Interesting take on Atheism and what it misses about those who believe
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09-05-2015, 09:14 PM
Interesting take on Atheism and what it misses about those who believe
I highlighted what I thought was most interesting. Having meaning in life seems to trump reality according to this author, I have to say that this certainly seems to play out in everyday life.

SUNDAY, MAY 10, 2015 02:30 AM FJT
New Atheism’s fatal arrogance: The glaring intellectual laziness of Bill Maher & Richard Dawkins
For all their eloquence, New Atheists show little interest in understanding how believers really think or feel
SEAN ILLING

New Atheism's fatal arrogance: The glaring intellectual laziness of Bill Maher & Richard Dawkins

Atheism has a storied history in the West. From the irreverent Voltaire to the iconoclastic Nietzsche, the godless have always had a voice. But the New Atheists are different. Religion, they argue, isn’t just wrong; it’s positively corrosive. If you’ve heard people like Bill Maher or Lawrence Krauss speak in recent years, you’re familiar with this approach.

New Atheism emerged in 2004 as a kind of literary and social movement. Led by such luminaries as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, New Atheism became part of the zeitgeist, a well-timed reaction against religious fundamentalism. The New Atheists are notoriously pugilistic. In print or on stage, they never run from a fight. Whatever you think of their tactics, they’ve succeeded at putting fanatics and moralizers on the defensive – and that’s a good thing.

But there’s something missing in their critiques, something fundamental. For all their eloquence, their arguments are often banal. Regrettably, they’ve shown little interest in understanding the religious compulsion. They talk incessantly about the untruth of religion because they assume truth is what matters most to religious people. And perhaps it does for many, but certainly not all – at least not in the conventional sense of that term. Religious convictions, in many cases, are held not because they’re true but because they’re meaningful, because they’re personally transformative. New Atheists are blind to this brand of belief.

It’s perfectly rational to reject faith as a matter of principle. Many people (myself included) find no practical advantage in believing things without evidence. But what about those who do? If a belief is held because of its effects, not its truth content, why should its falsity matter to the believer? Of course, most religious people consider their beliefs true in some sense, but that’s to be expected: the consolation derived from a belief is greater if its illusory origins are concealed. The point is that such beliefs aren’t held because they’re true as such; they’re accepted on faith because they’re meaningful.


The problem is that the New Atheists think of God only in epistemological terms. Consequently, they have nothing to say to those who affirm God for existential reasons. New Atheist writers tend to approach religion from the perspective of science: They argue that a particular religion isn’t true or that the empirical claims of religious texts are false. That’s easy to do. The more interesting question is why religions endure in spite of being empirically untrue. There are, of course, millions of fundamentalists for whom God is a literal proposition. Their claims concerning God are empirical and should be treated as such. For many, though, God is an existential impulse, a transcendent idea with no referent in reality. This conception of God is untouched – and untouchable – by positivist science; asking if God is true in this sense is like asking how much the number 12 weighs – it’s nonsensical.

These sorts of questions pervade literature and philosophy. The existentialist authors, most of whom were atheists, took seriously the problem of meaning and truth. Dostoevsky, for instance, although a Christian, refused to defend Christianity on positivist grounds. He considered God a motive force, not an empirical claim about reality or history. For his part, God was a bridge to self-transcendence, a way of linking the individual to a tradition and a community. The truth of Christ was therefore less important than the living faith made possible by belief in Christ.

Richard Dawkins may find this distinction trivial, but I don’t think it is.

Dostoevsky’s defense of the idea of God has to be reckoned with, especially by critics of religion. The great writer and humanist Albert Camus wrestled with Dostoevsky for most of his life. Camus was an atheist, but he understood the instinct for transcendence. And he knew that God was a solution (however false) to the problem of meaninglessness. Against the backdrop of death, what matters more: truth or a reason for living? “I’ve never seen anyone die for the ontological argument,” Camus wrote, but “I see many people die because they judge that life is not worth living. I see others getting killed for ideas or illusions that give them a reason for living.” Today is no different; people continue to kill and die in defense of beliefs that give their lives meaning and shape.

The New Atheists don’t have a satisfactory alternative for such people. They argue that religion is false; that it’s divisive; that it’s unethical; that it makes a virtue of self-deception; that it does more harm than good – and maybe they’re right, but if they don’t understand that, for many, meaning is more important than truth, they’ll never appreciate the vitality of religion. To his credit, Sam Harris’ most recent book, “Waking Up,” grapples with these issues in truly fascinating ways. Indeed, Harris writes insightfully about the necessity of love, meaning and self-transcendence. But he’s a fringe voice in the New Atheist community. Most are too busy disproving religion to consider why it is so persistent, and why something beyond science will have to take its place in a Godless world.

The New Atheists have an important role to play. Reason needs its champions, too. And religion has to be resisted because there are genuine societal costs. One can draw a straight line between religious dogma and scientific obscurantism or moral stagnation, for example. That’s a real problem. But if religion is ineradicable, we have to find a way to limit its destructive consequences. Satire and criticism are necessary, but they’re not sufficient.

People like Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens make a powerful case for a more humanistic ethics. Harris writes admirably about the need to be more attentive to the present, to the suffering of other human beings. I agree. But if we want to encourage people to care about the right things, we should spend as much time encouraging them to care about the right things as we do criticizing their faith.

Sean D. Illing is a freelance writer based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He teaches political theory at Louisiana State University. Read more from him at his blog at Cosmopoliticsblog.com. Follow him @sean_illing on Twitter.

