EST
Please consider me to have made a personal attack on you in this comment. If you would, please assume that I both misread your words and misunderstood my own misreading, and as a consequence now regard you as as evil and almost inhuman. And, of course, that this attack brims with vitriol and offensive language.

Thank you for your imaginative help in this.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Mon Jan 21st, 2008 at 05:18:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Very civil!
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Mon Jan 21st, 2008 at 05:40:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
An allusion to the kind of responses Dawkins et al get from some "Christians" ?

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Mon Jan 21st, 2008 at 07:10:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
An inkblot, I say!
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Mon Jan 21st, 2008 at 07:12:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I saw threads go down in flames over much simpler issues; I saw trolls train wrecking serious discussions before they really started, I saw debates on the shoulders of Orion...

/sorry, lost it
//thanks, asshole

"If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles." Sun Tzu

by Turambar (sersguenda at hotmail com) on Wed Jan 23rd, 2008 at 10:04:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]

All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.

:-)

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Jan 24th, 2008 at 08:22:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Dawkins and his crew of famously opinionated "serious" people are all very well. I don't necessarily agree with their reasons for trashing religion, any more than I recognise my own atheism in the aunt sallies as described by religionists when they seek to group a disparate group of non-believers together in order to make generalisations about the nature of "non-belief".

Whatever.

However, I suspect that underlying this is a dislike of the almost frothing-at-the-mouth intellectual passion bordering on hatred expended against religion : To a greater extent it's a fair criticism, but please bear in mind atheists didn't start this.

Despite some of the dafter paranoias from the religious, Dawkins et al threaten nobody's belief system. They may think it's daft, but they have no intention to legislate against it. They have no intention of passing any law denying any religious person their rights, even those who would allow themselves or their children to die for such beliefs. They do not enforce codes of thought, behaviour, dress, sexual behaviour, who to love, what artistic expression they may indulge, what theatre they may see.

none of this is in the atheist ambition.

But atheist's freedoms to not have our lives constrained by the beliefs of others is threatened by religionists. They would interfere in all of those things I describe. You know this.

And for years, decades even there has been a quiet agreement; we won't bother you, you don't bother us. A covenant that has broken down. We watch with increasing concern as deliberate ignorance stalks the USA, encroaching ever deeper into its sinews. Yes, reason wins a victory here or there, but the constricting effort continues and the slow ratchet of superstition grows tighter and tighter. So, when we see it here in the UK, or with other outbreaks across europe, it is no exaggeration to say we know this is no isolated outburst.

And so there is push back. Some of it is intemperate, yes, but we didn't start this. All they have to do is stop and the problem will go away. But they won't, becasue christianity is a proselytising religion and must always push against its bounds. And that means that those of us who do not accept its cage must do allwe can to protect ourselves and our very form of secular government by shouting against this unreason from the rooftops.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Jan 21st, 2008 at 01:29:04 PM EST

It will, of course, be no surprise that we agree about THIS :-)  Well said.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Mon Jan 21st, 2008 at 04:01:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
However, I suspect that underlying this is a dislike of the almost frothing-at-the-mouth intellectual passion bordering on hatred expended against religion : To a greater extent it's a fair criticism, but please bear in mind atheists didn't start this.

Despite some of the dafter paranoias from the religious, Dawkins et al threaten nobody's belief system. They may think it's daft, but they have no intention to legislate against it. They have no intention of passing any law denying any religious person their rights, even those who would allow themselves or their children to die for such beliefs. They do not enforce codes of thought, behaviour, dress, sexual behaviour, who to love, what artistic expression they may indulge, what theatre they may see.

none of this is in the atheist ambition.

But atheist's freedoms to not have our lives constrained by the beliefs of others is threatened by religionists. They would interfere in all of those things I describe. You know this.


Yes, indeed, I do. Excellent comment.

We come full circle here, as this is largely what I wanted to express in my uncivil reply to TBG's diary. Could have said it in a nicer and more eloquent way, as you do.

But then we may not have had this IMO very instructive discussion. Of course, I would say so, just having written about 3,000 words about it...

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Mon Jan 21st, 2008 at 04:08:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One thing that bothers me about Dawkins is the simplification and the superficiality. An extremely complex subject is greatly simplified into easy duality - good versus evil. I've heard that one before - from religious fundamentalists - and in other forms from the American exceptionalists among lots of others.

They may think it's daft, but they have no intention to legislate against it. They have no intention of passing any law denying any religious person their rights, even those who would allow themselves or their children to die for such beliefs. They do not enforce codes of thought, behaviour, dress, sexual behaviour, who to love, what artistic expression they may indulge, what theatre they may see.

As with all such dual belief systems the above quote is false.  There is always an attempt to deny 'x' their rights. Dwarkans may not personally have such a desire, but some of his followers will. That is part of the popularity of this type of moral duality - it provides an excuse for oppression.

Islamofascist awareness week is precisely such an attempt to deny a religious person their rights - in this case by Christopher Hitchens. We can go further and put a label on this type of behavior. We can call it fascism. Ultimately part of fascism is based on duality.

It is not only the religious that can be attacked under the us vs. them logic. While this is not Dawkins thesis - the same moral dualism is used in Zionism. There are atheists who are a part of it - eagerly working to prevent rights to both "Arabs" and Muslims.

While placing emphasis on Einstein's atheism, Dawkins carefully ignored Einstein's view on what is the major problem facing humanity today. It wasn't religion. It was nationalism. Precisely the us vs. them view that Dawkins presents us in a different form.

Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.

Science, with its eugenics, also has delved into the dark side of duality - us versus the diseased. We have seen what "science" can do when it falls into the good versus evil trap. This appears to be the logical direction that such simplistic thinking leads.

If religion is a disease, then don't we have a responsibility to protect the children of religions people from disease? Don't we have a responsibility to protect society from those who are religious? How can we cure those who are diseased?

This brings me to one other example of a diseased person cured by science: Alan Turing who was given electroshock treatments to cure him of his homosexuality.

Shall we point to eugenics, the US studies on syphilis in blacks, the British electroshock treatments to homosexuals, the injection of radioactive iron into poor pregnant women at Vanderbelt hospital - among many, many other examples, and conclude that science is evil?

aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Mon Jan 21st, 2008 at 05:30:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Your own comment is an example of the "simplification" you attribute to Dawkins - no evidence at all - as with the earlier attacks which led to my diary on the subject:

One thing that bothers me about Dawkins is the simplification and the superficiality. An extremely complex subject is greatly simplified into easy duality - good versus evil.

Evidence ? Dawkins has acknowledged the obvious, that there are many religions, and many variations within any one religion and that there are moderates, liberals and some extremely sophisticated thinkers in them. Part of his complaint is that the more moderate elements lend respectability to the idea of basing one's major beliefs on faith and hence lend respectability to more extremist elements.

    They may think it's daft, but they have no intention to legislate against it. They have no intention of passing any law denying any religious person their rights, even those who would allow themselves or their children to die for such beliefs. They do not enforce codes of thought, behaviour, dress, sexual behaviour, who to love, what artistic expression they may indulge, what theatre they may see.

As with all such dual belief systems the above quote is false.  There is always an attempt to deny 'x' their rights. Dwarkans may not personally have such a desire, but some of his followers will.

What an absurd argument - against the centuries old, vast range of actual examples of religious intolerance, imposed through the law when they had control - we have what YOU think some of Dawkins' "followers" MIGHT do. And, of course, Dawkins is responsible for his own actions and words, not what some supposed "followers" might do - which he'd obviously not condone.

Now if you actually have any arguments about anything specific Dawkins has actually written or said - let's see it.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Mon Jan 21st, 2008 at 05:59:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
we have what YOU think some of Dawkins' "followers" MIGHT do

That you see nothing wrong with Islamofascist awareness week in the US tells much about yourself and the hate you trade in.

Part of his complaint is that the more moderate elements lend respectability to the idea of basing one's major beliefs on faith and hence lend respectability to more extremist elements.

So I am guilty by association. What's it gong to be? Up against the wall? Really, I don't think I need to know a whole lot more of this enlightened scientific view you are promoting.


aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Mon Jan 21st, 2008 at 06:25:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]

we have what YOU think some of Dawkins' "followers" MIGHT do

That you see nothing wrong with Islamofascist awareness week in the US tells much about yourself and the hate you trade in.

Where did I say that - and what does it have to do with Dawkins?

Part of his complaint is that the more moderate elements lend respectability to the idea of basing one's major beliefs on faith and hence lend respectability to more extremist elements.

So I am guilty by association. What's it gong to be? Up against the wall? Really, I don't think I need to know a whole lot more of this enlightened scientific view you are promoting.

 It's a perfectly reasonable argument that the moderates who defend using faith as a justification for beliefs do lend respectability to extremists' justifications of their views as based on faith. This doesn't mean - of course - that the moderates are entirely responsible for the extremists' actions. But your quick blurring of this distinction allows you to conclude that you don't want to know more - just the sort of attitude of which you were accusing Dawkins.  So you don't have to bother with the laborious business of dealing with what Dawkins himself actually says - instead YOU try guilt by association.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Mon Jan 21st, 2008 at 07:05:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ted - I don't know whether you are deliberately mis-reading my posts or not. It is clear that there is no point in talking to you further.

aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Mon Jan 21st, 2008 at 07:08:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Just as with Dawkins, you make accustaions but don't actually show in what way I'm supposedly "misreading" your posts. I think I have been disagreeing with your arguments - which I quoted to be clear.

But suit yourself.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Mon Jan 21st, 2008 at 07:32:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Mythos and Logos... a perpetual balancing act. One of them gets overbearing and needs to checked by the other one. Then, the other gets overbearing and needs to be checked in turn. I view these two as complementary descriptions of self/world, each with its strengths and limitations. This battle between the two will always remain, must always remain, for the sake of balance.
by sandalwood on Mon Jan 21st, 2008 at 01:59:35 PM EST
I don't think you understand the dynamics of what has been going on in the US for the past 40 years. The religious right has moved out of the pulpit and into politics.

Their goal is to convert the US into a theocracy. The current candidate Mike Huckabee is not only a minister, but has recently stated that he wants to rewrite the US constitution so that it conforms to the bible.

Christianism (my term) in the US is also seen as one of the prime factors behind the invasion of Iraq. Bush called it a crusade before he was told to water down his invective.

