|Perhaps, this is just the season of our discontent. Is the atheism movement big enough for all of us? If Christianity is big enough for all of them, I would think so. But more to the point, do we, can we, leave the “old atheists” behind? And the New Atheists, too? And seek a better destination, in the land of neo-atheists or Atheists+plus where we will reveal only the better angels of our nature?
In the branch of atheism that I’ve suggested as neo-atheists, I suggest that we will make the most progress by interacting with believers, showing them we are people of goodwill, having common-ground discussions with them, perhaps doing joint humanitarian projects. Nothing new here, but it takes each of us a while to “process” our thoughts and feelings to be ready for such a step.
Many of us were largely cast as the lot we found ourselves to be in by Christians. Our “godless” natures and other self-applied apellations/epithets can be traced back to our outcast origins. For us, we bought into Christian culture’s role ascribed for us as “bad boys” and the like.
There was, or is, in the zeitgeist the sense that atheists are the demonseed, blasphemers, heretics. Bastards of our type, the holy books said, should be stoned to death. It was easier to stay in the closet than face all that. As we come out, the liberation is heady. It can make us giddy, even a little immature.
Those that came from a different background–say a nonbelieving family–free from such baggage, are more functional than those of us who were liberated later in life. Are these the Eloy who would move on?
Humanity is a story of assent, perhaps, even a spiritual story. To the extent that each of us can incorporate that assent, emulate it, in our lives, we strive for an upward climb. Can we grow as people? Yes. Do we grow?
Here are a few excerpts from a discussion thread on the email blog Humanist Digest.
Mike was also in the conversation as was Paat who said, “…the term, religion; it does indeed, for Americans in particular, denote supernatural.”
I responded to the others in this line of quesitoning:
“Gary & Jack,
RE: What is religion?
As a forty year philosophy major I know the temptation to define religion
from that viewpoint, but it incorporates too little science in the opinion.
Sociologists have been taking a serious crack at for a hundred years now.
Many have hunkered down and affirmed their favorite definition from that
Dennett broke the spell on placing religion above scientific study and
though he is a philosopher, it is of science. Though he does not agree, no
explanation of why we have religion seemed remotely equal to the reality of
it until I came to see it as an evolutionary adaptation*. Nothing short of
that explains its universality across human cultures or the radical depth of
its reach to humanity’s core.
(Overly summarized) Religion is that species specific behavior [most] people
exhibit in response to the innate urge to express their religiosity
[religiousness, spirituality]. This behavior is rewarded in a number of
ways, but the genetic support largely comes from the release of the
neurochemicals of pleasure: dopamine, serotonin, and others.
The point being, for those who place their humanism and respond to it in the
same way members of a religion do, it may be their religion. For others, it
may be a secular placeholder, for others, an intellectual pursuit.
*See THE FAITH INSTINCT by Nicholas Wade for a neutral treatment; See: Religion is God’s Way
of Showing Us it’s a lot earlier in Human Evolution than We Thought for a
nonbeliever’s perspective [browser search: Amazon Douglas Falknor].
Mike made an oberservation that I commented on: “I think Michael brings up a good point and the tip of the iceberg when he says, “[people] will still see religion as being about faith based belief in the supernatural.”
I’ll more than admit that it isn’t the evolutionary source of religion that’s the problem. It’s the incongruity between that source and what the religious THINK is the source of their religion.
I think there are so many attempts at defining religion, and so many that fall short, because of the nature of the “impulse.” If the religious imperative, written in our genes, says nothing more specific than “satisfy the religious urge,” and those genes, given normal variability to start with, undergo replication a few billion times, consider all the errors, mutations, and added variability that normally occurs across isolated populations.
Consider further, the internal rewards for that “religious drive” and how the neurochemical, psychological, and social rewards must be differently programmed, even nuanced in our genes and epigenes, across evolutionary time and global distances.
Consider, too, the cultural differences that have modified the expression of “spiritual desire” [not trying to confuse the issue, but to show how different this religiosity can be] across all cultures. Given enough time, culture too, can seep (feedback) into our heritable characteristics.
Consider all the iterations of religious expression from animism to Catholicism, from Confucianism to voodoo. Isn’t it this same predisposition for religiousness that has driven tribal members to the point of trance through continual rhythmic drumming and nonstop dance rituals? Or the Buddhist practitioner to seek enlightenment?
Now put a definition to this based solely on the person’s activities and desires to relate to what he considers the divine. Without some consideration of all the above and more, there’s going to be little common agreement. Instead of the different experiences of the “eight blind men and the elephant” we will be like the eight blind men and the thousand-headed hydra.
