There are millions of gods, each having only 1 believer
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26-08-2011, 11:18 PM
RE: There are millions of gods, each having only 1 believer
OMG I just had this discussion with my friend...

She even described god as an imaginary friend!

I personally think she knows religion is absolutely ridiculous... and just chooses to believe otherwise (if that makes sense).

If god is a personal invention, then it cannot be more powerful than *you*.

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27-08-2011, 12:03 AM
RE: There are millions of gods, each having only 1 believer
(26-08-2011 08:51 PM)Sines Wrote:  Religion used to be a vicious, bloodthirsty doberman. Now it's an annoying yapping chihuahua. Yes, it's an improvement, but it's still something that needs to be dealt with. It's good that they're not murdering babies any more, so now we can work on the less serious rejection of science. Remember, when you're so badly off that "No longer murders babies" is an improvement, you've still got work to do.

Never thought I'd be defending anything about religion on this board, but let me play devil's advocate:

True story: I have a friend--I'll call him Chris--who's a space scientist and mathematician. Probably the most brilliant guy I know. Travels the world speaking at conferences about his research. Articles about him and his work have appeared in national magazines. Chris refers to himself as Christian, and goes to a liberal church every Sunday. As you might suspect, not only does he not murder babies, he also does not reject science. He's gay-positive and supports same-sex marriage. He's also pro-choice. He does seem to believe in an afterlife, or at least in the possibility of one, although he's not dogmatic about it. If he believes in heaven and hell, he's never mentioned it. We haven't discussed his beliefs about the Bible, but I suspect he's a strong cherry-picker: I attended a memorial service for a family member of his, and he had chosen some Biblical passages to be read during the service.

I don't know the reasons that Chris calls himself a Christian. He certainly doesn't believe the same things that many, if not most, Christians do. I don't know on what authority he bases his beliefs. But why should that matter to me? Not that I care, but if he says he's a Christian, I'll take his word for it. What matters is a person's actions and attitudes, and in those respects I see Chris as the quintessential Good Guy.

More generally: What exactly is wrong with religion? Two major candidates are:

A. Religion leads to evil actions and attitudes (commit genocide; kill disobedient children; denigrate homosexuals; accept slavery; subjugate women; reject science; terrify the gullible with threats of hell; . . . )

B. Religion is inherently irrational.

Now suppose there's a religion R in which A does not apply in any sense. In fact, the actions and attitudes of R's adherents are indistinguishable from those of the best of the non-believers (like us good folks in TTA).

Do I want to join R, become an R-ian? No, because for me, B is enough to knock that out of the water. But what should be my attitude towards the other R-ians? Contempt? Should I do my best to make them see the light of reason and overturn their superstitious beliefs? Or should I just be happy that their beliefs lead them to results--actions and attitudes--that I consider commendable?

Whether or not a religion such as R exists is not the point. (Chris's religion seems pretty close to R, although I can't say for sure.) The point is, if it exists, why should we be against it?

Religious disputes are like arguments in a madhouse over which inmate really is Napoleon.
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27-08-2011, 02:28 AM
RE: There are millions of gods, each having only 1 believer
First of all, religion is not well represented by your friend. To counter your talk of Chris, I suggest you look up Kurt Wise. A Harvard educated geologist, who admits that all the evidence points towards a 4.3 billion year old Earth, but is a young earth creationist because that's what the bible says. Sure, there are some christians who are indistinguishable from a deist with some odd hobbies, but that's not who I'm complaining about.

Second, to quote Matt Dilahunty (Who's probably quoting someone else) "Beliefs inform actions." A person who believes in something that isn't real is, eventually, going to behave in a bad way, because they are in some way misinformed. Even on it's own, a person who thinks irrationally is going to cause problems. I highly doubt a person who is willing to believe one thing for absolutely no reason is not going to behave rationally about everything else.

So yah, religion itself is not the enemy. It's just a symptom of irrationality. However, if we ever reach a world where the worst religion is Jainism, then yah, that'll be basically at the bottom of the list of 'things we need to fix'. But it's still there. It'd just be that "I don't have enough twinkies" will be more important.

But, until we live in that glorious world, we still have problems, and even well meaning, moderate christians still provide cover to people like the Catholic Church.