Statistics show that a non-believer would be distrusted by the vast majority of voters which is why the obviously non-observant pretend to be religious. Howard Dean was the most recent example, but Reagan before and now Bush don't attend traditional services. They do something "privately". Bush's religion is a personal version, not an institutional one.

This kissing up to the religious has meant that criticism of theology was off the table until this latest wave of critics. They are tasked with two things. The first is to repeat all the arguments against the supernatural (again) for a new generation that hasn't been exposed to them before. The second is to open up a space in public discourse where others can express their problems with organized religion and religious doctrine.

To do this they have to be polemicists. Moderate voices don't get heard. So they may go over the top on occasion. It's a small price to pay compared to all statements made by religious/political leaders who are promoting their power politics. Did you know that Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment for homosexuality? One of our "respected" religious leaders is sure of it and said so.

Several people, especially Sam Harris and Hitchins were traumatized by 9/11 and see Islam as an implacable foe. They dislike Christianity, but most of its power was in the past, they see Islam as a current threat. If you think the world is on the brink of a universal conflagration do you say "fire" or "F I R E!!!".

If you compare the degree of religiosity in western Europe to that in the US you will see why they become so intemperate.

It's not only foreign affairs that have been impacted by US religious dogma. The issues of funding stem cell research, family planning techniques in the third world, AID's prevention and government support for religious organizations have all been directly affected.

Much of the recent rise in AID's in part of the world can be traced back to US religious policies on the "morality" of homosexuality and prostitution.

You are, of course, free to criticize their approach, but is it this you object to or their aims? Who else is willing to take on the religious establishment? Look what happens when anyone offends religious sensibilities in the Muslim world: Salmon Rushdie and the Danish Cartoons are typical cases.

There is even a faction in the US who thinks that the second coming will happen when the appropriate events take place in the middle east and this effects their position towards Israel. This then translates (indirectly) into US policy. We see how well that is working.

If you have any examples of others being more effective then these four please cite them.

Jonathan Miller produced a show on the history of disbelief for the BBC last year. It's worth hunting down on the web. His main point was that until recently being an atheist was punishable by death in many places and that any discussion of unbelief is fairly recent and restricted to a small corner of the world.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Mon Jan 21st, 2008 at 04:28:37 PM EST
I fear we are working ourselves up about a phenomenon at the precise moment when its peak has passed, and a rapid process of decline has already set in. And that phenomenon is not religion, the decline of which has a long history, but specifically the political influence of evangelical Christianity in the USA.

The Edge article by Paul and Zuckerman should be required reading for you, Helen, Ted, and anyone else in this respect.

Note: I do not disagree with you about the harmful effect evangelicals have had on American politics for the last 40-odd years. I completely agree. But its moment has passed and we are on the verge of a new age, my jaded, cynical brothers and sisters! Know hope!

What is actually happening here and abroad is a great polarization as increasingly anxious and often desperate hard-core believers mount a vigorous counterrevolution via extreme levels of activism to the first emergence of mass apostasy in history. No major religion is expanding its share of the global population by conversion in any circumstances, much less educated democracy. Disbelief in the supernatural alone is able to achieve extraordinary rates of growth by voluntary conversion. Why?

It is to be expected that in 2nd and 3rd world nations where wealth is concentrated among an elite few and the masses are impoverished that the great majority cling to the reassurance of faith.

Nor is it all that surprising that faith has imploded in most of the west. Every single 1st world nation that is irreligious shares a set of distinctive attributes. These include handgun control, anti-corporal punishment and anti-bullying policies, rehabilitative rather than punitive incarceration, intensive sex education that emphasizes condom use, reduced socio-economic disparity via tax and welfare systems combined with comprehensive health care, increased leisure time that can be dedicated to family needs and stress reduction, and so forth.

As a result the great majority enjoy long, safe, comfortable, middle class lives that they can be confident will not be lost due to factors beyond their control. It is hard to lose one's middle class status in Europe, Canada and so forth, and modern medicine is always accessible regardless of income. Nor do these egalitarians culture emphasize the attainment of immense wealth and luxury, so most folks are reasonably satisfied with what they have got. Such circumstances dramatically reduces peoples' need to believe in supernatural forces that protect them from life's calamities, help them get what they don't have, or at least make up for them with the ultimate Club Med of heaven. One of us (Zuckerman) interviewed secular Europeans and verified that the process of secularization is casual; most hardly think about the issue of God, not finding the concept relevant to their contented lives.

The result is plain to see. Not a single advanced democracy that enjoys benign, progressive socio-economic conditions retains a high level of popular religiosity. They all go material.

It is the great anomaly, the United States, that has long perplexed sociologists. America has a large, well educated middle class that lives in comfort--so why do they still believe in a supernatural creator? Because they are afraid and insecure. Arbitrary dismissal from a long held job, loss of health insurance followed by an extended illness, excessive debt due to the struggle to live like the wealthy; before you know it a typical American family can find itself financially ruined. Overwhelming medical bills are a leading cause of bankruptcy.


To be a bit more serious: The fits fundamentalism will throw as it fades into insignificance can still be ugly. Contra Dawkins, I hold that we need to mobilise the moderate majority to keep it in check.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Mon Jan 21st, 2008 at 08:11:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
To quote an old saying: "From your lips to God's ear". Unfortunately I think there is a bit of mischief still to run its course before one can close the books on this latest version of the "great awakening".

I track the religious phenomena fairly closely in the US, I get a few magazines from organizations devoted to promoting secularism and they report the contradictory evidence often.

The rise in those reporting no religion has gone up in the US steadily, but at the same time the influence of religion in government is at a high not seen since the last cycle around 1900. When I was growing up in the middle of the last century there were no serious programs like the weekly "On Religion" program on the BBC and the one on NPR. There was no regular religion column in the NY Times and there were no national chains of religious broadcasters.

So what we have is a minority which has managed to infiltrate the agencies of government and won't be rooted out all that quickly. The biggest lasting legacy will be in the Supreme Court and several of the district federal courts. These justices will be there for decades.

It's hard to tell about the Muslim world, but it appears that religion has also moved beyond its normal sphere and into politics. The most visible instance being Iran, but there are strong religious factions in other places such as Saudi Arabia, the Philippines and Indonesia. Whether a rising standard of living and exposure to western ideas will damp down religious factionalism remains to be seen.

So while the trend is towards less religion there is a long path ahead and much unpleasantness may still be in store.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Mon Jan 21st, 2008 at 09:43:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Handmaid's Tale looks like a possibility for the US.

As for the Middle East - look at the history of British and US intervention. In particular, Iran has had one democracy overthrown. A rise in fundamentalism makes a whole lot of sense.

aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Mon Jan 21st, 2008 at 10:58:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Dogmatic beliefs are waning, but maybe this process is just not fast enough. Think of the inevitable spread of potentially dangerous technologies and growing global interdependence and try not be worried about fanatics. I can understand Hitchen's position (even when I don't agree): there's no cheek to turn if your head is blown off.

"If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles." Sun Tzu
by Turambar (sersguenda at hotmail com) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 02:14:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Contra Dawkins, I hold that we need to mobilise the moderate majority to keep it in check.

Some of the moderate majority already agree with him, e.g. the UK bishops who joined with him in opposing the introduction of creationism in some UK schools.

But it's difficult for them because the extremists will say to the moderates "our views are based on faith just like yours".  Hence Dawkins' argument that moderates lend respectability to the extremists (both being based on faith) - but not saying that the moderates are therefore responsible for what some extremists decide to do. So he thinks that we need to get rid of the excuse of faith in general in favour of reason and evidence.

He clearly has just the "hope" which you recommend - the hope that even the US might change to become as secular as most of Europe (which didn't take that long, but nor was it so fast we can afford to do nothing to speed it up). But given the state of the US now, he does not think one can just complacently sit and watch and wait. Damage is being done now and so he's doing his bit - and he's said he doesn't think it's the ONLY way (even though, as I pointed out before, his supposed stridency has been exaggerated). Aren't there better targets for criticism ?

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 06:41:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ted, to cut to the chase about this: I think it is important that we get the emerging secularism right. Of course there are more worthy targets than Dawkins. Note the opening line of this diary.

I tend to agree with ThatBritGuy on who those more important targets are. And at least it's something most of us here can agree on.

But disagreements are good to have, at times. They can clarify a lot. Without sanctioning everything anyone has said in these religion debates, to wit... except my own statements, of course... To ramble on, despite being sort-of-dragged into this, I find the debate enlightening and am happy that we have it.

To make this more than a short rant:

But it's difficult for them because the extremists will say to the moderates "our views are based on faith just like yours".

Do religious extremists really say that about moderates? Because I have never heard it. And I've seen and heard a few tapes of suicide bombers, Osama Bin Laden and his lieutenants and have read plenty about people like, say, Fred Phelps. I have never heard them utter anything even remotely along the lines of:

You deserve to be killed, INFIDEL! ...Oh, but really, you can't challenge me because it's my faith and you agreed to have moderate religious people keep their faith, so that must mean it's OK for you.

Not even Achmed the dead terrorist!

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 07:25:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]

I tend to agree with ThatBritGuy on who those more important targets are. And at least it's something most of us here can agree on.

As rdf and I have pointed out, the religious in the US remain a threat in themselves, and have campaigns specifically related to their beliefs which do a great deal of damage - and I suspect some of these are an embarrassment to some of the neo-cons and it is just simplistic to think the latter are the cause of all important problems.

But disagreements are good to have, at times.

I'm sure you don't really expect ME to disagree with THIS :-)


    But it's difficult for them because the extremists will say to the moderates "our views are based on faith just like yours".

Do religious extremists really say that about moderates? Because I have never heard it. And I've seen and heard a few tapes of suicide bombers, Osama Bin Laden and his lieutenants

I was of course imagining a direct encounter where moderates criticised the extermists' beliefs; I don't think the latter are likely to just volunteer the answer. But the logic remains; ultimately most religious believers have a problem strongly criticisng extremists in general terms because both ultimately rely on the same basis - faith. By giving respect to beliefs based on faith, as has been widespread, especially in the US, because some of them are nice moderates, we neglect the very necessary strong criticism of such an irrational basis for beliefs. As a result we have the absurd spectacle of two Republican Presidential canidates - frontrunners! - one of whom supports the teaching of creationsim and wants to change the Constitution to favour religion, while the other is a Mormon - and none of the mainstream media ridicule this - must respect people's faith - NO !(the Late show is off-air I think).