WHAT DO YOU THINK RELIGION IS? AND WHY?
Here are a few links that might be of interest to you. If you have others to share, send them to us in your comments. Tell us something about them.
Without a doubt the best discussion forum(s) I’ve seen. Can be large numbers of participants and commenters.
AUDIO PODCASTS ***** (five stars) Has been a great listen; many intelligent and in-depth interviews archived many author-scientists (makes this a great source for new books and an insight into their content. The website says they are on a short hiatus, but will return to the “air.” Prior format included a new post every Monday.
Audio Podcasts. Another audio podcast; haven’t listened lately.
A number of bloggers who choose to come together under the rubric of freethought. Wide ranging social commentary.
Do you have any online sources that you would recommend?
The question occurs, why the title to my current book, Religion is God’s Way of Showing Us it’s earlier in Human Evolution than We Thought? Does it take a cheap shot a religion? Is it unnecessarily cryptic?
Even though it’s not literally true that any god gave us religion, most believers must certainly think that religion has a divine sanction as well as proceeding from their deity, or in the absence of one, their sacred supernatural source.
Who, then, is shown the marker of religion revealing that we haven’t evolved beyond religion? I would say those who get an accurate picture of our evolution and religion’s place in it. To the consternation of the fundamentalist, I would say religion was an evolutionary adaptation that was necessary for the survival of every existing human population of today. But, too, it can be to the chagrin of the nonbeliever.
Religion is a product of evolution
Why to the fundamentalist’s consternation? Rather than the study of human evolution being the sin of fallen angels, it appears that religion is a product of human evolution such that we ascendant “apes” were equipped with it by natural selection.
The truth will set us free!
The truth is, it will take a little longer. The mass exodus to humanism didn’t happen as predicted. And this because religion was underestimated by nonbelievers who had examined philosophically and logically its truth value and, yet, overlooked its strength and contribution as an adaptation. No modern society of any significance survived until today without it.
Yes, religion has waned in some areas such as Europe, but that’s the lifecycle of a religion, not all religion. Certainly, we nonbelievers would all like to see the final enlightenment. Each individual religion can wane and cultures and civilizations can evolve and advance, but religion’s grip on humanity is strong enough that it hasn’t let go so far. If humanity had been ready, we would have seen religion’s end in the Classical Period. Yet even after the gods of Greece and Rome became a farce, piety was extolled and blasphemy punished. Rather, we saw the rise of Christianity because even the more enlightened Greco-Roman culture was not done with religion. The balance of humanity lagged further behind than that.
Certainly, the New Atheists (Dawkins, Dennett, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens) are not interested in saying religion is or was good for humanity. I can sympathize with that. At the same time, there are a number of scientists, writers, and thinkers who do say matter of factly that they believe some predisposition to religion is in our genes.
I can’t give you a specific episode, but I’ve heard Chris Mooney on Center for Inquiry’s internet/radio podcast, Point of Inquiry, get an affirmative answer to the various iterations of the question (i.e., a heritable component to human religiosity).
I credit Pinky with a similar sentiment in her comment recently on this blog, and in a way, it’s an interpretation or restatement of the book title in question: “I am vastly disappointed in my species. Homo Sapiens Sapiens have had plenty of time to grow up, or at least to have made more of an effort to mature, but the religious keep busy squashing forward movement.”
(This is similar to the previous post, but the House Armed Services Committee did pass this de-Enlightenment legislation. There’s a URL at the bottom of the previous post if you think you want to hear Buck McKeon. I think he’ll prove you wrong.)
Chairman McKeon said if there were atheist chaplains, they would tell dying soldiers they would be “worm food.” Alternatively, when Rep. Fleming was asked what a Christian chaplain would tell a dying atheist soldier whom he believed would go to hell. Fleming said the Christian chaplain should offer the dying atheist soldier salvation through the Bible.
The last statement underlines the intent of the Military Religious Freedom (a malapropish misnomer in the long tradition of military and governmental oxymorons) Protection Act which became an amendment to a defense authorization bill which states that it is all right for believers of “a religion” to proselytize that faith to others.
The typical nonbeliever wouldn’t consider telling any dying soldier they might be “worm food” let alone a humanist chaplain. It’s a ludicrous proposition that he or she would do anything less than hold high esteem for an individual of any or no belief. This is because the average humanist believes that we all have an intrinsic human worth and that the human spirit is noble and a Humanist celebrant or chaplain is going to embody those qualities at a minimum. These congressmen are demonstrating that they do not value our service men and women in the same way.