Oh, and one last thing. Just because I complain about it, doesn't put it on the same scale of seriousness as other things. I think Francis Collins absolutely absurd belief in Christianity (A waterfall in three segments? Seriously?) is a problem and should be fixed... but it's only a minor one. When I bitch about moderate christians, it's because they're just as wrong about their religion as the fundies (Probably more so, actually), but they're not really a problem anywhere near the scale of a lot of other things. To put it in perspective, my mom is one of those spiritual but not religious people, who believes in an unspecified good god. Her belief itself is completely harmless, I'm just bothered by the fact that she holds it for no reason Tongue
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27-08-2011, 03:35 PM
RE: There are millions of gods, each having only 1 believer
(27-08-2011 02:28 AM)Sines Wrote:  First of all, religion is not well represented by your friend. To counter your talk of Chris, I suggest you look up Kurt Wise. A Harvard educated geologist, who admits that all the evidence points towards a 4.3 billion year old Earth, but is a young earth creationist because that's what the bible says. Sure, there are some christians who are indistinguishable from a deist with some odd hobbies, but that's not who I'm complaining about.

I know about Wise. Dawkins devotes a couple of pages to him in God Delusion, calling his story "pathetic and contemptible." He's right. So let's agree there are Kurt Wises out there and also Chrises. I don't have stats to prove which type is more abundant, but my hunch is that you'll find more Chrises than Wises.

Quote: Second, to quote Matt Dilahunty (Who's probably quoting someone else) "Beliefs inform actions." A person who believes in something that isn't real is, eventually, going to behave in a bad way, because they are in some way misinformed. Even on it's own, a person who thinks irrationally is going to cause problems. [emphasis added]

This is key. Since religion involves belief in something unreal, does it inevitably lead to bad behavior? From what I've seen, the answer is no. But the point is, it's an empirical question. We're not going to decide it by armchair philosophizing. Go out and take a look at believers and see how they actually behave. A lot of them behave badly. But I can tell you from my experience that that's not universally true. Anecdotal evidence to be sure, and as I say, I don't have statistics. But it's enough to make me think that "religion always leads to bad things" doesn't hold up.

Quote:So yah, religion itself is not the enemy. It's just a symptom of irrationality. However, if we ever reach a world where the worst religion is Jainism, then yah, that'll be basically at the bottom of the list of 'things we need to fix'.

I don't wanna knock Jainism, but I'm not sure a Jainist world would be so peachy. I mean, you can't kill a mosquito? Ooh . . .

Quote: But, until we live in that glorious world, we still have problems, and even well meaning, moderate christians still provide cover to people like the Catholic Church.

Could you elaborate? I'd like to hear your thoughts on this, because it's not clear to me how moderate religions "provide cover" for the nasty ones.

Quote:Oh, and one last thing. Just because I complain about it, doesn't put it on the same scale of seriousness as other things. . . . When I bitch about moderate christians, it's because they're just as wrong about their religion as the fundies (Probably more so, actually), but they're not really a problem anywhere near the scale of a lot of other things.

I don't think we're that far apart. We both recognize that there are religions and there are religions. I just get annoyed when I hear some people say or imply that all religion is equally evil. "Religion poisons everything" may sell books, but it turns a complex situation with subtle shades of gray into a simplistic black/white dichotomy.

Earlier this year I attended a highly touted "Debate on the Afterlife" with Harris, Hitchens, and two liberal rabbis. The hall was jammed--not an empty seat in sight. The two rabbis came out first, to polite applause. Then Harris was announced, and the audience erupted. Finally Hitch came out, and there was pandemonium--shouting and cheering for minutes. Since I admire H & H and am mostly in agreement with them, I really wanted to like them. But a more dour, humorless couple of men you've never seen. Harris in particular never once cracked a smile. The rabbis, on the other hand, were charming, humble, self-effacing, and funny. Intellectually I was with the atheists, but the rabbis definitely won the who-would-you-like-to-have-a-beer-with contest.

The evening turned into endless variations on the following theme:

H & H: Look how fucked up religion is! Crazy example 1 + outrageous example 2 + disgusting example 3 + . . .
Rabbis: But . . . but . . . but . . . We don't believe that stuff any more than you do! Don't tar us with the same brush as those others!

To no one's surprise, the audience clearly thought the victory went to H & H. Since I empathize with underdogs, I found myself kind of rooting for the rabbis. In any event, I think they had a point: Religions are not all the same in their effects on people.

Religious disputes are like arguments in a madhouse over which inmate really is Napoleon.
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27-08-2011, 06:38 PM
RE: There are millions of gods, each having only 1 believer
When I say false beliefs result in bad behavior, I meant something else.

A good person, thinking rationally, with the correct knowledge, will do the right thing more often than a good person, thinking irrationally, with incorrect knowledge. That's why religion will, eventually, cause negative action that would not have occured if the person was better informed, or more rational.

I also saw that debate with Harris, Hitchens and the Rabbis. I actually quite liked the rabbis. They were the only honest theologians I think I've ever seen. They behaved almost like 'theological scientists' (for want of a better word), rather than theologians (a dirty word if ever I've heard one). I think Harris and Hitchens might have been caught off guard by theists who were so unusually reasonable.

Anyway, I've got to go, I'll respond to the rest later. Maybe. If I remember.
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