Dawkins et al are just carrying out long overdue, strong, well-publicised critiques which many moderate Christans, doubters and atheists welcome and feel necessary.


Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Jan 23rd, 2008 at 01:37:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well done, nanne, this is a giant stride beyond the uninformed abuse, and the blatant misrepresentation which prompted me to write my diary, generally defending Dawkins. We now actually have specific arguments about what Dawkins has said, quotations and references. It has an air of intellectual respectability - even if I think it's still mostly wrong :-) But an adequate response will take a bit of time.

In the meantime, just let's take your conclusion, suggesting that it's a lot of fuss about nothing:

Areligiosity, lest we forget, is growing. We seem to have internalised the conventional wisdom media narrative on 'resurgent religion'. But there is little evidence for that, as the Edge piece demonstrates. Also see Chris Bowers:

    I also thought of the studies showing that a rapidly increasing number of Americans do not self-identify as Christian, and the studies showing that those Americans are predominately grouped within Generations X and Y (born 1965-1994). According to a 2005 study by Greenberg Research, only 62-63%% of Americans under the age of 40 self-identified as Christian, compared to over 80% of previous American generations. Further, fewer than 50% of the younger generations now self-identify as either Protestant or Roman Catholic.

Cheer up, atheists. You're not in a war. You're certainly not losing.

The answer to your ills is simple: progressivism.

I was very complacent in my atheism; after all, here in most of Europe, relatively few take religion seriously - compared with a few generations ago. But having been awakened from my non-dogmatic slumbers and having done a bit more reading about the issues as a result, I'm appalled at the situation in America - a rather important, influential country (even if less so than it was). It's no surprise that two of the best-selling atheist authors are American (Dennett, Harris), Hitchens lives there (and now has a US passport) while Dawkins lectures a lot in the US and is very aware of the situation there.

60+ % of Americans under 40 is still a LOT of Americans, and a percentage wildly at odds with other developed nations. There is an even greater percentage in the older generation, who often have more power. Also these millions are getting very organized and increasingly influential in US politics - cf Huckabee and Romney and their support.  

I agree with Dawkins - it IS a fight - religion opposed and held up developments in the sciencces and the arts for centuries. Many in the US especially are still trying to do so. Lots of people are suffering the results of misguided policies which they have managed to get adopted. AND it is a fight in which even some UK bishops have joined with Dawkins and others in opposing the development of creationism even in some UK schools.  Perhaps you think these bishops lack understanding of religion and of threats from some forms of it. For the personal suffering, read some of the testimonies on

http://exchristian.net/testimonies/

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Mon Jan 21st, 2008 at 05:40:47 PM EST
Lest his readers misunderstand him, or dismiss this rather shocking statement as mere off-the-cuff hyperbole, Dawkins goes on to clarify his position. "I am persuaded," he explains, "that the phrase 'child abuse' is no exaggeration when used to describe what teachers and priests are doing to children whom they encourage to believe in something like the punishment of unshriven mortal sins in an eternal hell."

I think Dawkins is actually correct to put these two concepts in the same room.

My parents weren't fire and brimstone types, but our church was - and it was a pretty standard Lutheran church. I spent most of my childhood and much of my teenage years convinced I was going to be living in a fire for infinity after my death, because as much as I tried, I didn't love jesus, and I simply knew I didn't have what it takes to get into heaven. You can't get by on a daily basis with this at the top of your mind, so there was a fair bit of mental suppression involved in my daily routine. I had frequent nightmares in which I was rejected by god at the pearly gates, cast down in to hell, and had my guts eviscerated by demons. On occasion I'd wake up screaming with my parents running into my room asking what was wrong - of course I couldn't tell them what really happened in the nightmare, because they then might find out I wasn't a good christian, and I couldn't let them down. Dealing with this dominated a lot of my early life.

Life is difficult, and hard lessons will be learned simply through existing. Children should not be subjected to this for the same reason they shouldn't be sexually abused.

Why Dawkins refuses to take this idea to its logical conclusion--to say that raising a child in a religious tradition, like other forms of child abuse, should be considered a crime punishable by the state--is a mystery, for it follows directly from the character of his atheism.

This is a fantastic, feel good statement written for people terrified by atheists, and framing this in terms of punishment verifies exactly which audience this article was written for. Sexual abuse is rightly punished by jail time, but to throw an entire culture in jail for their standard practices? Madness.

Fear is a component of why people believe in X, and it it undermines this argument:

Contrary to what Dawkins thinks, religious belief is not perpetuated by infection and incapacitation of the intellect.

Pascal's wager is a powerful artificial viral tool.

It is primarily perpetuated by perpetuating the institutions of religious belief. That, I would guess, is mainly a story of power and social control.

You are describing inertia, not origin.


you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Mon Jan 21st, 2008 at 07:24:09 PM EST

Dawkins said that when he went further and said that religious indoctrination of young children including ideas of hell and eternal suffering was perhaps worse than some sexual abuse, the audience - in Belfast - cheered !

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Mon Jan 21st, 2008 at 07:38:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Has Dawkins actually studied the psychological impact of childhood sexual abuse, at any length?
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Mon Jan 21st, 2008 at 08:30:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Has Dawkins, for that matter, done a representative sample study among Catholic churches in Ireland, to find out the percentage of 'fire and brimstone' sermons held in front of children?
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Mon Jan 21st, 2008 at 08:33:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Obviously he was presenting this as a bit of personal speculation - not reporting results of research. The fact  that the audience - in an area which has experienced religious division of education and brutal conflict between groups identified on a largely religious basis - cheered, is some informal support for his speculation - nothing more. Note also that he said "some".

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 04:21:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I bet that if he would ahve been among social service people who treat sexually abused children the answer would have been quite different.

ANd frankly I can present you all  my family with fascism-religious indoctrination.. all of them quite happy frankly and with no pshychologichal trauma of any kind... which can not be said about most children violated by their parents.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 10:32:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That cleary shows his lack of knowledge of a bunch of topics.. unless he was trying to fire the crowd as evangelists do.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 06:08:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]

No, it doesn't. yet again you seem to think that while others aren't allowed to have opinions not supported by scientific research, you can have any old opinion you want and don't have to justify it all. Where is YOUR evidence that shows he is wrong - in what was clearly just a personal speculation - very well received by a group with experience of religious indoctrination - and in some cases, directly or indirectly, sexual abuse - which can take many forms.

I've already asked you not to adopt the patronising attitude that if I defend Dawkins and criticise you it's because I'm taking things personally - not at all. I just hate unfair criticism of anybody, especially from people who don't offer evidence or sound arguments.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 09:41:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Are you suggesting that teaching religious to a child is worst than sexual abuse?

Do you really want me to back it up?

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 10:15:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Spain under Franco provides ample proof of that statement.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 10:21:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But fascism indoctrination with personal beatings is different than purely teaching religious.

I did not take that as a comparison between beating indoctrination and sexual abuse ( I would say sexual abuse si still uchmore worse than physical pnishment with indoctrination but that's certainly debatable).. I saw as a comparison between religious indoctrination without personal physical abuse and sexual abuse.
we all indoctriante children in one thing or another.. there's no other way to do.. deciding that soemthing is harmful.. well who is to decide?

And franco is a clear proof that people taugth with religious doctrine can ahve perfectly happy lifes.. lie most of my family did... not to be comapred with children sexual assault... and from personal experince.. even those beaten-up and with the msot fascism outlook can not be comapred with the problem of a sexual assault.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 10:27:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You're not going to prove it. I doubt that there are many, if any, psychological studies on the subject of religious indoctrination in children. It would be too explosive in a world so steeped in religious mythology.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 02:14:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Planned or unplanned, all parents 'indoctrinate' their children - up to the age of 6 or 7 - by which age personality and primary values are established. The general environment - media, play schools, friends and relations, neighbours etc, of course, have to be supportive of those traits and values. It is easy to enjoy fried grasshoppers when all around you eat them.

How that indoctrination plays out depends on how the environment, and this information and reward input, changes subsequently. Given a biodiversity of ideas, the results are unpredictable.

The paucity of psychological studies as you point out, is a function of tunnel vision as to how culture works in general and in particular. How we learn is almost a taboo subject. And yet one that is central to escaping our dilemma - what is happiness?

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 02:39:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's precisely the reason indeed.

Religious and sexual and vision of the world, and the basic mythology..e verything is indoctrinated.. so there cna be no study because there is no aberration.

On the other ahand doing upon your children something that the rest of the community consideres awful is the starting point of trauma.

It can be sexual or religious (if you teach something that is considered taboo by the rest of the community).

So religious indoctrination would be awful only if society considers it as such and the children react to the general environment as they would react if he would kno he has been violated.

And then we ahve violence of course.. which is an obejtivize language and can be studied.

For that reason Dawkins has not the slitghtest idea he is talking about... religious is standard indoctrination as any other we have in our lifes and maks us what we are... sexual assault enters the realm of doing somehting cosnidered awful and disgusting by the society to your own children which indeed can be studied and finally violence which is a language on its own can also be studied

Violence on sexual assault is the worst kind of nightmare.. and it has nothing to do with the huncreds of nomral indoctrination we receive.. religious included...

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 03:24:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Anything is ok as long as it's accepted cultural practice? You would do well to rethink your world view in terms of something other than relativism.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 03:46:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There are many many societies around the world that have survived for millennia with cultural practices that you and I might think are abominable. The fact that they have survived is an indication that there are many paths to 'happiness'.

They have survived not because of science, but because of perceptions. This is true of all belief systems, and the fact that perceptions (cultural DNA) are as important as genetics imo.

It s only since Post-Colonialism that some of these perceptual anomalies have been under challenge. And these challenges are continuing, if not growing. The caste system survives in India, even as it becomes an iTC focus. I'd even say there is a new caste system in Europe.

I've no idea about the answers, but they are certainly relative.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 04:23:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There are many many societies around the world that have survived for millennia with cultural practices that you and I might think are abominable.

No argument here.

The fact that they have survived is an indication that there are many paths to 'happiness'.

Societies do not survive because their particular cultures make their members happy, they survive because their members manage to reproduce generation after generation and resist external influence to the extent that their culture remains intact. The word "they" in this context needs examination as well. Who, exactly and specifically, does a particular society/culture work for? Or make happy, as you put it?

I've no idea about the answers, but they are certainly relative.