Shouldn’t a chaplain to our men and women in uniform respect the faith tradition or beliefs of that person? That’s what a Humanist chaplain would do. But you have the congressmen’s words on it, that’s not what a Christian chaplain should do: They should offer the dying atheist soldier salvation through the Bible. This amendment supports that, but it is a one way street. Nonbelievers will have no “religious freedom” of their own protecting them from such inconsiderate behavior.
Gentlemen, you have our service members at too much of a disadvantage. They deserve better from you than this punishment for not being Christians. You can impose your will by a majority vote, but you can’t make it right or just. Are you treating the nonbelieving service members the way you want to be treated?
I take it these congressmen don’t feel the same nor do they feel that the men and women in uniform deserve equal treatment either. If they did, they’d ask each service member what kind of (faith) service they’d like, and it would be given.
It is possible for a bigoted person to go through a process of conversion. Our fellow Americans, bigoted though they may be, are our bigots and our brothers. As the humanism they denigrate would tell them, if they’d listen, all men are brothers. We must these help make these men better Christians. We must do this because as humanists we are our brothers’ keepers ..and we have no god that we would put before them.
Since only Christianity proselytizes, perhaps all Christians in the nation should weigh in. Tell these congressmen if you’re with them or against them. If we are not to judge you by your silence, speak up this one time. These men and women in uniform can’t speak up. They are at the mercy of the chain of command and it is to, and about, that chain of command they would have to complain—a career-ending move at best.
To: Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Howard McKeon and Representative John Fleming (R-LA) and Congressman Mike Conway who responded, again, when asked, again, about the expansion of military chaplaincy to include humanist chaplains, this way (*if sources are correct, these gentlemen may be making identical statements as some of the quotes are credited to all three): Chairman Howard McKeon said if there were atheist chaplains, they would tell dying soldiers they would be “worm food.” Alternatively, when Rep. Fleming was asked what a Christian chaplain would tell a dying atheist soldier whom he believed would go to hell. Fleming said that the chaplain should offer the dying atheist soldier salvation through the Bible.
Nonbelievers are the last maligned minority. Those who would hate have lost the chance to exercise overt discrimination against the other minorities one by one. This has been especially difficult for the religious bigot (in this instance, one who tells us what we believe, then hates us for it). They’ve not only lost the ability to openly denigrate and discriminate against gays and lesbians, but blacks, Hispanics, and other races. I expect that they even have to pay a cursory level of “lip service equality” to other religions. BUT NOT TO US: those who would say there is no supernatural realm.
Perhaps people of bias should not be in a position to affect lives this way. Are these people of ill will? The typical nonbeliever wouldn’t consider telling any dying fellow soldier they might be “worm food.” As for a humanist chaplain, it’s as ludicrous of a proposition that he or she would do anything less than hold high esteem for an individual of any or no belief. This is because the average humanist believes that we all have an intrinsic human worth and that the human spirit is noble and a Humanist celebrant or chaplain is going to embody those qualities at a minimum. I take it these congressmen don’t feel the same nor do they feel that the men and women in uniform deserve that either.
Isn’t it odd that it takes a believer to denigrate people so? And yet we must give many if not most believers the benefit of the doubt. They, too, are people of good will. Fortunately, people of ill will are self-outing. And they can sometimes be turned around. Look at the change in public sentiment towards the LBGTQ community in the last few years. The most dramatic conversions are those who have had the farthest to move. Perhaps we can be Representatives McKeon’s and Fleming’s salvation. Perhaps we can move them toward a more universal caring for all humanity.
Perhaps all Christians in the nation should weigh in. Tell these congressmen if you’re with them or against them. We especially need to hear from less radical positions. If we are not to judge you by your silence, speak up this one time.
This telling us who we are and what we believe, by a person of another belief, is a heinous violation of us as human beings. It dehumanizes us and I have to think that’s how xenophobia developed as a defense mechanism so that we could separate us from them—to hate the “other” who are not us. You can’t give someone an Old Testament stoning if you don’t dehumanize or at least denigrate them sufficiently first.
Rep. Fleming’s statements are a good reason why his Military Religious Freedom Amendment should NOT be passed (or overturned by the Supreme Court upon passage). Fleming said Christians should offer dying nonbeliever soldiers salvation through the Bible. With the Military religious freedom Amendment in place, evidently nonbelievers would have no religious freedom of their own protecting them from such inconsiderate behavior. Somehow this will be twisted to rule against any nonbelievers who should, in turn, wish to proselytize humanism (which none do)—probably because it’s not a religion, eh, Congressmen? Nor would they have recourse against those shielded by this amendment who choose to vigorously proselytize the one true religion—say the folks higher up the chain of command, for instance.