“I am quite sure now that often, very often, in matters concerning religion and politics a man’s reasoning powers are not above the monkey’s.”~Mark Twain
“Ocean: A body of water occupying about two-thirds of a world made for man - who has no gills.”~ Ambrose Bierce
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09-05-2015, 09:30 PM
RE: Interesting take on Atheism and what it misses about those who believe
Quote:Religious convictions, in many cases, are held not because they’re true but because they’re meaningful, because they’re personally transformative. New Atheists are blind to this brand of belief.

It's this type of ill informed presumptuousness that really annoys me.

Personally, I have no problem with people practising their religion if they genuinely find comfort/solace/happieness in doing so; and don't use their religion to hurt/belittle/judge or indoctrinate anyone else on the assumption that their perticular beleif is the divine, unquestionable and absolute word of god...

If all theists were privately religious, then the need for forums such as this would be much less.

"Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too"? - Douglas Adams Bechased
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09-05-2015, 09:53 PM
RE: Interesting take on Atheism and what it misses about those who believe
Another idiot conflating religion and theism/atheism.
These are not mutually exclusive concepts!
Theism/atheism are independent of religiosity.

You can be a religious atheist, ffs. or an irreligious theist.

A rape is personally meaningful too. Being meaningful is no guaranty of being good.

Religions endure because the new adherents are indoctrinated from birth.
If a person was raised secular and then asked at age 18 which religion....

Education has always been the enemy of faith.
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09-05-2015, 10:00 PM
RE: Interesting take on Atheism and what it misses about those who believe
"But you have no idea how much it means to me to believe a lie. Just last week, I won 3 lotteries in a row and married Angelina Jolie on our brand new yacht. I'm not concerned with the truth. I'm only interested in how meaningful this delusion is. It has truly transformed my life. "

^That's what I took away from all that crap.

Insanity - doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results
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09-05-2015, 10:02 PM
RE: Interesting take on Atheism and what it misses about those who believe
Quote:they’ve shown little interest in understanding the religious compulsion.


I have little interest in patting the ignorant on the head just for being ignorant. The religious willingly delude themselves.

Fuck them.

Atheism is NOT a Religion. It's A Personal Relationship With Reality!
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09-05-2015, 10:57 PM
RE: Interesting take on Atheism and what it misses about those who believe
(09-05-2015 10:00 PM)Rahn127 Wrote:  "But you have no idea how much it means to me to believe a lie. Just last week, I won 3 lotteries in a row and married Angelina Jolie on our brand new yacht. I'm not concerned with the truth. I'm only interested in how meaningful this delusion is. It has truly transformed my life. "

^That's what I took away from all that crap.

^ This sums it up for me. It makes them feel good so they hold on to it.

“I am quite sure now that often, very often, in matters concerning religion and politics a man’s reasoning powers are not above the monkey’s.”~Mark Twain
“Ocean: A body of water occupying about two-thirds of a world made for man - who has no gills.”~ Ambrose Bierce
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10-05-2015, 12:04 AM
RE: Interesting take on Atheism and what it misses about those who believe
The big takeaway for me here... and I agree with the article on many points... is that many (but not all) of the religious believe for reasons of emotion rather than for reasons of veracity.

And I don't disagree with this. Lots of believers do approach their beliefs that way. And I do feel a measure of scorn for people who do that, for how they just don't care what the truth is if it makes them happy. EDIT: Especially if in defense of that happiness, they undertake actions that bring misery and harm upon others.

But the big implication is a need to adjust strategy in the face of this. If we aim to remove the false beliefs, and the false beliefs are supported by a sense of meaning and purpose that they grant to the believers, then that is what we must target... just as Hitchens effectively targeted the sense of moral superiority that the beliefs gave to the believers.

Personally, I think there's an even simpler element than this at work here: Inertia. They're stuck on a certain trajectory, and it'll take a hell of a strong force to divert them to another one.
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10-05-2015, 12:09 AM
RE: Interesting take on Atheism and what it misses about those who believe
The author seems to forget how many atheists were at one time, devout believers.
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10-05-2015, 03:00 AM
RE: Interesting take on Atheism and what it misses about those who believe
To answer one of questions:
Quote:The more interesting question is why religions endure in spite of being empirically untrue.
Indoctrination would be answer I think.

Also I could agree with this sentence,
Quote:The point is that such beliefs aren’t held because they’re true as such; they’re accepted on faith because they’re meaningful
if one was really capable of choosing what to believe. But that is not the case, one does not choose for example catholicism cause one find it meaningful. One is indoctrinated cause he was born somewhere where catholicism is prevalent.

As for meaninglessness I don't really understand it. I mean what is the problem here? I was not created by god, I'm not pinnacle of creation whose purpose is to praise the Lord. So what? I can make meaning of my own, gaining knowledge and living comfortable life for example.

The first revolt is against the supreme tyranny of theology, of the phantom of God. As long as we have a master in heaven, we will be slaves on earth.

Mikhail Bakunin.
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10-05-2015, 04:05 AM
RE: Interesting take on Atheism and what it misses about those who believe
Quote:The point is that such beliefs aren’t held because they’re true as such; they’re accepted on faith because they’re meaningful

Lying to yourself is never meaningful.
Quote:they're accepted on faith because they're meaningful
^Even the reasons you give are lies

The only significant or important or relevant parts of your life are the parts that are true. When you start believing that your delusions are true, it's only meaningful to your psychotherapist. It becomes significant to them as a way to best treat your condition.

Insanity - doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results
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