I don't think anyone here is arguing for either extreme, maybe with the exception of kcurie. I'm not interested in rounding up all human males that are marrying 10 year old females, for example, but I'm not going to take the relativist view that this is a valid path to happiness for all people involved.

I'll put my money where my mouth is: I'll pin my baseline assumptions on the universal declaration of human rights. Or at least desire the debate to begin there. "Western" assumptions or not, an honest reading of the document contains enough material to make the blood boil of anyone in favor of coercive, hierarchical systems - the sort of systems we are prone to and have engaged in since the agricultural revolution. In that context we've gone from the king as god to the systems we have today in which there is a broader distribution of power. Why not take this further?

We need more people studying the concept of happiness. The fact that happiness is relative, at least in a quantitative sense, doesn't stop the Dalai Lama from coming up with some good philosophy on the subject. Surely the liberal, secular world can come up with something better than the null solution "lack of complete understanding means we can say nothing"?

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 05:19:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As I read it, "human males that are marrying 10 year old females" is not a homogenous group.  Some cultures may (I don't know--and who is an expert on all cultures?) marry their children at 10, but the children won't live together (maybe in a separate hut) until after the puberty rites have finished.  And then they're free to divorce, maybe, but they then become brother and sister--

--and who lives in a single culture?  There is my culture, my personal habits and beliefs, which interacts with the various cultures of the people I have regular contact with, out to the people I will never meet but maybe read about, and on out, to the edges of nature, to the edge of the atmosphere, up into the electrical regions...maybe one of the leading researchers in quantum mechanics has grandparents who were married at ten, lived happily, and so she has no in-built prejudice against the institution...

...so which institutions are evil?

Religion (Rumi; Lao Tse; Krishnamurti)--are they humans or gods?  And what do their gods say about humans?  And can we understand what they say; can we imagine (or fantasise) the structure of the culture, the lives--how were they lived?

Well, how are they lived right now?  Whose culture is malign?  Whose individual culture is destructive of the wider cultures; who seeks to limit human experience through words.  Some gods don't go away just because people stop believing in them.  Imagine a sun worshipper from maybe 400BC--pick a country--and then wake them up exactly where they died, first thing in the morning, just as the sun breaks the horizon.

The sun!  The god rises!

Two weeks later they have enrolled in a course--because she is intelligent.  Now, is worshipping the sun a religion?

The way I'm understanding these conversations is...that we need to find out who's in charge, coz things are fucked up, guv.  And the BIG BIG fuck ups (killing)...or maybe killing isn't a big fuck up?  War...Dying means the sun goes out--for you.  No more sun god.  Or maybe when you die you expand--whoosh!--up and out, finally!, but no....there's gravity pulling you back for another swing round--okay, people believe crazy things, but they act within various boundaries--and each culture needs a means of dealing with sadists--those who turn against the tribe; (I'm in your tribe: I would like to have a U.N. passport--I would only be allowed to travel in countries recognised by and recognising the U.N.  I would swear allegiance to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

On December 10, 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the full text of which appears in the following pages. Following this historic act the Assembly called upon all Member countries to publicize the text of the Declaration and "to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without distinction based on the political status of countries or territories."
PREAMBLE

    Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

    Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

    Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,

    Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,

    Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

    Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

    Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,

Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

Article 1.

    All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.



Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.
by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 05:46:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Big Brother

"apparently benevolent but repressive authority" first recorded 1949, from George Orwell's novel "1984."

Online Etymology Dictionary

brother
O.E. broþor, from P.Gmc. *brothar, from PIE base *bhrater (cf. Gk. phratér, L. frater, O.Ir. brathir, Skt. bhrátár-, O.Pers. brata, Goth. bróþar, O.Prus. brati, O.C.S. bratru "brother"). As a familiar term of address from one man to another, it is attested from 1912 in U.S. slang; the specific use among blacks is recorded from 1973. Alternate pl. brethren was predominant c.1200-1600s, but survived only in religious usage. Colloquial shortening bro is attested from 1666. Brotherhood is M.E. broiþerhede (c.1300). In Arabic, Urdu, Swahili, etc., brother-in-law, when addressed to a male who is not a brother-in-law, is an extreme insult, with implications of "I slept with your sister."

Online Etymology Dictionary

fraternity
c.1330, "body of men associated by common interest," from O.Fr. fraternité, from L. fraternitatem (nom. fraternitas), from fraternus "brotherly," from frater "brother," from PIE *bhrater (see brother). College Greek-letter organization sense is from 1777, first in reference to Phi Beta Kappa; shortened form frat first recorded 1895. Fraternize is attested from 1611, "to sympathize as brothers;" sense of "cultivate friendship with enemy troops" is from 1897; used oddly by World War II armed forces to mean "have sex with women from enemy countries." Fraternal is 1421, from M.L. fraternalis, from L. fraternus.

Online Etymology Dictionary

bully (n.)
1538, originally "sweetheart," applied to either sex, from Du. boel "lover, brother," probably dim. of M.H.G. buole "brother," of uncertain origin (cf. Ger. buhle "lover"). Meaning deteriorated 17c. through "fine fellow," "blusterer," to "harasser of the weak" (1653). Perhaps this was by infl. of bull, but a connecting sense between "lover" and "ruffian" may be in "protector of a prostitute," which was one sense of bully (though not specifically attested until 1706). The verb is first attested 1710. The expression meaning "worthy, jolly, admirable" (esp. in 1864 U.S. slang bully for you!) is first attested 1681, and preserves an earlier, positive sense of the word.

Online Etymology Dictionary

Brother Jonathan
sobriquet for "United States," 1816, is often derived from Jonathan Trumbull (1740-1809) of Connecticut, who was often called Brother Jonathan by George Washington, who often sought his advice, somehow in ref. to 2 Sam i.26.

Seems brothers....there are sisters.

Online Etymology Dictionary

sister
O.E. sweostor, swuster, or a Scand. cognate (cf. O.N. systir, Swed. sister, Dan. søster), in either case from P.Gmc. *swestr- (cf. O.S. swestar, O.Fris. swester, M.Du. suster, Du. zuster, O.H.G. swester, Ger. Schwester, Goth. swistar), from PIE *swesor, one of the most persistent and unchanging PIE root words, recognizable in almost every modern I.E. language (cf. Skt. svasar-, Avestan shanhar-, L. soror, O.C.S., Rus. sestra, Lith. sesuo, O.Ir. siur, Welsh chwaer, Gk. eor). Probably from PIE roots *swe- "one's own" + *ser- "woman." For vowel evolution, see bury. Used of nuns in O.E.; of a woman in general from 1906; of a black woman from 1926; and in the sense of "fellow feminist" from 1912.

Online Etymology Dictionary

sorority
1532, "body of women united for some purpose," from M.L. sororitas "sisterhood, of or pertaining to sisters," from L. soror "sister" (see sister). OED 2nd ed. lists first reference for sense of "women's society in a college or university" as c.1900, but they existed at least 20 years before this.

Online Etymology Dictionary

Cleopatra
common name of sister-queens in Egypt under the Ptolemaic Dynasty. The name is Gk., probably meaning "key to the fatherland," from khleis "key" + patris. The famous queen was the seventh of that name.

Online Etymology Dictionary

Mary
fem. proper name, O.E. Maria, Marie, "mother of Jesus," from L. Maria, from Gk. Mariam, Maria, from Aram. Maryam, from Heb. Miryam, sister of Moses (Ex. xv.), of unknown origin, said to mean lit. "rebellion." Nursery rhyme "Mary had a Little Lamb" written early 1830 by Sarah Josepha Hale of Boston; published Sept. 1830 in "Juvenile Miscellany," a popular magazine for children. Mary Jane is 1921 as the proprietary name of a kind of low-heeled shoe worn chiefly by young girls, 1928 as slang for marijuana.

Online Etymology Dictionary

cousin
1160, from O.Fr. cosin, from L. consobrinus "mother's sister's child," from com- "together" + sobrinus (earlier *sosrinos) "cousin on mother's side," from soror (gen. sororis) "sister." Used familiarly as a term of address since 1430, especially in Cornwall. Your first cousin (also cousin-german) is the son or daughter of an uncle or aunt; your children and your first cousin's are second cousins to one another; to you, your first cousin's children are first cousin once removed. Phrase kissing cousin is Southern U.S. expression, 1940s, denoting "those close enough to be kissed in salutation;" Kentish cousin (1796) is an old British term for "distant relative."


Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.
by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 05:58:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'll pin my baseline assumptions on the universal declaration of human rights

(link is not in original)

Well that's settled then. So can we get on with the job of trying to safeguard human rights and strenghten our crumbling democricies without fighting over the evils of religion?

We have a stick that we can use to take the measure both theists and non-theists. Let's use it and let the chips fall where they may.


aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 06:16:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We have a stick that we can use to take the measure both theists and non-theists. Let's use it and let the chips fall where they may.

Yeah!  But now I'm finding myself questioning the declaration.  My emphasis:

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Article 2.

    Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

The highlighted part means: no knocking those below you; and no knocking those above you.  I get the first reading, but the second--it depends on what they're doing...

These are just tweaks, though, and it's a human document--a declaration by humans, infallible as we all are, sorry I mean fallible--

Online Etymology Dictionary

fallible
c.1412, from M.L. fallibilis "liable to err, deceitful." lit. "that can be deceived," from L. fallere "deceive."

...but yeah, a document worth discussing--analysing like those scholars do with religious texts.  Look at the history, the words, the constructs--is it any good?  Who (if anyone) swears allegiance to it?  What have been its effects on law?

(!  Maybe I mean--and agree with you who stated it!--that behaviour is more important than the ideas that justify it--or even cause it; because behaviour is where we edge towards agreement--what's intollerable?  Being constantly shouted at.  Being ignored by everyone.  The sciatica.  The sound of the wind through the orchard--it moans!

Basic respect--we fail but if our aim is to understand--

Online Etymology Dictionary

respect (n.)
c.1300, from L. respectus "regard," lit. "act of looking back at one," pp. of respicere "look back at, regard, consider," from re- "back" + specere "look at" (see scope (1)). The verb is 1542, from the noun. Meaning "treat with deferential regard or esteem" is from 1560; respectable "worthy of respect" is from 1586 (implied in respected).
"I have certainly known more men destroyed by the desire to have wife and child and to keep them in comfort than I have seen destroyed by drink and harlots." [William Butler Yeats, "Autobiography"]

My word!  