It isn’t difficult to imagine the theocracy these congressmen would put us all under.
Military service people have a different standard of justice meted out to them than civilians, if you haven’t already figured that out. It’s ironic that they have to swear they will uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution when their supposedly guiding document is the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the UCMJ. Don’t think for a moment that this misnomer indicates either justice or uniformity in its dispensation will come forth, especially if you’re a nonbeliever. Just reflect on the sexual assault record and what’s been done about that. And in the face of those huge numbers, we’re told service members need no justice from outside the chain of command. Where else would they get justice?
WWJD? Contrast the toleration of Howard McKeon’s and John Fleming’s words against those of Trent Lott that led to his resignation. The difference isn’t in the degree of bigotry demonstrated as it is no less. The difference lies in a much too broad acceptance of prejudice and discrimination against nonbelievers. We are here to help you see from our mountain top as others have led you in the past to theirs.
When we put someone in congress with a religious agenda, the strength of their commitment to that agenda determines if there is a point where they will put the American people or the U.S. Constitution ahead of their religious goals or not. It’s especially too bad when they have the power to influence service members’ reality to the extent these gentlemen do. Our service members aren’t in a position to fight for their own rights. They can’t redress the government with their complaints and they are held fast in a matrix of constraints. And their freedom and lives are also at the mercy of the UCMJ and who’s in charge of the UCMJ? Congress. This committee, this chairman.
Take it out on us, gentlemen. You have our service members at too much of a disadvantage. They deserve better from you than this punishment for not being believers. I can well imagine that you congressmen espouse the Golden Rule. Are you treating those of differing beliefs the way you want to be treated?
There’s freedom of religion in this country… as long as it’s Christianity.
* The Blaze reports it to be Congressman Mike Conway who said the things quoted while others said it was John Fleming. Also, you can see and hear Howard McKeon say them in recorded video. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/05/atheist-chaplains-worm-food_n_3393122.html?utm_source=Secular+Mailing+List&utm_campaign=4ce3760294-Call_Agenda_6_20_2013&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_4e255484ff-4ce3760294-61109045
The Springboro, Ohio school board recently heard both sides in the “Teach the controversy debate.” That is, should public schools teach both “theories?” The science is evolution. The more questionable theory is usually termed Intelligent Design.
Are these archaic attempts at keeping creationism alive the last vestiges of an earlier era? If you think it is innocuous, read on. The Dayton Daily News has solicited comments. Here’s mine.
Nobody in science says anything should be taken on faith. A healthy skepticism should always be our mode. Not fearful doubts, but defiant intellectual doubts. Those of faith fear losing their faith to doubt. If it was religious knowledge that they had, there’d be no fear. Interestingly, the process of losing one’s faith usually entails gaining some knowledge.
In a faith tradition, the believer believes they know something (when applied to the real world proves they are largely incorrect). Can they approach it with a healthy intellectual doubt? Is any part of their theory revisable? They typically take the position that theirs is a sacred truth, beyond doubt. To have any doubt is tantamount to sin in their book (there an ample history of persecuting dissenters).
The various argument’s Christians go through in trying to get creationism taught in the schools follows a predictable pattern. 1. We are a Christian nation. The country was founded on it. Yes, the grip religion has on humanity was too strong even for the founding fathers to free us. 2. It should be Christianity’s myth because that has been our tradition in this country. Slavery was a tradition in this country, too, as was every form of bigotry and oppression. 3. (Implied but not stated) Evolution is only a theory. Yes, like the atomic theory or theory of flight and like them, you can challenge and revise any part of it and IF THE ARGUMENT YOU PROPOSE STANDS UP TO THE LIGHT OF REASON IT BECOMES PART OF THE SCIENCE. What’s the review and revision climate like among Christian fundamentalists?
Creationists call it the Wedge Strategy. They know they have to get to the children before their worldview solidifies in their teen years—college is too late and besides they know there’s a conspiracy among almost all scientists and university educators to spread atheism and humanism so the children have to be exposed well before then. So it is a part of the mission to continue to hammer away at the schools to teach creationism and plant that wedge. If nothing else, the kids may get the impression that school boards have an agenda and are unfairly suppressing an alternate theory. Just the discussion of it serves the Wedge Strategy.
Finally, the vocal among them wants to denigrate those who’d like public education to be free of religious bias. Those voices happen to belong to one narrow band of just one single religion, a religion that permeates our culture and monopolizes our politics and yet whose followers think they are a put upon minority. I guess it should be of little surprise when those folks try to foment hatred by dehumanizing those who would free our minds and saying they “are evil to the core.” That’s the hallmark of the imprint of religion when applied to the child too young.