And for nanne, who typed longly!, a double bill flip--the same song, different words (but some are the same!)



Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 06:42:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks, rg
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Wed Jan 23rd, 2008 at 04:05:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well that's settled then. So can we get on with the job of trying to safeguard human rights and strenghten our crumbling democricies without fighting over the evils of religion?

I'm not going to shut up quite yet. BritGuy misses an important link in the following comment posted elsewhere in this thread:

The dominant mythology of today isn't Christianity, it's Neo-liberal fundamentalism. The neo-libs are far more dangerous than the fundies. They have far more media leverage, their mythology is so widespread and pervasive it has started to appear inevitable, and - unlike the fundies, who are merely robotic and rather stupid - the neo-libs have the potential to completely obliterate any trace of Enlightenment values. If not worse.

If he wants a target to rail against, he should attack the organ grinder, not the monkey. Because without funding and a supportive media climate, the Religious Right would fade away within a decade or two, especially if distracted with a few scandals - not hard to find, I'd guess - and some competing narratives.

I don't think neoliberal fundamentalism could have caught on in a society that does not believe in the concept of "personal responsibility" in the way that America does. It's extremely damaging because it obliterates the concept of society (in exactly the fashion Thatcher put it). I don't know that religious institutions created this concept in its modern form (I honestly have no idea) but the church certainly functions as a wellspring for it today. At a level down from this concept, the guilt and learned helplessness taught by religious institutions certainly allows neoliberal fundamentalism to flourish. Guilt can be harnessed to drive deference, and those stuck in the learned helplessness rut require a leader. The neoliberals simply swoop in and install themselves as the ministers representing god in the material world. Not altogether different from England taking over India - they simply installed themselves at the top of the caste system. Much of the work was already done for them.

There are reasons to want to submit to authority - see Escape from Freedom for example - with our finite minds we all have a point at which we must defer to concepts and assumptions developed by others. Guilt and learned helplessness drive this further, though, at the cultural level, and thus artificially lower the point at which we are willing to submit to the assumptions and concepts of others. These concepts are what need to be eliminated.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 07:07:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
TBG's point, if I may be so bold as to distill it for him, is that evangelical Christianity has been co-opted by Straussian neoliberal neoconservatism (heh...) like a cheap hooker. I don't think he ignores the fact that the two have interests in common.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 07:39:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In my opinion christianity in general, not just the evangelicals, has been hijacked, which is an important distinction from TBG's claims. That the religious right is a bunch of dumb robots is almost beside the point - the neoliberals couldn't have taken control as they have without the social structures of the sort that religious institutions provide. As long as these social structures exist, we'll be at the mercy of whatever ideology is promoted by the top.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Wed Jan 23rd, 2008 at 12:12:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have read your post several times, and at some point you loose me. Perhaps this question may be an answer to the heart of your post: Why has Canada not succumbed to either neoliberal fundamentalism, or fundamentalist Christianity in the same way the US has? Traditionally, Canada has had stronger religious ties than the US. Currently it has weaker ties. I.e. - the reasons that the US has gone in the direction it has is not because of religion - though there were plenty of church leaders who were on the bandwagon as it pulled out of the station. My feeling is that we are witnessing at least two failures - one of democracy, and one of a lack of understanding of what the role of government is. I.e.: Libertarian policy leads to immoral behaviours. It is not the role of government to run at a profit or serve business. It is the role of government to serve the people. Traditionally, church and government have been synonymous. Churches are quite able to fill the role of serving the people when the government fails to do so. (Though not nearly to the same level of quality that a government can.) Perhaps you could call both of these examples of learned helplessness. You probably could call the response to Libertarian philosophy - church run social services - further reinforcing learned helplessness - especially with the poor and sick.

-----------------------------------------------------------

First, there is no such animal as "the church". It is but a dream in a theocrat's eye right now. Plenty of blood spilt to end that idea.

Second - and this is just a hunch - guilt and learned helplessness probably do not usually go well together with support for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. When you speak of guilt, I am guessing you are speaking of the Catholic Church. It seems to me that their stand on Homosexuality would fairly clearly violate the spirit of the declaration. It may, depending on interpretation, violate the letter of the document.  Of course, individual Catholics may or may not be in support of the universal Declaration of Human Rights. When we measure, we are not limited to aye or nay.

At some point you are just going to have to call it a day and accept that your measuring tool may not be perfect. The question is, is it good enough? Of course you can look at other tools as well. Some may in some ways make stronger statements than the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. One example would be the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It, unlike the UDHR is quite explicit on the rights of Homosexuals. If you feel it important to examine the role of learned helplessness within Christianity, or any other religion, then do so. Don't limit yourself to religion, and do not fall into the trap of assuming one-size fits all. Personally I think that one can get unnecessarily complicated and loose sight of the forest for the trees.

If we are speaking about the attempt at making the US into a theocracy - there is no need to worry how they will measure up on the UDHR. The question is, do they support any of it?

As far as the rest of it goes: Use the measuring stick and see what you get. It seems to me that in general the UDHR tends to support positions that are farther, not closer, to learned helplessness.


aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 08:59:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Why has Canada not succumbed to either neoliberal fundamentalism, or fundamentalist Christianity in the same way the US has?

Hard to say. The stakes are lower in Canada from the point of view of those who think in terms of power, as Canada doesn't have the power that the US does.

However, fundamentalism has nothing to do with it. Guilt and learned helplessness are part of the christian experience with few exceptions. (I'll also reduce my use of the term "the church" to christianity. I don't know enough about any other religions to say either way.)

At some point you are just going to have to call it a day and accept that your measuring tool may not be perfect. The question is, is it good enough? Of course you can look at other tools as well. Some may in some ways make stronger statements than the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. One example would be the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It, unlike the UDHR is quite explicit on the rights of Homosexuals. If you feel it important to examine the role of learned helplessness within Christianity, or any other religion, then do so. Don't limit yourself to religion, and do not fall into the trap of assuming one-size fits all. Personally I think that one can get unnecessarily complicated and loose sight of the forest for the trees.

Your assumption of a complete lack of nuance on my part is telling.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 11:41:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Your assumption of a complete lack of nuance on my part is telling.

If that is true, then sorry. Still I note that you are saying "Christianity". There is no "one church" in Christianity either. No, you do not have a complete lack of nuance, but when it comes to Christianity, there are mighty few shades of gray. You do recognize that there may be a few exceptions to your idea of guilt and learned helplessness.

As long as you define Christianity as effectively evil, you will have accomplished nothing but to engage in the politics of guilt. Measure and prove. Compare to other aspects of society. What is good? What is bad? Is it true that modern Protestantism is based on guilt and learned helplessness or has Protestantism (and no, there is not a "Protestant church" either.) changed as society has changed? My impression in Canada is that it is not the same as when I was growing up. Even while growing up, Christianity was not monolithic. I was involved in advocating for an end to religious public schools. The group of people who were most interested were Christians. (With some notable exceptions like Unitarians.) Christians were divided on the issue. In general we received the most support and the most opposition from Christians. This included all political parties. Bluntly, some Christian churches were significantly more progressive and more supportive of my rights as an atheist than any of the political parties and society at large.

aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Wed Jan 23rd, 2008 at 09:34:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Christianity isn't evil. Like i said a few posts up, I think the social structures it tends to create leaves people more prone to being controlled by others. That's a shortcoming, not a display of evilness.

Bluntly, some Christian churches were significantly more progressive and more supportive of my rights as an atheist than any of the political parties and society at large.

This isn't about religion vs. everything else. Political parties are self-interested in power, they won't represent the people's interests unless the people demand it firmly. Churches still provide some sense of community which the rest of society has done away with. Secular society needs to recreate this.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Wed Jan 23rd, 2008 at 01:22:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I suspect that we really do need more community in society, so I am certainly with you in helping to foster a greater sense of community.

Ok sorry for being slow on the uptake: Does Christianity leave people more prone to being controlled?

Very quickly, I can say yes and no to both of these and can come up with examples of specific sects or individuals to match.

Now what? Perhaps we may wish to compare it to other aspects of society and see if a particular Christian sect is contributing to greater freedom and less control compared to some other social institution or group. Still where does that leave us?

We still have a huge number of unanswered questions - such as what is the role of religion? How does religion work? What is religion? How is religion changing over time? How do religion and social attitudes feed off one another?

Let's assume you have managed to prove your point - which I do not think you will be able to do - then what? Almost any form of direct intervention will create helplessnesses and victimization.

It seems to me to be far easier to work on social policies that increase the level of freedom that people have. Universal medical care, old age pensions, unemployment insurance, and so on. These are the things that have caused religious membership to drop like a stone in Canada. Let's continue along the same line. Let's support free daycare, free dental care, higher baby bonuses, longer maternity and paternity leave, free university education and so on. Internationally, lets support peace initiatives and fair treatment for oppressed people in the third world. And yes, lets support community growth at home.

Not only that, but you can get some Canadian Christians to help you put forward these policies - especially the  more left wing groups. Church antecedence has been dropping like a stone. An yet, they will work hard to implement social changes that will further decrease their numbers. It seems to me to be a win-win situation where the question of does Christianity contribute to being controlled becomes a complete non-issue.


aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Wed Jan 23rd, 2008 at 03:52:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Planned or unplanned, all parents 'indoctrinate' their children

How we learn is almost a taboo subject.

Right, and you've demonstrated why these taboos need to be broken down. "People are going to do X anyway" is not acceptable view in a modern society.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 03:30:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
By the way.. i want yout o answetrthat directly. When I mention that it seems you take things personally is always in a direct answer to a sentence which is directly offensive to me. If you do not make any sentence with any directr personal attack I never suppose that your feelings are hurt.

i frankly can not udnerstand how someone can attack anotehr person and insult him if there is nothing personal involve, specially with name-calling.

I am asking you kindly in those instances to refrain from personal attack, that's all :)

Sorry if it sounded pa<tronizing.. but it was my guess. <br> Then why do you use offensive wordings in your comment?

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 10:21:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]

I tried being polite with you - but, after lots of bad arguments and careless accusations, patience wears thin. Thus you moved from insulting Dawkins in a crude way (what do you have against him "personally"?) - you modified it to "he's a very, very, very bad scientist." Am I supposed to treat remarks like that politely ? A merely very bad scientist makes errors in routine procedures in his own area - he doesn't develop new ideas which prompt debate which goes on for thirty years (whether finally right or wrong) - nor does he get get elected to the Royal Institution. Argue sensibly, provide some evidence and your views will be dealt with politely.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 06:13:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
While I do not know about the appropriateness of exposing Children to fire and brimstone sermons on a daily or even weekly basis, note that Dawkins makes a sweeping statement about all of Christianity. He's doing more than putting these two concepts in the same room, too. He's making a claim of moral equivalency.
This is a fantastic, feel good statement written for people terrified by atheists, and framing this in terms of punishment verifies exactly which audience this article was written for. Sexual abuse is rightly punished by jail time, but to throw an entire culture in jail for their standard practices? Madness.

TNR does not write for people who are terrified by atheists, generally. You should try reading the complete piece. It's quite friendly to secularism.

Anyway, society has seen fit to throw people in jail over common practices of all kinds (prostitution, drugs, alcohol at some point). This derives from the puritan ethic, in a non-religious sense, the striving for purity, and I see quite a bit of that in Dawkins' expression of atheism.

Now...

Fear is a component of why people believe in X, and it it undermines this argument:

Contrary to what Dawkins thinks, religious belief is not perpetuated by infection and incapacitation of the intellect.

Pascal's wager is a powerful artificial viral tool.

It is primarily perpetuated by perpetuating the institutions of religious belief. That, I would guess, is mainly a story of power and social control.

You are describing inertia, not origin.


Religion is, by and large, inertia. Few people are voluntarily and spontaneously converted. Pascal's wager, for that matter, is just a curious intellectual exercise to someone whose mind has not already been imprinted with vivid images of hell.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Wed Jan 23rd, 2008 at 04:40:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]

While I do not know about the appropriateness of exposing Children to fire and brimstone sermons on a daily or even weekly basis, note that Dawkins makes a sweeping statement about all of Christianity.

This is hardly a major plank of his general argument (critics hunt around for excuses for attack), but, for the record, his point about labelling children applies to all religions.

This derives from the puritan ethic, in a non-religious sense, the striving for purity, and I see quite a bit of that in Dawkins' expression of atheism.

Easy to allege, again, this would carry some weight if you actually gave some (one) examples. There's a difference between purity and clarity or trying to argue consistently. But - if that's what you're reduced to trying to pick on ... :-)

Religion is, by and large, inertia.

And various things can jerk them out of it - including books,  even very challenging ones - see the feedback on his site.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Jan 23rd, 2008 at 06:13:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is hardly a major plank of his general argument (critics hunt around for excuses for attack), but, for the record, his point about labelling children applies to all religions.

Not all critics are alike :-)

As for the 'purity' part I note that Dawkins seems at pains to also make arguments against moderate believers who support secularism, and seems to feel that grave injustices are being done when a six year old visits a generic Catholic nun once a week.

But that is how it appears to me. It may just be a set of happy little accidents.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Thu Jan 24th, 2008 at 03:28:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]

But YOU as critic picked on this minor point - as elsewhere - longer reply coming :-)

His criticism of moderate Christians isn't "puritanism"; it's a quite logical and important argument - which you didn't seem to quite get (he wasn't saying the moderates teach the extremists), that they make relying on faith seem respectable, but it isn't, and in extreme cases it leads to extreme violence - also justified by faith.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Sat Jan 26th, 2008 at 06:06:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]

I share his concern/outrage that young children are subjected to indoctrination which typically includes ideas about eternal punishment in hell for quite normal human behaviour - which can easily lead to the kind of nightmares from similar indocrination which MillMan suffered as a child. I'm surprised it doesn't concern you too.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Sat Jan 26th, 2008 at 06:10:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Did domeone say eternal punishment?

"If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles." Sun Tzu
by Turambar (sersguenda at hotmail com) on Sat Jan 26th, 2008 at 11:52:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What bothers me is that neither you nor MillMan nor Dawkins have done a review of how religion is generally brought across to children. Your statement of what is 'typical' is rather empty in that respect.

I stated to MillMan that I think giving a young child daily or even weekly brim and firestone lectures is unhealthy.

Exposing a child to the mere concept of eternal damnation is not a whole lot more damaging than exposing a child to the concept of absolute death. Or the boogeyman. What matters is how the idea is brought across, not the idea itself.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sun Jan 27th, 2008 at 12:54:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]

It's funny how you find so many minor things to criticise about Dawkins - still not having read the book apparently  - but any excuse to pardon Christians. Isn't the idea of Hell a key part of christianity - and isn't it eternal punishment there? How many kids terrified by this absurd idea (organised by a loving god) would be too many for you? See also turambar's link.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Sun Jan 27th, 2008 at 07:50:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Dawkins is just one person. You can't make sweeping generalisations about one person, as easily :-)
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sun Jan 27th, 2008 at 08:45:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Very, very good diary. Thankyou for taking the time to write it.

Some random points:

  1. Yes, Dawkins doesn't understand mythology, and he doesn't understand social dynamics. He certainly doesn't understand politics and he completely fails to understand that the rise of the Religious Right in the US is an interesting piece of applied social engineering, and not, in any way, a religious phenomenon. The fact that it happens to use religious symbolism is a matter of political convenience and expediency.

  2. The dominant mythology of today isn't Christianity, it's Neo-liberal fundamentalism. The neo-libs are far more dangerous than the fundies. They have far more media leverage, their mythology is so widespread and pervasive it has started to appear inevitable, and - unlike the fundies, who are merely robotic and rather stupid - the neo-libs have the potential to completely obliterate any trace of Enlightenment values. If not worse.

If he wants a target to rail against, he should attack the organ grinder, not the monkey. Because without funding and a supportive media climate, the Religious Right would fade away within a decade or two, especially if distracted with a few scandals - not hard to find, I'd guess - and some competing narratives.

Full-on assault just gives the fundies more PR coverage, which seems unhelpful - although I guess Dawkins' agent might not agree.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 07:00:47 AM EST

Very, very good diary. Thankyou for taking the time to write it.

WHAT a surprise - considering that it supports your original diary - which I went to some lengths to criticise - on the basis of what DAWKINS actually says he's doing and supporting evidence for this. The result ? In comments you simply reiterated your opinions and when I pointed out that these ignored the evidence I'd presented (and, yet again, you fail to provide evidence for your own case) - you failed to respond.

Now we have another rerun of your general opinions and we just get blanket assertions that Dawkins fails to understand - just about everything - if ONLY he'd consulted you, the poor man could have been spared all these supposed areas of ignorance:

Yes, Dawkins doesn't understand mythology, and he doesn't understand social dynamics. He certainly doesn't understand politics and he completely fails to understand that the rise of the Religious Right in the US is an interesting piece of applied social engineering, and not, in any way, a religious phenomenon. The fact that it happens to use religious symbolism is a matter of political convenience and expediency.

Of course, not a shred of evidence for any of this - the value of  which is evident from the absurd and simplistic "the Religious Right in the US is an interesting piece of applied social engineering, and not, in any way, a religious phenomenon."

Well, that will be news to a lot of people, and not just Dawkins, Hitchens et al, also, here, it will be news to rdf and Millman, and to the many ex-religious people who've written or spoken to Dawkins to thank him for helping to free them from RELIGIOUS groups.

Of course religion and politics interact in complex ways and of course some politicians try to exploit such groups - but it works both ways. Part of the reason for the criticisms from Dawkins et al is that religious groups have become very active in politics. They are not active just about general political issues,  but also about issues specific to their religious beliefs - cf. the comment from rdf. Their advocacy for creationism in schools is very obviously motivated by their religious beliefs, not just general political ones, as with other policies they campaign for.


The dominant mythology of today isn't Christianity, it's Neo-liberal fundamentalism.

Dawkins et al are arguing against religion, not just Christianity, and they don't claim that it is THE most important thing, just an important and influential thing - cf rdf's comment again - which they want to write about - not what you think they ought to write about.

If he wants a target to rail against, he should attack the organ grinder, not the monkey. Because without funding and a supportive media climate, the Religious Right would fade away within a decade or two, especially if distracted with a few scandals - not hard to find, I'd guess - and some competing narratives.

The religious give very generously to their churches' campaigns, many of which are specifically based on religious beliefs. THEY are influencing politicians, it's not just one-way, and some of their campaigns cause really suffering and death.


Full-on assault just gives the fundies more PR coverage, which seems unhelpful - although I guess Dawkins' agent might not agree.

Over-simplification again: it doesn't JUST do that - as I've pointed out to you, repeatedly -  their books provide support and ammunition for wavering religious people, agnostics and closet atheists, as is evident from the sales of the books, feedback to Dawkins' site, feedback he and Hitchens got on their book tours in the US and the testimonies on sites such as

http://exchristian.net e.g.:


I grew up in a Christian Fundamentalist home, where the Bible was law and nobody questioned its authority.
I am now 33. For the first time I have found enough courage to REALLY question the things that I have held dear for so long. I found a website last night listing the similarities between Jesus and Horus. Scary. Everything matches. I found another site where a certain Rev Pete disproves the Bible by using the Bible. Even more scary. No argument I ever had for Christianity holds water any more. I am now convinced that God is not affiliated to any religion. He does not care where in the world you live. And He certainly does not want to throw us into a lake of fire!

I am not entirely sure where that leaves me, but I refuse to call myself a Christian anymore. I am still looking for answers, testing what I have been taught against true evidence. Till then, I remain pissed off.

http://exchristian.net/testimonies/2007/12/i-refuse-to-call-myself-christian.html

Some of one and a half million people who have already bought Dawkins' book are people like this person "still looking for answers". Cf.:

It's been a long hard fought road, but worth every tear, frustration and sleepless nights. I have a few close friends who are supportive of what I believe and I cannot stress how important that is to anyone who has left the fold. It is also extremely important to keep reading material that questions Christianity and it's dogma. Education is a constant process since believers will use every trick in the book to bring one back to church.

http://exchristian.net/testimonies/2007/06/i-received-double-dose-of-cognitive.html




Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 01:13:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Some of one and a half million people who have already bought Dawkins' book are people like this person "still looking for answers".

Millions of people also bought The Da Vinci Code looking for answers. That doesn't mean it gave them any answers worth having.

It's clear you don't understand the origins or motive power behind the fundie movement any more than Dawkins does. So for homework I suggest you research who funded Jerry Falwell and the other original fundies in the 80s, and who they were connected to politically.

When you're familiar with that, we can move on to the difference between creating media noise and crafting a coherent and memorable narrative, and the different options that are available to do that.

You might, for example, want to look into how effective direct mail campaigns have been in building up the fundie base. And whether they're more effective as agents of persuasion than a book aimed at a middle class and educated readership which has no interest in becoming part of fundie culture.

Some time spent pondering the difference in influence and effectiveness between the narrative Dawkins is selling and the knee-jerk grudge-politics of the Right could be interesting too. In fact a diary on that would be useful for everyone, and with your media background I'm sure you'd be an excellent person to write it.

Believing that Dawkins has a clue about any of this, or any influence on it at all, is entertaining, but - it has to be said - somewhat at odds with historical reality.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 03:12:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I interrupt this spirited debate for a brief break of humour! Sorry for that, but there are just.too.many.parallels.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 04:24:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well that is pretty well what I expected as a reply - just a repetition that you are right and that Dawkins, and now me, are wrong. Couched as usual in generalizations justified by nothing other than that you believe them - pretty much the way the fundamentalists "argue".

You refer specifically to ONE point:

    Some of one and a half million people who have already bought Dawkins' book are people like this person "still looking for answers".

Millions of people also bought The Da Vinci Code looking for answers. That doesn't mean it gave them any answers worth having.

Books like the Da Vinci Code are part of the problem which Dawkins et al are addressing. You haven't come up with any specific criticisms of Dawkins' book - apart from assumumptions about what he's trying to do - which  are clearly wrong - as I'm tired of pointing out.

Of course you again ignore the other evidence that he's succeeding in helping religious people leave religious groups, and giving support to agnostics and atheists - which many of them appreciate and feel is important in the current religious climate in the US. You also ignore rdf's comment and the evidence in it.

It's clear you don't understand the origins or motive power behind the fundie movement any more than Dawkins does. So for homework I suggest you research who funded Jerry Falwell and the other original fundies in the 80s, and who they were connected to politically.

It's clear that you are so rigid in your views you continue to ignore any evidence and arguments against it - despite the absurdity of claiming that "the Religious Right in the US is ... not, in any way, a religious phenomenon." I have already said that I'm sure some politicians exploit religious groups - but that clearly religious groups are pushing religious agendas too in politics with extremely harmful consequences for many.

I find it staggering that after all that's been pointed out about Dawkins' aims and the various forms of positive feedback he's got, you continue with junk like this:


 ... And whether they're more effective as agents of persuasion than a book aimed at a middle class and educated readership which has no interest in becoming part of fundie culture.

If YOU did some homework you'd know that even  some fundamentalists are intelligent people who've struggled with their own doubts, often suppressed not to upset those close to them, but that, in the end, they couldn't compartmentalize any more. Some of even the previously most committed started asking questions and then reading books like that of Dawkins and, despite the personal problems, changed radically.

In between these extreme cases and overt atheists, who welcome support, there are many people of all classes in the US who have doubts and many are beginning to read such books and open discussion of them has become more acceptable. This is to the credit of such authors.

Believing that Dawkins has a clue about any of this, or any influence on it at all, is entertaining, but - it has to be said - somewhat at odds with historical reality.

Presumably we should just have faith in your views -  even though they are "somewhat at odds with historical reality" - which is a bit more complex than - it's all due to the neo-cons.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 05:02:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
While the big four get all the notice there are others hoeing the same row.
Physicist Victor Stenger has a book out: "God, the Failed Hypothesis".
Here's a sample of his writing:

http://www.secularhumanism.org/library/fi/stenger_25_2.html

Also is a new book by mathematician John Allen Paulos: "Irreligion". It's reviewed in today's NY Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/22/books/22kaku.html

I read the first one and measured arguments don't sell books (the same point is made in today's book review). That's why the polemicists get all the attention.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 10:20:30 AM EST
Can anyone tell me what the passage from the "Dialektik der Aufklärung" actually says. I've been reading it for ten minutes and I can't work it out. I sincerely doubt its the translation either. I'm not trying to be glib but if someone is trying to draw some kind of intellectual equivalence between the enlightenment and the "mythical" they need to have some powerful arguments and the 'argument' seems completely opaque to me.

I think that people do mischaracterise passionate atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens because they isolate the militant style from its ultimate source. In a vacuum the militancy may seem irrational or deranged  - but in Dawkins' case its an extention of his work on evolution and zoology for Hitchens probably his Trotskyist abhorence of 'reaction'. Dawkins' passion is for the brilliance of evolution by natural selection and religious belief however mild, undermines the theory (however much people want to believe otherwise).

I am more sympathetic to Dawkins militant views on religion after reading The Selfish Gene and The Ancestors Tale than after reading The God Delusion.

by lemonwilmot (lemonwilmot at gmail.com) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 01:13:21 PM EST
I had the same impression over the quote. You have to accept some very shady premises to follow their argument, which, I agree, does not withstand scrutiny. Unfortunately, it is out of context. Nevertheless the Wiki English version of the link alleges a portrayal of Enlightment as some sort of Democritic atomism that I find churlish and superficial.
by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 05:39:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]

I'm tired - that's enough long replies for tonight - so I'm happy just to say (for now) I agree with you two :-)  

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 07:04:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Public service announcement: I am trying to explain. Please respect the implicit ratio of explanation :-) Try to understand, do not look at these as points which you should argue about. Unless you wish to offer alternative explanations :-)
It would only appear as if the enlightened worldview is superior to the mythical. In reality, both approaches would be closely connected.

Would, according to H&A. I struggle with tranlating the konjunktiv. This part should be relatively clear, otherwise. Instead of opposition, there is connection.
The ideal of enlightenment is the rational explanation of the world in order to control nature. In it, understanding is replaced by the formula.

What H&A are saying is that enlightenment implies a striving to instrumentalise our grasp of nature, so that it can be used for controlling nature. This is exemplified by the formula (quantitative research). By understanding, they presumably mean a grasp of nature that is an expression of our interrelation with it.
Through the argumented defense of the mythical interpretation of the world, the principle of rationality would already be acknowledged. As a result, it would get stronger with each confrontation.

Here H&A are saying that rationality and myth have different rationalities, basically, although we perhaps should not think of myth as having a rationality, strictly speaking. But by trying to defend myth through rational argument, you have already ceded the ground. Unless you transcend that mode of argumentation, like rg regularly manages :-)

We show, do not explain. But I have not mastered that allusive language yet!

"As being and an event, enlightenment only recognises that which can be encompassed in the unit; its ideal is the system, from which all and everything follows."

I actually mistranslated this quote (slightly): instead of 'the unit', I wrote 'an event'. Not too dramatic in terms of meaning, but the sentence looks better now. "Was durch Einheit sich erfassen last" can also be translated as "what can be compassed through unitariness". If you are familiar with anti-foundational criticism, you might see where this is headed. Instead of criticising a copernican point from which things can be developed, H&A criticise the system which seeks to define everything as points; units.
All gods and qualities should be destroyed.

I'll refer to ChrisCook's diary here.
In this, it overlooks that myths are already a product of the enlightenment. "As commander over nature, the creative God and the ordering intellect are alike."

This is best understood by the allegory of the Greek gods, standing on Mount Olympus and looking at the world, fixating everything with their gaze. In their eyes was the determinate definition of reality as it really is. The ordering intellect seeks to make itself external to reality in order to determine, to attain the view of the gods, in turn, according to H&A, to then have the power of the gods.
They have the same roots, as "myths like magical rites hold themselves to have a repetitive nature."

Here I think H&A state that science has ritual elements (for instance, the eternal cycle of impovement) at its roots. This is a bit thin, so you should perhaps conceive of it more as an overtone or colour in the origin.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Wed Jan 23rd, 2008 at 06:46:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for putting in the effort to explain a H&A's paragraph. As it is contingent to my remark, allow me a personal reflection. I simply find that phrases such as
The ideal of enlightenment is the rational explanation of the world in order to control nature. In it, understanding is replaced by the formula.

are utterly berift of interest or significance. Out of fairness to H&A I would rather read it in context in the remote hope that there may be a smattering of argumentation to justify it. Beyond that, assertions such as this are irrelevant to my admittedly meager cognitive grasp of what is around me.

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Wed Jan 23rd, 2008 at 06:09:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]

The ideal of enlightenment is the rational explanation of the world in order to control nature. In it, understanding is replaced by the formula.

The problem statements like this is that they merely reflect the prevalent myth (in the sense of widely believed but untrue) about the Enlightenment. The statement is more applicable to 19th c. positvists.

It's like the similar myth that the Renaissance represented a radical break with the "dark ages", not now accepted by experts.  Cf.:

 A central difficulty in understanding this sort of anti-Enlightenment critique is identifying
exactly what is being criticized. It has become increasing apparent in recent scholarship that the European Enlightenment of the eighteenth century is hardly a unified movement. It consists of many different tendencies in several countries, and it covers a variety of disciplines and practices. Although the Enlightenment rejects orthodoxy in religion, eschewing doctrinaire traditions and teachings, it counts among its advocates deists, theists, pantheists, agnostics, and atheists. The Enlightenment is often identified with republican politics and even revolutionary movements, but there was no consensus among its supporters with regard to political systems or world views: monarchists and democrats, nationalists and cosmopolitans, could all lay claim to enlightened opinions. And in the realm of art and aesthetics there was an array of preferences voiced among enlightened thinkers: from the strict adherence to neo-classical style and universal rules, to the advocation of the subjective expression of human emotions. There were enlightenment thinkers whose primary concern was the natural sciences; others focused on theology and philosophy; still others believed in the supreme importance of the human, psychological, and social sciences. It is thus no wonder that Johann Friedrich Zöllner, late in the Enlightenment in 1783, expressed confusion and dismay about the very identity of the movement everyone seemed to know and acknowledge, but no one seemed able to define.

http://learning.berkeley.edu/robertholub/research/essays/Legacy_of_Enlightenment.pdf

From the general to the particular - a key Enlightenment figure - Diderot, editor of the Encyclopédie (my street named after him, the French do value their culture). Not much narrow rationalism to control nature here:

It may seem unusual for artists to present work in an exhibition under the name of an art critic. But Denis Diderot was no ordinary critic. Diderot is a key French Enlightenment figure, famous as an important theatre critic, novelist and polymath thinker who used the Annual Painting Salons to construct his Philosophy on art and culture. As the first modern art critic, his ideas had a huge impact in the sphere of French culture. His ideas of tableau and mise-en-scene as a theory of `staging' (relevant now not only for painting and theatre but also cinema, photography and video performances) have endured. The notion of sensibility that he developed (introduced the viewer's body into the meaning of a picture), have been taken up by many thinkers since and form the basis of much modern thinking about experience in art.

http://www.daniellearnaud.com/exhibitions/exhibition-diderot.html

But of course we'll go on hearing how all those things which Diderot did had to wait for the supposed radical break from narrow rationalism of the Romantic movement.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Jan 23rd, 2008 at 06:37:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You've made Diderot all the more fascinating and entertaining. Excuse me while I open a bottle and toast to his dear memory.
by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Wed Jan 23rd, 2008 at 06:58:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If you didn't read it at the time, you might like my diary "Haunted by Philosophers", which has more on Diderot:

http://www.eurotrib.com/story/2007/4/28/171617/546

Enjoy the bottle - drink to absent atheists :-)

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Jan 23rd, 2008 at 07:22:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You can read the first chapter, via this page
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Thu Jan 24th, 2008 at 03:15:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"accuses scientists who use an anthropomorphical image (of god) metaphorically... of intellectual high treason."

I think you misunderstood his point here. He's saying that priests who knowingly misinterpret the God metaphor used by scientists to convince people of its existence are committing "intellectual treason". Therefore, it would be better if scientist didn't use God as a metaphor in the first place.

"If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles." Sun Tzu

by Turambar (sersguenda at hotmail com) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 02:34:44 PM EST
Hmmm... that's possible, of course. Though the quote is directed to no one directly and in the context, he is talking about the way some scientists use god.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Wed Jan 23rd, 2008 at 11:17:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My experience is that sadists and bullies operate just as effectively under the banners of "reason" and "progress" as they do under the banner of Christ or Mohammed;  just as effectively under a red flag as a red-white-and-blue one;  and just as effectively whether they claim to be championing the People's Cause as the Almighty Dollar.  To blame all of their acts on the content of the words they speak or the ideas they ostensibly cherish is imho to be bamboozled by the magician's hand and lose sight of the birdie.

The form of words, the ideological icing on the cake of domination and terror, seems to me far less important than the underlying will to dominate and hurt.  As an insightful author once wrote, she came to a new understanding the day she realised that her father did not beat her and her siblings because he was drunk;  he got drunk in order to get the courage to do what he enjoyed doing, i.e. hurting them.

Religions and ideologies can be for many people like an alcohol brewed from powerful memes, a rationalisation that gives them the courage (or loosens inhibitions of compassion and commensality) to do what they enjoy doing -- hurting others.  Personally I have as little enthusiasm for Hitchens' indiscriminate nastiness or Dawkins' cool condescension -- or the deliberate provocateering of their escalating book titles -- as I do for the Bible-bashers' zealous rants;  from my PoV each set of ranters has swigged a suitable booze of fermented memes to give them the delightful buzz of feeling better than the other guy and entitled to exercise contempt and jettison respect for whole swathes of their fellow mortals.  They're enjoying a good excuse to feel superior and insult others, and I find that really boring, not to mention depressing.

I am as bothered as the next person by the role of Constantinian Christianity in the present US regime, but imho it's part and parcel of the regime as a whole, i.e. it is a form of words that has evolved to make a state religion consistent with the neoliberal agenda.  Without the neoliberal agenda the revanchist fundies in the Air Force and other hotspots would be marginal;  they are being promoted and placed preferentially by the neocons at the core of power.

And I really wish people would stop comparing "anything I don't like" to child abuse.  [A year or so back there was some zealot on a bike list in the US who compared letting your kid ride a bike w/o a helmet to "child abuse."  This is just getting silly.]  Yeah, people tell children stories that are scary, and yeah, sometimes it would be better if they didn't (though kids generally like scary stories, so long as they are told in a safe environment).  But the mind of a child is a mysterious and highly individual thing:  some are terrified by the apparently innocuous (nightmares for months after seeing the funny clown at the circus), some shrug off scare stories with an apparently native skepticism.  Childhood is a maze of potentially terrifying adult narratives, rules, and punishments;  an overbearing/cruel atheistical parent can instil as much fear and suffering in a child as any godbotherer, imho, and a compassionate and loving parent can subscribe to any ideology or religion on earth and still convey that love and security to a child.  Who knows, a child who is raised from earliest youth with a deep sense of being personally loved and cherished by a loving and all-knowing God -- or accompanied through life by protective totemic sibling spirits -- might be more cheerful and better armoured against life's vicissitude than one raised in the bleaker existential worldview of atheism;  being raised atheist I wouldn't know.

What makes people cruel or kind, abusive or nurturing, tolerant or self-righteously vindictive, seems so disconnected (on the personal day2day level) from the cultural formulae they mouth or the rituals they partake in...  it would make more sense to me if we talked about the ways in which different ideologies or religions justify or delegitimate cruelty, the ways in which they strengthen or weaken commensalism and mutual respect, the ways in which they mediate or exacerbate faction, their attitudes to wealth accumulation and justice, etc. -- and the ways in which big ideas (like evolutionary theory or theology, like Science or God) are simplified and co-opted by State power to function as control mechanisms for accumulator elites.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 03:06:38 PM EST
I am in awe at your ability to get to the nub.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 04:26:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Dawkins demonstrates how critical thinking can sometimes dispell misplaced awe - try it :-)

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 06:02:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
To keep this love-in going, I'm amazed at you both, frankly. De for cutting through, and you for transcending.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 06:24:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]

My experience is that sadists and bullies operate just as effectively under the banners of "reason" and "progress" as they do under the banner of Christ or Mohammed;  just as effectively under a red flag as a red-white-and-blue one;  and just as effectively whether they claim to be championing the People's Cause as the Almighty Dollar.  To blame all of their acts on the content of the words they speak or the ideas they ostensibly cherish is imho to be bamboozled by the magician's hand and lose sight of the birdie.

It's useful to use quotations when making criticisms - a problem in this case is that I'm not aware of who is supposed to have claimed  this - is Dawkins supposed to have done so ? Where ?

Now we get the old "they're all the same" "rant" - crude comparison ignoring significant differences, that's what happens when you give little evidence of actually having read what your making pronouncements about.


 Personally I have as little enthusiasm for Hitchens' indiscriminate nastiness or Dawkins' cool condescension -- or the deliberate provocateering of their escalating book titles -- as I do for the Bible-bashers' zealous rants;  from my PoV each set of ranters has swigged a suitable booze of fermented memes to give them the delightful buzz of feeling better than the other guy and entitled to exercise contempt and jettison respect for whole swathes of their fellow mortals.  They're enjoying a good excuse to feel superior and insult others, and I find that really boring, not to mention depressing.

Fortunately for them vast numbers of readers don't share your views - so I don't suppose they'll lose much sleep over your boredom, which apparently caused you not to be a reader.


I am as bothered as the next person by the role of Constantinian Christianity in the present US regime, but imho it's part and parcel of the regime as a whole, i.e. it is a form of words that has evolved to make a state religion consistent with the neoliberal agenda.  Without the neoliberal agenda the revanchist fundies in the Air Force and other hotspots would be marginal;  they are being promoted and placed preferentially by the neocons at the core of power.

Consider the arguments in rdf's comment and the rather obvious general point that religious groups are pushing policies based on their religious beliefs, not general neo-con policies (which they might ALSO support - but not all religious groups, even in the US, would).


And I really wish people would stop comparing "anything I don't like" to child abuse.  [A year or so back there was some zealot on a bike list in the US who compared letting your kid ride a bike w/o a helmet to "child abuse."  This is just getting silly.]  

Oh really? Well it's irrelevant to the main issues, but it seems to me quite reasonable to suggest that action which can lead to serious brain injury and quite easily to death could be described as child abuse - which might well make people more aware of the serious risks involved.


Yeah, people tell children stories that are scary, and yeah, sometimes it would be better if they didn't (though kids generally like scary stories, so long as they are told in a safe environment).  But the mind of a child is a mysterious and highly individual thing:  some are terrified by the apparently innocuous (nightmares for months after seeing the funny clown at the circus), some shrug off scare stories with an apparently native skepticism.

Why don't you - instead of regaling us with your assumptions - read MillMan's comment on his childhood - hardly likely to be unique.


  Childhood is a maze of potentially terrifying adult narratives, rules, and punishments;  an overbearing/cruel atheistical parent can instil as much fear and suffering in a child as any godbotherer, imho,

Obviously - has anyone denied that ?


and a compassionate and loving parent can subscribe to any ideology or religion on earth and still convey that love and security to a child.  Who knows, a child who is raised from earliest youth with a deep sense of being personally loved and cherished by a loving and all-knowing God -- or accompanied through life by protective totemic sibling spirits -- might be more cheerful and better armoured against life's vicissitude than one raised in the bleaker existential worldview of atheism;  being raised atheist I wouldn't know.

Tell them any old junk if it keeps them happy ? Maybe for the first few years. An atheist's view is not necessarily "bleaker" Dawkins discusses this in his final chapter - you might even try reading it. Bleaker  by far is the idea that having been a fallible human being (supposedly created by god that way) and having committed "sins" - you're going to roast in hell for eternity - as ordained by a "loving" god.


What makes people cruel or kind, abusive or nurturing, tolerant or self-righteously vindictive, seems so disconnected (on the personal day2day level) from the cultural formulae they mouth or the rituals they partake in...  it would make more sense to me if we talked about the ways in which different ideologies or religions justify or delegitimate cruelty, the ways in which they strengthen or weaken commensalism and mutual respect, the ways in which they mediate or exacerbate faction, their attitudes to wealth accumulation and justice, etc.

Actually they do discuss those things - try reading them.

And one of the reasons why some of the more thoughtful people leave Christainity, particularly fundamentalist groups, is because when they read the Bible carefully they find so much which they consider morally repugnant (cf testimonies at http://exchristians.net ).


 -- and the ways in which big ideas (like evolutionary theory or theology, like Science or God) are simplified and co-opted by State power to function as control mechanisms for accumulator elites.

Dawkins would obviously agree that evolutionary theory has been misused - just about any ideas can be misused - while some, e.g. racism, homophobia,etc,  the kind of ideas you find in the Bible (but not only those, it shouldn't be necessary to point out), are generally thought to be inherently bad by civilised people.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 06:00:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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